I would like to say thank you to Jesse Hillman of Zondervan for sending me a copy of this book to review. I will summarize the book before commenting on its strengths and weaknesses. This will be followed by some concluding thoughts.
In the introduction and the first chapter James notes that women struggle to find their identity in this world. It is a time when there is both great opportunities and great oppression globally. Her attention was drawn to some of issues women are facing globally when she read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women (p. 20-21). As she pondered things like prostitution, human trafficking, and honor killings she realized that our understanding of women (in Christian circles) has not been sufficient enough to address these problems.
It is her goal to expand our thinking on this matter so that we can ask how God’s vision for women should motivate us to go face-to-face with these great injustices. She begins by pointing out that even in a Patriarchal culture the writers of Scripture recorded stories of bold, powerful women (pp. 32-34). We Christians have not paid attention to the message of these characters because we are consumed with the concerns of “a tiny segment of the female population—a narrow, prosperous, protected, well-educated female demographic”(p. 36). Their issues are important, but they do not begin to address all the problems women face elsewhere.
These circumstances pose “a threefold challenge to the church”.
(1) What message does the church offer women in the twenty-first century?
(2) What will the church do to address rampant suffering of women throughout the world?
(3) What message are we sending to the world by how we value and mobilize our own daughters? (p. 41)
James does a fantastic job answering this first question. She reminds her readers that God made both male and female in Gen. 1.26 and that both were called to rule the earth as God’s image bearers (see chapter two, “Identity Theft”). Her study of the imago Dei is very helpful emphasizing the pragmatic reality of being God’s image bearers and how that elevates our understanding of women.
She spends time interacting with the theology of male-female relationships from Gen. 2 asking good questions that should lead the reader to better appreciate the woman as the ezer kenegdo. She emphasizes how this depicts women as the strong, equal counter-part of the man saying, “She will be his strongest ally” speaking of the male (p. 112). As she write elsewhere, “God isn’t calling men and asking women to hang back. He gives both male and female the exact same identity–to be his image bearers.” (p. 50)
Women as allies of men under-gird her use of characters like Deborah, Naomi, Ruth, Esther, Mary, and other biblical characters that show God can and does use women as leaders in his Kingdom. God uses men and women. God made us both in his image.
OK, so how does this impact what James calls “The Great Debate” (see chapter eight)? Can a woman be ordained if she is an equal? Can she do what a man can do in the church? Or does the church say “equality” everywhere but inside the church? Do these biblical examples impact how we understand women in leadership? Does God creating male and female equally mean women can participate with men in all forms of leadership in the church?
James says that she “made a conscious decision not to take a public position on the ordination of women.” (p. 159). At this point she says a little more about this issue before she begins wrapping up the book. Did she address the “threefold challenge” mentioned above?
This book does a great job addressing the identity of women. Women are made in the image of God. Women are powerful, co-laborers with men in the Kingdom of God. Women have been leaders in the biblical narrative, even to the point where men have followed their lead (e.g. Deborah, Ruth, Mary). Women are more than just assistants, but they are vital, essential contributors to God’s mission in the world.
Also, she does a fine job balancing respect for women who find their vocations as mothers and wives while also encouraging those who want to be missionaries, who want to help rescue people who are being trafficked, who protest injustices like gendercide and honor killings. Women can be great wives and mothers. They can also be amazing social activist, authors, business leaders, and so forth.
I didn’t find an answer when it comes to answering the second challenge, “What will the church do to address rampant suffering in the world?” James mentions this various issues throughout the book, but for a subtitle that says “Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women” it felt like a lot of description and little prescription. I ended the book thinking, “OK, now what?”
Maybe this is what she intended. Maybe she wants the reader to figure it out. I think a list of organizations dealing with these various issues as an appendix would have satisfied this book’s need.
Similarly, when she asks us “What message are we sending to the world by how we value and mobilize our own daughters?” I felt like there was little given as an answer. Yes, she lays the foundation through much of what I noted in the above summary. I wanted more though. Sometimes I felt like this book was part one of a necessary part two; like it was a bit too short for its ambition.
I did wonder what her “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to women ordination says. Yes, women who go to churches where they say you can’t be an elder is not nearly as disheartening as a women who is being trafficked, but that is hardly the point.
I am sympathetic because I think my current church only has male elders and I don’t think it is something worth kicking dust over, but if I had a daughter and she wanted to pursue ordination then I would go somewhere where she could flourish since I want to send the message that I, as a Christian father, will do all I can to provide opportunities for the women around me to succeed.
I really enjoyed this book, although I feel like it left me hanging. It did a great job laying the ground work for why we as the church should value women as equals and why we should be concerned about global issues. It didn’t seem to tie up the loose ends. I was left asking, “What next?” As I said, maybe this was the authors intent.
I do get a chance to hear Carolyn Custis James speak live in Portland, OR. I hope to hear more. All in all, this book is a great conversation starter. It would be a great book for a small group. And I think the basic message is one we need to hear.
I received this book free from Zondervan as a part of the Half the Church Blog Tour. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”