For more than a decade, I’ve taught a course on gender in the church. And especially since #MeToo and #ChurchToo combined with Christian leaders saying women have to endure abuse to be biblical and also that women shouldn’t teach in seminaries, I’m seeing a shift in attitudes. Some of the more moderate folks are saying, “Stop already. That misrepresents us.” I’m hearing pastors get up and say, “I was wrong” in slut-shaming Bathsheba. I’ve been told by radio hosts, “If I had talked with you a year ago about this, I would not have heard you, but now….” Something has changed. I’ve been inundated by requests from churches and parachurch organizations wanting guidance on how to revisit the very nature of womanhood along with its ramifications for women’s public ministry… especially those verses in the Bible about women’s silence.
Having finally seen that misogyny has indeed crept into many of our churches, many boards are taking a fresh look with less idealism about the past. And they’re seeing how inconsistent it is to have formulated policy about women without, well, consistently applying their commitment to “God made men and women different by design, so that means we need to partner with them in having dominion.”
Additionally, many are realizing for the first time that the biggest debates are taking place within the complementarian camp. Indeed, within that camp, a lot of folks are moving away from traditionalist views of women and their role in ministry. There is a growing willingness to state outright that violence in a marriage is what severed the marriage bond, not the departure of the person seeking safety. And there’s also a recognition that if a sign of the Spirit in Acts 2 includes old and young women prophesying, it cannot somehow violate a grounded-in-creation mandate if a man listens to and learns something True from a woman.
Are you and/or your team wanting to revisit gender in the church?
While there is no one book I can hand anyone about which I can say “this,” I can recommend some sources:
Winston, George and Dora. Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women. Longwood, Florida: Xulon Press, 2003. 551 pages. Texual considerations. I require the first half of this book, and it’s a game changer for my students in moving them from traditionalist views of women to a more biblical stance. George was president of Belgium Bible Institute before retiring; Dora was a missionary in Europe for years. Significantly, they are not rooted in the American south in their thinking about masculinity and femininity/manhood and womanhood. And they provide important considerations for framing the debate.
James, Carolyn Custis. When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001. 265 pages. James’s explanation of what “helper” means in Genesis is worth the price of the book. Spoiler alert: It’s not like Hamburger Helper.
Pierce, Ronald W.; Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill; Fee, Gordon. Discovering Biblical Equality. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. 512 pages. If you’re gonna let both ends of the spectrum on the debate speak for themselves, check out this scholarly work by a collection of egalitarians committed to a high view of scripture. (Bonus: The chapter by a Christian feminist on abortion is the best argument I’ve ever heard for valuing human life in the womb.)
Best book on backgrounds relating to women: Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. Anything more than 10 years old re: backgrounds is badly outdated. If you think the women with shaved heads referenced in 1 Cor. 11 were prostitutes, you’re overdue for an update. The Internet and Google Translate have scholars across the world instantly collaborating, and the NT-backgrounds people have seriously benfited. Lynn Cohick knows her stuff.
Sumner, Sarah. Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 288 pages. Sumner’s chapter on what “head” means in Ephesians 5 is outstanding. It’s a metaphor. Efforts to substitute the metaphor have given us either “authority” or “source” as literal equivalents. And in doing so, we’ve destroyed the metaphor and missed the point.
For 1 Timothy 2, I give my students my two articles on Artemis. I did my dissertation on that one. Links below to summary posts of the content. (If you want the seriously scholarly versions, you can Google my name and “Artemis” if you have access to an academic library.)
History is essential—many have been taught that everybody was happy for 1,950 years till US feminism came along and wrecked everything. This version of history is downright laughable and ignores the long history in the church of women in public ministry. (And its so-called feminism is distinctly white. I have yet to meet anyone in the developing world who thinks the Bible teaches women can’t earn an income to help their families.) This article for many is full of historical surprises.
A book I recommend that looks at a lot of the more recent textual work is Paul and Gender. I adamantly disagree with what the author thinks is happening with headcoverings. But there’s a lot of other stuff she presents that’s quite good—especially her look at women and the kingdom.
Meanwhile, for the past ten years, I’ve been writing on these issues right here. So I’m including below an index with links to all the relevant blog posts I could find.
Women rule (have dominion)