A topic that has been of great interest to me for a long time is the place that women should hold in the church. Carolyn Custis James addresses this issue very well in her latest book, ‘Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women.’
Here’s the synopsis of this thought-provoking book:
No Woman Left Behind.
News stories that ran in early 2008 highlighted how throughout the world women today are living in a world of extremes. On the one hand Hillary Rodham Clinton nearly captured the Democratic nomination for U.S. president. At the same time, the media reported the brutal honor killings of five women in Pakistan – three young girls buried alive for planning to choose their own husbands, plus a mother and an aunt shot to death as they pled with their husbands, sons, and brothers to spare the girls’ lives.
Into this world of breathtaking opportunities and shocking atrocities, the church attempts to speak with relevance to women. But the message often fails to address the opportunities, changes, and contingencies of life in a fallen world. It is not far-reaching enough to encompass every woman’s whole life within this multicultural, rapidly changing world. Instead, the message too often focuses mainly on marriage and motherhood important as they are, and overlooks all the other seasons or circumstances of life. It fails to capitalize on God’s positive, life-affirming, vision for women. The church is being drowned out by other conflicting voices and falls short of conveying the empowering mobilizing gospel message for women that is clearly embedded in God’s Word.
Women comprise at least half the world, and usually more than half the church, but so often Christian teaching to women either fails to move beyond a discussion of roles or assumes a particular economic situation or stage of life. This all but shuts women out from contributing to God’s kingdom as they were designed to do. Furthermore, the plight of women in the Majority World demands a Christian response, a holistic embrace of all that God calls women and men to be in his world.
Carolyn Custis James unpacks three transformative biblical themes, showing how God gives women a new identity that frees them to embrace the life he gives, and so that no woman or girl is left behind.
Half the Church embodies a positive, kingdom approach to the changes, challenges, and opportunities facing women throughout the world today.
Here’s the biography of this author:
Carolyn Custis James (MA, Biblical Studies) travels extensively as a popular speaker for women’s conferences, churches, colleges, seminaries, and other Christian organizations. Her ministry organization, WhitbyForum, promotes thoughtful biblical discussion to help men and women serve God together. Carolyn founded and is president of the Synergy Women’s Network. The books she has written include The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules, Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance through Their Stories, When Life and Beliefs Collide, and Understanding Purpose: Women of Faith Study Guide Series. She is a consulting editor for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament. Carolyn and her husband live in Boxford, Massachusetts.
Here’s the book trailer for this provocative book:
Mrs. James shares that the Lord has had her on a journey of discovery over the last many years:
The thrill of each new discovery has been tempered every time by a weight of grief that to this day hasn’t lifted. I grieve over the opportunities and blessings I have wasted because I didn’t know about God’s vision for his daughters – I didn’t realize God expected so much of me. I grieve the loss to the church when so many Christian women believe it’s possible to subsist on an anorexic spiritual diet. I grieve that far too many women and girls are living with small visions of themselves and of their purpose. I grieve the loss to our brothers who are shouldering burdens we were created to share and are doing kingdom work without them when God means for us to build his kingdom together. (p. 19)
Mrs. James makes the important point that we need to see all of the women in the world, not just in our small circle. Here is her rationale:
We need a global conversation because the Bible itself is global. God’s Word has never been the exclusive property of the elite. God’s Word is for the world. If anything, the Bible gives priority to the weak, the oppressed, and the poor and is tougher on privileged people who hold the reins of wealth and power but refuse to wield their advantages for the good of others. Jesus had little tolerance for self-centered individuals who indulged themselves and hoarded the comforts of this earthly life. His heart was with the suffering and oppressed, and we can be sure the Bible’s message reflects the same commitment. (p. 38)
Mrs. James did an interesting study in the Bible on the word ezer, which appears over twenty times in the Old Testament, including its use twice to describe Eve. She determined its definition is ‘strong helper.’ She reached this conclusion:
Description of the woman as dependent, needy, vulnerable, deferential, helpless, leaderless, or weak are – to put it simply – wrong. Such definitions betray cultural biases and I fear a deep-seated misogyny. The ezer is a warrior. Like the man, she is also God’s creative masterpiece – a work of genius and a marvel to behold – for she is fearfully and wonderfully made. The ezer never sheds her image-bearer identity. Not here. Not ever. God defines who she is and how she is to live in his world. That never changes. The image-bearer responsibilities to reflect God to the world and to rule and subdue on his behalf still rest on her shoulders too. (p. 114)
That is not taught very often in the church, is it?
Jesus went against the norm of His day by giving ample time and attention to women:
Women on Jesus’ A-list of potential friends and recruits included prostitutes, adulteresses, a shunned Samaritan, insignificant widows, a ceremonially unclean woman, a dead twelve-year-old girl, and demon-possessed women. Jesus regarded them with unheard-of respect and gave them undivided attention, even (and perhaps deliberately) when men were around. He engaged women publicly in deep theological conversation in a culture where respectable men avoided public conversation with women. He entered their grief by weeping openly with them. He included women among his disciples, welcomed their friendship, forged strong bonds with them, was blessed and fortified by their spiritual ministries, and recruited them as leaders and kingdom builders. (p. 167)
Mrs. James ends her book this way:
One hundred years from now may it never be said of this generation of ezers that we folded our hands and God’s kingdom work to others. May it never be said that we ignored the cries of the helpless and focused on ourselves. Let it instead be said that God used those cries to awaken a sleeping giantess and filled her with a terrible resolve – half the church, angered and outraged at the unchecked forces of evil in God’s world. That we made up our minds to do something, that our efforts forced the darkness to recede, and that we left the world better off that we found it. May we be remembered as a generation who caught God’s vision, faced our fears, and rose up to serve his cause. (p. 193)
That last paragraph seems as though it was written directly to me! I wonder how many other women will feel the same way?!
I really was changed by this book; I can’t say that about every book I read! But this book turned me to the Scriptures and what they say about what God says about women, and not what the church (and perhaps men) say about women. Truth be told, I have always had an issue with the secondary role that women are allowed to hold in most churches. I have always felt that they’ve been interpreting Scripture to suit their purposes – and it has never rung true with me. I thank Mrs. James for showing us what the Bible – and God – really say about women’s place in the church and in the world.
This book has Discussion Questions at the end of each chapter. I think it would be a perfect book to read with your spouse, or with a friend. I give it my highest recommendation.
You can order this book here.
This book was published by Zondervan and provided by them for review and giveaway purposes.
I have one copy of this book to give along; many thanks to Jesse at Zondervan for generously providing the copy!
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