Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"Half the Church" by Carolyn Custis James

The upside of airplane travel is reading time...as a die-hard book lover, air travel time = reading time.  I was able to finish this book because of my recent trek to Texas and back!

The premise of Carolyn's book is that we need to take a look at the role of women from a global perspective.  Responding to the book, "Half the Sky" (a description of the plight of women globally and the atrocities they suffer daily), Carolyn outlines her view that we must interpret Scripture outside of our Western context.  For many of us, myself included, our view of Scripture has been deeply impacted by the culture we have grown up in.  My middle-class, suburban environment isolates me from the sufferings of women around the world.  Carolyn raises the question, does our so-called Biblical view of the role of women encompass ALL women globally or just those within our own cultural background?   The word "submission" may be a hot button to a freedom-loving, American middle class Mom...but it is even more so to a woman in the Middle East who has suffered intense abuse in the name of "submission."  She emphasizes the question, what does the Bible hold for women that is GOOD NEWS?, then lays out her views from Scripture and pictures of women that we see there (such as Ruth, Mary, etc). 

On the positive side - I applaud her attempt to open up the dialogue on women's roles to a global conversation.  Women in the Middle East have insights into the text that I, as a WASPy type person, will totally miss.  I applaud her call that women in the church must rise up to answer the call of God as His image-bearers and His EZERS (helper-rescuers!) to a world in great need.  This is not a time to hang back and wait while there is great need and suffering in the world.  I also applaud her view that single women in the church are often overlooked in the discussion of women's roles...for those of us, myself included, who have not yet met "Mr. Right," this is a refreshing discussion.  I don't belive that my "only" role  in Biblical womanhood is that of wife and mother, because if it were, I would somehow be currently missing out on my calling in life?  I don't think so - God is bigger than that, and the Apostle Paul's call to singleness in Scripture is for women, too. 

On the negative side - I was somewhat disappointed in the writing style and layout of the author's material.  This was one of those books where I felt that it would have been better presented as a shorter book, or perhaps a series of articles.  There were mutliple good "nuggets" to chew on (and my book is heavily marked, noting these nuggets!) but inbetween those nuggets I sensed that some of it was "filler."  I am perhaps being overly critical...and some of the material she shared was already familiar to me from having studied this issue from other sources.

The author refuses to claim membership in either the egalitarian camp or the complimentarian camp...hoping that this will grant her an audience in both.  While this is somewhat frustrating, I also can see why she does this.  As soon as one states their position, red warning flags fly on either side and all sorts of assumptions rise to one's mind.  She endeavors to avoid these assumptions by asking questions relevant to both 'sides' of this theological debate of the role of women.

Overall - I can recommend the book - because it asks questions that both egalitarians and complimentarians need to wrestle with!

I DO believe that Scripture says much more about women than just a handful of verses about submission or being a wife and mother.  I also believe that our original design as EZERS is so much more than what we assume "helpmate" means today.  EZER, the word usually translated as "helper or helpmate" in Genesis 2, appears 21 times in Scripture: Once in Genesis 2 for the role of Eve/women, three times for "nations to whom Israel appealed for military aid"...and ..."sixteen times for God as Israel's helper.." (p. 112, Curtis). It is a MILITARY word, and means "STRONG helper."  This description of women is PRE-FALL and should speak loudly to us about God's original intention for women before sin produced curses and limitations. 

Carolyn's conclusion is that God has created a "Blessed Alliance" - meaning that when men and women work TOGETHER they are able to create and produce something better than when they work in isolation.  I wholeheartedly agree.

1 comment:

  1. We are reading The Gospel of Ruth by James. It's good - eye opening in different ways through the book. If you haven't picked it up and would be interested, I'd love to share with you when you come through, as we should be done by then. ;-)