Home. Quotes Piquantes. Personal. Shorter Writings. My Books.

Book Review

Empowering women

Yes, it’s another book pondering the role of women from a Christian perspective. But you won’t find strident feminist cries here. This one’s a bit different. It looks way beyond the life of women in the West to face up to the appalling life women suffer in some other nations. Hence ‘global’ in the subtitle. It is: Half The Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision For Women by Carolyn C. James (Zondervan, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-310-55587-2).

The author concludes that God’s vision as spelled out in the creation narratives puts women on an equal basis with men as his image-bearers—his intermediaries to run things on the earth. The Fall does not alter that vision. She also examines, in a refreshing way, some key Old Testament women and their leadership roles, including a few—like Naomi and Ruth—who have not traditionally been regarded as playing such a role.

Then she develops the concept of the ezer—the Hebrew word used to describe Eve in Genesis and usually translated ‘helper’. The word, she points out, is used chiefly of God himself, so it is not a put-down. It holds potential for women far beyond being just a wife and mother. Indeed, even for those women who do become wives and mothers, a large proportion of their lives is lived outside of those roles. Biblically, the ezer is in fact a warrior!

It’s time young men, when looking for a wife, stopped looking for submissiveness as a key quality. Let them look instead for a broader range of qualities like those shown by the Proverbs 31 woman. Indeed, men themselves are part of the bride of Christ, the church, and their inclusion should help them gain a more rounded concept of what a bride’s role should be.

The book brings a plea for the ‘blessed alliance’ of men and women working in harmony together for the kingdom. It opens up an example from the OT—Esther and Mordecai—and one from the NT: Mary and Joseph. It’s thought-provoking stuff.

Carolyn James wisely concludes that the endless arguments between complementarians and egalitarians indicate that Scripture isn’t clear. She opts not to give in to the pressure this polarisation exerts, especially when it comes to the ordination question. But it is clear where her sympathies lie—and I applaud both her frankness and her grace.

[The numbers are not page numbers but Kindle location numbers]

As Christians we owe it to ourselves and to our daughters to find out if the ancient message for women in the Bible is still relevant in the twenty-first century or if, as many suggest, we have outgrown its message. Does God’s vision for his daughters equip us to move boldly into the future or summon us to retreat into the past? (53)

I saw…a jaw-dropping connection between the women in the Bible and women of today’s Middle East that revolutionized how I study the Bible. Glimpses I was gaining of life in the Middle East and in other patriarchal societies breathed life into Bible characters (women and men), who, since my early childhood, had been trapped inside a two-dimensional flannel graph world. (228)

Dreams may come true where prosperity abounds, but the world is a sinister, frighteningly unsafe, degrading place for millions of daughters who are powerless to stop what is happening to them. Honor killings, sex trafficking, child marriages, female infanticide, and stranded and impoverished widows are not yesterday’s news. They are happening at this very moment to catastrophic numbers of women—wildly beyond epidemic levels. (326)

Instead of casting a powerful gospel vision that both validates and mobilizes women, the church’s message for women is mixed at best—guarded, negative, and small at worst. Everywhere we go, a line has been drawn establishing parameters for how much or how little we are permitted to do within the church…  My heart sank when a team of women ministering in Africa told me that women who had converted from Islam to Christianity were “disappointed” that the gospel didn’t offer them more. (441)

The world is wide of the mark when it devalues and discards women and girls. By making us “a little lower” than himself, God affixed the highest possible value on his daughters and his sons. (532)

I am jolted as I read a letter from Paul to a mixed first-century audience—a group of believers that included women whose births were disappointments to their fathers. What sounds at first to my Western ears like an attempt to exclude women is exactly the opposite. In one brief sentence Paul overthrows cultural bias by raising women to the same status as their brothers: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26, emphasis added). (615)

Followers of Jesus operate under the counterintuitive belief that conflict brought on by the Enemy will ultimately backfire, for conflict actually shapes God’s image bearers and fortifies us for the kingdom work we were born to do. (678)

I have sat in women’s conferences where Christian women are soothed with messages telling them they matter, that God thinks they’re beautiful, and that they need to carve out time alone with God. I’m all for encouragement and am passionate about challenging women to go deeper in the study of God’s Word. But that message must be accompanied by the call to step out, to engage this world, and to make it better for all. (838)

There’s no denying the fact that women do emerge as strong leaders in the Bible, complete with titles, recognition and high praise. At the very least, this raises the possibility that to resist thinking of ourselves as leaders is to stiff-arm something important that God is calling us to do. But there is this other undeniable fact—that being God’s image bearer, whether you are male or female, comes with significant leadership responsibilities… (885)

In contrast to what typically happens to widows in many corners of the world, these two widows [Naomi and Ruth] command center stage and do so without the necessary male connections to justify why they are there. (962)

For Ruth, following God means she must take the initiative, assume the lead, and violate a lifetime of cultural conditioning and upbringing, long-established behavioral patterns, and the expectations she has internalized for how a proper female should behave. (1016)

God calls the first woman ezer—a name that is used most frequently in the Old Testament for God himself. In a profound sense, God named his firstborn daughter after himself. God is Israel’s ezer. (1175)

A message that points to the marriage altar as the starting gate of God’s calling for women leaves us with nothing to tell them except that God’s purpose for them is not here and now, but somewhere down the road. (1212)

I’ve heard sermons guiding men to be better husbands and fathers. Not once have I heard anyone tell men fulfillment of their manhood hinges on having a wife and fathering children, although the same logic produces that kind of message to women. (1275)

It is not merely that God’s image is desecrated where violence and atrocities are rampant, but also in the more polite and religiously approved forms of division, dysfunction, and the tense negotiations over roles and rank that are widespread among believers in marriage, the church, and every other place our paths cross. (1316)

Focus on the wife as her husband’s helper has led to the belief that God gave primary roles and responsibilities to men, and secondary, supporting roles to women. It has led to practices that communicate that women are second class citizens at home and in the church. None of this is true. There is nothing second class about God’s vision for his daughters, and the ezer holds the clues. (1332)

Descriptions 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. (1372)

The question facing men is how they will avail themselves of the ezer-allies God has provided. Even the secular world is beginning to recognize the extraordinary potential for richer discussions, eliminating blind spots, and making better decisions when men and women work together. (1412)

One of the most surprising discoveries resulting from ongoing scholarly excavations in Proverbs 31 is the use of military language throughout to describe this bride’s relentless and proactive initiatives on behalf of others. Proverbs 31 belongs to the literary genre of heroic poetry, which is “characterized by recounting the hero’s mighty deeds, usually his military exploits.” (1568)

Both brides [the Proverbs 31 bride and the bride of Christ] represent an unmistakable call to action. They give us powerful feminine images of strong, open-throttled living for God’s kingdom, which makes it difficult to imagine that God wants his daughters to sit on the sidelines while our brothers do kingdom work without us. (1587)

We have a message! It’s big enough for all of us and better than any other message out there. In God’s eyes, women are not pawns for trading, brides for consuming, bodies to traffic, or passive spectators. They are his image bearers. They are his ezers. (1635)

It may surprise some readers to learn that in my conversations with women, including women seminarians and leaders in ministry and business, by far and away the dominant issue is how we can build bridges with our Christian brothers. Topics like women’s ordination, debated Pauline passages, and equality between men and women fade into the background next to this one. (1685)

Male/female relationships are strategic. God laid out his game plan in Genesis, and the team he assembled to do the job was male and female. Men and women working together actually predates men working with men and women working with women. It would be one thing if God confined this male/female team to home and family and then mapped out the remaining territory into separate spheres for men and for women. But he didn’t do that. Their mission—together—is to rule and subdue the whole earth on his behalf. Men and women together. (1704)

When men are called to full-fledged kingdom living but the other half of the church is asked to sit on the sidelines, there is no Blessed Alliance, the bride of Christ limps, and we misrepresent God’s oneness. (1718)

Women who disagree with their church’s views on women tend to go elsewhere rather than mount what may inevitably prove to be a futile campaign to turn the ship around. (1886)

What makes navigating life for women even more confusing is the fact that we don’t live in a patriarchal culture. The West is egalitarian. Women enjoy the same freedoms, education, career opportunities, and potential for success as men. Yet instead of wrestling with how to live out the gospel in the culture where God has stationed us, we’re supposed to wrestle with how to preserve at least some aspects of patriarchy at home and inside church doors although, for obvious reasons, only certain aspects of patriarchy are deemed worth preserving. (1949)

Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t investing inordinate resources and energies on contested passages instead of putting our full weight down on texts that speak to us with unquestioned clarity. (1985)

Is the gospel truly good news for women who live in entrenched patriarchal cultures — behind veils and under burkas and Taliban rule? What is good news to these women if the gospel reinforces men as leaders and women as followers? How bone-chilling does this sound in the ears of women who are being oppressed or who have been caught in the clutches of human trafficking? (2006)

It is not godly to hold back our gifts and to know less (or pretend we know less) so that men can lead. When women bring less of themselves to the task at hand, men are overburdened and we squander our gifts. On both counts we are culpable. (2034)

A lot of people believe the earth will spin off its axis and civilized culture will collapse if men do not maintain their authority over women in the church and the home. Jesus doesn’t share that fear. He fearlessly parts ways with the kingdoms of his world by introducing a new kind of leader—men and women who live sacrificially, not selfishly; who open-handedly aid the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and who willingly lay down their lives for the good of others. (2120)

In the main, the Blessed Alliance has never recovered from the deadly assault that took place in Eden. Instead of an unstoppable force for good and justice in the world and a deadly threat to the Enemy, male-female relationships have been dismantled of power. Instead, they are the butt of jokes, bogged down in endless debate and all sorts of fears in some quarters, and scenes of mind-numbing brutality in others. (2292)

I have a friend who believes when she puts her feet on the floor in the morning, the devil shudders and says, “Oh no! She’s awake.” If one ezer makes the devil tremble, what can a whole army of ezers do? (2419)

Buy hard copy

Buy for Kindle

Previous. Next. Half the Church

Go to top of page for Twitter and Facebook buttons >>>