Half the Church

“At the heart of this discussion is the very real question of whether the gospel’s message for women is merely a kinder, gentler version of the world’s message. Are we only dealing with a sliding scale, where our beliefs move women to a safer, more acceptable zone of human value, or does Jesus bulldoze that system and reconstruct in its place a radically different gospel way of valuing women? Does the gospel’s countercultural message only overturn degrading cultures like those of Reem and Meena [lack of rights and education, human trafficking], or does it also overturn our own more civilized but equally fallen culture by leading us back to God’s original vision for humanity. Are we even asking questions like this? Are we right to think we’ve figured out how God means for us to live as his image bearers because we don’t sell our daughters, or do we have blind spots too and lots more ground to gain?”

In Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, Carolyn Custis James raises the very important point that the church’s view of women needs to be Biblically-based, rather than applicable only to our own cultural and socioeconomic situation.  James point out that God’s view of women transcends time and place, and that if we’re focusing our message to women on standards that only apply to a small minority of women, we tacitly say that the Gospel is not applicable to the vast majority of women worldwide.

The book touches on a lot of issues, but a few that particularly got me thinking included:

  • God hates injustice, and Christians should be known for standing with the oppressed.  James discusses the deplorable conditions women endure around the world (such as total lack of rights and protection, human trafficking, extreme and systemic poverty, etc) and looks to Scripture for the way Christians should respond.  
  • When God created woman as man’s helper (a term that has all sorts of warrior connotations in the original Hebrew, and was also used as one of God’s names and in names of men, so not a soft and sissy word) it wasn’t just for things the man could do for himself.  I hadn’t thought of it this way before, but in the Garden of Eden Adam didn’t really need someone to do his laundry.  And frankly, guys don’t need that now either.  What God gave Adam was someone to help him in his work of ruling and subduing the earth, to bring all of her gifts and talents to the work God called them to do.  James looks at the traits Biblical women possessed, and notes that few men list those traits when looking for a wife.
  • How we view women has implications for our sons.  To the previous point about what men look for in wives, I found a lot to think about in terms of how I bring up my son.  The sentiment that women should step back so that they don’t scare men off from leading is all backwards.  A strong woman shouldn’t intimidate a man, she should inspire him.  I don’t want my son to grow up thinking that his strength and leadership is based on other people being weaker or holding back.  I want him to see that his ability to do the work God calls him to is multiplied when other people bring their best to the table, not compromised by that.  
James doesn’t make prescriptions for women’s roles in the church, but she does challenge readers to think deeply and biblically about the message we give to women and the ways that women should use their God-given gifts to accomplish His work.  If you’ve read Half the Church, I’d be interested in your thoughts!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

2 thoughts on “Half the Church

  1. This book gave me a lot to think about when I read it. It challenged some of my ideas that I didn’t even know I had that stemmed from the sub-culture I was raised in. It made me evaluate and think about how I want to raise my children (both boys in girls) and how they view women. It was a great read.
    Johanna recently posted..Courage to go. Courage to stay.

  2. Similarly to Johanna, this book helped me think outside the box (and realize there was a box) on many of the teaching within our subculture (which was essentially the same as Johanna’s, although with variances due to individual churches, families, and settings). My husband and I actually received some “concerned correspondence” when I posted that I read this book.

    There are aspects that I would not agree with the author on, but at the same time, this book shares a lot of concepts and eye-opening implications, particularly in being aware of what life and injustice are like for our sisters around the globe.

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