Zondervan recently asked if I would like to participate in a blog tour for this week's launch of the new book titled Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James.
I was very excited and felt honored to be asked to preview a book by the author of one of my favorite women's study group texts from back in the day: When Life and Beliefs Collide. (How many other books have you ever heard of that earned five stars in 28 out of 29 reviews on Amazon? I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of her new book!
Zondervan and several other reviewers have called Half the Church an incredibly important book—as a Christian response to—or a wrestling with the issues raised in—the bestselling and influential book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This too is very interesting to me, because I appreciate thoughtful Christian authors like Tim Keller and others who are not afraid to enter into the fray and speak to current issues from the Christian worldview.
Yet, according to James, this was not the original intent of her book. Originally, she intended to share what she had been learning about the Bible's message for women as Image Bearers, ezer-warriors, and the Blessed Alliance. But then she was impacted so much by the global suffering of women as told in Half the Sky, she wanted to show how the Bible's message for women would bring light on the world's social concerns as well.
James has a true passion for communicating and addressing important, global issues that affect at least half the world's population. Her stories both unveil the hidden faces behind all manner of oppression and suffering by women while simultaneously pointing us to God as the only solution and the only motivation for lasting change. True, biblical justice is laid at the feet of the body of Christ, as James calls all in the church (not only the male half), to work toward restoration for those who have been most deeply harmed by the loss of freedom and dignity that we see as inalienable in our culture.
Finally, as a worker in women's ministry, I found her challenges for the church to offer a more holistic gospel helpful and enlightening. More and more women in this country are being disenfranchised and alienated from the body of Christ over socio-economic reasons -- such as, single mothers and divorcees who work two or three jobs. There are so many non-traditional situations in which women find themselves to which the American church is not geared to minister. Her exhortations for those of us who are in women's ministry and for the leaders in the church to put forth a robust gospel that transcends cultural and social difference hit home and will be of great help.
As I read along later into the book, when James began to discuss her theological ideas with regard to women in the church, I found that she and I have some very different understandings about the issues she tackles. For instance, I was drawn toward her attempt at discussing the hebrew term "ezer" in one of the chapters near the middle of the book. However, when I made my way there, I was dismayed that the chief idea I found there was to develop a strong link between "ezer" and warrior, which for me misses more primary functions of the "ezer" in the O.T. and how important those functions are to womanhood.
While I fully agree with her premise that women are equally created in the image of God with men, I hold a very different postion than the one she presents which is a pretty bold form of egalitarianism, including ordaining women pastors. Of course, I and others in most traditional churches don't hold that position and won't be budging anytime soon, despite some her arguments.
Finally, from a stylistic standpoint, I know there are a number of readers who enjoy James's poetic phrases and vibrant imagery, but for me her heavy reliance on anecdotal narrative for the majority of each chapter was just not that desirable. I found there was more fluff than meat, and much of the source material in the beginning of the book came directly from Half the Sky.
At the end of the day, it makes me very sad that I cannot recommend this book to most readers, because there are some extremely important themes that men and women in all the churches, regardless of denomination, need to hear and to be talking about in the context of how they do ministry. Things like how we fail the most needy women in our churches; how we ignore strong Biblical teaching for women that goes beyond a focus on what we are not allowed to do in the assembled church; and how we can open our eyes to the brutal facts that surround us in the carnage snd suffering of women in the world who are being raped, sold into slavery, and deeply oppressed.
Yes, yes, a thousand times over, I think these messages ought to be heard in our churches!
However, by blending in an egalitarian agenda that goes against the grain for many if not most of the leadership in traditional and influencial churches, I'm afraid James's ideas and concerns will not receive a hearing across a broad enough cross-section of churches. That makes me sad.
So, although I cannot recommend this book broadly,
I do, however, recommend this book if you are someone who wants to expand your vision for ministry to women inside and outside the church and who is aware that the case for egalitarianism will come with the package.
If the above describes you, and you want a free copy of Half the Church, write a comment or email me at DebLW at yahoo dot com and I'll send one to you!!!