With other Christians, prboably the thing I spend the most time discussing offline is the role of women within the life of the church. A far second might be the charismatic gifts, or possibly multisite church. I’m in the ‘egalitarian’ camp, broadly construed, though there are lots of things I value in my ‘complementarian’ brothers and sisters, and plenty of ‘egalitarian’ stuff/folk that I find very difficult to support. This book, though, is a brilliant new tool. Lucy is the principal of Westminster Theological Centre, and this book is her latest. Scott McKnight offers a brilliant foreword – with seven questions ‘to ponder as you consider what God is calling women to do in the church’. I think the foreword makes a great frame for discussion – but on to the book itself!
Lucy is well aware that she is a female theologian – and whilst she is aware of this, there is no special pleading here. Indeed, I appreciated her recognition that “I believe it is true to say that the role of scripture in allviews is somehow deemed to be central. What this shows us is the differences in the method and process of how people move from Scripture to doctrine to tradition to practice“. From this recognition that those with whom we disagree are not inherently bad, but rather reading differently, she makes her bold claim:
“in this book I argue that those of us who see the overturning of male dominance in the Scriptures are rediscovering an ancient message that has been overlaid and distorted by years and years of reading,teaching, preaching and writing by those who assumed that the patriarchal world they lived in, which they sometimes saw reflected in the Bible, was the one that God had ordained”
I think she is successful.
Over eight readable chapters, Lucy pursues her argument through the pages of Scripture – closing with the difficult words of 1 Timothy 2:8-15. A particular strength of her argument is starting in the creation narratives, and also taking seriously the incarnation of Jesus.This might sound obvious – but is often lacking in discussions of women in leadership, etc., as the focus shifts to particular texts. Brilliantly, Lucy does not shy away from any of the ‘hard texts’ and is very careful and thorough in her engagement with what a wide variety of voices say that they say. One particularly helpful angle, perhaps very relevant to some complementarian freinds, as well as cultural conversations, is an awareness ofthe complexity of gender roles. For example, she observes that “the model of manhood we see in Jesus encompasses such a broad range of characteristics that it challenges fixed views of what the essence of masculinity is“. Amen! Lucy reminds us that manhood or womanhood is not the end and goal of the Christian life, because “the destiny of all believers is to become like him and participate in his being“. Good anthropology and Christo-centric eschatology go hand in hand in this helpful book.
One highlight of the book is the author’s willingness to concede things. That makes it much easier to take her exegesis seriously, as well as feeling that Lucy has heard and understood those with whom she disagrees, rather than just steamrolling over objections. In this, I do think the reader can experience something of what Christlike character in debate can be! This Christo-centrism is clear, and ultimately drives her opinion: “In previous chapters we saw that Jesus’ interactions and friendships with women were unqualifiedly affirming. In my view, a woman should feel confident to proceed in any form of ministry or service in the church simply onthe basis of Jesus’ treatment of women and the promise of the pouring out of the Spirit ‘on all flesh’“. Regardless of your own view, it is hard to say that Lucy is taking the position she does in spite of Scripture, and like other evangelical egalitarians (to use shorthand!) this is important to note.
Practically speaking, this book is a very good one to read. As well as orienting the interested reader to the state of the debate, it also includes helpful lists of all the women in the New Testament (more than you’d think!) and some fairly challenging analysis of how different Bible translations change the way we think (personally, I’ll still use the ESV, but this book makes a good case for being wary of it – but that’s another story for a blog post about Bible translation!). Lucy writes with passion and insight, but also grace and compassion for those with whom she interacts fiercely. Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women is now probably my go-too book for discussion of the issues – and I expect to lend out my copy a few times in the months and years to come.