Sometimes I see a book recommended by people I really respect, and it jumps on to my ‘to read pile’. Sometimes even more people whose opinions I take seriously get excited too, and it jumps to the top. Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women is a book like this – and it lives up to the hype. From a conservative complementarian stable, Eric and Elyse write this book with a concern for the church to be truly biblical – rather than focusing on what women can and cannot do (Though I would argue that this is important, and a non-negotiable outcome of understanding what the Bible says about men and women), this book seeks to show what the Bible says about women, and how the church (and particularly, I think, men and leaders in churches) should act in light of this.
The fact that the book is written by a man and a woman who aren’t married to each other is itself a sign of hope, in my view. This book is thoroughgoingly biblical, in the sense that it traces the theme of women through the whole of Scripture, taking in the contours of creation, fall, Israel, and the mission and ministry of Jesus. This is a robust book of myth-busting, bible reading, and cultural engagement that in my view walks the careful way of listing to the concerns that some have raised without ignoring what the Bible says. It is notable, in my view, that the authors complementarian convictions don’t jump off the page – making this book helpful to Christians of both persuasions.
By tracing what the Bible actually says about women, Elyse and Eric shine a light into some of the more difficult parts of scripture. And, as you might expect if you read it seriously, the results are beautiful. Indeed, one surprising and encouraging theme is the way in which the Bible actually records women as the first in many things – not least in the powerful truth that “The Lord’s ability to do the impossible is first declared in regard to what he will do through a barren woman“. Amen! (The story of Sarah, in case you were wondering). From here a particularly beautiful theme comes out with regard to women in the lineage of Jesus (and not exclusively in terms of their ability to give birth or not!):
“These women point to the truth that the kingdom would arrive through a Savior like them. Unexpected and unlikely. Mistreated, wrongly accused, and shamed. Stigmatized (as a bastard child) and given a reputation for wrongdoing (drunkard, glutton, sinner). Declared unclean (hung on a tree under God’s curse; Galatians 3:13). He was barren, bereaved, unwanted, and abused (beaten and crucified)”
This is the wonderful thing about the Bible – when we read it holistically, carefully, hopefully, we see that what we might have expected (That it is anti-women) to be true based on some views, is not true. This is ultimately because this book turns upon the ministry and mission of Jesus to inaugurate and demonstrate the Kingdom of God:
“We don’t find the devaluing, objectification, abuse, or marginalization of women in the life and ministry of Jesus. If these actions and attitudes had no place in the life of the perfect human and King of Kings, they certainly have no place in our leadership, our workplaces, our locker room talk, our homes, our cultures, or our churches. The reign of Christ roots out and replaces all of this with something better”
This ‘something better’ is the beautiful call of the Gospel – and for the rest of the book (and throughout it!) Elyse and Eric are careful to point to Jesus, rather than any other authority, to challenge the church to celebrate the value of women. This book is immensely practical – providing deep biblical resources to challenge much injustice, and also unexpectedly to pursue unity. I particularly appreciated, in the context of the Kingdom being now and not yet, the author’s invitation and call to unity:
“We are complementarians by biblical conviction. We are not ashamed of this conviction. Nevertheless, we wish to emphasize that we are with and not against egalitarian brothers and sisters in the faith; we join them in defending and upholding the worth of women, even as we delight to link arms with them in declaring the one true Gospel. Christian conviction should compel Christian unity, not excuse Christian division…”
You can probably tell that I enjoyed this book immensely. I will be recommending it widely, particularly to brothers and sisters with whom I disagree about the roles of women in the church, but agree on the primacy of Scripture. This is a bold and courageous book, and Elyse and Eric deserve thanks for writing it. I’d also recommend it to those whom agree with me in terms of an egalitarian position, to see what a truly generous and biblically-shaped compelementarianism might look like, at least in terms of understanding the value of women. For a look at why I and others hold that position, though, you might like to read Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scriptures’ Vision for Women.