Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Book Review: Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James was inspired by the author's reading of the classic book Half the Sky by Amy Carmichael. 

Amy Carmichael was an Irish Presbyterian missionary who served for 55 years in India, where she founded an orphanage and mission that rescued young Indian girls dedicated to the Hindu temple and forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests. She spent her life defending and protecting Indian women from a culture and tradition that exploited and suppressed them and was a prolific author.

Sadly, women in parts of the world today are not yet freed from oppression. Honor killings, female infanticide, and sexual exploitation of very young girls, as well as barriers to the education and inclusion of women in society continue to keep many women from using their God-given talents.

Carolyn Custis James offers a thorough exegesis of scripture to show that God intended women to be a full partner with men using both Old and New Testament examples. She calls this the "Blessed Alliance". She embraces the term "ezer" (image-bearer) for women in order to highlight the theological point that women as well as men are God's "ezers" in this world.  I found both terms a bit contrived and over-used throughout the book.

For those of us who are already persuaded, she is preaching to the choir. But this book is not really meant for us, it is meant for that part of the evangelical church that does not fully embrace the equality of women and men in society or the church. This is a concept called "complementarianism" which means that God intended women and men to have not equal, but complimentary roles. Egalitarians and Complementarians are currently at odds in a number of these denominations as they debate the extent to which women should submit to the leadership of men in a culture where women are increasingly empowered in every area of life.

James does point out that women ministers and priests still struggle with a "stained glass ceiling" but she is more focused on advocating an egalitarian viewpoint to those who have not yet accepted it.

One of the strongest points she makes in the book is that too often Christian teaching to women focuses to that particular phase of life when women are wives and mothers.  This  applies to most women for less than half of their lives and does not take into consideration the 60% of women at any given time are single and do not have dependent children. Another strength of the book is her vision for the church's advocacy of the empowerment of women everywhere in the world.

Half the Church is written for small group  or individual study. Each chapter has suggested questions for discussion included afterwards. I think It would be an interesting choice for classes or book groups in the more conservative churches, but probably not as compelling for liberals and progressives.

The publisher, Zondervan, sent me a copy of this book for review. I did not promise to write a favorable review in exchange and did not receive any compensation other than the book.

Zondervan generously sent me an additional copy of Half the Church to give away. I will also give away my review copy, which I was careful NOT to mark up and highlight. Please leave me a comment with your email address if you would like one of these copies. I'll hold a random drawing if more than 2 of you are interested!

Update: Here's another review from my friend Robin at Metanoia.
And for an insightful review from a woman pastor in a conservative evangelical tradition, see the review from Dorcas.


ROBERTA said...

"complimentarian" - it sounds like it might be a compliment but then again, not!

robert austell said...

QG, I'd be interested in a copy.


stinuksuk said...

isn't it interesting that I just spent some time with a woman yesterday evening who was questioning the call of women to be "ordained" ministers. She's been part of an evangelical Christian church. Perhaps, this would be a book to give to her?

Quotidian Grace said...

It would be. It does discuss the role of women in the church but its focus is broader than that.

Would you like one of the copies I'm giving away?

Mac said...

The word is "complementarian", used with respect to this issue, to describe two incomplete roles--one male and one female--which, when taken together make a single unity.

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks for the correction, Mac. I will correct my post. I'm sorry for the error!

stinuksuk said...

Sure QG, I would love to pass it on to the woman I spoke with.
Need my e-mail for particulars?

Quotidian Grace said...

Yes, just email me (jody dot harrington at gmail dot com) your name and mailing address and I'll send it to you for your friend!

Lucy Mills said...

It's been fascinating reading so many reviews of the same book - from different backgrounds and genders, too.

I found this book very encouraging. Yes, i am in the evangelical tradition, but I've not grown up with negative or limiting views about women - the church I grew up in had a woman as vicar and now I am in a church with a woman as senior minister (my husband is her associate!). So I don't think any previous discouragement was to do with my evangelicalism per se - not for me, anyway.

I think, actually, there is still the sense in culture that the 'ideal' is to find an 'other half' - think of all the women's mags and romantic films etc and there's an implication that until we 'find' that relationship we are, somehow, incomplete. (I suspect that this is not an issue confined to women, either.)

Reading this book felt like a lovely antedote to these 'subliminal' ideas, if you like.

ceemac said...

If you poke around on the internet (I'll not mention blogs since that could attract visitors you may not want)you will find members of her own denomination (PCA) who consider her a radical feminist.

Quotidian Grace said...

@ceemac, yes that's one of the denominations currently having the debates I mentioned in my review. I didn't realize she was a PCA member.

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