Saturday, June 17, 2006

Book Review: Why Not Women?

There is a profound injustice being perpetuated within Christianity that needs to be urgently dealt with. Millions of women are being prevented from using their gifts to the full because they are seen, by many people, to be restricted in their roles by the teaching of Scripture. The discrimination against women in the church takes many subtle forms that keep the oppression hidden from view -- but it is there for those who want to look carefully enough. Underlying this treatment of women is a particular interpretation of a number of Scriptures that, on the surface, seem to justify the limiting of women's roles in the church. But these passages of Scripture are frequently ripped from their historical and literary contexts to justify a long-standing prejudice against women that is derived, not from Scripture, but from non-Christian philosophies and religions. The Christian church needs to humbly admit its sin in this area of practice and liberate and empower women to serve God and God's people in the way that God has gifted them to do so. But this is not going to happen while a particular interpretation of Scripture continues to hold authority. And it is only correct that, if people believe the Bible teaches something, they hold to that interpretation. But the question is, Are the interpretations of these Biblical passages accurate? The literature on this topic are legion. Some of it helpful and some of it not. But one book stands out amongst the rest, providing a probing re-examination of the church's interpretation of these contentious passages. Why Not Women? A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership is an absolutely must-read book, especially for those of us who think we have read the last word on this topic. Loren Cunningham (founder of Youth With a Mission) and David Hamilton (a biblical scholar) have teamed together to provide a genuinely fresh look at this topic. They write with passion combined with a rigorous approach to interpreting Scripture. Their examination of the biblical passages related to women brings some profoundly important and original insights to what are usually thought of as very difficult to understand. Why Not Women? begins with an impassioned plea to deal with the issue of women's ministry in Christianity which, in the authors' view, attacks not only women's and men's roles, but the very character of God! The authors argue that this matter is urgent if we are to carry out the work that God wants us to do in the world and if we are to live in a way consistent with the gospel that liberates and empowers all people, female and male, to serve God and their fellow human beings. This is followed by a chapter discussing how we know what we believe and the importance of knowing God and approaching Scripture in a rigorously objective way, avoiding the extremes of liberalism and legalism as we try to come to grips with the truth of God's word. There is then a discussion of the issue of spiritual gifts and the way these function in Scripture and the church, making the point that God's gifting of people determines the nature of their roles and ministry in the church and the world. This is illustrated by the incredibly large number of women prophets, evangelists, and teachers in Scripture itself. Cunningham and Hamilton argue that the Bible examples of women fulfilling these roles shows that God sees women as equal partners with men in ministry. Not allowing women to exercise their gifts freely means that we are limiting and frustrating God's work among us. But, if this is so, then where do the distorted views that many of us hold about women come from? Certainly not from Scripture, as far as the authors are concerned. In a fascinating series of chapters, David Hamilton shows how the church's understanding of the place and role of women is derived from secular and pagan philosophies and religious beliefs that, in contrast to the Bible, demean, oppress, and subjugate women because of the belief that they are inferior to the male. These beliefs have infiltrated Christianity and predisposed us to read Scripture a certain way. What the church hasn't genuinely appreciated is the way that Jeus came and broke down the walls of separation between estranged groups, including that between women and men. As Hamilton clearly shows, the gospels are filled with a radical critique of the way that women were understood and treated in Jesus' time. Then the authors turn to Paul -- who has often been understood as misogynist (hating women). David Hamilton takes an incredibly fresh look at some of the most difficult passages on this topic, including 1 Corinthians 7; 11:2-16 (on headship, praying and prophesying); 14:26-40 (on the issue of whether women should keep silent in church); 1 Timothy 2:1-15 (on permitting women to teach or not); and 3:1-15 (on the gender of leaders in the early church). I cannot stress enough how important these sections of Why Not Women? are, especially for those who think that they know what these passages are teaching! It is easy, sometimes, to think that we have read all there is to know about something because we eventually begin to read the same things every time we pick up a book on a topic. But this book will give you new information, new perspectives, that are essential to consider on this topic. Do not brush this book aside. As the authors point out, if our understanding of Scripture is incorrect, then we are not fulfilling God's desire for us as God wants us to. The way we treat women is a moral issue. The authors of Why Not Women? finish with this plea:
It is time for us to rethink some of our oldest beliefs and traditions. It is time for us to repent for whatever ways we have hindered God's work and misread His Word. It is time for us to release women to be all that God has called them to be. It is time.
It is time. Women have waited and suffered long enough. When it comes to ministry, the question is Why Not Women? This book answers: There's no reason why women should not! You owe it to yourself and to all women to read this book prayerfully and honestly. Then it is time to do all we can to allow women to live and work in the way that God intended all of us to do.

1 comment:

  1. Heitland wrote this critique of Why Not Women? as a senior YWAM leader & base director. He felt it necessary to address the serious error that Cunningham was proposing with his Egalitarian perspective on gender roles in mission outreach.
    All should be in submission and Cunningham though leader of a para-church organization which was formed to support the church in evangelism was submitted to Scripture till 2000. God has wonderfully blessed Cunningham's work in founding YWAM in 1960 till 2000 at which time he was 65 years old. Instead of praising the Lord for the wisdom & depth of ministry that God has blessed YWAM with,he thought he could amplify the effectiveness of YWAM by seeing men & women as functionally equal in ministry. In this he was overlooking the powerful institution of marriage that God had given in Genesis. This is pride and this was contrary to the biblical exegisis of most evangelical bible schools. See all the references to bible scholars given by Heitland.
    The power of Evangelism is by the Holy Spirit, Acts 1.8 by Christians who are faithfull to scripture. I prepose in the long term that the Holy Spirit will be quenched by application of an Egalitarian lifestyle in YWAM couples. That if women take on an Egalitarian perspective to their ministry within YWAM, that these marriages for the most part will be ineffectual in evangelism as families and that they might end up in separation & divorce. One way is to appraise YWAM couples functional attitudes in their marriages. I would dare to say that most if not all couples would confess that they live by the complementarian view of marriage and not by the Egalitarian view.