Many books are written to inform. Of those, several aim to change the reader’s opinion of the given topic. Only a few succeed in forcing the reader to rethink previous assumptions and actually see the world through an entirely new perspective. It takes a special talent to draw a reader out of their shell and get them to really engage with the vision the author is struggling to convey.
In Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, Carolyn Custis James gives us a book of this exceedingly rare kind. She has a burden to share and she draws the reader in and delivers her message well. Her book is a riveting account of the trials of women in today’s world and a passionate plea aimed primarily at women, to take up the call and make their lives count for the kingdom of God.
Carolyn Custis James builds a case on the creation story of man and women being joint image-bearers for God called to subdue His world. She approaches the text with insight from studying today’s patriarchal societies of the Middle East. Her insight into the first few chapters of Genesis, the tales of Ruth and Esther and to several stories in the New Testament is alone worth the price of getting this book. She brings a fresh perspective and makes these passages come alive, yet she is not offering an innovative rewrite that unfaithfully handles God’s Word.
This book awakened in me a new awareness of the horrible prejudice and persecution women around the world endure. In India, girls between 1 and 5 are twice as likely to die as boys. They die of neglect and deprivation — no one cares for girls. And if they do make it into the young teenage years, they are open to being trafficked as a way to get rid of them. The fathers make a little bit of money out of it and get rid of the disgrace that is their daughter. The girls are abused in horrific ways. Not just India, in China a father is quoted as saying, “We don’t have to have daughters anymore!” This is his exclamation upon learning of technology that enables sex-selective abortion.
With the backdrop of such a world-wide low view of women, the author approaches the state of women in today’s church. She argues that too often our message for women only applies if they have a husband and children, and if their husband is living (or hasn’t left them). We ignore other women, and more than 50% of women are not in this class. She doesn’t denigrate motherhood, but she challenges us to see that being a woman is so much more than just having a motherhood role.
She stops short of openly challenging a complementarian position. Her message actually is worth listening to, by people on all sides of that debate. There are plenty of ways women can be involved in church-based and other ministry and yet not transgress Scriptural prohibitions. James shows how the very word “helper” (in Hebrew it is ezer) from Gen. 2 which describes the women, is usually a military term and often applied to God’s help for Israel. She shows how the language describing the Proverbs 31 women betokens a valorous, military context. She is literally, a “woman of valor”. The book calls women to champion the needs of suffering women, to rise up to God’s kingdom task of living out the gospel in this fallen world. These messages are needed by women in all kinds of churches.
While I still am bound by the word of God to see some divisions of roles in the home and the church, I was challenged to rethink just how much room and need there is for women to be active participants in the ministry God calls us to. I do think some of the church today is endeared of a traditional view which is not necessarily biblical. Our prizing of the motherly role, which is special (and which Carolyn Custis James seems not to give enough props to), can nevertheless be a message of despair for women who long to have children or long to be married but aren’t. Do we communicate to them that they should just sit around and wait, dolefully for Mr. Right? Or do we empower them to serve God with their whole being in a fulfilling way as women?
The book will stretch your mind and cause you to think, but it will be worth it. I encourage you to pick up a copy of this well written, riveting book. I highly recommend it.
Stay tuned for a giveaway where I’ll give out a copy of this book to one reader who enters the contest, compliments of Zondervan. Also, another book by Carolyn Custis James is still available for free on Kindle or iBooks (for a limited time).
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Zondervan for review as part of the Half the Church Blog Tour. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.