Friday, January 17, 2014

Books for the Journey: Women and Christianity

When I was an undergrad at our Christian college, I had a group presentation about women's roles in the Church.  If I recall correctly, we had about a month to prepare.  That sounds like a lot of time, but a month in the middle of college (with four or five other classes, extracurricular activities and lots of other homework assignments to juggle) goes by pretty quickly.  Our professor's goal was for us to take that month, do an in-depth study and emerge with a conclusion.  But a month isn't a lot of time to tackle a subject that complicated!

Up to that point, I had always been taught (and believed) that women couldn't be pastors or elders or have leadership over men in churches.  But I was beginning to question all that.  I saw the inconsistencies in hermeneutics, the incomplete arguments and knew there must be more to the issue than I had been taught.  But, unfortunately, it was a lot easier to just parrot the opinions I'd been given for years, find a few sources, make my powerpoint and take my easy A.

In a lot of ways, I'm disappointed with myself that I didn't go deeper then because I stood in front of a class and taught complementary views even when I had hesitations.  But to be fair, I think this issue (and many others) has been a lot more of a journey, than an assignment.  I've been researching and discussing this issues for several years now and, while I feel I've made a lot of progress, I don't think that the issue is closed to me yet.  I'm still learning from new writers and friends and still forming my opinions.  Perhaps I'll always be.

Last week I wrote a review of the book Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, which sparked a fun discussion in the comment section and gave me a chance to pull all that knowledge I've been storing up.  As I responded to comments, I realized that I just kept recommending books, which is in line with my undergrad experience.  Majoring in psychology meant a lot of papers and even more references.  And it doesn't hurt that I just happen to like books. ;)  Because of that post, I decided to put together a list of some of my favorite books on women and Christianity.

I'm labeling this "books for the journey" because I want to encourage people to view it that way.  It certainly has been a journey for me, and, in talking with other people, I feel like that's a common sentiment.  I don't expect a complementarian to read my post about Jesus Feminist and immediately change their mind about women's roles in the Church.  But if something I write piques their curiosity and that curiosity causes them to pick up a book and that book causes them to reconsider, THAT is worth it to me.

So here are the books that have helped me on this journey of discovering where women fit into Christianity.  I'm not saying that I agree 100% with each of these books, but each has caused me to think and helped me develop a more robust understanding of feminism and Christianity.  It is VERY hard for me to write 3-4 sentence book reviews, but I'm just giving a quick summary to explain why I'm recommending it.

1. Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women

Obviously, I liked this book.  You can read my whole review here, but I just say a quick bit here as well.  I appreciated Sarah's gracious tone and how she prays "for unity beyond conformity" (p. 5).  She advocates for "grace and kindness...especially for those who we believe are profoundly wrong" (p. 5).  If you're just beginning to research this subject, this book would be a good one to start with.

2. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky is another great book to read if you're just beginning this journey.  And when you do get to the other books on this list, you'll see Half the Sky quoted over and over again!  Kristof and WuDunn explore how women all over the globe have been subjugated simply because of their gender.  Oh, and there's also a documentary by the same name if you feel like I'm listing too many books!  

3. Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women

This title is obviously a play off of Half the Sky, but it's on another important topic: women in the Church.  Carolyn Custis James encourages her readers to look at these issues through a global and historical lens, instead of simply through our American perspective.

4. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "Master"

I read Rachel's book last year and loved it (although her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, is still my favorite!).  Rachel spends a year examining (and living!) God's commands for women.  It's funny and thought provoking.  So much more I could say about this book, but I'll leave it at this: read it.

5. Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis

If you're looking for a book that goes in depth on the hermeneutics of women in the Bible, this is it.  It is very academic and I still haven't made it through, but what I have read has been wonderful.  It comes recommended by my friend and mentor, Marlena Graves, who is one of the most trustworthy people I know.

6. Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality

I read this for a college class my senior year and it was the first book I read from an egalitarian perspective.  Until that point, I had always been taught from a complementary perspective, both implicitly and explicitly.  Groothuis' book gave me the confidence and the curiosity to continue on this journey.

7. ProLife Feminism: Yesterday and Today

 This is in my "to read" pile, but comes highly recommended.  Sometimes in conservative Christian circles, I think we see the word 'feminist' and immediately think of abortion.  And I think that's a dangerous correlation.  Certainly, there are many people who are both feminist and pro-choice.  But this book shows that there is a very strong history of feminists who are also pro-life.  (Side note: I hate the terms pro-life and pro-choice terms as they are misleading and inflammatory, but I am using them here because I think it is the easiest way to explain what I mean)

And if you're looking for something FREE that you can read right now, I recommend this article by The Junia Project dealing with I Timothy 2:12, which is one of the most confusing verses in this conversation.  And make sure you read the comments too!

Okay, it's your turn!  What books have helped you?

**This post contains Amazon Associates links


  1. Thanks for sharing these book titles!

  2. Here are some additional resources for anyone looking.

    This is the text of a sermon from Grace Church (north of Indianapolis) who recently changed their position on women in pastoral roles. I thought it was an excellent summary:

    Secondly, this post by Rachel Held Evans show what it would be like "if men got the Titus 2 treatment". Brilliant.


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