Edited by Chrystie Cole
Grace Church Publishing, 2013 (Greenville, SC)
NOTE: this review is 3-parts long. If you’d like to read an abridged, 1-part, version – see here.
This book is published by a local church in my area. I recently discovered that it is being utilized by a growing number of other local churches. The editor was also interviewed by CBMW, which would indicate the influence is spreading further. For this and other reasons, I have chosen to carefully review and interact with this book. Obviously, it is from a complementarian perspective, yet there are some distinct positives about it which set it apart. I’ll begin with those things…
The end of the book has a couple chapters focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how we should be living in light of the gospel. Some of this section could apply to anyone, and not distinctly to women. It is a good review of gospel truths. It is easy to revert to performance or works based living, and forget our secure position in Christ.
The book’s approach does attempt to be more inclusive to all women and not be quite so alienating. “Biblical femininity” (so-called) will look a little different in the lives of individual women. Not every woman must be a stay-at-home mom. An effort is made to include single women, and not make them feel less or deficient. Women are encouraged to not find their identity in their role in life (typically wife or mother) but rather in Christ. I agree with this wholeheartedly and find that it can be a major weakness for females. There are dangers in defining yourself by your role. Roles are temporary and can change, and then what do you do? You need an anchor outside of your role in life – that is Christ.
While Biblical Femininity attempts to be diplomatic and avoid extremes, the remainder of this review will be critical. The book is based on faulty exposition of Genesis 1-3 and imposes things on the Scripture that is simply not there. Of course, we can all be guilty of this and no one is purely objective, yet I hope to graciously point out some major flaws and inconsistencies in the foundational principles this book is based upon. When the foundation is off it leads to conclusions that are also faulty.
The book is centered around woman being an ezer, as in ezer kenegdo from the Hebrew in Genesis 2:18. It actually does a good job explaining that this phrase means essential counterpart, corresponding strength, or indispensable companion. And that ezer is not a weak word, but a warrior word. It can refer to God or be used as a military word. An ezer brings needed help and strength. With this good beginning, the book goes downhill from there making assumptions or imposing things on the text.
Chapter 2 entitled “Back to the Beginning” looks at Genesis chapters 1-3. Genesis 1:26-27, 2:5-9, 15-17, and 18-25 are quoted and various points are made. Such as that Adam was created to work, and to be responsible. While Eve was created with a relationship orientation. Eve’s job, or core calling is fulfilled through her relationship with others. Women see what is lacking and fill the gap.
Hmm…really? Where is this in the biblical text? It seems to be based on the verses that say Adam was working in the garden, naming the animals, and establishing order over it. However, Eve did not exist yet so she could not have been described as doing any of those things in those particular verses! If Eve had been created already, I am quite certain she would have been right in there with Adam. Eve would have been working and taking responsibility along with him.
Furthermore, I found it interesting that Genesis 1:26-27 is quoted but verse 28 is left out. While verse 26 does say “let them have dominion” some of the emphasis is lost that is elaborated upon in verse 28. It says that God blessed them and said to them, that they are to subdue and rule over the earth. The creation mandate is given to man and woman together. There is no hint of distinct roles or job descriptions here. Adam and Eve are commanded together to co-rule the earth.
My critique is not insinuating that I think there are no differences between men and women. Of course there are. The creation of the woman stemmed not only from the need for Adam to have a companion, but from ontological necessities rooted in the nature of the Godhead. Femaleness was also an aspect of the imago dei.
To give the book credit, it does briefly point out that the distinction between Adam working/taking responsibility and Eve being the relational helper does not mean that men are not relational and women should not work. But it does emphasize that these are the core callings of men and women. I hope it does not appear that I am being nit picky with this, but the book’s argument builds and grows – and I think it is important to point out impositions upon the text that only continue to expand.
An additional point is that in Genesis 1:26-28, there are only 2 authority structures: God over all creation, and man and woman’s joint authority over the earth and creation. Their dominion was directed towards creation, and not toward each other. Remember that this was before the Fall, and harmony characterized their relationship – not tension or intention of overthrow. Again, there is nothing in Genesis 1 and 2 to indicate that Adam was the responsible one, the leader, or authority figure. There was joint authority and they were to co-rule the earth as God’s representatives.
More next post! Please stay with me as there is key content to be considered.