Regular readers of my blog know that I am an advocate for women in the church and home. Women and men alike should be able to serve God in their homes and churches based on the spiritual gifts and proclivities given to them by God. Sometimes I am asked for a book recommendation, and this is always tough. I’ve read a multitude of exceptional books, but many are “too something” for the typical reader…too academic, too comprehensive, or too focused on one narrow aspect of the issue. Well, I finally have a book to recommend! This is it.
Gender Roles and the People of God
Rethinking What we Were Taught About Men and Women in the Church
By Alice Matthews. Zondervan, 2017.
This book strikes an ideal balance. It is introductory and concise, yet not basic. It actually is a comprehensive book, but manages to be so without being encyclopedic. Matthews introduces the reader to key players and assertions in the debate over gender roles, and carefully interacts with the Scripture.
Gender roles are a hot-button issue among evangelicals, but Matthews avoids strident tones. The book’s tone is positive, not cynical or critical. She is respectful even when pointing out the problems with certain viewpoints. She has a spirit of concern, not divisiveness, as she helps the reader rethink what they have typically been taught about men and women in the church.
For those who are concerned that this means moving away from the authority of the Bible, Matthews emphasizes in the introduction that “God’s Word was and remains the first and last word beyond which I could not step” – and this is clear throughout the book.
The book is divided into 3 parts: Stand-out Women in their Patriarchal World, Assessing the Theology behind Gender-based Hierarchy, and Historical Realities that Still Challenge Women. As someone who has already read extensively on this issue, I did not really learn anything new, as I often do with such books – but that is not meant as a critique.
Matthews is not presenting groundbreaking research or new insight. In the introduction, she admits this fact, and expresses the debt she owes to the exegetical work and theological insight of those before her. However, what makes this book so valuable is how Matthews so skillfully pulls together the information. Gender Roles and the People of God cogently summarizes much of the material that is out there, in a way that should make it accessible to a broader reading audience. The end of each chapter has questions for thought and reflection – unusual for a book of this topic – further helping it be accessible.
Despite its brevity of 235 pages, I have a hard time thinking of anything not addressed. It is all in there: An overview of women in the Old and New Testaments and how we can fail to truly see the influential and authoritative roles they played in a patriarchal culture. The critical opening chapters of Genesis, the battleground texts of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, and the meaning of “head” in the NT are considered. There is even a chapter on the ESS debate (Eternal Subordination of the Son). Don’t worry, if you have no idea about ESS, this chapter explains it and its relevance.
Two things that make this book stand apart: #1 The last section of the book reviews Christian and secular history in regards to women. This is important and often overlooked in other such books. We are all a product of history and culture, and we need to consider how we have been influenced by cultural shifts and trends – And possibly mistaken such things as Christian or biblical, when they actually are not! #2 It has an intro to general hermeneutics and Bible interpretation. This is important, especially for readers who are not academic, to understand basic interpretive issues.
A final note for those who worry that an egalitarian approach obliterates the differences between men and women. Matthews makes it clear that egalitarians also believe in the complementary nature of men and women! (Yes, we do!) The word complementarian got hijacked. It is precisely because men and women are different that their gifts need to be fully utilized in the church and home, and not be restricted to separate spheres.
I recommend this book. It has the potential to do just what the subtitle says – to help evangelical Christians rethink what they were taught about men and women in the church. Read it. Get a copy to give away. By the way, Dr. Alice Matthews wrote this book at the age of 86, after a life of service to God as a seminary professor and beloved by her students.