Book Review: Does Christianity Squash Women?
Rebecca Jones, Does Christianity Squash Women? A Christian Looks at Womanhood, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005). 224 pp. $12.99 (U.S.).
It is reasonable to ask why we need yet another book on women in the Church. There are numerous valid answers to such a question.
First, each generation needs to look at issues that played a key role in the Church of Jesus Christ prior to their generation. Many of the younger people were not even born when some of the debates were occurring regarding important doctrines or positions on women’s ordination and their proper roles. Therefore, there is a need to keep the older issues in front of the younger people.
Second, in the course of time new information may have come to the forefront to shed new light on an issue dealt with previously. This new information needs to be incorporated into the discussion.
Third, it just might be that a new book is written on an old subject and it takes a slightly different approach from previous books on the topic thereby shedding no new light, but certainly shedding different light on the matter.
It is particularly the first and third reasons that I believe make Rebecca Jones’ book a very worthwhile read for women in the 21st century Christian Church. That is not to say that Rebecca completely ignores the second reason, but, like the discussions on infant baptism, it is really not a question of finding new texts. In the history of the Church, the pertinent, relevant texts have been discussed—repeatedly. There have not been any new arguments for or against infant baptism for quite a while. The texts are there. We simply need to look at them and connect the dots. Something very similar is at play in the discussions surrounding the roles of women in the Church.
As I read Mrs. Jones’ book there were three particular facets that drew and held my attention:
First, her style is a very readable, fluid one. Her command and use of the English language makes this book a joy to read. Not only does she possess an excellent vocabulary, but her twists and turns of phrases are delightful. One example must suffice. She comments that Christian women need to understand that it’s godly to be sexy and men, conversely, need to understand that it’s sexy to be godly. Point made.
Second, she employs earthy, mundane examples to make her points. For example, she opens the first chapter with these words, “One day my fourteen-year-old daughter brought home a lesbian friend.” She had my attention. As a pithy summary of the conversation that took place in her home she concludes, “This confusion is no longer unique to teens of California. It’s exotic to be a lesbian, or at least a ‘bi.’” Mrs. Jones also uses everyday examples taken from her hairdresser and conversations with children about homework while she’s cooking dinner. To use a modern phrase, at the end of the book you know that Rebecca Jones is an “authentic woman.”
But what drew me to appreciate this book so much that I wanted to write a review of it was what I consider to be the rather unique approach that she uses to make her points. What is that approach? She comes at her topic from a solidly covenantal, redemptive-historical point of view.
As she weaves her way through Scripture, the reader is aware that they are being taken on a redemptive-historical journey that clearly explains the place, plight, and privilege that women have in the Bible. Chapter 5 (The Baby) walks us through discussions about Eve, Sarah, Deborah, and Abigail. In the case of Deborah—a much disputed figure in the debates about the role of women in the Church—we are told, “Deborah’s story is placed in the downward spiral of Israel’s disobedience” and “Rather than encouraging women leaders, Deborah’s story underlines the fact that women were not meant to be the leaders in Israel” (pp. 76-77). Particular attention is also paid to the content in which many of the Old Testament narratives are found. For instance, “The story of Abigail is intentionally placed in between two stunning accounts of David’s grace and restraint in sparing Saul’s life. He refuses to lay a hand on God’s anointed king” (78). With Nabal, however, it’s a different story. He’s a petty tyrant in league with Saul against David. In his anger, David is willing to “take the gloves off,” but Abigail intervenes for her foolish husband
Jones also tackles the narrative of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (Bath-shua), the bride of the Hittite soldier in David’s army and how God used these women in particular situations to bring about the inclusion of the Gentiles as well as how he continued to be faithful to his covenant promises in spite of the sinfulness of his people.
The treatment that Mrs. Jones gives of Jesus is also quite enlightening. She points out that our Lord respected women and honored them although he never suggested that they should attempt to usurp the role that God has assigned to them in the covenant of grace. There are God-ordained roles both for men and women, which must be obeyed in all places and at all times.
Moreover, Jones does not shy away from an open and frank discussion about biblical submission. She cites certain women who “rebel against their husband’s authority, refusing to accept what God has placed in their lives for protection and for holiness…” These women are obviously not in submission (p. 165). This type of action on the wife’s part makes the man “useless as a husband and father. She takes everything into her own hands and makes him look like a fool in the process” (Ibid.).
What is the proper approach? “Radical positive obedience is just the opposite of this stubborn autonomy. It is not merely a grudging passivity. A wife doesn’t just become silent and go into neutral. To obey Christ’s command to submit, a wife must work actively to know and honor the heart desires of her husband. She conforms herself to its joys, its instincts, and its passions, and she encourages the children to do the same. Submitting to her husband is far more than avoiding the temptation to belittle him. It involves lifting him up, honoring him actively in her heart and before others, and verbally encouraging him” (pp. 165-166).Some, no doubt, will take issue with Jones’ book that it does not answer all the questions concerning the role of women. In reality, it isn’t meant to. It does, however, answer many, most of them. The secret to unlocking the practical application of this book lies in Jones’ redemptive-historical reading of Scripture. For those who have never heard of covenant theology or God’s covenant of grace, this book will be a challenge. You will be required first to become grounded in how God deals with his people from Genesis to Revelation. Once you get a handle on that aspect of the “warp-and-woof” of the Bible, then Jones’ book will be one that you will return to time and time again.