Design of Women: Further Study
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
In this post, I offer resources for you to look more into the topic of the role of women from a biblical standpoint. All of these resources are attempting to interpret and articulate what the Scriptures have to say about the role of women. While I don’t agree with all of them and most I only agree in part with, it’s important to take into account multiple perspectives when studying a topic.
When we listen to many voices on a subject, we grow in knowledge, understanding, and compassion. Instead of reading my articles or reading other’s content to reinforce or defend against your own view, I encourage you to listen. Listen to the heart behind what people are trying to say. Listen to your sisters and brothers making an effort to stay true to the word of God. Don’t start thinking of ways to unravel their argument or to unravel the other side’s argument. Instead, listen.
"We have a lot more in common than we think we do."
After you listen, draw your conclusions and embrace your convictions, but continue to love and in humility, seek unity. The role of women is a secondary issue in the church. It’s not core doctrine such as the divine inspiration of Scripture or salvation through Christ or the three persons of the Trinity. The role of women is a topic where the Scriptures lack total clarity and leave room for mystery, multiple interpretations, and different points of view.
We don’t have to agree, but we do have to love each other—deeply, humbly, and with all sincerity. Through my research, study, and conversations on the role of women, I am sure of this, we have a lot more in common than we think we do. In the words of Paul, may we treat each other “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2–3).
LANGUAGE AND DEFINITIONS
Orthodox: Those who hold to the historically, biblically, and theologically agreed-upon core doctrines and beliefs. I'll also use orthodox to talk about Christians who hold the Bible as the foundation for their beliefs. When I use the term "orthodox," I am not referring to the eastern or Greek orthodox religion.
Complementarian: If someone holds the position of a complementarian they believe there in some degree of God-given gender hierarchy. They tend to focus on the distinct roles between men and women, and the ways that Christians can exhibit faithful femininity and masculinity.
Complementarian positions have a wide range. The least conservative position would be those who only believe men have primacy or authority in marriage yet any role in the church is open to women. A moderate position would be those who believe men have primary responsibility in marriage in addition to primary responsibility in church leadership—at least as elders. The most conservative position would be those who hold that men are the God-given leaders in everything—church, work, marriage, family, and any other arena. The most extreme view is the belief that women are ontologically (or inherently) lesser than men, or that men are the ideal and women have a defect by nature. This was once held in secular and church history, so remnants of this ideology may linger into some doctrines, but generally this view is not outwardly held by orthodox Christians.
I’ll use the term “conservative” to speak of the degree a person or organization leans toward the complementarian position. I am not using conservative to speak of their political stance. I am also not using the term “conservative” to evaluate how biblically sound a church or person is (people often associate “conservative” with bible-centered or not liberal—at least in the South).
Egalitarian: Those who hold to egalitarian views believe in more equality between men and women. They tend to focus on the equality we have in Christ, ways men and women are similar, and the exercise of God-given gifts.
Egalitarian positions can include those who believe in distinct callings and commands between men and women and also see room in the Scriptures for both men and women to exercise leadership in the church, home, and workplace. They do not see the importance of defining biblical masculinity and femininity but rather focusing on what we have in common as humans and in Christ. Some believe there are no distinctions between men, women, and their roles (i.e. wives are not called to submit, husbands are not called to initiate or have primacy). The most extreme view would believe in gender fluidity, but I don’t know any Christians (personally or publicly) who would meet the marks of orthodoxy and fall into this category. Among those who would be considered orthodox, biblically-faithful churches and individuals, there is much less of a spectrum of positions within egalitarians in comparison to complementarians.
I’ll use the term “more progressive” to speak of those who would fall into the egalitarian position. I do not mean less biblically faithful or liberal when I use these terms. I am only providing resources of those who fall into the orthodox category, meaning that they at least attempt to use the Scriptures as the foundation for their convictions, teachings, and life practice.
Discovering Biblical Equality is the standard book for the egalitarian position. If you want to understand or listen to the egalitarian position, this would be your minimum reading requirement.
Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood defends a very conservative complementarian position. The book, available for free as a PDF, is influential and well-known because it’s written in part and edited in full by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, who both have a wide scope of influence in the American evangelical church. They argue for the belief that men are called to lead in all spheres of life—home, church, and the workplace.
Even if you don’t agree with this position, it’s important to read because a handful of church leaders and individuals strongly believe this position and many books and articles (both complementarian and egalitarian) are written in response against these convictions.
It’s important to note that although written in the early 90s, this book is not outdated. Piper and Grudem were given the opportunity by their publisher to update the book (in the last decade) and opted not to because they still affirm the beliefs written in their book. Piper and Grudem both have so much to offer the church in other areas of doctrine and theology, but I personally think they missed the mark on this topic.
Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women would fall into the complementarian position with the belief that in marriage the husband is called to initiate and lead, but land more progressive in their belief that this does not apply to the church. In the church, they argue all positions are open to women. The authors take a thorough look at many of the debated women-related texts in the Bible. Their focus, as the title of the book states, is on ministry by women and women’s ability to exercise their gifts for the building up of the church body.
Women and Men in Ministry is less conservative than Piper and Grudem’s stances in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood but still toward the more conservative side of complementarianism.
Men and Women in the Church is less conservative than Women and Men in Ministry but more conservative, in some areas, than Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women. The author focuses on where many evangelical conservatives have common ground.
Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals highlights a redemptive hermeneutic (method of reading the Bible) that shows how the treatment of women and slaves progresses throughout the Scriptures but the acceptance of homosexual practice does not.
For example, in the Old Testament we see instances of women being raped and sexually abused as well as a tolerance of husbands having multiple wives in the Old Testament. Then in the New Testament, women seem to be given more rights and opportunities, and there's a push for husbands to love and be faithful to one wife. The same goes for slaves. Harsh treatment of slaves seemed to be more accepted among God's people in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament, there's a call for equality among social classes and for proper treatment of slaves. With homosexuality, however, he shows that there is no change. Homosexual practice was deemed a sin in the Old Testament and remains just as much a sin in the New Testament. Sadly, many church leaders believe that if we start to progress in the areas of women and race, then the next thing to come is an acceptance of homosexual practice in the church. This book, however, shows the redemptive movement among God's people in the areas of gender and race while holding fast to truth.
Half the Church leans toward the progressive side and focuses beyond the discussion of women’s roles and moves more into women’s world history and the need to minister to women. She also advocates for women to use their gifts more freely in the church and world.
No More Holding Back is a recently released book (July 2019) that highlights God’s design of women and encourages women to use their God-given gifts.
Are Women Human? is a short book composed of two essays by Dorothy Sayers that focuses on the ways women are not so different from men. It’s well-written, concise, applicable to our modern context, and thought-provoking.
Vindicating the Vixens takes a fresh look at stories of women in the Bible.
We Too discusses the sexual abuse crisis in the church, which is a common reason why many church leaders are beginning to relook into their stances on the role of women. She helps church leaders and members learn how to be a place of healing and restoration to those, especially women, who have suffered from sexual abuse both in and outside the church.
Mixed Ministry provides practical advice for men and women working in ministry together. Parts of the book may be in need of an update, but for the most part, it’s a helpful guide to church leaders seeking to faithfully navigate the challenges that arise by men and women working together in the church.
“Can A Woman Be A Pastor Teacher?” by Harold Hoehner highlights the differences between offices and gifts in the Bible.
The following church statements on the role of women all come from the Dallas area in Texas because that’s where I live, and I know these churches would all fall well within the orthodox, biblically-faithful category.
Conservatives, balanced views:
Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas
The Village Church in Flowermound, Texas
Conservative, balanced views in some areas and progressive in many areas:
Irving Bible Church in Irving, Texas
Progressive in many areas:
Bent Tree Bible Church in Carrollton, Texas
VIDEOS AND PODCASTS
How Can Men and Women Better Minister Together? on the DTS Voice
If you have additional resources (especially in the video and podcast category) you’d like me to consider, please send me a message through the “contact me” page.