I came across a review of Carolyn Custis James' book Half the Church at the Gospel Coalition website this afternoon through a friend's post on facebook. I have met with Mrs. James about her book (she is the wife of the provost at Gordon-Conwell where I recently graduated) and I am grateful that she highlights the ways in which women are ignored and ultimately oppressed within the global Church (though I do wish she would go a lot further in her critiques and solutions). Even though it is no secret that I am not a fan of the Gospel Coalition and their understanding of the Gospel, I was very troubled and disturbed by what the reviewer, Courtney Reissig, had to say. The review can be read here: http://tiny.cc/jkknx
Ms. Reissig starts the review by critiquing James' (supposed) views of marriage, submission, and ultimately the message of the Gospel. It is obvious that Reissig would identify herself as a "complimentarian" which maintains that even though women are ontologically equal with men, they have different roles and responsibilities within this world. To me, that is like saying minorities are equal but segregation is still justified. To offer a complimentarian position without believing that it is truly offensive and ultimately violent to the cause of women is simply dishonest to me. But that is for another day. Reissig then goes on to imply that she disagrees with James' interpretation of the Hebrew word "helper" in Genesis 2 when applied to Eve. I simply do not understand how it can be argued that the Hebrew word used in Genesis in relation to Eve can mean anything other than sharing complete authority and leadership since the same adjective is used to describe Godself in various points throughout the Hebrew Bible. When the word "helper" is used to describe the quintessential domestic housewife who stays home and takes care of her kids (please read: there is nothing wrong with doing such), it is a completely shallow misrepresentation of the Hebrew word and imports a tremendous amount of conservative evangelical American cultural baggage.
Moreover, I truly do not understand how the word submission, especially when it is used in a one-way fashion within marriage can be understood as anything less than inequality. We can say all day long that female submission to male headship does not mean oppression and inequality, but one need look no further than the lack of expectations for women within the average North American evangelical Church to see how women truly do not have a voice and a role within the Kingdom of God outside of domestic duties. The way that women are treated and talked about within these complimentarian circles gives one the impression that they are children and men are their parental figures rather than truly equal creatures before God.
But beyond all of these troubling understandings of gender, the line that most bothered me was when Ms. Reissing somehow believes it is acceptable to say that "oppressed women do not need autonomy and freedom from authority so much as a Savior who provides for them, protects them, and leads them to himself." First, I do not know what sort of atonement theory or understanding of the Gospel would lead someone to make such a strict dichotomy between freedom from oppression (and ultimately violence) and redemption. How does the Christian believe they understand the words and deeds of Jesus Christ if they believe that the only thing that matters for oppressed women in the world is to have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" (which is what Reissing seems to be hinting at here with her language of a vertical imperative for women in relation to Jesus Christ). Besides the fact that language of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ rarely is fleshed out and usually does not make a lot of sense, I am troubled that anyone could think the plight of women who are oppressed by violence is not of essential importance for the Church. Has our conception of Jesus Christ and His ministry become so docetic that the only thing that matters any longer is personal piety and private devotional times? Does the message of Jesus Christ in the cross not demand us to fight and passionately pursue the way of justice and mercy for the oppressed and outcast in society?
For all of these reasons, I have become increasingly concerned at the direction that the evangelical Church in North America has taken in its own conception of the Gospel. The contents of this review are simply irresponsible and not acceptable for the Church that seeks to be faithful to the ministry of Jesus Christ in its words and deeds. If the Gospel ever means placing the cause against oppression and violence as second best, how can we say that we truly have any identification with the God who dwelled among His people in Jesus Christ in order to offer us new life and hope?