A Book Review: Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James
“Into this world of breathtaking opportunities and shocking atrocities, the church attempts to speak with relevance to women. But the message often fails to address the opportunities, changes and contingencies of life in a fallen world. It is not far-reaching enough to encompass every woman’s whole life within this multicultural, rapidly changing world.”
— Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Zondervan 2010)
I spent Friday evening and part of the day Saturday reading Carolyn Custis James’ new book, Half the Church. The quote above, printed on the inside cover, caught my attention. I often have felt short-changed by the message sent to women in the church—the message that we are to be wives and mothers first and that we are to submit to our husbands and take a backseat to the work of men in the church.
I’ve longed for more. I’ve longed to engage fully in the community.
Part of my longing and my inability to engage fully in the community is because I’ve bought into that message, at least partly. I’ve bought into the message that draws a line “establishing parameters for how much or how little we are permitted to do in the church” and that what I have to offer is “restricted to appropriate zones within the church” (p. 48-49). I haven’t bought into it intentionally—in fact, I’ve resisted it—but I let it seep in through the chinks in my armor and interfere with my identity as a woman Christ-follower. And, because I perceived that other women in the church willingly submitted to the message, I slowly conformed to the message.
Half the Church is refreshing. Using beautiful images of several women from Scripture, James paints a beautiful picture of God’s plan for women. She seeks to answer three questions:
(1) What message does the church offer women in the twenty-first century?
(2)What will the church do to address the rampant suffering of women throughout the world?
(3) What message are we sending to the world by how we value and mobilize our own daughters? (p. 41).
Candidly, I did not walk away with solid answers to those three questions. But, I’m not sure they were the questions I needed answered. Instead, I walked away with a refreshing view of God’s vision for women as His image bearers and ezars (warriors). That He desires me to be a vital contributor to the community—that He is counting on me to share the gifts He blessed me with. Only when I share my gifts do I enter God’s kingdom and carry out things I could never imagine.
So, as I reflect on the identity that I have through my relationship with Christ, I hold a beautiful, transformed, image, as God intended. Perhaps within the church I will still struggle to share my gifts if they are not welcome—if the role the church continues to offer women is limited. But, I don’t want my identity to be dominated by a debate about the role of women. Instead, I will seek to make my identity in Christ dominated by loving God and sharing the gifts He has given me in the everyday kingdom.
If you want a refreshing look at the vision God has for women in this broken world, I encourage you to read Half the Church. You might be disappointed that James doesn’t expressly address what the church can do to address the suffering of women in the world. But, I don’t think that is what she intended when she raised the question. Rather, I think she leaves that to us and our response to Christ. As we lean into Christ and engage in the kingdom as image bearers and warriors for Christ, He equips us to respond to the suffering and injustice in the world.