I was given "The Resignation of Eve" in order to write a review. I anticipated the delivery of the book in hopes to find fresh thinking and find new ideas on how to energize women into serving in various ministries. I gained this hope through the promotional materials surrounding this title. I have never been more disappointed in a book. I struggled through reading the entire book hoping to find some additional insight to the beginning premise by Jim Henderson. Basically, the only point for women to return or remain in church is to allow women to be equally measured with and for, all roles within the church structure.
The content of the book comes from multiple interviews with women who have had varying experiences in their church life. These experiences fit into three categories of resignation: women who resigned to, resigned from, and re-signed to the church. These stories are unfortunately ended with Henderson having the final take on their statements. So in a sense, echoing the very fact that his premise is against - men having final say over women.
The text includes statistical data gained through research and blog postings, sprinkling it in-between sections of the book. Barna Group was also hired to gain research data on this topic for Henderson to utilize in his writings. This research is presented at the end of the text.
A few issue I find with Henderson's work:
1. He equates roles of women in politics and business with the role of women in the church. While many of his interviewees become flustered with answering questions on the topic or formulating a position, the sheer fact is that politics and business are not held to church rule and shouldn't be measured thusly.
2. Many times Henderson raises issue with the requirement of women being submissive to men in the church, again applying the rule of submission to politics and business, he suggest as a valid argument: if you agree with submission and find the lack thereof a sin, but you are ok with women's roles in business and politics, why not sin within the church setting as well. Basically, sin and sin again, why not? - as his argument.
3. Many of his interviewee's life experiences are hard to read through without reacting emotionally to their predicaments of physical abuse and mental abuse. I agree these instances are wrong and should be righted; however, equal roles within the church are not the answer. I believe complementary roles are the answer.
Basically, Henderson is asking us to withdraw from scriptural authority because of the examples given of men's misuse of leadership, power, and authority towards women with a little modern culture adjustments thrown in for flavoring. My take for a solution gained from reading his text has little to do with women and their need for equality within the church order; but more to do with men fixing their bad judgment and behavior.
My caveat: I have no issues with submission to God. I have no issue with submission to my husband. I have no issue with the roles I am able to perform within my church; a church that doesn't allow women to preach, become elders or deacons. My reasoning for this is that my opinions and knowledge are respected. I serve on many committees within the church structure. I am not fearful to walk into a pastor's office for a meeting, to raise issue, or pass on a comment. My opinion is respected, as it should be. Male and females working together in total complementary roles to further God's glory.
I think every church in the United States should read, study, and consider the timely message of Jim Henderson's latest work, The Resignation of Eve.
I'd like to take a moment to personally thank Jim Henderson (and the Barna research group) for providing a platform to engage the topic of "women in the church" from the perspective of women. Thank you for sharing the stories of so many women who have struggled against, wrestled with, coasted under, or challenged the status quo. Most importantly, thank you for using your influence and position to promote egalitarian cooperation, affirmation and partnership within the church and among the body of Christ.
What you will not find in The Resignation of Eve: theological banter dissecting the pro's or con's surrounding the debate of the role(s) of women in the church or a biblical exegesis affirming or critiquing the role of women in the church. To my surprise, but the author's credit, Henderson avoids that road. In doing so, the reader is able to focus on the stories of the many women interviewed by the author, allowing the reader a space to offer their undivided attention.
What you can expect to gain from The Resignation of Eve:
(1) A candid look at how traditional, conventional, complementarian views of women in the church harm women, stifle church growth, and damage the witness and effectiveness of the church body as a whole.
(2) The opportunity to engage and wrestle with the topic personally through thoughtful conversations (and a full study guide).
(3) A challenge to the Church to consider the emotional and psychological effects of the message(s) communicated to women, be it via direct discourse or non-verbal cues, regarding their perceived and actual place in church polity, leadership, pastorate, and staff.
Whether the church cares to admit to admit it or not, she is in crisis. Young people, ages 18-30 are leaving the church in staggering numbers. Second to this demographic, women are leaving the church in large numbers as well. According to Barna research, church avoidance by women rose from 18% to 30% in the period between 1991 and 2003. In 2005 the number of unchurched women jumped to 38%! (pg xix) What would your church look like if 38% of the church up and left?
If the Church doesn't take note and begin partnering with women in ways that validate, affirm, integrate and appoint women into all levels of church life, women will continue to leave the church. Jim Henderson's book, The Resignation of Eve, is an essential tool to help any church begin the process of implementing genuine dialogue, egalitarian partnership, and biblical reconciliation.
I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. in exchange for an honest review.
Jim Henderson likes to pose a question---what would happen if all the women in your church stayed home one Sunday?
I know what we'd see at my church. A half-empty sanctuary, a miniscule choir, perhaps one nursery worker, and almost no elementary age Sunday School teachers.
It'd be ugly.
In his book, Henderson proposes that women are leaving the church---not all at once, but over time. They are choosing to invest their gifts and talents in other arenas that don't restrict their leadership or teaching.
The book divides the women he interviewed into three categories: those resigned to the way the church restricts women, those who resigned from church altogether to serve elsewhere, and those who re-signed into church involvement by finding or founding new churches and opportunities. It's a catchy structure, but obviously it implies from the beginning that women may trick themselves to being happy in church (or resign themselves to it), but none of them are truly comfortable there.
The book is interesting, challenging, and thought-provoking. Of that, there's no doubt. He asks many difficult questions and only hints at potential answers for more egalitarian churches.
He highlights some discrepancies in the thinking and practices of many churches that say everyone can minister, but then encourage anyone who is female to find a husband and serve in the nursery or hospitality committees.
But there are some discrepancies in his book, too. Like the fact that he hired George Barna's organization to survey women about their access to church leadership. Barna's survey suggested overwhelmingly that women are content and happy and in agreement with their church's teaching about women in leadership.
Since that doesn't agree with Henderson's opinion, he argues that qualitative data is more important than quantitative and focuses on the interviews he conducted one-on-one with women.
It's also of concern to me that while he clearly questions the Scriptural interpretation of others, he doesn't ever clearly explain his own interpretation of Scripture. It's as if there's a bias, but he won't clearly define or defend it.
Some of these women also complained about the church restricting their roles as leaders, but at least one of these women described similar struggles in an all-women's Bible Study. The woman being interviewed blatantly challenged and rebelled against any authority structure whatsoever and then was hurt when she lost access to leadership.
Also, it's hard to say whether the statistics he cites showing a downward trend in women's church attendance take into account how people are leaving the church regardless of gender. If he studied men or teens, wouldn't those statistics show a downward trend, as well. So, is this "epidemic" really about gender at all? Maybe it is. But I can't say that with certainty when I'm missing other sides of the story.
Overall, it's a book of questions and maybe starting discussions, perhaps even fueling arguments. It's not a book with answers.
I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
The Resignation of Eve is wrapped up in a much broader debate over the role of men and women in the church. Henderson's aim in writing is to serve as a voice that is trying to prevent a "break up" in the evangelical world over the issue of biblical manhood and womanhood (6). However, in the end, he proposes that the way to prevent that break up is to ascribe to his view and become an egalitarian (271-272).
Henderson argues in The Resignation of Eve that the church is oppressing women by preventing them from being able to serve in the church without restrictions as to how they should be able to serve (22). This oppression, concludes Henderson, is the reason why some women are deciding to leave the church (22). While the data certainly indicates that there is some drop off in attendance among women, Henderson does not demonstrate that the drop-off is specific only to women. He never compares the data to drop-off rates in men and drop off rates in churches as a whole. It would have been helpful to know if this was a problem specific only to women or if it was more of an indicator of an increased disinterest in the church from the society as a whole.
Regardless of the stats, the main problem with the book is that Henderson deals very superficially with some issues that demand more than just mere personal observations. Whether by oversight, or by intention, Henderson does not deal with several issues that lie at the heart of the discussion. His book focusses almost exclusively on a select few personal conversations he has had with women throughout the country. There is no reason given as to why his personal conversations with only a few women are satisfactory in diagnosing what he perceives as a major problem in churches. For this reason, I had a hard time taking the book seriously as a whole. I'm not against reading an opposing viewpoint. In fact, I often find it helpful to do so. The problem with The Resignation of Eve is that it relies too much on Henderson's personal observations. He does not go through great lengths to back up his observations biblically, nor does he interact much at all with the opposing viewpoint. We are just suppose to trust him.
Aside from that, there are several other blaring and glaring weaknesses to the book. Though not comprehensive, hopefully pointing out a few of them will allow the reader to get a feel for the overall thrust of the book:
1. At times he seems unaware of the deeply rooted theological issues associated with the discussion. While he does argue that Christians are commanded to share power and therefore should have identical roles across the board for men and women, he neglects to address important issues of complimentarily and subordination in the trinity, creation, and in the role of marriage which by design is to reflect the joyful submission of the church to the headship of Christ.
2. Henderson uses research from Barna and conversations he personally has had with women throughout the country in order to build his case. However, the research from Barna indicated that women were by and large satisfied with their church's position on women's roles. This leads lead Henderson to downplay the research in favor of the evidence from his conversations he has had with individual women throughout the country (10-11). He doesn't seem aware that the fact that he hand selected these conversations may alter his conclusions.
3. He categorizies these women into three groups: those who have "resigned to" their church's teaching and have accepted that they will not be allowed to exercise all their gifts and abilities in a church setting, those who have "resigned from" the church out of frustration of the church's view on women, and those who are "re-signing" their churches and are attempting to make changes in their church's view on the role of women. In these categories, his bias is clearly displayed: women who are complementarian have settled for less than what they are capable; women who are egalitarian are "following in the footsteps of Jesus" (5). Never, does concede that these women who are "resigned to" their church's teaching may not just be ignorant and passive, but are outrageously happy and confidently resolved not just in their church's teaching, but also in the Scriptures establishment of clear patterns of church involvement for men and women.
4. He argues that our culture has evolved beyond the oppressive concessions made by Scripture to accommodate the culture of the Ancient Near East and 1st Century Palestine. He compares these old views to Amerigo Vespucci's first map of the Americas:
"The maps we use are subjective-they're drawings of how explorers â€˜see' their world, city, or neighborhood. Their maps represent how they think we should see the world. Consequently, maps at times leave out details their creators simply didn't know about_ For two thousand year, Christianity has been working off the mental maps that were created by our own explorers (many of whom lived during the same era as Vespucii). Is it possible that, similar to Vespucci's map, some of the maps we've inherited are also wrong-limited by the perceptions of their creators, including how God views women? (270)."
This betrays, I believe, the clarity with which the Scripture speaks on these issues. They are not mere culture accommodations, but are applications that stem from and established patterns laid out in creation itself (1 Timothy 2:13).
5. In a very short paragraph, Henderson provides the foundation for what he understands to be the biblical case for identical roles for men and women in the church:
"Christians who believe men and women have equal influence in the church have a pre-Fall paradigm, meaning men and women equally express the image of God. For them, gifts, not gender, determine who does what in the Kingdom. Those who hold a post-Fall paradigm believe that Eve reports to Adam. Due to our fallen nature, they believe we need to focus on order. Pre-Fall people are concerned more with freedom."
He takes no time to explain how he sees his view as a "pre-fall" understanding of the role of men and women in the church, but just throws it out there while at the same time labeling those who he would disagree with as having a "post-fall" understanding. Complementarians have always pointed back to the garden to demonstrate God's intended purpose in male/female roles, namely that Adam was created first then Eve, Eve was created from Adam, Eve is said to be Adam's helper, and Adam provides a name for Eve.
In the end, I did not find this book to be a helpful resource for men, women and churches seeking to understand God's intended purpose for the role of men and women in the church. It provides some insight into the egalitarian point of view, but even this is limited as the work focuses primarily on his interpretation of the data he has gathered from his personally selected conversations with women throughout the country. There is very little space devoted to bringing the bible to bare on the discussion. For this reason, I would not recommend this book as a valuable resource in understanding the issues more clearly.
***Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purposes of this review.
Jim pairs surveys results and with stories to share the many sides of the struggle between seeing women as equals with men versus women as a complement to men. As a seminary grad and former church communications director, I've done some study and personally experienced the issue that Jim presents. Being a former church employee (not a pastor), I could personally understand both sides of the issue. I could relate to the stories - on both sides.
The point of the book is not to come to a conclusion. That usually bothers me in a book. I want a nice neat package, finished off with a bow. The lack of a conclusion didn't bother me when reading The Resignation of Eve. It probably helped that Jim was clear that a final conclusion was not his purpose. The role of woman in the church is such a complex issue and such a heated topic. It's time that we lay down the hostility and anger over this issue and start listening with open hearts and minds.
I still haven't come to my own conclusion. I believe in traditional roles of women in the home and have even chosen to homeschool my own children. I also believe in submission to my husband and the ways that I complement him. At the same time, I believe in equality of gifts - I, myself, have strong spiritual gifts of teaching and leadership along with administration. So, if I believe in equality of gifts, I feel that I must believe in equality opportunity for God to use the gifts and the gifted, regardless of gender, in whatever way He chooses. My husband and I operate with a lot equality in our home and marriage as well. This is one of those places where I just deal with the tension. I keep quiet at some times to not cause a stir, but I push the envelope at other times.
Thank you Jim for presenting the issue in a non-threatening way!