Rarely do I read a book and feel from page one that the author started with a hypothesis, then worked his statistics and stories to make that hypothesis true. Yet, such seems to be the case with Jim Henderson's newest The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam's Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church's Backbone?.
Henderson believes women are leaving the church in droves for one reason--inequality, because there is a glass ceiling in leadership which prohibits them from becoming pastors or elders in the church, because women feel they are undervalued and unappreciated.
In the preface, George Barna of the Barna Research Group says, "I don't know if I agree with all of Jim's conclusions..." That's a nice way of saying it. From the Author's Note at the start of the book, Henderson appears to twist statistics to suit his hypothesis, playing on the reader's fear that women--and only women--are leaving the church in droves, so we Christians should change our ways or there will be no one to serve in the future kingdom.
The problem is Henderson conveniently leaves out any statistics about men and their rising absence from the church pew. A quick search of Barna's website shows men and women both leaving the church. Granted, the 18% increase in "unchurched" women is much higher than men's 9% increase; yet, Henderson doesn't even mention males, as if their church attendance/participating is stable when women's are plummeting. He also cites a 2005 Gallup study showing 38% of women are unchurched but fails to mention that same study showed 49% of men were also unchurched.
Again, Henderson cites Steve Smith's "Study Tracks Church Attendance Trends" to bolster his claim that women have shifted away from the church over the past two decades; what he fails to mention is that Smith believes this shift is not caused by a power-struggle between the have's (men) and the have not's (women) but because of increase in women's level of education.
Henderson even commissioned Barna to do quantitative research of women; yet, when Barna's research finds that "few [women] seem frustrated about their opportunities to lead in the church," Henderson dismisses the study, implying that women are really frustrated but just don't know it because they're so culturally brainwashed by the male-driven church...or if they're not frustrated, it's only because they've already disengaged or moved to a more free church.
But Henderson doesn't like statistics. As he says "stories are the new statistics" (11). And so, the bulk of his book is composed of stories of women and their experiences.
In the first few chapters where Henderson chronicles the lives of women who don't feel there is a problem with women not leading in the church, have never really thought about it, or merely live with the inequalities for the sake of their husband/children/church unity. Henderson's disapproval of these women's attitudes literally oozes through the narrative, making him almost too condescending to read. Yet, in the later chapters detailing women who are in positions of church leadership or who have left the church for secular leadership roles of Christ-like service, Henderson actually gushes over them, calling one of the women a "hero" and throwing around words like "intelligence" and "wisdom" to describe them.
Of the two women he describes resigning from the church because of their disillusionment with the hierarchy, one of the women is bipolar; her story is sad but seems to have nothing to do with women being denied leadership more than it screams of Christian lack of understanding of the disease and compassion. The other woman who left the church was in therapy before determining somehow that the church was squashing her self and keeping her from true freedom--not really the leadership equality argument issue either. Neither demonstrates the average woman is leaving the church because of leadership inequality.
Henderson admits that this entire debate boils down to how a person interprets Scripture concerning a woman's role in the church, whether Paul's words were meant to be a literal or cultural recommendation. I've lived several years at the brunt end of one denomination's attempt to make women's opinions no more important than the dust they came from. I'm also currently living in a denomination that does not allow women to be ordained pastors or elders.
Yet, unlike Henderson's self-assured stance, I know only that although the footing around the cross is equal, I'm willing to say "I'm not sure" Christ automatically offers all offices equally to all. And even if He does offer universal freedom for the full equality Henderson desires, I'm concerned about something Henderson just dismisses in his mad thrust for women's equality in the church--women leaders being a stumbling block to men.
Just because we can do something freely in Christ doesn't mean we always should.
Henderson's concludes by looking in the secular world and seeing the same problem he sees in the church--women being denied the highest positions of authority, women being undervalued (underpaid), etc. Yet, of this comparison, he says, "When you see these same patterns in diverse systems, it makes one wonder if what we're dealing with isn't a gender issue at all. Maybe it's more primal than that. Maybe it's a power struggle. Those who have it (men) don't want to give it up to those who lack it (women)" (242).
I say maybe it's neither. Maybe, instead, it's God's design from the garden permeating all creation--secular and spiritual--thousands of years later...even after the feminist movements and legal mandates against gender discrimination.
Although several passages resonate with this overworked / undervalued woman, Henderson's attempt to blame all of women's problems with the church on leadership inequality is so blatantly influenced by his own family's experiences that he fails to note how this bias makes his argument horribly simplistic in that it ignores other societal causes behind the statistics and ignores men's comparable church drop offs.
Maybe the Barna statistics are really accurate and the problem isn't that the majority of women feel oppressed by the church. Instead, perhaps the drop in women's involvement in church is because more educated women have become too rational for faith. Or maybe it's that women have become primary or important secondary breadwinners like their spouses so that they don't have time for the church. This book surely doesn't consider these options.
*I am obviously not paid by Tyndale to provide a positive or negative review of its books. I am graciously provided with a complementary copy for review.
I have mixed feelings about this book, while I thought the author presented some challenging ideas within his book, I feel that the whole premise of the book (that women are leaving the church due to lack of influence or feelings of being overworked) doesn't quite fit the reality (that I've seen at least). I'm not sure which denomination the author was studying (I can't recall if he mentioned that the numbers reflected an inter-denominational survey, etc...) but in my experience women have a great deal of influence within the church, as well as they tend to (at least in the circles I've seen) dominate the leadership roles for the most part. I however live in Canada, so perhaps it is different here?
I do though appreciate that the author points out that many women are feeling under appreciated, and actually do agree with him on this point. In my experience a lot of ministries (that are not solely men focused) have a majority of female leadership, who do tend to get over worked/under appreciated. (especially since in my experience (my husband is a pastor) there are fewer willing volunteers so when you get one, they tend to get a lot of work thrown at them!)
I think too that the author and I might differ on some doctrinal issues which is perhaps why I didn't agree with the book, I'm more of a traditional mind set, so the whole quietly working behind the scenes works well with me!
All in all though, I do have to give this book a thumbs up, it did challenge me to consider why I hold certain views towards not only women in the church, but also leadership. Plus it caused me to look deeper into the Bible to see what it had to say about my role, and the role of my gender. Also I appreciated that the author, while he presented his views straightforwardly, didn't belittle those with other views. (that's sometimes hard to find in books such as these!)
So this does get a recommendation from me, if nothing else it will challenge you to consider why you hold the beliefs that you do!
This book was provided to me by Tyndale for reviewing purposes.
As I began reading the book, I got angry. I disagreed with the premise to the book. However, as I continued to read, I was challenged. The author asked the reader to ponder how you got to your beliefs about the role of women in the church instead of trying to defend these beliefs. So I continued to read and was challenged.
I'm not sure I understand the argument that women are not allowed to lead in church. In a Barna survey quoted on page 136, 81% of women agree that their church provides women with the same degree of leadership opportunities that Jesus would give them. So the majority women believe that the church does reflect the teachings of Jesus in regard to the roles women play in the church.
Another theme that Henderson repeats throughout the book is that pastors are threatened by women with the gift of leadership and often prevent women from using that gift in a leadership role. I wonder how many of these pastors would be threatened by men in the church trying to exert their gift of leadership in a way that challenges the pastor's authority. A pastor, as the shepherd to a flock, has to be protective and careful with anyone who wants to challenge authority.
The premise is flawed that "women today are not given access to day to as much influence as they're capable of in the church" (p. xx). Women are given access to every level within the church. So I am left to wonder, are women really leaving the church in large numbers as the book purports?
Tyndale House has provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for this review which I freely give.
I have to admit, I didn't always realize that there was a gender issue in church. I actually attend a church and am a member of a denomination that has had women pastors as long as I can remember, and even as far back as twenty years ago, one of the local ministers my dad had preach on occasion was a woman who found the Lord late in life, and felt led to ministry. She eventually moved, with her husband and children to Denver, Colorado for Bible College, and became an ordained minister. She serves as a senior pastor today. Our church also has had women in senior leadership positions throughout its history.
Indeed, my dad also licensed my sister to minister in California, and I am actually two Sunday night sermons into recognizing my own call to preach. I don't even know if I realized that there was so much restriction on women until I heard a story about Beth Moore, who taught a mixed Sunday School class at her church. She was receiving much criticism from people who didn't think she should do that. I still don't understand why a woman who has an obvious gift for explaining scripture should be compelled to restrict her teaching to one gender. What God has called someone to do should be supported and respected - regardless of her sex.
As I read Jim's book I started to realize something. It is when we get caught up in gender identification - so certain of our perspective as one sex or the other that we begin to change our focus from following Christ to idolizing our gender. Sometimes that means we are too concerned with whether or not opportunities to serve are available or permissible (on either side of the debate) than whether or not we further the kingdom. I think Jim's book is good fodder for discussion.
I'm blessed to go to a church that allows me to grow in the ways that are beneficial to the kingdom - not primarily what's best for me, not primarily what's comfortable for the congregation, but what is best for God's Word to be proclaimed. I've read scripture, I've read books, and I consider myself reasonably intelligent, and what I see in the Word is that God never limits himself to what is acceptable and comfortable, He always uses those who are willing and sometimes even those who are less than able. God calls whom he calls. And she who hears his voice had best do what God asks.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255