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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

"Half the Church" (Carolyn Custis James)

TITLE: Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women
AUTHOR: Carolyn Custis James
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, (210 pages).

This book has a striking title. Referring to the huge half of any typical Church, it is a matter that ought to concern both men and women. Women need to be protected and cared for. They also need to be liberated from unjust rules and archaic structures that are no longer relevant. In writing about half the Church, James is actually speaking to the whole Church to keep pace with developments in the wider culture and society. The author is rightly concerned not only with the poverty and injustice done to girls in the developing world, she is disturbed by the apathy of Church people in the developed nations. This is the fourth book written by the author, and it strings together a foundation to help readers understand the issue of women biblically. She tries to expose the problems of women suffering from oppression. She searches globally to put as much as possible a multicultural understanding of the treatment of women in general. She lets the gospel be the guiding light in this project. At the heart of the book, is her passionate conviction that the Church and Christians can be a mighty force for good to empower and encourage women, that the kingdom of God expand from glory to glory.

The book begins with a painful survey of the low place of women especially in the developing world. From forced abortions to rapes; child prostitution to sex trade; women outside the West are bearing the huge brunt of injustice. In the Middle East, where sons are favoured over daughters, much still needs to be done in public education and theological influence, as reminders that women are still people made in the image of God. Even as the state of women's rights appears increasingly bleak in some parts of the world, readers can take comfort in knowing that there are many examples of leaders in the Bible who are women. Such as Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Huldah, Ruth, Mary, Phoebe, Priscilla, and others. In fact, leaders can rise out of the ashes of persecution, conflict, and oppression. Sensitively, James highlights how some of the Western ideas of purity and abstinence are only addressing part of the struggles of women. What about sexual identity? What about equality in society? What about loneliness? James makes an interesting observation about the usage of the word "ezer" for the first women, a man also used frequently for God himself. What James is trying to do is not to usurp the very place of man's position in the kingdom. What she aims at is the need to recognize that equality of women has biblical foundations. Key to her understanding of Paul's theology of women, is that "equality" is not something to be grasped and not let go. It must be under a bigger purpose and a bigger cause: servanthood.

The book ends with a call for all to do something about the issue of women, to awaken the public about the huge potential that lies in the other half. More importantly, wake up the sleepy giantnesses, and watch how the gospel reaches far and wide.

I am thankful for this book that highlights the problems of women as well as the huge potential of empowering them for the kingdom of God. It is time not only to wake up the sleepy giantnesses, but also all disciples of Christ. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Why make the latter fewer by excluding women from positions of influence, or some strange rule that discriminates against the female gender. Set the women free. Only the gospel can do that. We remember the words of Jesus in John 8:32, that we will all know the truth and the truth shall set us free. May the Church be an active voice and passionate organ to work toward that goal more and more.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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