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Could it be that the complementarian notion of “biblical womanhood” (especially the claim that women’s distinct personhood makes no room for women as teachers and leaders of men) is a recent, Western perspective?

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A critical analysis of complementarian interpretations of Scripture and the Trinity, as well as its impact and connection to the #MeToo movement.

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Cicero said: “Who knows only their own generation remains always a child.” [1] We gain extraordinary vitality from the stories of Christian women and men who came before us. In fact, our advocacy for women in ministry leans heavily on their stories. Few are better suited to bring this history to life than Dr. Paul Chilcote, author of more than twenty books and publications on the subject. For thirty-five years, he has amplified the history of women’s leadership in the church with his work.

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We Lutherans all want to argue on the basis of God's revealed truth in the authoritative Scripture. Yet all of us come to this debate with our own personal history and agenda. My own history includes aversion to women in the public ministry as a result of experiences, first as a teenager, then as a student in Germany. More recently, I have developed a growing understanding of the just claims of Christian women who have been disempowered and marginalized in the church and a horror for what has been perpetrated in the name of male headship. A re-examination of the texts and another (this time happy) experience of having a woman as my pastor in the United States about a decade ago led me to abandon my previously held view that the ordination of women is not the Lord's will for his church today. I am now convinced to the contrary, although I do not like using the broad term feminist. My own personal pain is not only that close friends and relatives hold an opposing view, but that I fully understand that view as one who once held it (this is not said in any spirit of superiority).

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Throughout history, movements have arisen to challenge the status quo of society and the institutional church. In the history of the United States and into the present, many have spoken out against the way women are perceived and treated. These voices have fought to open to women spaces and leadership positions in the church and society that have traditionally been exclusively for men. These movements, known collectively as feminism, have requested—sometimes demanded—a transformation in the ways evangelicals conceive of women’s roles.

For evangelicals, the Bible is the ultimate, infallible and inerrant authority, which serves as the arbiter of acceptable views, and theological liberalism exists as a looming menace to biblical authority. Unfortunately, evangelicals are often confused over who is challenging their biblical and cultural perceptions. They generally do not understand the critiques of liberal feminists or of their own evangelical sisters and brothers, nor do they recognize that they are dealing with separate movements in important and foundational ways. For many, feminism is a recent phenomenon, a threatening force, liberal in origin, which in the end rejects the authority of Scripture in order to conform to modern culture. Evangelicals commonly known as biblical egalitarians are quickly tied to liberal forms of feminism because it is commonly supposed that “liberalism and the approval of women’s ordination go hand in hand,” and inevitably lead the church down the slippery slope into the abandonment of scriptural authority.2

This paper seeks to begin to correct the equation of biblical egalitarianism with liberal feminism by considering them on a foundational level—looking at where each locates its authority and how each understands the Bible’s authority.

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1 Cor 11:2–16 touches on questions of creation and the nature of God and has been influential not only in the role of men and women in worship, but more fundamentally in the relations of man and woman to one another and to God.

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Maria Woodworth Etter, known both as the Trance Evangelist and the Mother of the Pentecostal movement, lived and preached in an era when women were required to be silent in church and submit to their husbands.

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Why would a woman espouse an ideology that consigns her to a less-than status? Howell and Duncan surveyed 72 women to explore the rationale behind women’s beliefs in the subordination of women to the authority of men. 

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"Although the people living in the Greco-Roman world might not have been able to imagine a world in which slavery does not exist, Paul’s churches leave the hierarchy of slavery behind as part of the world that is passing away, along with ethnic division and gender hierarchy. Paul removes the power differential from Philemon and Onesimus’s relationship (in their church), and he replaces that differential with koinōnia by asking Philemon to receive Onesimus as if he were Paul."

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John C. Nugent argues that "Peter was not, in fact, affirming that women are weaker. Rather, he was asking men to lay aside their cultural advantage and to win over their unbelieving wives in the same Christlike manner that slaves, women, and the wider community were called to non-coercively welcome Gentiles into the chorus of believers who will 'glorify' God when he comes to judge.”

 
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