A sure sign of a vital movement is found in the type of works published in support of it. A flurry of recent egalitarian books have pushed the conversation about women in the church and home forward in new ways. These books tackle arguments about the place of women in the church and home through biblical, historical, and sociological lenses. Together, these seven recent books provide a vision of a church that raises women up for their giftedness rather than limiting them based on their gender.
by Kelley Nikondeha
This book unifies a close study of the book of Exodus with a call to action in today’s world. Kelley Nikondeha’s prose is incredibly powerful, but her grasp of the cultural world of Exodus is even more of a highlight in this book. Time and again, readers will be introduced to women in Exodus who are generally skimmed over or ignored. Nikonheda raises them up instead, using both ancient examples and modern questions to bring women’s voices, justice, and equality into focus.
by Aimee Byrd
I would be surprised if you hadn’t at least heard of this one since it sparked a lot of discussion around its release—in part due to its coming from Byrd, who was an insider in a complementarian church. The book’s cover shows yellow wallpaper peeling away to reveal an image of a woman in a biblical scene. The wallpaper itself is a direct link to the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story is about a woman essentially locked in a room for her own alleged mental health. Over time, she peels away the yellow wallpaper, convinced that she must release the woman she believes is trapped behind it. It ends in ambiguity regarding the fate of the characters. It’s a story that Byrd uses to frame the discussion of men and women in the church. Byrd addresses numerous biblical passages and shows how they have frequently been misread by those attempting to limit women. The strength of this book is found in Byrd’s powerful prose and storytelling while expositing Scripture, dealing with counter-arguments, and calling for the church as a whole to do better by women.
by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
American Christianity in many ways has become its own brand, particularly in its intermingling of Christianity and culture. Du Mez’s work explores the way that American Christianity has embraced a unique form of belief that, while largely unacknowledged in doing so, unifies Christianity and white nationalism. She also shows the movement toward a hyper-masculine idea of Christianity. One way she demonstrates this is in showing a shift toward perceived masculinity in major men’s Christian organizations. For example, while the Promise Keepers organization pursued a “soft patriarchy” (152), others started to advocate a “militaristic” view of masculinity that explicitly glorified violence and bloodshed, including warfare, as key traits of masculine identity (173, 177–178, 181). Such a movement intermingled Christian belief and expression with nationalism in often overt ways. Du Mez’s work has challenged many to rethink masculinity.
by William G. Witt
Witt shows us that egalitarianism rests on a firm biblical foundation. He presents a careful, grounded case for women’s ordination that not only considers several Protestant arguments but also several Catholic ones. Witt doesn’t only present a positive case, but also counters many of the most prominent arguments against women’s ordination, such as the argument that women cannot be priests because all of the disciples were male. One important line of argument Witt pursues is showing that several of the arguments used by complementarians are mutually contradictory. For example, the Catholic argument that women may not be priests because they are not like the (male) Christ contradicts the Protestant argument that women are like Christ in that they, too, must be eternally subordinate (75–76). Witt explores arguments about pastors based on the disciples, questions of specific verses, and ends with a case for women’s leadership based on the New Testament. The book is an excellent resource for those wanting a robust egalitarian theology.
by Kevin Giles
If you’d like to explore the connection between the hierarchy taught by complementarians and the abuse of women, Giles is ready to help. Giles introduces several studies and broad looks at statistics regarding domestic abuse, including the sobering fact that statistics related to abuse of women are much the same in churches as they are among those not involved in church (7–8). Giles argues from statistical evidence, personal experience, and individual circumstances that belief in the superiority of men contributes directly to the abuse of women.
by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky
These authors performed a study of more than 20,000 women and present their discoveries about the sex lives of people involved in churches. The findings are at times startling, such as the gap between men and women when it comes to enjoyment of sex. The authors ultimately argue that the way sexuality is taught by many in the church is actually far more harmful than it is helpful. But they don’t leave it there. While the numbers the authors present about Christian sexuality are dire, through this book they provide a way to start correcting the problem, with men and women paying attention to each other’s needs while also rooting out harmful and often mistaken teachings they may have absorbed from other sources. They even include discussion questions and practical applications—encouraging men and women to ask difficult questions about how they view sexuality while also committing to live more for each other.
by Beth Allison Barr
Many assume that complementarianism has always been the default position of the historical church, but Barr’s insightful historical study challenges that narrative. In particular, Barr notes the way people have selectively read women’s voices out of the Medieval period and how the Reformation, unfortunately, led to a renewed battle to have women’s voices heard. Time and again, Barr brings up fascinating historical people whom most readers have likely not encountered before. Her book is grounded upon historical research and has many endnotes to provide more avenues of study, but it remains entirely readable in both tone and style.
This brief survey of recent egalitarian literature shows how robust the egalitarian position continues to be. There is a wide swathe of literature that continues to show biblical equality is the biblical position. I wish I had enough room to include works like the updated version of Discovering Biblical Equality (which is a magnum opus of egalitarian thought), A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda C. Gafney, Heart of Maleness: An Exploration by Raphaël Liogier, Something's Not Right: Decoding the Hidden Tactics of Abuse—and Freeing Yourself from Its Power by Wade Mullen, Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts by Andrew Bartlett, and so many more. Still, I do hope my seven recommendations help you dive more deeply into understanding the richness of current egalitarian thought.
Finally, we must not just talk about these books amongst ourselves. We can do more: in a time driven by engagement, we can signal boost egalitarian writers, buy their books, form study groups, recommend these books to our complementarian friends and family, and—perhaps most importantly—continue to read. All of these practices will help us grow in Christ and extend the biblical vision of equality throughout the church.
This article is from “The State of Women’s Equality,” the Winter 2021 issue of Mutuality magazine. Read the full issue here.