This book emerges out of a rich Mennonite heritage that rather consistently deals with major social issues as they relate to biblical faith. Carol Penner’s panel of authors, representing various segments of the North American Mennonite scene, have produced a very usable book suited both for adult Bible study home groups and for adult Sunday School classes. The authors are all egalitarian in their approach to Scripture and practice.
The book’s thirteen chapters deal with the many facets of concern that arise when we seek to examine the issue of gender and the church: the theology of gender, gender in the Bible, sex differences, homemaking vs. careers, masculinity and femininity, violence and gender, aging, singleness, racial ramifications of gender, and parenting concerns. Each chapter is written in a readable style, with concluding discussion questions and sources for further reading.
Today, many women and men whose consciences have been sensitized to matters of gender can have difficulty reading many sections of the New Testament, just as certain passages may have been difficult for educated slaves to read in the 19th century (“Slaves, accept the authority of your master with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh” [1 Pet 2:18]). Such readers will discover helpful interpretative tidbits in almost every chapter. For example, one chapter notes that in both creation accounts (Gen 1 and 2), “Male and female are clearly one–and two” (p. 37). Dr. Wilma Bailey of Messiah College points out that “anthropologists have learned through research that there are no universal roles for women or men beyond those of biological necessity” (p. 14). She also argues that an insistence on defining the nature of God in such a way as to suggest that God is male is likely a violation of the second commandment which prohibits the construction of an image of God. When God offered to Moses a self-definition, the answer was expressed in the genderless first person: “I am who I am” (p. 19).
Some authors choose to use both masculine and feminine language to describe God, which may present something of a stumbling block to mainstream egalitarian readers. Nonetheless, the book is a valuable resource that is sure to help thoughtful Christians in their struggle to relate biblical faith to matters raised by current gender debates.