At a time when our society is deeply divided along many cultural lines, it is refreshing to find a book that is written with altruism. While Mary Detweiler clearly advocates for gender equality within the Christian church, she does so with charity and thoughtfulness. The writing is clear and concise and grace filled—as becomes a disciple of Christ. Additionally, Detweiler has written a book that introduces the primary issues facing egalitarians in an easy to understand way.
Detweiler does this in several ways. First, the book details historic trends regarding slavery and race in America as well as the struggle for women’s rights. Next, there is a review of salient issues regarding leadership, gender, and discipleship in the Old and New Testaments. This is followed by a look at how women “swam upstream” against male dominated professional and civic roles. Finally, there is a discussion of how change occurs in the hearts of Christ followers.
By beginning with the history of the United States with regard to race and gender equality, the reader is reminded of the duration and extent of the struggle to obtain equal rights.
The struggle to achieve gender equality in the United States has many similarities to the struggle to achieve racial equality. As a matter of fact, the two struggles have mirrored and paralleled each other almost from the beginning. Therefore, the stories of these two movements will be intertwined throughout the book.
Next, Detweiler provides an overview of God’s utilization of and interaction with women in the Bible. She considers individual women of the Old Testament and shows how God used them in spite of an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture. The stories of Rahab, Deborah, Huldah, and Esther are clear examples of pivotal leadership roles. There is additional analysis of Proverbs 31 that describes an exemplary woman.
Detweiler then looks at the New Testament, giving an overview of how Jesus interacted with women, and their prominence in his teaching and ministry, as well as the way that New Testament scriptures relate to women in the modern church. Detweiler points to several events in which Jesus’ words and actions had extremely important ramifications for women. The significance of these incidents may be largely overlooked without an understanding of the cultural context in which Jesus lived and taught. Additionally, Detweiler examines several scripture passages that are currently used to sublimate women to non-leadership roles.
The book concludes with several important discussions. First, the way Scripture defines the body of believers, each person’s responsibility, and ultimately the health of the church body as a whole. Next, there is a discussion of “swimming upstream.” These chapters tell the story of women of the 19th century who sought positions and professions that were not open to females. How they navigated the restrictions and limitations of their time sheds light on how to move forward with the issue of gender equality in today’s church. Placing this challenge in the modern context, Detweiler discusses conflict and refers to Peter as an example of change in the heart of a disciple of Christ. Finally, the existing “conundrum” surrounding the place of women, leadership, and the church is briefly discussed concluding with the following perspective:
It is not about women leading the church. It is about truly allowing Christ to be the head of the church by following the leading of the Holy Spirit when choosing who will serve in what ministry roles. It is about allowing individuals with the spiritual gift of leadership to lead and allowing individuals with the spiritual gift of preaching, to preach, regardless of their gender.
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