February 25, 2008

The New Faces of Christianity 7: Women and Men

Today the ACFAR Network continues reading through The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South by Philip Jenkins. If you haven't bought the book or signed up yet, it is not too late to join! This week we are discussing chapter 7: "Women and Men."


Christianity in the Global South often causes a transformation in the roles and aspirations of women. As a result, Jenkins devotes a chapter to the changing status of women for Southern Christians. Given the central place of women in many of these churches, their growing influence and involvement cannot be overlooked.

Of course, we must not forget that biblical texts are sometimes used to reinforce traditional values in these societies. Often the Bible is read as limiting certain church leadership roles to men. In marriage, wives submitting to husbands is also emphasized. However, a great number of feminist Christians and scholars in the South offer a variety of viewpoints and opinions. Currently, these scholars are among the most well known figures in Bible interpretation globally.

In any case, even among the more traditional and conservative believers there have been dramatic changes in the relationships between men and women. Men are called to be faithful and loving--and married to one woman. Churches (especially charismatic ones) are allowing more and more options for women as individual spiritual gifts are emphasized. Some even become prophets or charismatic leaders themselves.

The Bible is regularly seen as advancing the value and rights of women. After all, who were the first followers of Jesus to see Him resurrected from the dead? But even more to the point, allowing women to read and study Scripture for themselves can begin a huge cultural shift. They can discuss issues of disease, rape, and sexual exploitation, usually areas considered inappropriate but which are clearly addressed in the Bible. Additionally, culturally relevant questions in the South dealing with widows and outsiders are treated in Scripture as well.

Consequently, Christianity is literally redefining what it means to be a woman and a man in the Global South. Far from simply being a repressive religion, it is transforming individuals and cultures.

My Thoughts

I have to say up front that I am a complementarian. While I believe that God created men and women equal and that we are all equal in Christ, I also believe that He has given us complementary roles. Thus, men and women have distinct responsibilities in the body of Christ. At the same time, I recognize that not all genuine Christians hold this view of gender roles. Good brothers and sisters in Christ disagree with each other. With this in mind, we need to respect one another as we turn to Scripture to understand what God has revealed about this controversial topic.

Nevertheless, many examples given by the author point to the need for responsible Bible interpretation. Some of the applications of Scripture for women were poor and wrong. More importantly, the regular mentioning of feminist theology and scholarship was deeply troubling. Much like liberation theology which was laid out in the previous chapter, feminist theology forsakes the true gospel for advancing the cause of women in this world.

Please do not misunderstand me: women are absolutely essential to our faith. And there are many ways in which their advancement in the Global South is a cause of celebration. At the same time, all believers must seek to live in light of what the Word of God teaches us. For me, this chapter reinforces the continuing need for growth in the Southern Christians proper handling of Scripture.

In any case, I still have many questions to think through. How can Christians who disagree with one another on gender roles work together to build the body of Christ? How do these views in the Global South impact defending our faith?

Your Turn

What do you think? Your thoughts do not have to be profound or anything. Please feel free to contribute to the discussion!