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Role of Women in Ministry: Recommended Resources

Because I teach a seminary class that explores the role of women in ministry from a biblical perspective (looking especially at 1 Cor 11, 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2), people often ask me what books I require. So today, I’m posting that list along with some comments.

Because I teach a seminary class that explores the role of women in ministry from a biblical perspective (looking especially at 1 Cor 11, 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2), people often ask me what books I require. So today, I’m posting that list along with some comments.

I must begin by saying I’ve identified more than eight views within evangelicalism about what limitations—if any—the Scriptures put on women’s public ministry. (Some draw the line at preaching, some at ordination, some at having a male elder board, some nowhere.) Someday perhaps I’ll outline these views. In the meantime after reading all the recommended works below, students have a good overview of the various options within orthodoxy. One of my goals is to introduce students to all these views and have them explore their merits and weaknesses as they relate to the biblical text. My sincere hope is that we will, after seeing the difficulties in arguments on all sides, offer more charity to one other—and stop calling this an inerrancy issue. All authors I recommend, with the exception of Betty Friedan, are committed to a high view of Scripture. The question is at its heart one of hermeneutics and interpretation, not inerrancy.

We begin by reading two chapters (2, 3) from the out-of-print Liberated Traditionalism by Ronald B. and Beverly Allen, along with chapter five from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Many in the church argue that nobody really raised the question about women’s public ministry before second-wave feminism and Betty Friedan’s best seller. So it’s important to gain some historical perspective from this period. If we shift our practices, are we capitulating to culture? If we don’t shift our practices, are we clinging to a post-WWII Christian subculture?

We also read Men and Women in Ministry (Saucy and tenElshof). Then we pick up Dorothy Sayers’s Are Women Human? Writing in 1938—long before Ms. Betty—this witty friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien looked at how we thought about women and determinism where gender differences are concerned. Her non-American pre-fifties view lends us some helpful perspective.

Other books on the “required” list include these, listed alphabetically by author:

James, Carolyn Custis. When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2001. 265 pages.

Pierce, Ronald W.; Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill; Fee, Gordon. Discovering Biblical Equality. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. 512 pages.

Piper, John, and Wayne Grudem, eds. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991. 576 pages

Sumner, Sarah. Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003. 288 pages.

Webb, William J. Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2001. 320 pages.

Winston, George and Dora. Recovering Biblical Ministry by Women. Longwood, Florida: Xulon Press, 2003. 551 pages.

We also spend a week on church history. Though I’m aware of and appreciate Daughters of the Church, my students lack the time to add this thick volume during the semester. So instead we go with Christian History magazine’s past issues on women, which are helpful here. Only one is still available for sale: Christian History Magazine, Vol. X, No. 2, Issue 30. The other is Vol. VII, Number 1, Issue 17.

As part of the church-history discussion, we also read from primary sources on the woman question that date back as far as 1400. (Little before this time is extant due to women’s illiteracy, lack of social power, and the absence of the printing press.) Writers include Christine de Pizan (my favorite); Anna Maria van Schurman, Margaret Fell Fox, Mary Astell, and Sarah Grimké.

We also consider misogynistic statements some of the church fathers made (summarized in Webb). I found out about these the hard way—in a history class at a secular university. And at first I didn’t believe what I heard. I’m thankful I held my tongue, because later I read the primary sources and found the undeniable evidence. We have to be honest with ourselves about them and their implications. Better to discuss them within the family than learn about them on the street.

We also read the Book of Luke and see Jesus’ interactions with women. Added to this are an article by Harold Hoehner, “Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher?” JETS 50, no. 4 [2007]: 761–71); Gordon Fee’s Priscilla Papers article, “Cultural Context for Ephesians 5”; John R. Kohlenberger’s Priscilla Papers article, on the “Gender Accurate TNIV”; four bible.org articles by Daniel B. Wallace on Greek exegesis of some of the tangly verses; and Richard S. Cervin’s article “Does Κεφαλή Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature: A Rebuttal” (Trinity Journal, Spring 1989).

One work I leave off the required reading list but strongly recommend at philosophy-paper time is Kostenberger, Andreas J., Thomas R. Schreiner, and H. Scott Baldwin, eds. Women in the Church: Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9–15 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995). Anyone wrestling with the role-of-women issue must do so in light of the findings in this work. The one word I regret these authors left out, however, is gune—translated woman or wife depending on context. In a section of scripture that refers to Adam and Eve and childbearing, one might expect to read that a wife isn’t allowed to teach rather than the more global woman. Several verses prior to this, Paul speaks of modesty, and he may indeed have had wives in mind—something we discover from Winter’s excellent research in Roman Wives, Roman Widows. A close comparison of 1 Tim 2 with 1 Peter 3 (clearly written to wives only) demonstrates Paul may have followed an apostolic outline on wifely behavior. So a truly comprehensive analysis of 1 Tim 2 must include consideration of whether women or wives are in view.

While my course bibliography includes many others, these sources provide a thorough look at the many options. And clearly while we see differences in our approaches to the subject—those of us who cling to inerrancy and have a congenial view of Paul—we find we share something in common. That is, we believe God made man and woman in the divine image and also created man and woman to work in partnership. With these truths as our starting point, we have a sure foundation on which to keep building as we construct a biblical view of how most effectively to reflect the image of God in the church, of which Christ alone is the head.

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Sandra Glahn

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.

7 Comments

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    Gwynne Johnson

    Aha, my summer reading list!
    Thanks for such a great and varied study guide on this topic that is growing in visibility!

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    Heather A. Goodman

    Thank you for this list.

    Thank you for this list. I’ll have to add some to my ever-growing book list.

    I also found the extended case study in The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight helpful, and Finally Feminist by John G. Stackhouse, Jr has some interesting perspectives.

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    Sue Bohlin

    One of the things I love. . .

    . . . about you, Sandi, is that you don’t capitulate to the easy-peasy "Here’s the RIGHT view–now just believe what I tell you to think."

    What a robust list that really covers the spectrum!

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      Sandra Glahn

      Betty Friedan

      Thanks, Sue. If we could go back in time and do something differently, I wish we could tell those bored middle-class Christian homemakers in the 1960s that they need to exercise their spiritual gifts–so take their kids with them and serve the body of Christ.

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      Sandra Glahn

      Well, c’mon, then!
      You’d be welcome! I’d love your perspective, Terri. It’s usually every fall at DTS on Mondays, 9-12ish. And open to men and women, by the way.

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    Lori Schweers

    Reading list
    Wow – so many books and so little time! I just read Carolyn James’ book on the list and loved it. It really made me think about this issue and not only that, it made me think differently about women in ministry and their roles. Very liberating, if you ask me. Thanks for sharing your list!

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