At the outset I have to be very honest. When this book arrived on my doorstep I thought, “ugh. I do not remember saying I would review that one.” I feel like the debate about what women should and should not do within the church has been an unwelcome backdrop to a big portion of my life and I’m tired of the words, tired of the emotionalism and temper tantrums and twisting the word of God into pretzels. I did not want to read this book.
But I am happy I did.
Smith opens her preface asking the same question I asked when the book arrived in the mail. “Why another book on this subject?” Her answer both reassured and compelled me. She answered that this is not a book on the many issues of women in the church, but a text-by-text, verse-by-verse look at the bible passages that address the roles of women in the church. True to her word, following a first chapter of introduction, the book is a refreshing change from the emotionally laden, personal story driven, tomes that dominate both sides of this debate. Instead she opens the word of God and discusses what is actually written there.
There are several things to commend this book. The first is Smith’s insistence on a plain reading of each text. Of course, some texts are plainer than others, and she does purposely begin with the plainest texts, moving to the more obscure, but there is no attempt to obfuscate the text in other direction. Instead, her insistence is on the actual words. She does periodically dig into the original languages, but not as a “magic wand” to make the words say what she wants them to say. Rather she employs Greek to reinforce the plain meaning of the English translations.
Secondly, Smith deals honestly and graciously with the various objections and alternate interpretations of the passages. There is no straw man to be attacked with sarcasm and ridicule; instead she presents objections plainly and addresses them with more scripture and clear logic. While detractors may not find their arguments answered to their satisfaction, they will certainly be forced to evaluate their position and research Smith’s words further.
Finally, Smith is firm about going into the text, but not beyond it. This was a refreshing, and at times convicting, perspective. I have been guilty of taking passages regarding the role of women with the corporate gathering of the church and applying them to other spheres. Claire Smith challenged me gently in this regard, and it was much needed.
I suspect that portions of Claire’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 11 would be met with some debate in many of my readers (all five of you), although I found it to be a clearer exploration of the passage than some others I have read. Regardless, this is hardly the last word on a much discussed subject. It is, however, a wonderfully sane word on the subject, and a much needed and beneficial addition to the ongoing debate.
I don’t usually quote the books I review, because I would be quoting all day, but I want to close with a quote that gives an example of Smith’s style and insight:
One of the fallacies of much feminist ideology is the belief that for two people to be equal, they must do the same thing. There is an assumption that you cannot have differentiation and hierarchy without also having inferiority and superiority of dignity or worth. . . All three persons of the Godhead share in the same being and nature, yet there is an asymmetry within the divine relationships. (P. 61)
In other words, the three persons of the God head are equal, but serve different functions. It is insight like this that marks this as one of the highlights of the many books on this subject.
I received no compensation for this post. I was provided a paperback edition for the purpose of review. I was not required to provide a positive one. I keep a disclosure statement here.