Mentoring Women in Ministry

Book Review: Kadi Cole, Developing Female Leaders

Have you ever read a book where on one page you want to shout “Hallelujah!” and the next you have grave concerns? I am aware of two books specifically designed to help men support women leaders, and both of them fit that bill. There is so much good and necessary advice that I can’t bring myself not to mention them. But there is so much bad in each that I shudder to recommend them.

One of them is Athena Rising: how and why men should mentor women by W. Brad Johnson, David Smith. They offer tools, techniques and reminders for how and why men should mentor women. I find the military language and some assumptions of men’s (weaponized) incompetence off-putting and counterproductive to the goals of gender equity, but this book offers many sound principles.

The second is Kadi Cole’s Developing Female Leaders: navigate the minefields and release the potential of women in your church. In this review, I want to add some missing information and point out some problem areas, but this book is packed with great advice, too!

“[T]here is staggering research from the marketplace that shows the more successful a man is, the more ‘likeable’ he is. But it is the exact opposite for a woman. The higher in an organization a woman leads, the less ‘likeable’ she becomes.”

Kadi Cole, Developing Female Leaders: Navigate the Minefields and Release the Potential of Women in Your Church (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019), 62.

Here are my thoughts on this book (quotes in italics):

  • To answer that question, you have to get a little inside a woman’s head. I know that’s a scary thought, but bear with me” (2). There is no need to pander to gender stereotypes that are already problematic. Honestly, there is little of this kind of content in the book, but it unaccountably pops up once again in the bonus chapter: “Unfortunately, so far in our research, we have not identified any husbands who can read their wives’ minds” (209).
  • ––~~~~~
  • In Chapter 1, the author describes “sticky floor” challenges, and this is extremely helpful information. On the other hand, she leaves out a discussion of the double bind many women find themselves in, where if she doesn’t step up, she is overlooked, but if she steps up, she is rejected as “too pushy.”
  • ~~~~~
  • As a side note, I have noticed that men are frequently blindsided by women’s ambitions. A woman may have served under his authority and built up a mutually trusting relationship, but if she starts expressing her desire to become a senior pastor or begin church planting, he may suddenly see her as a rival, feel betrayed, and react emotionally.
  • ~~~~~
  • She may need more encouragement and even a little ‘loving push’ to go for a new opportunity” (13). She may certainly need encouragement. But pushing a woman to take on more responsibilities when she is resistant not only sets her up for failure but teaches her not to trust her own sense of her strengths, abilities, and ambitions, not to mention her time constraints outside of work.
  • ~~~~~
  • Chapter 2 is fabulous, except that two views of the Trinity are presented as though they are equally valid. In fact, “First at the council of Nicea in 325 AD, and then at the council of Constantinople in 381 AD, the idea that the Son was subordinated in his being to the Father was totally rejected” as heretical.
  • ~~~~~
  • In Chapter 3, Cole suggests hiring only “great female leaders” (41). Her views here are very problematic. On the one hand, she is right that the first women in leadership will be judged strictly and any failures may be used to close doors to women in the future. However, her solution that the women hired must be practically perfect is unworkable:
    • Even if a great woman is hired, if the culture into which she is hired is that judgmental, even minor flaws will be used to reject future women hires. And nobody, not even a great woman, ought to be expected to carry the stress of being responsible for the future of untold women applicants. That stress alone could make her fail.
    • Instead, a better way forward would be for several champions to begin to critique these unrealistic expectations out loud, creating a climate in which the woman has the space to succeed and fail by turn, like everyone else. At the same time, leaders might work to replace any men on the team who would demand unrealistic performance from a woman in leadership, or men whose egos are threatened by successful women peers.
  • ~~~~~
  • In Chapter 4, we find the quote cited above about likeability and success. And I want to add that because likeability goes along with success in men, people often assume that because they don’t like the successful woman, she is not, in fact, successful. Even worse, social identity theory shows that in order to be successful, a leader has to be seen as “one of us.” And the more a successful woman is disliked, the harder it is for the community to see her as “one of us,” which will inevitably lead to her becoming unsuccessful. This spiral requires intentional pushback from established leaders in order to counteract negative assumptions. Perhaps men with status in the community might consistently praise both her successes and her likeability. Explain to her what you are doing and why, and listen to her input, too. She will likely have a better sense of what circles dislike her.
  • ~~~~~
  • Also in Chapter 4, there is a section called “Identity in Christ” in which Cole extols the maturity that can be developed during times of … well, I’m just going to call it sinful abuse by superiors. This viewpoint on this very real problem, however, is quite short-sighted for four reasons:
    • Men often don’t go through this development of maturity through marginalization. Because of that, the cycle of mature women trying to serve under the authority of immature men is perpetuated.
    • It is harmful to label sin as ultimately good.
    • Although some women do persevere and mature through this process, in my experience, for every woman who does that, there are at least 2-3 women who (rightly) refuse to continue to allow themselves to be sinned against and leave. Their considerable gifts are now lost to the church. Depending on how badly she has been wounded, they may be lost to the world.
    • When gifted women are wounded in these ways, it causes waves of unintended and sometimes unseen repercussions on everyone around her. All within the church who saw how she was treated got the message loud and clear, and those memories will serve in the future to warn women from stepping into leadership. All who love this woman, her family and friends, have also seen her sinned against and have walked with her through her pain and recovery. They will then have to work through their own anger and distrust of church hierarchies. These are secondary consequences to the primary sin of harming a woman created in the image of God, but it is important to note that when a woman leader disappears, her family and friends often disappear with her. She may even suffer further as the church hierarchy points to the disappearance of her family and friends as further evidence of her “divisiveness.”
  • ~~~~~
  • Men would probably be astounded at how many negative thoughts a woman has going on in her head on a given day” (66). This seems to be such a sweeping generalization to make on the basis of one interview. Is such a gender disparity in any way backed up by research?
  • ~~~~~
  • Imposter Syndrome is not a uniquely female experience, nor are the identity issues listed here, although it’s true that they may be more prevalent in women because of our socialization (67).
  • ~~~~~
  • Throughout the book, women’s emotions are described as somehow foundationally different than men’s. This is not the case. Men have all the same emotions as women, we are just conditioned to express them differently. (See men at the Superbowl, for just one commonly cited example of men expressing emotion in a fairly uncontrolled way.)
  • ~~~~~
  • Chapter 5 points out the expectations that women will not only build relationships with peers, but with any women married to or working with their peers (89). This is an extremely helpful observation. It would have been good, though, to end this section with the suggestion that men work to change these expectations as they add unfairly to women’s workloads.
  • ~~~~~
  • In Chapter 6, Cole, speaking about sexual harassment, suggests that the good thing “about being involved in church ministry is that, as Christians, we know this is wrong” (94). In my experience, this is not the case. Christians often reduce sexual harassment to non-consensual touching and verbal vulgarities, but are unaware of power dynamics and more subtle forms of sexual abuse.
  • ~~~~~
  • Cole’s views on the Billy Graham Rule are problematic. Better resources for accountability can be found here.
  • ~~~~~
  • Also in Chapter 6, the description about how close people stand to one another is culturally determined, which Cole does not mention.
  • ~~~~~
  • Chapter 7 has a great description of some of the issues surrounding titles, and I would like to add one thing. Men can say, “Just call me Joe” with no loss of authority. In fact, they are often rewarded with more respect for that kind of comment. But in some church cultures, women may be struggling to be treated with any respect at all. If the men in leadership use her title and correct those who don’t, this may begin to change the culture. Using a woman’s titles also allows men to work through their discomfort with women in authority caused by years of exposure to cultural biases. But when the men around her are foregoing the use of titles for themselves, for her to insist on hers looks prideful or petty. This is all very dependent on church culture, of course. But at least until everyone is comfortable with the authority and responsibilities that a woman is carrying, it can be helpful for the men in the room to kindly insist both on their own titles and hers being used.
  • ~~~~~
  • I found the section on family benefits in Chapter 7 quite biased. Men should be carrying more of the caretaking roles at home if both work; family benefits are important for men, too, and fathers as well as mothers should be putting their families first.
  • ~~~~~
  • Here’s a good example of the wide variety of responses I had to this book:
    • On page 133, speaking of the “terrible attitudes” of some gifted women, she says they have “shocking behaviors when their leaders leave the room,” they “constantly complain,” “claim that they are not valued,” have “been allowed to be discontent, negative, and undeveloped,” and “have a long way to go, even if they do have gifts that can be used in a leadership role.” She says all this, but thinks this is the result of a lack of honest feedback. But if we go back to what I said about the “Identity in Christ” section, this is exactly the outcome when gifted women are expected to submit to insecure or immature male leaders. Certainly, some women have the internal resources and the external support to mature through that process. And some women simply leave. But to put women who know they are gifted and called under the authority of people (women or men) who refuse to honor those gifts is to create a painful and frustrating tug-of-war. The woman hears God calling her in one direction and, when she obeys, she hits a brick wall and is told by her boss to go in the opposite direction. And that inevitably breeds frustrations that can be expressed in just the ways Cole describes. The problem is not lack of feedback. The problem is lack of investment and constant microaggressions.
    • On page 134, she notes the “unspoken idea that inviting women into leadership means that you have to allow all women to lead.” I love this! It is almost comical how widespread this assumption is!
    • On pages 135ff, Cole provides a list of “Minimum Baseline Metrics” that is priceless.
  • ~~~~~
  • I really appreciated the section on asking and listening in Chapter 9, with just the caveat that you might have to prove that you are serious about changing the environment by, for example, correcting public sexism publicly and making other visible and concrete changes before women are willing to respond deeply and vulnerably to your offer to listen. And be prepared–there are often whole worlds of oppression of which you have been unaware. How are you going to respond if a woman tells you that when you are out of the room, your best friend demeans or ridicules them?
  • ~~~~~
  • This seems picky, but I think it’s important. Cole suggests a good question to ask is “Where could women add value and maximize their gifts” (169)? On the one hand, as a generic question, I have to wonder, “Is there anywhere women couldn’t add value?” On the other hand, perhaps what she meant was, “Where could the specific women on your team add more value in your church and maximize their specific gifts?” That’s a great question!
  • ~~~~~
  • Another comment on Chapter 9–not a correction, just a comment. There is nothing worse for leadership development than to hand out and work through spiritual gifts surveys and then not follow through with investment into those surveyed and actual development of positions around those gifts.
  • ~~~~~
  • Also, while women volunteers are a wonderful source of labor and potential pool for leaders (179), the request that each woman volunteer one more hour a month ignores the fact that women’s available time is decreasing in our society. If you want more from your volunteers, make sure you find out what you can do to lighten their other loads.
  • ~~~~~
  • Finally, the lists of “Words of Encouragement” from women and men at the end of the book:
    • Be careful of the last of the words from the women: “Do the very best you can in those smaller arenas. God will notice, and other people will open new doors for you” (215). Cole already warned against this earlier in the book. This is called Tiara Syndrome, and this article describes the way it comes up, for example, in contract negotiations.
    • None of the encouraging words “From the Guys” are actually helpful, and several contradict what Cole says in the rest of the book. The only exception I found was this one: “If you’re in a place where you are just walking through mud because of the environment that you’re in, make sure God has specifically called you there” (216). That’s great advice!

I hope this helps you make the most of a book that, alongside these problems, provides treasures of great material!

Billy Graham Rule (aka Mike Pence Rule)

Here are some posts I find particularly insightful:

“10 reasons why Mike Pence’s ‘Billy Graham Rule’ harms us” by Natalie Collins

“The Mickey Mouse Syndrome: Avoiding the Temptation or the Appearance of Evil” by Jill Richardson

Also very relevant:

“i am not a sex-fueled robot” by Micah J. Murray

“Modesty: I don’t think it means what you think it means” by Rachel Held Evans

Note: If you are not able to meet alone with someone without feelings of attraction that you are afraid you might act on inappropriately, remove yourself from ministry immediately and get help and support.

Evaluation of NET Bible on Gender

Someone asked what I thought of the NET Bible ( and, rather than giving a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, I decided to go through the steps I took to make my evaluation, in case anyone wants to use them to evaluate other translations. Jump to the bottom if you just want my conclusions. (Note that almost all of my links are to Marg Mowczko’s blog. That’s because she does a great job of explaining the issues for non-scholars, and she has lots of footnotes for anyone who wants to dig deeper. Also, I don’t need to repeat what others have said at least as well as I could!)

The first thing to look at is the list of translators. I found it here, at the very end: Note that these are exclusively men, and that Dallas Theological Seminary is heavily represented. Dallas is a complementarian school ( So, this is not a good start for an egalitarian like me!

While we are here, we can also look at endorsements: They are all male except for Beth Moore and one seminary student. They are also mostly complementarian, from what I can see. And Beth Moore’s comment specifically references the notes, which I will come back to.

Next, I want to look at a series of verses that are helpful to get a sense of the translators’ gender biases. There are many options, but these are mine:

Gen 3:16: There are two issues here. The beginning of the verse says, in Hebrew, “I will greatly increase your pain and your conception/pregnancy.” Most translators combine this idea with the next line and assume that the pain referred to is specifically pain in childbirth. That is quite possible, and a hendiadys is something that Hebrew does do quite often. However, in the footnote, the translators justify their choice by saying “there is no pain in conception.” That comment could only come from an exclusively male perspective. The fact that they did not seriously consider the pain many women experience during conception and also during the whole of pregnancy reveals a bias that is confirmed by the translation of the second half of the verse. There, the NET says, “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” All translation is, of course, interpretation, but this goes beyond what I would consider to be allowable. You can read more about the issues here: The NET translators justify their choice by importing the idea of domination from Gen 4:7 into not only Gen 3:16 but also (based on the footnote for 3:16) into sexual desire as well. This turns natural sexual desire into rape, which is sin. I can only say I am horrified. 0/2

Ruth 3:11; Prov 12:4; 31:10, 29: The Hebrew word חַ֫יִל (chayil) is carries the idea of “strength” and so is usually translated “army” or “wealth” or “warrior.” Some translations, however, switch to words that they find more suitable for women in these verses in Proverbs, such as the NET does with “noble” or “worthy.” Prov 31:29 is an exception where the word is “valiently.” The footnotes do explain that these are all the same word. 1/4

Malachi 2:16: My Hebrew prof, who was, incidentally, complementarian, said that this is the most difficult verse to translate in the whole Old Testament. That is because the text in Hebrew, as we have it, simply does not make sense. The translators have chosen one option. The NIV (2011) chooses the other: “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty.” What I object to the most here is the footnote which says “Though the statement ‘I hate divorce’ may (and should) be understood as a comprehensive biblical principle, the immediate context suggests that the divorce in view is that of one Jewish person by another in order to undertake subsequent marriages.” First, on what basis should this be taken as a comprehensive biblical principle? That goes against the often-stated rule that a Bible verse without a context is just a pretext for a prooftext. Bible verses must be taken in context. And then, this footnote suddenly becomes gender neutral when what is going on in the context is that priests are divorcing the mothers of their children in order to marry young foreign women (see Mal 2:11–15, as well as the whole book). 0.5/1

Rom 16:1, 7: There are several issues here. In verse 1, diakonos is translated “servant.” That is a possible translation, but the note is a bit disingenuous. On the basis that neither Epaphras nor Timothy are deacons, it is supposed that Phoebe cannot be. Yet the possibility of her being a minister is not considered. Especially given the support that Paul is requesting for her (v. 2), it seems likely that she is some sort of leader. (See 0/1

In verse 7, Junia is correctly identified as a woman, although do I read reluctance in the tone of the note? I am a bit confused by the reference to the TLG. The TLG is “a digital library of Greek literature.” It is possible that it has been updated since Moo did his search. But when I looked, I found 23 entries for Junia, and only one that is early (Plutarch, Brutus 7.1.4), from the 1–2nd century CE, where it’s a woman’s name. So I am not sure what the three are that Moo is referring to. In fact, however, the TLG does not differentiate between Junia (f.) and Junias (m.), and the same 23 instances come up when references to Junius (which Rom 16:7 cannot mean) are removed. Additionally, the Epiphanius reference that is mentioned in footnote 6 is from the 4th century CE, and therefore not particularly relevant. Junia, as footnote 6 mentions, is quite common in Latin, and apparently in Greek inscriptions, although I have not been able to verify that (see the footnotes here: Finally, the end of footnote 6 and the entirety of 8 seek to support the NET’s chosen translation, “well known to the apostles.” Here is the argument against that translation: Additionally, I have looked for instances of episemoi en which is the phrase under debate, and I found two examples. One states that Aristophanes, as compared to the other authors, “shone forth among them all,” and the other, Lucian, in the 2nd century CE suggests that if there are rumors that you did not praise your boss/owner enough, you must be sure to raise your voice next time so that you stand out among her admirers. In both cases, the one being described is clearly part of the larger group to which he is being compared. I found no examples of the phrase being used the way the NET Bible translates it. Thus, it seems much more likely that Phoebe is a leader of the church at Cenchreae, and that Junia and Andronicus are outstanding among the apostles. 1/2

Eph 5:21–22: It’s always interesting to see where various translations divide the text. Manuscripts differ, but Paul’s sentence in Greek actually starts either at verse 18 or at verse 21. Furthermore, the verb “submit” was likely not repeated in verse 22, so starting the paragraph farther up (CEB chooses 15, NIV & NRSV 21) seems to make more sense. 0/1

1 Tim 2:12–15: Footnote 19 here is helpful in that it reminds readers that saying that women should learn was likely revolutionary. However, footnote 20 ignores the pages of writing and gallons of ink spilled over the meaning of the Greek verb translated here “exercise authority.” Here’s a summary of the issues: Footnote 24 goes a long way to come to an explicitly complementarian conclusion. It does do a good job of mentioning some of the various solutions to the verse along the way. And footnote 25 unaccountably dismisses the problems that the shift to the plural raises. Not sure how to grade this, but I will suggest a 1/3.

1 Tim 2:9; 3:2: The word κόσμιος (kosmios) is translated similarly for both women and men (“suitable” and “respectable”). 1/1

1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2; 2 Tim 1:7; Titus 1:8; 2:2, 5; Acts 26:25: The word σωφροσύνη (sōphrosunē) and cognates is sometimes translated differently for men and women. In the NET we find: “self-control” (6x for both men and women), “sensible” (men), “rational” (Paul). 3/3

1 Cor 11:10: The Greek here says, “the woman should have authority on her head,” and while there is debate about what this means, the NET adds the word “symbol” and maintains male leadership in the church in the footnote without noting other possiblities. 0/1 (For other possibilities, see my review of Cynthia Westfall’s Paul and Gender.)

2 Cor 7:11; 11:2; Phil 4:8; 1 Tim 5:22; Titus 2:5; James 3:17; 1 Pet 3:2; 1 John 3:3: The word ἀγνός is sometimes translated as “holy” when referring to men but “pure” when referring to women. In the NET, however, we find: “innocent,” “pure” (7x). 3/3  

1 Peter 3:7: This verse in the NET does a good job of following my best understanding of the Greek text, with which both Mark Dubis in 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text and Greg Forbes in 1 Peter Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament concur. Both the NIV (2011) and the NRSV (and others) oddly put “living” with “consideration,” “weaker partner” with “respect” and then sort of tag “heirs” onto the end. The Greek makes it more likely that “considerate living” goes with “weaker partner” and “respect” with “heirs,” and the NET reflects that. I am confused, honestly, by how the verse was ever translated differently. Many of the foreign language translations that I consulted (Bible en français courant, Parole de Vie 2017, Bible Segond 21, Elberfelder Übersetzung, Schlachter 2000) follow the Greek, although the Lutherbibel does not, and several of the Spanish versions move the phrases around in various configurations. I asked Dr. Douglas Moo about it when they were updating the NIV, and he responded that it was “an exegetical decision,” but did not offer anything further in the way of explanation. 1/1

Conclusions: With a grade of 11.5/23, I would not recommend the NET. One of the positives of its development was that it was open to input from everyone; however, it is clear that the editors followed a complementarian bias in their final decisions. I had intended, like Beth Moore, to comment on how helpful the notes are, but now that I actually work through them, I am finding them misleading, more often than not. If readers weren’t already aware of the broader conversations around these issues, they would not find out about them from these notes.

I recommend the CEB (18.5/23) or the 2011 NIV (14.5/23). I sometimes use the NRSV, but it only rates a 10.5 on my scale. The new NRSVue, though, rates 14.5, and I was particularly happy with its translation of 1 Cor 11:10! The Passion “Translation” comes up from time to time. I appreciate what Dr. Nijay Gupta says here.

Power and Gender

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”

~ Augustine of Hippo

Definitions of Power:

Although Max Weber emphasized the destructiveness of power-over, others have brought nuance to the discussion. Groups may have power when people work together (Hannah Arendt), and in this way marginalized groups may become self-empowered (Amy Allen). Allen distinguished power-over, power-to (which emphasizes the goal), and power-with (people working together). But power-over is not always destructive. Thomas Wartenberg studies what he calls transformative power-over that is not oppressive because (1) it seeks the good of the weaker one, and (2) it seeks to make itself obsolete. That kind of power is sometimes equated with womanliness or motherhood, but Kathy Ehrensperger notes that not only women/mothers act in these ways, and not all women/mothers do. She concludes that unequal power relations are not inherently oppressive as long as the essential equality of the weaker is recognized and power is not continually held by the same person/people (summarized from Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul and the Dynamics of Power, pp. 16-34).

I have also found the following books and videos helpful in sorting through issues of power, particularly power in the church and the way it intersects with gender. I hope you do, too!

Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland

Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch

Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence by MaryKate Morse

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power by Andy Crouch

More by Christena Cleveland:

Christena Cleveland on Humility (part 2)

The Danger of Civility – Christena Cleveland

And here is a summary of her thoughts on good listening

Tools and techniques:


“Stand up, Speak up, Look up” by Dr Neichelle R Guidry (The sermon starts at 1:17:30)

Of course, it is imperative to be educated on abuse. Here is a list of recommended books, but I also want to draw attention to “God’s Protection of Women,” a brief resource that adds abuse to adultery and abandonment as reasons for divorce that the Bible supports. See also: Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue: Jackson Katz and Hyperbole and Divorce in the Sermon on the Mount by Marg Mowczko.

Gender and Language

These resources are helpful in navigating ways to use language that does not hurt the very people we are called to care for.

“8 Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Men’ When We Mean Everyone” by Karl Vaters

Microaggressions: Definition and Examples

For an example of a microaggression, note the comment by Tony Morgan at the end of Empowering Women Leaders when he asks John Ortberg if he has ever won any other argument with his wife. Although brief, this comment communicates to every woman watching that it’s okay to shame women for winning arguments. It communicates to every man watching that it’s okay to ignore the substance of the argument and simply laugh at how many times she “wins.”

Benevolent Sexism:

For a thorough discussion, see “The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darned Friendly…” by Melanie Tannenbaum

Note: Saying, “In general, women are better than men at most things” or the reverse (“Well, what do you expect, I’m just a man”) is also benevolent sexism. In this view, the expectations for success are set higher for women than for men, and men’s failures become more acceptable than women’s.

Roundup of Resources on Women in Ministry

Changing one’s mind is a slow process, and I did not come to believe women could be ordained without a lot of prayer and study. Check out the introductory books, and then I recommend regular reading on one or more of the websites listed here. And if you really want to dig into Scripture, be sure and follow Dr. Pierce’s course on the Theology of Gender.

See also my blog post with resources on power and gender.

Start here:

How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership offers 21 vignettes from Christians leaders, some quite well-known, sharing their journey towards affirming women’s ordination. Along the way, you will be able to watch them address some of the most common Scriptures and attitudes that tend to stand in the way of women’s ability to fulfill the call of God on our lives. See a detailed review here.

Liberating Tradition provides a great introduction to the the whole topic of the place of women in the church. As a Free Methodist elder, Kristina LaCelle-Peterson covers Free Methodist doctrine in the areas of ministry and marriage. This book should be required reading for any pastor who works in a denomination that ordains women. See a detailed review here.

For male leaders, you can read “9 Ridiculously Practical Ways for Male Leaders to Empower Female Leaders in the Church” by J.R. Briggs

Websites for Regular Reading:

The Junia Project: Covers Scriptural interpretations as well as practical challenges for women pastors.

Marg Mowczko: Slightly more academic, Marg delves into Scripture and church history to support the practice of ordaining women.

Christians for Biblical Equality: The Center for all things egalitarian.

No voice. No more. November: A great 30-day devotional for any month of the year! Pastor Roberta posts one clip, link, or excerpt per day with a thought or a resource on women in ministry.

For More Serious Study:

Theology of Gender: Excellent 11-part lectures on gender by Dr. Ronald W. Pierce of Biola University

Also, check out my reviews of Dr. Westfall’s Paul and Gender as well as Rev. St. Clair’s Call and Consequences which has quite a lot of implications for the suffering of women.

Other Good Books:

Ordaining Women by B. T. Roberts, written in 1891 by the founder of Free Methodism.

Daughters of the Church: Women in Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present by Ruth A. Tucker and Walter L. Liefeld

For more suggestions, see the bibliography in Liberating Tradition as well as the resources listed here.

Review of Cynthia Westfall’s Paul and Gender

I have been looking forward to reading Cynthia Long Westfall’s latest book, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ since it came out last year. It is a meaty book (315 pages), that digs into Greek words and ancient cultures (Roman, Greek, and Jewish), and I decided I would need to read it twice: once skipping footnotes, to get the gist of her arguments, before going back a second time and working through the book more slowly, analyzing, summarizing, and evaluating. But since it might be a few years before I get a chance to do that, I thought I would write out some first impressions, and I have chosen to focus on innovative sections that might be of particular interest to pastors and preachers.

For one thing, Dr. Westfall’s approach is unusual for a book on this topic. Usually, each Biblical passage is addressed in turn, once each. In Paul and Gender, however, various passages (1 Cor 11, 1 Tim 2, for example) are not discussed just once, but are brought in several times from the perspectives of such topics as culture, stereotypes, creation, the fall, eschatology (end times), the body, calling, and authority—the titles of the chapters. Dr. Westfall has much to discuss and much to establish before she turns to 1 Tim 2:11-15 in the last chapter. Dr. Westfall’s biblical theology approach allows her to shed new light on the issues related to gender in Paul’s writing. Rather than using one microscope to look at each passage in series, she uses 8 different lenses to look at the issues, and brings in the passages that each lens best illuminates. Some of her most interesting suggestions are as follows:

1 Cor 11:10, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels” (NIV). This verse is often taken to mean that a woman ought to be under the authority of a man. Furthermore, interpreters frequently assume that the women in Corinth wanted to stop wearing veils, even though this is not explicitly mentioned in the text. If one assumes the opposite, that the women in Corinth wanted to wear veils, but the men were encouraging them not to, the passage makes more sense. In verse 10, the women are then being given the authority to do what they judge to be correct, to wear a veil. The reference to angels makes sense as it recalls 1 Cor 6:3 which says that we all (no gender restrictions) will judge angels, so giving women authority to judge now is part of our life in Christ. And the masculine pronoun in verse 11:16 also makes more sense: “If anyone [masculine] wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” Although this masculine pronoun could be a stand-in for men and women, if only the women were contending against wearing veils, it would have been feminine. So the masculine pronoun indicates that some or all of the men were involved. Finally, if veiling were the sign of an honorable woman (something I myself need to research further), it makes more sense that previously dishonorable women now part of Christ’s new creation would want to wear them, rather than the more usual assumption that honorable women would want to stop wearing them. New interpretations are always difficult because they strike us as suspect at first, as Dr. Westfall acknowledges. But this one is definitely worth pondering.

There are three other matters of theology that I found very insightful, and can summarize a bit more briefly. The first is that there is no indication that when the earth is restored, women will be subject to men (e.g., Rom 8:17; Gal 4:7), especially when we note that there is no subjugation implied in Gen 1-2. This means that as we live as Christians on earth, we live in a future reality that is (or should be) only constrained by our mission to particular cultures. There might have been, and in some places might still be, a reason for women to voluntarily (and likely temporarily) set aside our new creation privileges for the sake of mission. But there is no reason to do so in a culture that claims to aspire to the full inclusion of women. In fact, I would add that the Church ought to be better at it than the rest of the US, because we know that women are co-heirs of life.

I have long thought that Romans 12 was an important section for the gender discussion, and Dr. Westfall includes an excellent chapter on calling where she discusses the way Romans 12 and other spiritual gift passages include gifts, such as teaching, that are sometimes thought to only be given to men. (Another interpretation is that women can have these leadership gifts but only exercise them over children or other women.) However, both of these conclusions contradict the contexts in which they are found, which offer no gender restrictions whatsoever, and which explicitly say that the purpose of the gifts is to benefit the whole body (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:7). It has always seemed to me that we have to make a decision. If we are going to say that these gifting passages would be understood as addressed to men without Paul explicitly saying so, then logically we should say that nothing in the NT is addressed to women unless Paul explicitly says so. Instead, even Romans 4, where verse 8 specifically references a male and the whole passage speaks of circumcision which is restricted to men, is preached as if it applied to women as well, as if Abraham is our father, too (Rom 4:16). In James 1:8, also, the person referred to is explicitly a male, and yet we assume the passage applies to women as well. If we do not think that the broader NT addresses only men, there seems no reason to suppose that Paul did not expect both women and men to be given all the gifts mentioned, to use for the benefit of the whole body, as led by the Spirit.

Another of my favorite chapters in Paul and Gender is the one on authority. Dr. Westfall points out that in many of our American churches we have established a hierarchy that we call “servant leadership” that in fact looks nothing like servanthood but that rather focuses on authority. Furthermore, we have often interpreted verses that focus on submission as though the submission of Christians to those we take to be their pastor (1 Cor 16:16), or the submission of a wife to her husband (Eph 5:22) implies the authority of the pastor/husband over the congregation/wife. However, that view completely misunderstands the true (and revolutionary) nature of Christian leadership the way Paul describes it (Phil 2:1-11; 1 Cor 2:1-5). If I submit to you, that does not require you to rule over me.

This book just came out last year, so it will be interesting to see how it is received, and what arguments are made by others, both for and against Dr. Westfall’s work. In any case, it has certainly had an impact on me, and I look forward to having the time to go through it again, and interact with it in more detail. Let me end with a longer quote of one of my favorite paragraphs:

“The exercise of male rule and dominion over the church subjects more than half the members of the church, women (usually more than 50 percent of the membership), who according to Paul’s gospel are equal heirs; they have the same future of ruling with Christ as all believers have. But, what is more disturbing, it equates leadership in the church with imposing subjugation rather than serving—yet the true measure of leadership is to become a slave to everyone, which is both Christ’s and Paul’s model. Undermining this principle is the primary fallacy behind the overrealized eschatology of those who argue for only male leadership in the church. The claim that the unilateral exercise of authority in models of ‘male headship’ is ‘servant leadership’ creates an oxymoron on virtually every level.”