Before starting to read this book, I read several reviews. A number of folks panned the book completely--so I wasn't quite sure what I'd find. The role of women and the issue of women in ministry or leadership are still hot topics in many circles. A plethora of books and papers have been written on the subject over the past few decades. I've read many of them and have thought long and hard about these issues.
I looked forward to a fresh voice on the subject. Some might consider the book a rant for evangelical feminism. Perhaps, and it does seem as though the author has little tolerance for views that differ from hers. She lets you know what drives her "nuts." Nevertheless, regardless of the camp you're in, patriarchal, complementarian, or egalitarian, the book is a worthy read--if only to help you understand how others think or find support for what you already believe. Warning: if you're in the first two camps, strap your seatbelt on--the ride will get bumpy.
What I liked:
1. The author's verve and passion. Anyone who would spend time bringing cupcakes to prostitutes is someone I respect. Anyone who isn't afraid to move beyond their comfort zone and strike up a conversation with someone from a different culture--getting to know how they think, who they are, is someone who has my vote.
2. The author's honesty and freedom of expression. Anyone who isn't afraid to say what drives her nuts is someone I'd like to know personally.
3. The author's encouragement of women to use their God-given gifts.
Strickland's style is engaging. I enjoyed a few of the personal anecdotes in the first half of the book. She's a gifted storyteller. But she spends a great deal of time presenting the issues of trafficking and persecution of women (especially in two-thirds world nations). She includes a number of quotes from "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" a groundbreaking book on the topic, written from a "secular" rather than biblical perspective.
And that is where the author may run into trouble. The subjects of trafficking women and persecution of women (in the U.S. and in two-thirds world nations) do deserve the attention they have received in the press. They do demand our outcries. Increasingly, people are becoming more aware of these horrific practices as well as other social justice concerns. That's a good thing. However, Strickland seems to equate these issues with opportunities for women in ministry. This is a simplistic, (and at times, subtle) big leap. The issues are not equal. Good people who disagree with her views also abhor those practices. Strickland (who kept her maiden name after marriage) seemed to be saying that unless you hold an egalitarian position, your kind of thinking leads to those practices. Not. I found myself saying "wait a minute" more than a few times. With a subtitle like "How Jesus Empowers Women," one might expect to find comprehensive biblical support for the author's reasoning. It's not there, at least in the first half of the book, where she speaks much about those issues.
The latter half of the book is dedicated to presenting "what the Bible says." Some explanations of the cultural context of a passage (such as those that speak of women keeping silent in churches and submitting to their husbands) provided food for thought. But saying something is irrelevant due to context can be a very slippery slope. That kind of reasoning leads to throwing out whatever passage of Scripture one deems difficult or personally offensive.
I would have liked to hear the author's response to the following questions.
1) If Jesus' view of women was so radical (and yes, it was, in many ways), then why weren't women among the original twelve? (Yes, women travelled with the disciples but that's not the point of my question.)
2) Why were the leaders of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) men only?
3) While she seems to debunk the qualifications for elders, the fact is, Scripture does state that elders were to be men. She does not adequately deal with this issue.
If she reads this review, the author may find these questions boring and familiar. But rather than respectfully dealing with those who disagree with her, Strickland tends to put them down repeatedly, implying they are ignorant and backwards. This attitude won't win friends or influence people.
In a list of women leaders who made great contributions, she lauds one who, despite the naysaying of her pastor and husband, went on to do important work. What happened to her marriage? There seems to be something wrong with this picture. In this case, where is even the mutual submission that Scripture speaks of? Many men who have problem marriages and secret sins build ministries and work for the Lord. But God examines the motives of our hearts.
There was one thing in her book--to use her expression--that every time I see it, drives me "nuts." She cites the oft-quoted fact that Jewish men thank God they were not created women. However, what Strickland misses is that religious Jewish men prayed (and still do pray) this as a way of thanking the Creator for the privilege of honoring His commandments. I would encourage her to read through several Jewish prayer books. Some modern ones also include a related prayer for women, thanking God for the privilege of being a female. While Strickland provides quotes from rabbis that portray women in a negative light, what she doesn't tell you about (perhaps she doesn't know) are the passages which praise women, the Jewish customs that honor women.
Strickland closes by saying she wrote the book out of obedience to God. That sounds like she's saying God told her to write this book in which there is ultimate truth (implying everyone who disagrees with her is misguided and isn't led by the Holy Spirit). How often do people say God told them to do something to rationalize whatever they want to do? Saying God told me to do thus and such (though she didn't state it that way) as well as personality conflicts and theological arguments have given rise to thousands church splits and new denominations over history.
Also in her closing, Strickland states, "let's challenge the structures that are based on faulty translations and poor exegesis." Sounds good. However she has some faulty exegeses of her own. Here's one example. She cites Luke 15:8-10--the passage about the woman searching for the lost coin. In her explanation, as support for the premise that women are created in the image of God (of course they are), she states that Jesus was "choosing to describe God as a woman." Not really. Let's be careful not to read things into the text that aren't there. The point is the dedicated search and the rejoicing of the angels over one who repents. But yes, of course Scripture contains nurturing images of God.***
A complimentary copy of the book was provided for review by the publisher, Kregel Publications.