Welcome to the second installment of my review covering Carolyn Custis James’s Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. In this four-part review, I’m tackling a few of the main themes and threads of this book. Obviously, four posts will not cover every aspect of a 200-page work. My hope is that you will want to dig into this thought-provoking book on your own.
In Part 1 of this series, I highlighted the concern James raises that the gospel of the West has been run through a grid of affluence. Here, women have the means to choose work or education or family, or any combination thereof. But, as I stated in Part 1, “Christian culture takes these precious freedoms and opportunities and turns them into a ruler by which we measure the spiritual maturity of a woman, the submissiveness of a wife, and the priorities of a mom.” Those who live in poverty and desperation have no way to follow such a measure of spirituality, for work and education are the only means by which women will help their families survive. This Western gospel is irrelevant to them.
Because the Gospel is grand enough for all people, everywhere, in all cultures, James offers this hope: “This is a moment to speak into this void with a positive, affirming message for a global audience of women who are searching for hope. This is a moment for believers to embody a gospel culture where both halves of the church are thriving because following Jesus produces a climate of honor, value, and love and we are serving God together as he intended from the beginning.”
And so James does just that—takes readers “back to the beginning,” to look deeper into the creation account for clues and answers for what God meant when He made us male and female and placed us in Eden. Looking at Genesis 1:26–27, we find the core of what God had in mind: “The God said, ‘Let us make [human beings] in our image, in our likeness.’ . . . So God created [human beings] in his own image, in the image of God he created [them]; male and female he created them.”
Before the Fall, before the earth was populated, before the rise and fall of great nations, before societies developed their male-female roles, James points out that “[God] gives both males and females the exact same identity—to be his image bearers. He gives both the exact same responsibilities when he entrusts all of creation to his image bearers, calling them to be fruitful and multiply and to rule and subdue the whole earth.”
In addition to image bearing, “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it’ ” (Gen. 1:28, emphasis added). James points out that the fruitful-and-multiply mandate is automatically attributed to male and female (both sexes are required to fulfill that command). But what about the subdue mandate? James gently prods us to consider why so few females sense the call to subdue the earth, even though it was given to both image bearers equally. She purports, “God created his daughters to be kingdom builders . . . commands to multiply image bearers, to live productive lives, to rule the whole earth, and to subdue the Enemy’s efforts are aimed at women too. Let us not miss God’s original vision, namely that he is raising up his daughters to be leaders.”
My guess is Christians would mostly agree with James. But the discomfort comes when we try to define what female kingdom builders should look like in real life. Should women lead? Should women teach? Should women lead worship? These specific questions cause us to run to our comfort zones, where everyone nearby agrees with the answers we’ve gathered for ourselves. We are in danger of turning inward to confirm our stances instead of moving out in the power of the Gospel to minister to a world in desperate need.
I am now wrestling with this question: When it comes to showing grace and mercy outside our church walls, would desperate, suffering people care whether God sent a male or a female to help them? God appointed His image bearers to act on His behalf to rescue the poor, defend and redeem the oppressed, pity the weak and needy, and protect people from violence (Ps. 72:12–14).
The world is a big place. God needs all His image bearers—both halves of the Church—to fulfill the high calling He bestowed upon us in the beginning. As men and women work together, obeying God’s mandate and yielding to Christ love and humility, God’s image will be displayed for the world to see, and His name will be praised.