What do they know that we don't?

The oft-repeated suggestion in comments on this site that the teaching of Carolyn Custis James remains firmly grounded in PCA teaching and Biblical orthodoxy runs headlong into this powerful counter-argument....

The best-known Evangelical feminist/egalitarian organization, Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), also claims Mrs. James's teachings in support of their own agenda.

Not only are two books and an audio tape by Ms James sold on CBE's web-based bookstore, Mrs. James's argument for translating ezer "warrior" are reproduced and footnoted as "an especially good recent study of this word" in an article critiquing "Complementarian Interpretations" of Scripture on CBE's site.

In fact, it would seem Mrs. James's etymological argument against the traditional interpretation of ezer ("helpmeet") amounts to little more than a stock egalitarian/feminist interpretation to which Mrs. James adds the interpretive gloss "warrior." CBE's egalitarian manifesto (Statement on Men, Women and Biblical Equality) says of ezer...

2. The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word "helper" (ezer), used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18, refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage (e.g. 1Sam 7:12; Ps 121:1-2). Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority.

It's possible Mrs. James's books could appear on CBE's web site without her knowledge or permission. It's much less likely that an audio tape of Mrs. James would be sold in CBE's web store against her knowledge or will. Finally, similarities between Mrs. James's arguments and stock egalitarian fare are so far-reaching that CBE plainly views Mrs. James as an ally. At this point it's hard to conceive of anything other than willful credulity or dissembling standing behind a continued claim by her apologists that Mrs. James's teaching hews faithfully to Biblical doctrine or PCA practice.


If you go to cbeinternational.org, you can also find two articles, one announcing a 2003 CBE convention where she spoke, the other discussing what was talked about. "Find out why the devil hates women in ministry, how to be a wild-hearted woman, and what the Bible says about God's gender at the 2003 conference in Orlando. An all-star cast of speakers awaits you, such as David Hamilton, Kevin Giles, Linda Belleville, Lee Grady, Funmi Para-Mallam, Carolyn Custis James, and John Kohlenberger. Our conference will explore the theme, 'The Priesthood of All Believers: Serving Christ as a Global Community.'"

I tried to post the links but it didn't work.

I have not wanted to speak ABOUT Mrs. James before speaking TO Mrs. James. However, the discussion is raised here, so I might as well weigh in. There are obviously Chrstians who believe that "complementarians" and "egalitarians" can and should be brought together. Since some egalitarians claim to believe the Scriptures to be the infallible Word of God, and most complementarians are of the same persuasion, it would seem logical and desirable to work for unity between them. If Mrs. James is of this opinion, it would explain why she would feel comfortable attending both CBE and PCA events without conscience problems. I have heard Mrs. James in person, read her first book carefully and also heard tapes of her speaking to a CBE audience, which she does somewhat regularly and in full knowledge of where she is. She is not sleepwalking while she's there! To be fair, the messages I heard were pretty much the same in both places. So I think she believes that it strikes a happy medium between the two positions. And it may be that certain individuals in each camp might have more in common than one might think - at least on a personal level.

However, philosophically and theologically, these two movements are going in totally opposite directions. Eventually, someone trying to straddle the two will be pulled to one side or the other. One group is trying to do all it can to accommodate a very unbiblical, pagan trend in society and the other is trying desperately to hold the church accountable to the clear teaching of Scripture. The incredible exegetical twists that CBE people have to make to get around the plain meaning of Scripture means that though they may give lipservice to inerrancy, they are far from believing and living it. I don't want to misrepresent Mrs. James or others who are cooperating in what is quickly becoming a "movement," (Synergy or whatever the name is)but I have the feeling that somewhere underneath, the attitudes her approach encourages (if not her own secret desire)assume that full participation of women in every aspect of the church would be a wonderful goal, but that the church is just not ready for that yet. (there is a twinge of "trajectory" thinking as an undercurrent.) Carolyn, if you don't really believe this, please tell us you don't! If you do believe this, please tell us you do! The thing that left a bad taste in my mouth after reading "When Life and Beliefs Collide" was the implication the book made that that women have to "prove" themselves (beginning with the introduction that implied the whole book was written for this reason); that they are hard done by in the church; that there is a particular category of Christian who can be called a "theologian." I realize that Mrs. James argues strongly that all women should be "theologians," but she seems at the same time not to recognize the VERY THEOLOGICAL nature of the keeping of a home.

The church does not benefit when women are encouraged to get together and bemoan their second-class state. I found it hard to put my finger on, but the tone just didn't sit right with me. One can't help noticing that Mrs. James seems to seed her book with little nuggets that leave you wondering where she really wants to go with her ideas.

In a society in which marriage and sexuality are in chaos, we need to encourage young women to see the glory and true gospel witness in supporting their husbands, loving their children and being "busy at home." Instead, many Christian voices are encouraging them to further their own independent careers, ministry and reputations.

It won't be long before most churches collapse on this issue. They say it's "secondary." Para-church ministries are mainly gone. Intervarsity is gone. Campus Crusade is gone. Does anyone now where RUF is on this? What about the Christian colleges? Wheaton and Gordon have long given up holding solid, as far as I can tell, though individual professors may be free to hold their own positions. Even PCA churches are pushing the envelope. A friend of mine visited a PCA church and told me they had a woman minister. I didn't believe her, but the church website is calling her a "minister of congregational life."

Why can't our leadership see how destructive this is to our gospel witness?

I'll stop rambling.

Thank you, Rebecca for an excellent informed critique.

David wrote: "it would seem Ms James's etymological argument against the traditional interpretation of ezer ('helpmeet') amounts to little more than a stock egalitarian/feminist interpretation to which Ms James adds the interpretive gloss 'warrior.'"

Hi David. Although Mrs. James doesn't mention it in her article, her assertion about the Hebrew word "ezer" meaning "warrior" probably has something to do with the fact that about 30 years ago some scholars suggested that the word EZER in some places (eg. Job 9:13) was not the common Hebrew word meaning "helper," but a word with the same consonants derived from a Ugaritic word meaning "warrior." This proposed meaning is given a place in the new Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon, which gives other possible examples, and some references to studies that support the idea. But it seems to me that most scholars must look upon it as a rather weak and speculative idea, because I notice that Marvin Pope does not even mention it in his recent commentary on Job, and I don't see any use of the idea in English versions to date.

Even if the idea were accepted, it would have no bearing on the ordinary Hebrew EZER. It would be a homophone with a different meaning--that is, a different word that just happened to have the same pronunciation, like "whole" and "hole" in English. The words would not have any demonstrated etymological relationship, or have anything to do with one another semantically. It would be rather strange for someone to suggest that this newly-proposed EZER tells us anything about the meaning of the common Hebrew word meaning "helper." But this is the kind of mistake that a person who has no training in Hebrew philology might make, after hearing that someone has proposed a meaning of "warrior" for EZER.

Michael Marlowe

One thing I've picked up on among the younger responders on this blog, especially those troubled by traditional views, is a whiff of moral superiority, as if their minds are open further than the rest of us mortals. I was a legend in my own mind when I was in college, but I never remember thinking that I was more open-minded about things than my elders. Similarly, I see instances of young folks making pronouncements, getting them shot down, and then them leaving the fray with a wounded attitude that says well, I can see you crusty old farts are set in your ways, so just reflect on what I said... sigh.

Is it just me noticing new things that were always there as I slowly transition to middle age, or is this a more novel attitude being cultivated in our seminaries? I see it in emergent writings, too.

Add new comment