What's the flap over Carolyn Custis James all about...
One of our good readers finds it impossible to understand what all the fuss is about with Carolyn Custis James's article and words? Why are women and men opposing the quite-reasonable complaints Mrs. James makes concering the evangelical church's abuse of highly educated female theologians? Why are we opposed to women being theologians? Isn't that a good thing that every man should support?
Well of course. Where did anyone here ever say or even intimate that women shouldn't be theologians. But let's not allow this red herring to throw us off the real issue...
Our opponents have said they're "left wondering what the flap is all about?" The flap is all about young men at our denominational college being told by Carolyn Custis James that she thinks they ought not to seek a submissive wife.
At best, this is impious (directly contradicting Scripture) and unwise (since few things will have as large an impact on the contentment of a man's home and children as his being married to a submissive wife). At worst, this is rebellion against God's created order and direct commandment.
The flap is all about a woman listing her credentials in such a way that prominence is given to her evident disdain for, and denial of, domesticity--cooking, cleaning, and being what is called a housewife--when the world is filled with other godly women who pray each day that God will give them the holiness not to despise such menial tasks despite their high IQs, their deep biblical knowledge and understanding, and their yearning to play the man on the stage of the wider world outside the home and family confines.
The flap is all about a woman listing her credentials publicly, and placing at their center her purported ministry of helping men and women deal with the failure of the evangelical church to take women such as herself who are highly trained theologians seriously, instead "roping them off" at home with children.
If I was the pastor of this nebulous "evangelical church" and Mrs. James came to me and said this was her ministry, I'd immediately ask her to cease her ministry because I'd believe, based on what she's written, that those who called her to complain about the "women problem" would leave their conversation convinced the problem was even larger than they originally thought, and the problem they'd be even more convinced of would be the exact opposite of the real problem we face.
If they had been led by Mrs. James accurately to understand that problem as being wives suffering under husbands who won't discipline, love, or instruct their children, who won't love and serve their wives, who won't teach, preach, serve, or govern their church brothers and sisters; if they had been led by Mrs. James accurately to see that problem as women rebelling against their husbands; women refusing to wash dishes, cook, and set the table; women neglecting to nurse their elderly parents; women not giving a thought to welcoming the needy into their home; women turning away from giving birth to, and raising, children--instead choosing the childless lifestyle; wives being revulsed by sex and refusing to give their bodies to their husbands; women teaching men in Sunday school, leading men in small groups, and preaching to men in pulpits; women rebuking their elders and pastors publicly and privately, without shame; if those were the women problems in the evangelical church that Carolyn Custis James raised consciousness over, I'd be in her fan club.
But of course it's clear these problems are not the central thrust of Mrs. James' ministry. Rather, she's pushing women to become "rabbinical students," get theological degrees at academic institutions, and then to be treated with respect--the same respect the secular professional world would grant them.
The flap is all about creating a crisis in the PCA over women theologians without defining that crisis in any way that makes practical the solution to that crisis. And of course, I don't think for a minute that this absence of proposed solutions is an oversight. To demonstrate this, let's ourselves think about solutions for a minute. If, as Mrs. James maintains, the PCA is filled with women professionally trained to be theologians who aren't being allowed to exercise their trained theologian gifts (I don't see how anyone can deny that this is the heart of Mrs. James' complaint), then let's have at it.
Women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should catechize their children. But some of these women are single, others are childless, others have children who have left home, and there has to be more than that for these competent and capable women.
Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should get involved in their church's Sunday school program teaching children. Well yes, but there has to be more for these women. Why rope them off among the children?
Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should dig into the many teaching possibilities within their church's youth ministries. Well yes, but there really aren't that many opportunities in the church's youth ministries because our youth pastors and sponsors have found it's normally better for men to teach, given the natural respect men command from boys and other men. And since we're evangelical and not mainline churches, God has blessed us with a number of men willing to do this teaching.
Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should select and promote good books through the church library and book table, also writing reviews of those books for the church newsletter. Well yes, but again, that's roping them off into the safe library environment.
Alright then, women professionally trained as theologians not being properly used in the evangelical church should teach women's Bible studies, lead women's prayer meetings, and speak at women's retreats. Well yes, but why only women's bible studies and retreats? Why not men's Bible studies and retreats?
Because the Bible prohibits it. How is it possible for women to teach theology to men without exercising authority over those men? What possible construct is there in which to understand the teaching of theology without that teaching being authoritative?
And you see, there's the rub. Right there, the solutions proposed begin to scratch Mrs. James where she itches but they also cross the line of what the church has ever done throughout her history. Right there we know we've finally hit pay dirt for Mrs. James and her anguished evangelical sisters, but right there we also know we've moved from obedience to disobedience.
Isn't this the reason Mrs. James does not propose any solutions to the problem she's trumpeting? Any solutions that satisfy her or her evangelical sisters who spend time complaining will not be satisfactory to those godly women and men who understand the spirit of the age and refuse to allow women to exercise authority over men.
Let's have a little honesty here. The problem the evangelical church has with all her women who have received academic or "rabbinical" training in theology is not that there aren't enough venues within which their gifts may be valued and used. No, the venues are almost limitless, and the Church has always given her greatest love to women who serve in those venues--the nursery, the sick room, the leper colony, the hospital, the nursing home, the Sunday school room, the vacation Bible school classroom, the Pioneer club, the sewing circle, the kitchen, the cry room, the women's Bible study, the women's prayer meeting, the Neighborhood Bible Study, the wedding shower or baby shower devotional, the MOPS group, the Backyard Bible Club, the birthing room, the orphanage--and the list goes on and on and on and on and on and on....
But in the background we can hear, "Dammit, that's not what I want--I want more! Why should I be forced to hide my most excellent gifts underneath such partronizing, such stultifying bushels? What gives you men the right to rope off my gifts into such obscure cubbyholes? I want out!"
Well yes, but there's the rub. It's not us men who are roping you off, but rather the Word of God. It wasn't the Apostle Paul, but the Holy Spirit Who said that women were not to exercise authority over men because Adam was created first, and then Eve. But it is us men who are called to teach and preach and practice this rule in the church, and you are making it awfully difficult for us to do so in a gentlemanly way. We don't want to beat up on any woman. It never looks good. But the Apostle Paul often didn't look good himself, so if you keep pushing us we'll have to say "no" to you. Please back down. Please don't force the issue. Please don't look at work with women and children as demeaning. Please be content with the strengths and weaknesses God made intrinsic to your sex.
"Listen, buddy. You just don't get it, do you? You're old and in the way. You're prehistoric. You're a brontosaurus. You're trying to turn back the clock but it's too late. The world has passed you by and you haven't noticed? Men far superior to you in biblical knowledge and rabbinical training disagree with your small-minded and insecure boundaries for women's ministry in the church. J. I. Packer believes women may preach but the PCA doesn't allow it. Why not? Wayne Grudem believes women may teach Sunday school and lead small groups but most PCA churches won't allow it. Why not? R. C. Sproul invites Joni Joni Eareckson Tada to speak at his conference but most PCA churches won't allow women to speak at family retreats. Why not? John Armstrong invites Kay Arthur to share the podium at his conference, and her message is on the Trinity but most PCA churches would not invite Mrs. Arthur to give the messages at their missions conference. Why not? Moody Bible Institute has Jill Briscoe preach to the pastors gathered there for Founders Week but the PCA has never invited Carolyn Custis James or Susan Hunt to preach to the General Assembly. Why not?"
Well, because even at this late date, we love God and His Word, we are surrounded by wives and mothers and daughters and mothers-in-Israel who also love God and His Word, and we have taken vows to obey Him and His Word even at cost to ourselves, including appearing to be insensitive, insecure, ungentlemanly, rigid, authoritarian, priggish, tight, truly-reformed, censorious, and so on.
God has commanded women not to exercise authority over men and so we won't do these things even when it means we're despised.
But we'll let you in on a secret: our wives, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers don't despise us. They honor us, and precisely for this very aspect of our faithfulness to God. If you don't believe it, ask them. And by the way, they know as much theology as you do and it was their mothers and fathers who taught them.
Finally, they have lots and lots of children and will keep bearing and adopting more. Thus, I trust you won't judge me rude if I point out that the rest of this story has already been written.