Carolyn Custis James on "this word 'submission'"...

Last month, Covenant College hosted Carolyn Custis James and her husband, Frank, as the keynote speakers at Covenant's conference, "Gender and the Church." Since the content of the James' presentations was quite similar to standard evangelical feminist rhetoric, and since Carolyn Custis James is promoted by, has been a plenary speaker for, and still has her books sold by the evangelical feminist organization, Christians for Biblical Equality, it became apparent that Covenant's administration had erred in making this invitation.

Since then, Dr. Kathleen Nielson and her husband, Niel (who serves as Covenant's president), have issued a statement responding to the criticism they received for inviting Carolyn Custis James and her husband, Frank, to train Covenant students in the area of the meaning and purpose of sexuality. Acknowledging how malleable, confused, and easily misled their students at Covenant are in the area of sexuality, the Nielsons wrote:

For the younger generation in the church, what we would call the Scriptures' beautiful, clear, comprehensive teachings are not at all clear. This generation has grown up with an unprecedented multitude of voices coming at them from all sides, within and without the church, especially in relation to the issue of sexuality and gender roles. We older ones cannot imagine the ambiguity that exists for college-age students today, for they have grown up in the flowering of postmodern thinking, which tells them essentially to embrace the multitude of voices. Consider, for example, that today's college students have lived their entire lives in the context of a culture that persistently presents homosexual orientation and behavior as normal and acceptable, and demonizes those who, on the authority of the Scriptures, call for biblical holiness in all matters sexual.

Which makes it all the more surprising that Mrs. James, whose feminist leanings have been well-known for quite some time, was provided a forum at Covenant College. This invitation demonstrates an evident lack of proper preparation in the selection of speakers for this conference.

Adding to Mrs. James' record, here's a transcript of Carolyn Custis James teaching the women of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Winter Park, Florida, on April 2, 2002. The tape from which James' talk has been transcribed is titled "When Life and Beliefs Collide; The Japan Report." James' teaching was given under the auspices of St. Paul's Women in the Church ministry. (Women in the Church is the name of women's ministries within the Presbyterian Church in America).

An astute woman theologian from St. Paul's was present and expressed her concern over Mrs. James' teaching to her husband who, in turn, took the matter up with St. Paul's elders. Now, a few years later, our astute woman theologian is a pastor's wife in Temecula, California, where her husband, Jesse A. Pirschel, serves as minister of Providence Presbyterian Church. As we drop into Mrs. James' talk, she is summing up the message of the second chapter of her book, When Life and Beliefs Collide:

Transcription begins:

...It has a lot to do with the second chapter of the book where I am talking about why women avoid theology. And this whole idea that there is this fear in church that if women know too much they'll get out of line, they'll cause problems. And that they'll cause problems at home, because they won't submit to their husbands, or they'll cause problems in the church because they'll want to grab hold of the reins.

And what I found in my study of Scripture was a very different image of what happens when women get serious about their theology. Umm... I want to sort of lay out for you the terrain and umm...because what I found as I looked at what is being said about women in Christian circles is that we have polarized views of who women are.

And on the one hand you have your Traditionalist or your Complementarian view. And you may not be familiar with these but these are...these are the standard views of who women are. The theology of women and men in relationships. And umm...This is where they put forth the idea that a woman is called to marriage and to motherhood. And that what gives a woman fulfillment and meaning in life. And that men are called to think and lead. And women are called to follow. And the big word that gets used about who we are and how we are to conduct ourselves in relationships with men and relationships in the church is this word "submission".

And if you've read the chapter you've noticed that I am saying some different things about what that means. "Submission," is a biblical, important word. It's an important concept. And it is a word that is taught not just for women but for all Christians and we ran into it in Philippians chapter 2. So it's very very important... umm and I'm affirming that, that idea.

But that's the, that's the one side of the spectrum that you get. And it's one of the more extreme, ahh, representatives of it in our circle is the Doug Wilson book, "Recovering ahhh Recov...What is it...recovering?" "Reforming Marriage", I've got the wrong title here. "Reforming Marriage." Umm... [Note from Tim Bayly: How really funny this is, seeing Mrs. James confuse Doug Wilson's excellent Reforming Marriage with CBMW's Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.]

And if you haven't read that book you might be interested in reading it. It tends to be fairly popular in Reformed circles but it takes a very extreme view of that, okay. It talks about the woman, that the man needs to lead her by the hand. That submission is about the man asserting his leadership over the woman and she needs to learn to give into that. There are a lot of good things in that book, I am not, I'm not saying there aren't good things in that book, but that's the approach he takes. The complementarian view is represented by a book that was edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. And they take a slightly different approach to this. Ummm they say that men and women compliment each other. But they make a very strong point that a woman is called to "affirm and protect a man's sense of masculine leadership". And they make strong point of distinctions between men and women. And umm that's ...that's one end of the spectrum.

At the other end of the spectrum you have what are called the egalitarians. Or the Christian feminists. And they are reacting to the problems that they see in marriages and in the church. And they are also responding to some of the, the secular feminist ideas. But they are Christians they are our brothers and sisters in the Lord. And they have the idea that there is not a difference between men and women. And that we can all do anything we want to do. That women have the same rights as men. And umm that there's you know this idea of headship and submission is not a real important thing. Ya know they are looking more as men and women are equal in all ways and that we have the right to do anything that you know our gifts lead us to want to do.

So those are the two views and we get, we get, caught in the middle of all this. And what I have done is I have carved out what I see the scriptures teaching as a different view. This is not a compromise between these two positions. I have trouble with both of these positions.

Umm and ...the interesting thing about what I am saying, what you're starting to hear from me in this chapter, and what Piper and Grudem are saying and Doug Wilson or umm the egalitarians, the Christian Feminists, is that everybody thinks they're Biblical. Okay. Everyone uses Scripture to argue their point. Everyone cares about the glory and honor of God. And you will find sincere wonderful Christians in both, in both of these camps. Okay. And I'm saying "I'm Biblical." And so what I'm going to tell you, not that you have to believe what I say but that you have to think. You have to study the scriptures and you have to examine what I am saying. I'm just a person, ya know, I am not a prophet from...ya know speaking the word of God directly. I'm trying to understand scripture. And you have to study and you have to think, you have a responsibility to think about these issues.

Umm I think when you look at the views that are being umm presented to us, and we're hearing more from the traditional/complementarian side of things, that a lot of the struggles that we're seeing in Christian marriages today, and I think in the Church, even in St. Paul's, it is at epidemic levels, the struggling marriages and umm some of the difficulties that we face in working together as men and women in the church, come from some of these ideas that I think are misguided; a wrong view of what headship means and a wrong view of what submission means. And I, I think we need to think it through again. And my study of women in scripture has led me to think in a different way about these issues. And I think it's very important to who we are and to how we function in our relationships in the home and in this circle and in the church.

Umm, I want to point out that when I wrote what I wrote I did not do it in isolation. Umm... That was one of the first places I learned of the importance of a team. But everything that I wrote in this book was, and their names are in the preface, was passed around and read by people who are here at St. Paul's, by our Pastor and his wife. Umm, the names on the inside of the cover are of different Christian leaders who have read what I have written and have affirmed it. So it's not something that I've just gone off in a corner and hatched. Umm it's something where there's been a lot of interaction and a lot of affirmation of what I've written. People like J.I. Packer and RC Sproul and umm Susan Hunt and Bruce Waltke and some reputable scholars who know a lot more about Scripture than I do. And who have said, ya know, there are some things in the understanding of women in some of the passages that I have taken on here that have been missed and misunderstood.

But I want to distinguish myself from those views because I think there are damaging things, I think there are unbiblical things about those views. And I don't want you to throw out the baby with the bath water. I love John Piper and Wayne Grudem's works and I recommend them in my book. I...Some of the things they have written are just blowing me away. I love Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology and I'm reading through it. Umm...Some of the things that John Piper has written are absolutely stupendous on the character of God. And these men are godly, wonderful men. And I don't want us to throw out the baby with the bath water. But I want us to pursue the truth. And this is an area that really affects all of us in a lot of very profound ways. And so I wanted to highlight that before I got started looking at the actual chapter. And we've got about what, 15 minutes here we can do this with.

(Some interaction and talking)

Is everybody with me so far? Okay. The reason I am doing this is that I don't want you to just read through this and say, "Ya know, well we've heard this kind of stuff all our lives." This is really new stuff, I think. And the response I'm getting from readership across the country is that this is new stuff. I hope it's, I hope it's ummm...I hope I can demonstrate that it's historic stuff. That its stuff we've lost sights of in our generation but that it's not new.

Umm...but anyway this particular chapter, Chapter 8 is built on the story of Mary...

Transcription ends.)


I don't really know what she's, um, affirming.

"a lot of the struggles that we're seeing in Christian marriages today, and I think in the Church, even in St. Paul's, it is at epidemic levels, the struggling marriages and umm some of the difficulties that we face in working together as men and women in the church, come from some of these ideas that I think are misguided; a wrong view of what headship means and a wrong view of what submission means."

She obviously doesn't attend our church.

Typical liberal tactics. If you don't like the clear teaching of scripture you redefine the meaning of the words used.

The biggest difficulty I have with this blog is that the authors seem to completely disregard the fact that Scripture is not self-evident to us as readers. It is interpreted - which is not to say all interpretations are equal! Why is there no interaction on this site with Ken Bailey and his article on women in the New Testament?

Why must it be assumed that it is beyond the realm of possibility that we have misinterpreted Scripture's teaching on women? Isn't that possible? Maybe Bailey's wrong in his interpretation, but please don't tell me that he's just cutting these sections of his Bible out because he doesn't like them. He's taking them seriously and has a seriously different interpretation. I would love to see you deal with him.

I read a lot of assertions on this site saying a lot of very acerbic things about a brother and sister in Christ with very little interaction over the Scriptures in question except as proof-texts. The proof-texts aren't self evident though.

There seems to be a lot of very firm line drawing on this site as to who is in and who is out as far as the authors' see the Scripture and church. Line drawing is necessary in the church at times, but it is a very serious issue. Have the authors' considered the fact that they might be wrong and that they will be held accountable to God for the harsh things they have written?

As a sister in Christ, I am embarrassed at how this blog is mocking a fellow child of God. What is typical is for Christian's to rely on ad hominem attacks. Sure, it is easier to attack a person than to attack an argument. A loving, wise person would address the issue at hand. A foolish, ignorant individual would attack the person and dismiss the beauty of intelligent discourse that may challenge us to not only understand scripture better but to know our Awesome Maker more! I'm ashamed to be associated by label to such narrow minded people that would support criticizing the person verses addressing if the claim is substantiated! This unChristlike behavior not only makes the blogger look more foolish, but also those who bear the name of Christ! Perhaps a wiser approach is necessary when addressing such complex issues that we will not know answers to equivocally until we are face to face with our Father. This article is more reminicent of the enemy of our Lord, than an ally!

"This article is more reminicent of the enemy of our Lord, than an ally!"


I too have been concerned at times that articles here (and even more so comments) may cross the line from criticizing ideas to becoming personal attacks. Like you, I believe we ought to focus on the argument rather than the person. However, I am puzzled that you pick this old article to attach your comment to. As far as I can tell, the majority of this article is a genuine transcript of a talk by Mrs. James accompanied by a brief introduction. It looks to me like the author accuses Mrs. James of feminist leanings and then presents evidence from her own words to support this. What better way to discover the truth about her teaching than to examine her words.

Enemies of the Lord do not show this kind of interest in truth, Erin. I disagree with your assessment of the article.

Add new comment