Review of “Raising Women Leaders”

Raising Women Leaders: Perspectives on Liberating Women in Pentecostal and Charismatic Contexts
Australasian Pentecostal Studies Supplementary Series Volume 3
Eds Shane Clifton and Jacqueline Grey (APS, Sydney, Australia 2009)
Book review by Jeanette Fogarty (BBus, BTh, Student MTh, CBE-Sydney Committee Member)

Raising Women LeadersRaising Women Leaders is a collection of essays discussing perspectives on liberating women in pentecostal and charismatic contexts (abbreviated as PC).  The problem the book addresses is that contemporary PC churches generally affirm that the Spirit gives gifts of leadership to men and women at a theological level and yet, in stark contrast to the early days of the Pentecostal and charismatic revival, many PC churches today are predominantly male led. In response the editors and contributors exhibit a “passion to see the next generation of pentecostal and charismatic women, along with Christian women in all churches and denominations, provided with the opportunity to follow the leading of the Spirit and flourish in life and ministry” (p. 10).

The book moves the reader through perspectives on women’s experiences, biblical studies, theology, communication, history, and provides practical suggestions for raising women leaders in today’s churches. Ensuring that the views of both sexes are heard and an ecumenical outlook is given, the book is written by male and female scholars from various denominations, including Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Anglican.  By garnering the contribution of a wide-range of theologians, biblical scholars, historians, feminist scholars, leadership and communication theorists, mentors and practitioners, the reader is presented with a well rounded discussion that affirms gender equality and provides a much needed critique of current PC church attitudes and practices.

I particularly like this book because it brought into the open the surprising inconsistency between theology and practice in many churches that affirm women in leadership ministries through the gifting of the Spirit yet at the same time hold to male headship.  Inevitably, this has resulted in churches agreeing with women in ministry yet being somewhat lax in recognizing and encouraging women in leadership ministries and theological training.  Many of the reasons and remedies for this are discussed in this book, an overview of which is covered below:

From the perspective of women’s experiences, Cheryl Catford discusses the ideal-real gap noting, “Some challenges are theological in nature, some sociological, some cultural and some organisational” (p. 27).  Shane Clifton goes on to raise the question, “Why, during the course of the twentieth century, has Pentecostalism, along with charismatic Christianity more broadly, experienced a transition from gendered equality in the church toward a more patriarchal situation, especially given the fact that the broader society has moved in the opposite direction?” (p. 53).

From the perspective of biblical studies, Jacqueline Grey retrieves models of women’s leadership by examining the lives of women in the Old and New Testaments.  Central to Grey’s theology is the biblical theme ‘the people of God’, built on the notion of ‘family’.  Whilst recognising the biblical text is predominantly situated in a culture of patriarchy, and very different from our post-feminist Western society, Grey applies examples of women in the Bible exhibiting leadership and influence, in both the private and public sphere, to the contemporary experience of women and men today.  The models of pastor and teacher are given particular attention, noting the movement from exercising these roles primarily in the private sphere of the home to the public ministry of the New Testament Christian house church movement.,  Grey contends “We can raise women leaders by beginning with their current experience and build their skills so that they can explore greater opportunities to serve and build the Christian community” (p. 86).

Honing in on the gospels and Paul’s letters, Kevin Giles argues that, although he does not speak out against the cultural norms of his day, Jesus’ actions and words have the effect of subverting them.  Pointing out that we are followers of Jesus, not Paul, Giles contends the key to a correct interpretation of Paul’s letters is the teaching and example of Jesus. For instance, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul subverts the household codes of that period by redefining headship in terms of the self-giving love of Jesus and the one-flesh teaching concerning marriage (based on the pre-fall design for relationships).  Further examining the household codes, with a particular focus on 1 Pet 2:13-3:7 and 1 Tim 2:12-15, David Parker reasons why the texts are situation specific and explains the deep structure that upholds them, that being “the priority of the gospel and continual progress towards realizing Gal 3:28” (p. 132).

From the broader perspective of theology, Kevin Giles refutes the argument of some churches that base women’s subordination on a theology of the Son’s eternal subordination.  Taking the reader on an historical tour of the doctrine of the Trinity, Giles shows why eternal subordination is not only contrary to the Biblical witness but why Christ’s lordship cannot be used to argue for the subordination of women.  Further on the Trinity, Shane Clifton and Kate Tennikoff provide a feminist critique of the way the church talks about and addresses God. While affirming the need to retain the biblical language of Father, Son and Spirit, they remind the reader that “all language for God is necessarily metaphoric” (p. 161).  Discussing the feminine metaphors used of God in the Bible and in Church tradition, they contend for the revival of their use in our churches today in order to bring some balance to our overly masculine depiction of God.

Again focusing on theology, and its resultant effect on the way we communicate and understand issues, Lisa Stephenson looks at women’s ministry in light of the concepts ‘Imaging God, Embodying Christ’.  Calling for a pneumatological (theology focusing on the Holy Spirit), rather than just a theo-logical and Christological approach, Stephenson claims “that in Pentecostal’s shift towards focusing on women’s ontological vocation as opposed to functional vocation, pnuematology has been overlooked” (p.177).  She argues that Pentecostalism cannot justify the restriction of women’s freedom if it is to be true to the spirit of Pentecost – the outpouring of the Spirit on both men and women and the liberating, transformative, blessing of the new creation.

From the perspective of history, Mark Hutchinon looks at the contribution of women to Pentecostalism, noting that their leadership in the past was much greater than in today’s PC churches.  In the chapter following this, Anne Tuohy, explores the history and development of a critical feminist theological perspective in terms of the struggle to retrieve the egalitarian principles of Gal 3:27-29 (p. 221).  Both of these chapters highlight the formative ways in which women have contributed to Western Biblical studies.

On the practicalities of gender relations, Lily Arasaratnam points out that male and female communication styles can complement one another, creating an atmosphere of collaboration.  Although an individual may exhibit a particular style of communication, other styles can be learnt to suit particular situations.   Arguments that society attributes to  gender notions of masculinity and femininity are also discussed. I found particularly interesting the contention by Robyn Wrigley-Carr and Matthew Del Nevo that “gender has a biological dimension, not [just] a biological basis” (p. 255).  Using examples of ‘common’, ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ masculinity and femininity’, they stress that male and female have both a masculine and feminine side to their nature, and that to become whole and mature spiritually each sex needs to develop some of the characteristics of the other (p. 272).

In the final couple of chapters the practicalities of ‘where to go to from here’ are explored.  Kicking off the subject of ‘mentoring women’, Jennie Bickmore-Brand and Claire Madden discuss what mentoring is, the benefits and challenges, and helpful tips on mentoring emerging women leaders.  Following on from this, Jacqueline Grey and Kristy Rigg use their own stories to reflect on ‘raising women leaders’.  They provide helpful strategies for church leaders as well as to women whom God has called into leadership ministries.  Their chapter is a fitting close to the book, a close that highlights that the title ‘Raising Women Leaders’ was purposefully chosen, suggesting “not just releasing, empowering or promoting women, but nurturing them – as young plants are raised and developed from seedlings into a strong tree” (p. 298).

© 2013 Jeanette Fogarty

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