Worth the wait

Should I decline to co-lead a Bible study if there are men in the group? Should I cover my head (and if so, would an old towel do)? Should I keep silent during the public question time in church at the end of the Bible talk? To whom am I to submit, since I don’t have a husband—to all men? In everything?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked all these questions (and many more!) as you’ve read parts of the Bible like 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, and Ephesians 5.

But let me ask you: have you ever genuinely allowed room in your heart and your mind for the possibility that the answer to any of these questions is yes?

When I was a fiery young feminist (feminist by default, since feminism was the air I grew up breathing), I remember a friend saying to me, “If you’re not prepared to at least allow the possibility that God wants you to do these things, then your mind is closed and you’re not prepared to obey him in this area”. At the time, I may not have reacted particularly well to this challenge (although of course I can’t recall now), but my friend was absolutely right. If we genuinely want to know God’s will in these matters then we must allow ourselves to form conclusions we may not expect or want to form, if indeed that is where our investigation of God’s word eventually leads us.

And of course we must investigate. But how does the average pew-sitter go about such a thing? I guess you could go to theological college for a few years. But we all need to work through these questions and these parts of the Bible, and we’re not all going to spend a few years at theological college. You could read something like Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—a book that has served us extremely well since it was published in 1991. But I’m too lazy to read a weighty 500-page (or so) book. If only someone who’d spent years studying and explaining these passages could write a simple book for me…

Enter Claire Smith with her new book God’s Good Design: What the Bible really says about men and women—and praise God for that! For many years, Claire has been speaking at women’s conferences on passages like 1 Timothy 2. Her own life has been revolutionized by God’s word, and her greatest desire is for God’s word to have the first and last say in all things. Claire has done us an enormous service in writing God’s Good Design, because she distils her comprehensive knowledge into a short book that’s perfect for people like me.

Claire takes us through seven key biblical texts that deal with how men and women are to relate: the four passages I mentioned above, plus 1 Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31. Claire devotes one chapter to each passage, taking the time to deal with the biblical text very carefully. She also explains the various arguments people make as to why the text doesn’t really say what it appears to say, and then she gently explains why these arguments just won’t do. Most importantly, she does all of this in plain, easy-to-read language.

There are three other chapters in the book, and each one is gold. Chapter 1 provides a very brief history of feminism and gives us the context for the difficulties we have with these parts of the Bible. Chapter 8, written very compassionately, discusses and condemns the misuse of the Bible to justify abuse. And finally, Claire finishes the book with a delightful description of her own experience in living out the conclusions she’s drawn from studying these texts closely. I found this chapter exceptionally encouraging, seeing Claire’s love for the many Christian brothers who have supported her ministry over the years—not least of which are her husband and her son.

I absolutely loved editing this book. Claire writes so clearly and simply. She doesn’t take three pages to say something that only requires one paragraph. And she has a sense of humour, which I certainly appreciate.

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. It’s a book I can give to my Christian friends to explain why I’m a complementarian. More importantly, it’s a book that will help people (women and men) to work through the passages and understand the debate for themselves, and come to their own conclusions. In fact, just the other day, the woman who proofread the book told me she’s really looking forward to giving it to a few of her friends. I pray you find the book as useful as I know I will.

8 thoughts on “Worth the wait

  1. Thank you for the review, I was just discussing this with another single Christian friend last night actually. However, I note that your questions at the beginning ask how all of this applies to a single woman, but Claire Smith is of course married. Do you know of any similar books written by a single Christian woman?

    • Hi Janis,

      I’ll leave it to Emma to reply about other books (since I can’t think of any off the top of my head), but I think if you were to remove “since I don’t have a husband” from the opening paragraph, all of those questions are at least potentially applicable to any woman. The last question has a particular edge to it for Emma (and others), but I don’t think that takes away from how this book addresses the broader issues.

      My 2c.

    • Nope, I can’t think of any books on this topic written by single women. There are a couple of books I am yet to read (on the pile on my bedside table!) but I don’t know how much they deal with the biblical text, nor whether the women who wrote the books are single.

      But, as Sam said, I don’t think Claire being married precludes her from dealing with these questions at all. As Sam said, I think all my questions apply to married women – even the last one in a slightly different way (should a married woman submit only to her husband, or also to her pastor, or to all men?). And I don’t think you have to be single in order to see how the Bible applies to single people, just as I don’t think you have to be female in order to see how the Bible applies to women. (Anyway, Claire was of course single at one time in her life!)

      I guess the point is that Claire’s book helped me immensely. It has little to do with whether she as the author is married or single, and everything to do with her many years of studying these passages, and the clarity with which she writes.

  2. This is a brilliant book – highly recommended as a good read but also as a useful reference to have on the shelf for when those “tricky” passages come up in Bible study. I really appreciated the way Claire is careful and thorough in her exegesis, while at the same time being succinct and accessible. She also puts the exegesis in the context of our modern world and the movements which have shaped some of our reactions and readings today.

    The sections on pastoral issues (eg: domestic violence) are sensitive and written from the heart – great gems of advice throughout. For pastors, these chapters are worth the purchase price alone.

    I also appreciate the fact that you can get it as an e-book, which certainly helps with delivery to remote locations!

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  5. Two books that I can recommend on this subject are:

    “Women and Authority:the key biblical texts” by Ian Paul

    “What’s with Paul and Women? Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Tim 2” by Jon Zens

    The views of both these evangelical theologians are somewhat different to Claire Smith’s.

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