Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James

Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James was inspired by the author's reading of the classic book Half the Sky by Amy Carmichael. 

Amy Carmichael was an Irish Presbyterian missionary who served for 55 years in India, where she founded an orphanage and mission that rescued young Indian girls dedicated to the Hindu temple and forced into prostitution to earn money for the priests. She spent her life defending and protecting Indian women from a culture and tradition that exploited and suppressed them and was a prolific author.

Sadly, women in parts of the world today are not yet freed from oppression. Honor killings, female infanticide, and sexual exploitation of very young girls, as well as barriers to the education and inclusion of women in society continue to keep many women from using their God-given talents.

Carolyn Custis James offers a thorough exegesis of scripture to show that God intended women to be a full partner with men using both Old and New Testament examples. She calls this the "Blessed Alliance". She embraces the term "ezer" (image-bearer) for women in order to highlight the theological point that women as well as men are God's "ezers" in this world.  I found both terms a bit contrived and over-used throughout the book.

For those of us who are already persuaded, she is preaching to the choir. But this book is not really meant for us, it is meant for that part of the evangelical church that does not fully embrace the equality of women and men in society or the church. This is a concept called "complementarianism" which means that God intended women and men to have not equal, but complimentary roles. Egalitarians and Complementarians are currently at odds in a number of these denominations as they debate the extent to which women should submit to the leadership of men in a culture where women are increasingly empowered in every area of life.

James does point out that women ministers and priests still struggle with a "stained glass ceiling" but she is more focused on advocating an egalitarian viewpoint to those who have not yet accepted it.

One of the strongest points she makes in the book is that too often Christian teaching to women focuses to that particular phase of life when women are wives and mothers.  This  applies to most women for less than half of their lives and does not take into consideration the 60% of women at any given time are single and do not have dependent children. Another strength of the book is her vision for the church's advocacy of the empowerment of women everywhere in the world.

Half the Church is written for small group  or individual study. Each chapter has suggested questions for discussion included afterwards. It would be an interesting choice for classes or book groups in the more conservative churches, but probably not as compelling for liberals and progressives.

The publisher, Zondervan, sent me a copy of this book for review. I did not promise to write a favorable review in exchange and did not receive any compensation other than the book.

Zondervan generously sent me an additional copy of Half the Church to give away. I will also give away my review copy, which I was careful NOT to mark up and highlight. Please leave me a comment with your email address if you would like one of these copies. I'll hold a random drawing if more than 2 of you are interested!

Here's another review from my friend Robin at Metanoia. Also, check out Dorcas' review of the book from the perspective of a woman pastor in a conservative evangelical tradition.


  1. I love that each of the reviews are so different from one another!

  2. I finally got my own review up today. I am glad you mentioned the "wife and mother" issue. This is important and something I forgot. My review is probably already too long though!

  3. Loved your review, Dorcas! I just linked to it here and on QG.