October 11, 2006

Lost Women of the Bible: Book Review

A Review of Lost Women of the Bible
(by Carolyn Custis James; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005; 239 pages)

To what extent are the ideas of women’s roles steeped in the humanly conceived traditions of the Christian subculture? This is the essential question being considered in Carolyn Custis James’ (CCJ) latest work, Lost Women of the Bible. In ten chapters, CCJ examines the life roles of women in the Bible, beginning with Eve and concluding with the Women of Philippi. CCJ encourages the reader to reflect on how women's roles today may be defined by the traditions of the current Christian subculture and not by scriptural mandate as she shows was often the case for the women of Scripture.

I especially admire CCJ's treatment of the biblical narratives of Sarah and Hagar. This accounting is helpful in establishing that, not only was the culture of that time partly responsible for Sarah's sense of urgency to give Abraham a son, but that succumbing to the pressure to fulfill that role was to the detriment of the human dignity of other persons – namely, Hagar and her son.

Instead of drawing her identity and purpose from God, Sarah fell into the same trap that catches the rest of us. She listened to the voices of her culture, her circumstances, and the people around her who were telling her who she was, what would make her life fulfilling, and how she could contribute. (p.80)

The story of Hannah is yet another biblical story that does anything but resonate with contemporary concepts of womanhood. Imagine spending years going through infertility treatment, wanting to desperately to have a child to love and adore, finally conceiving only to give that child to another couple to adopt as a pure act of service. This isn't exactly what happened to Hannah, but its close. CCJ notes that what was on Hannah's heart and mind was not merely the need to fulfill her own desire to be a mother, but rather to serve God by giving back to God what was given to her—her son, Samuel. Of course, it’s true that all things belong to God, including our children, and that there is a distinct principle that we can draw from Hannah’s life about how what we believe about God correlates directly with how we live our lives. From the time she conceives through the period in which she gives up her son, we see a woman who seeks God and unremittingly worships him.

Lost Women of the Bible clearly articulates the nature of the cultural mandate – that from the beginning both men and women were both created in the image of God to “rule and subdue together” (p. 159). For women who are lost in the Church, perhaps not fulfilling the expected role of wife and mother because they are single and career-oriented or even pursuing education, this is a breath of fresh air. The examples of Tamar and Esther make perfectly clear that the call to action from God is sometimes without a male counterpart taking the lead, but ultimately dependent upon her obedience to step out in faith. This is a must-read for all of us who hear the call, for such a time is this…

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