The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? by Jim Henderson

The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam's Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church's Backbone?Takeaway: The stories of women and their views on women in church leaders, backed by statistical research can be powerful.

Women in church leadership is a touchy subject with me.  As I have related in other reviews, I went to the University of Chicago Divinity School for my MDiv.  My small class was more than half women, most of whom had grown up in relatively conservative church backgrounds, felt the call to be a pastor and were often quite harmed by the church on their way to seminary.  Many had left the denominations that they grew up in and sought safer places to pastor.

Unfortunately, even in denominations that officially ordain and recognize women as pastors, the road is often difficult.

Jim Henderson started this project because he was seeing women leaving the church because they were being restricted by the church.

This book is somewhat similar (and a good companion) to How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership.  Both books overwhelmingly focus on story.  How I Changed My Mind is focused on the stories of 26 leaders in the Evangelical world (both male and female) that have changed their mind about the role that women should play in the church.

The Resignation of Eve is the recording of interviews from a variety of women (mostly not in leadership roles) that have Resigned (to their place in the church), Resigned (from the church) or Re-signed (up to get back into the church).  Jim Henderson has a clear perspective.  He tries to be fair and attempts to show that this is not a simple subject.  Some women are quite happy with a restricted place in the church.  They are not intellectually inferior or ignorant, they have made a choice and are sticking by what they believe is the correct theological position.

The middle section is often quite hard to read.  It has a number of difficult interviews.  One woman was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, but she was blamed for not properly submitting.  Other women told of being restricted to nursery or food preparation, in spite of wanting to teach or study with adults.  The most difficult story for me was about a woman that became a Christian as an adult, invested herself heavily and then slowly lost touch with reality as she drifted off into mental illness.  Part of the manifestation of her mental illness was that she felt that God was instructing her to correct the theology or practice of virtually all the Christians in her life.  Eventually she was cut off from the church, she got the mental health assistance she needed, but she has not made her way back to the church again.

The end of the book is about the women that have signed back up for the church again.  These are sometimes hopeful, and sometimes tragic stories of women that have decided that the best thing is to be in the church.  Either they are going it alone, or they are accepting restriction, or occasionally they have found new faith communities that have embraced them.

Jim Henderson has a very personal voice in this book.  His voice is present in the interviews.  He often has a section of commentary at the end of an interview.  He is attempting to be fair, but also present the full story.  This is not a theological book.  He is not attempting to convince anyone chapter and verse of why women should have a greater role in the church (How I Changed My Mind has more theological discussion in part because it is the story of theological elite.)

I think there will be much comfort for women that are able to see that they are not alone.  There will be some men that see the pain and hurt and want to do something about it (especially if they have daughters that might also face some of these issues in the future.)

This book is unlikely to change the mind of many of the pastors of churches that restrict women’s roles.  Because it is easy to point to a chapter and verse and in the ‘plain reading of scripture’ show why they are right.  Henderson does not believe that this is primarily about theological issues.  He believes this is primarily about power issues.  I think that he is right.

Often in the book he asks why we take some verses so seriously (women should not speak in church, women should not teach men, etc) but ignore others (women should have their hair covered when they prophesy, women should be unadorned with jewelry or braided hair).  If I had not been a part of some very clear power issues in my past church experience, I might be less likely to believe that this is about power instead of biblical interpretation.  But I have, and I do believe it many cases it is about power.  Scot McKnight’s short book about the history of Junia in the church is an example of a fairly overt power play around the bible and gender.

And as Mark Noll’s Civil War as a Theological Crisis so aptly illustrates, biblical interpretation is very often culturally laden.

My only real complaint is that I think the quantitative research that is scattered throughout the book adds very little.  Personally, I am fairly wary of Barna’s research these days.  But even if I were not, I think there are some very reasonable alternative explanations of the data.  Some of the data is helpful, but much of it feels like a scare tactic.  I think that the issue already has enough baggage, and the tension needs to be brought down, not ratcheted up.

Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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An digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review.

6 Comments

Thanks for reviewing these books on women in the church. I’m a male in a fairly “complementarian” group (covering and avoidance of jewelry are part of the group self-definition and women rarely are “up front”, though are as welcome as men to speak as lay members), with egalitarian tendencies tempered by my wife’s more-complementarian preferences. So…I am interested in building a defensible personal theology on women’s roles in the church and in extra-church life, and look forward to checking out a few of these books. (Unfortunately, you and others are pointing to great books at a pace far higher than I’m able to read them!)

    There are good books on the theological issues around women in the church. If you want more, let me know, I would be glad to recommend some or pass some on.

Pointers to some good books would be great! Kindle availability is a strong plus, but for a good enough book I’ll kill some trees. 🙂 The books in your “related reviews” section are on my to-read list, along w/ Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals–but I was thinking I’d probably start out w/ a “Four Views” book or something similar, to see the outlines of the various arguments.

Anyway…if you’re thinking of other books that’d be helpful, I’d welcome hearing about them. For what it’s worth, I think I do find it easiest to derive value from relatively “conservative” (Scripturally centered?) argument. E.g., Wright’s treatment of themes in Authority rang very true; Elrod’s Sex, Lies, and Religion, though I agreed with a number of his conclusions, with his general theme, and learned from the book, felt more eisegetical (and thus less authoritative) to me. Generally speaking, I consider your recommendation an indication that a book is probably worth reading. 🙂

    My next book would probably be How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership. It still has stories, that I think are important, but it charts a lot more theological content from a variety of sources. The authors do not all agree on the conclusion, but they are working in a similar direction. I haven’t read Webb’s but from what I understand he is going to be fairly controversial in the way he handles scripture. Not all bad, and I agree with some conclusions, but the method is the issue.

    I think the issues will be charted out with How I Changed My Mind and then it would probably be better to read a couple of books on each side. None of the ‘four views’ style books that I have seen have been well enough reviewed to read.

      Thanks for the input! I’ll plan on reading How I Changed My Mind in the near future. Also interesting comments re. Webb–it sounds like a great opportunity to develop “open-minded but critical” reading. 🙂 (I find that I need development in both aspects.)

As a woman, you’d think I would have researched this particular theological debate more thoroughly, but as I have no personal ambitions to enter church leadership, I never really thought about it all that much. I grew up in a church that had women pastors and there was one who was a close family friend and played was very important in my life. Now I attend a church which does not allow women in leadership roles, but unfortunately I’m not able to be very involved, so it hasn’t really affected me.

I will definitely be reading this book and How I Changed My Mind. If there are any other books you would recommend on this topic, I’d like to check those out too.

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