Maybe it is just me. But I find when working through books that are a bit to the left of me, it is fairly easy for me to take what is good and leave what is not. However, books and teachers to the right of me, I have to more consciously and intentionally listen to what is being said and not insert ‘so what you means is…’ statements that do not adequately reflect what the author is intending.
I have followed Wendy Alsup’s blog for years. There is much that I agree with and appreciate about her writing. I intentionally attempt to read her with an open mind because even though we disagree about some issues of theology and approach to scripture, I have greatly benefited from listening to her over time.
Alsup is in an uncomfortable middle ground. She is writing this book for women that either are from a fundamentalist background and have absorbed teaching that really is anti-women or for those that are outside the church and assume they know what the bible is about.
She is also in an uncomfortable position of pushing back against overly restrictive positions on women (for instance she believes and talks about in the book why women should be ordained as deacons) while not accepting women as elders and pastors. She frequently critiques complementarian views as commonly understood and taught, although many from the more egalitarian side easily lump her in with the term.
Alsup uses the phrase, ‘the bible is the best commentary on itself’ frequently in Is the Bible Good for Women. I like this idea, but it is a nuanced and theological idea and in the working out of it I frequently disagree with Alsup’s takes. My disagreement starts with Genesis 1 and 2. While gender is present in Genesis 1 and 2, my bias suggests that the point of those passages are not about gender or roles, but about God being supreme god above all other gods in the land.
This leads me to the second part of my disagreement with Alsup’s approach in Is the Bible Good For Women. In the second part of the book, Alsup expresses concern with ‘Secret Decoder Ring’ types of interpretations. By this she means interpretations that are primarily based on outside, and primarily academic knowledge. Building on the idea that the bible should be its best interpreter, Alsup believes that nothing in scripture that is important requires knowledge from the outside.
I think the easiest push back against this is the biblical language itself. Without outside knowledge beyond the bible, we would not be able to read the bible in English. Walton’s interpretation of Genesis 1, I think is exactly the type of interpretation that I think that Alsup is trying to speak against, but also one of the reasons that I think that reading Genesis 1 as an interpretation of later New Testament concepts of gender is problematic.
The more I read the bible, the more I think I need to read the bible. But also the more that I think I need scholars to help me understand the bible. Alsup is giving a Christological view of scripture. I broadly support that, but many others also are attempting to read the bible christologically and have very different results.
My approach is that we can only read the bible with understanding through the Holy Spirit. I understand why Alsup framed the book as ‘is the bible’ good for women instead of ‘is the church good for women’ or ‘is Jesus good for women’. She is writing a book about scripture, not about church history or about theology apart from scripture. But the answer to those three questions is not quite the same. One of my fears about approaches like Alsup’s is that it become about solving problems. I am not sure we can really solve all of the problems of scripture because I am not sure we can solve all of the problems of understanding God. Alsup directly agrees with this in the book, although much of the book is smoothing over problems. I would take different tacks in some places, but largely I would smooth over the problems in fairly similar ways.
The final chapter I almost entirely agreed with, even though I disagreed with the method in many places throughout the book. I do think that the bible (and Christianity) is good for women even though parts of church history and the streams of the church today are not good for women. It does not take much digging to see teaching that asks that women stay in abusive relationships or that inappropriately restrict women to minor roles around the home or children or in some extreme cases deny full image of God status to women. Alsup wants the reader to know that women are created fully in the image of God and that is a messages that is unfortunately still needs to be shared.
I would have liked to stop reading Is the Bible Good for Women in several places. I do think Alsup misunderstands or misrepresents some of the more egalitarian interpretative methods of scripture. But I need to be able to work through texts that I disagree with. There are places that I was challenged. And knowing that I really do respect Alsup as a writer, thinker and advocate for women, it pushed me to listen to what she was actually trying to say when I wanted to put words in her mouth and dismiss some things too easily.
Is the Bible Good for Women: Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture by Wendy Alsup Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook, Christianaudio.com MP3 Audiobook