I will tell you up front, I am in favor of the ordination of women. The only theological issue that I have with my current church (which I love) is that women are not ordained and do not serve on the Board of Elders (although there are a significant numbers of women staff).
I first heard of this book when John Armstrong blogged about it (he wrote the first chapter.) It has taken me five months to get around to reading it, but I very enthusiastically encourage you to listen to these stories no matter what your position.
Of course it is a bit repetitive (there are 22 chapters by 26 separate people, several couples jointly wrote chapters.) But I think it is repetitive in a good way, because there are many people that have similar stories about how they have come to understand that women in church leadership is a good and appropriate direction for the church as a whole.
I found it interesting to see commonalities. There were more men than women that wrote chapters (a later chapter expressed the importance of men calling other men to a more egalitarian understanding). And many, but not all men, were prompted toward inspecting their own beliefs because someone close to them was being hindered from a clear calling because of church restrictions. For most women, it was their own ministry that was being hindered and there was often pain because of restrictions on ministry that was counter to their understanding of God’s direction.
Most, but not all, spoke of long periods of intense bible study and research because of several difficult passages in the New Testament. If you have primarily, biblical opposition to women in leadership, this book has a good summary of the different ways that many have come to a different understanding without a lower view of scripture (although that is not it primary purpose). But some were honest and said that it was not primarily scriptural reasons, but cultural reasons that were the basis for their opposition to women in leadership.
I thought the chapter by Bill and Lynn Hybels’ was most poignant. Bill clearly said that theologically and intellectually he supported women in leadership, but within the home he continued to operate in a patriarchal manner. And even more poignantly, Lynn said that she resisted clear callings of the Holy Spirit that she is now sure negatively affected not only her own ministry, but the development of her children and the development of Willow Creek. There was real sadness about lost opportunities.
Overall, I do think that this is a good example of how culture influences the reading of scripture. We do not read scripture in a vacuum, we read scripture based on the influence of our family and church community. There were several authors that grew up outside the US and several of them thought that their progression of how they changed their mind about women in leadership was different because of that. Several authors (primarily men) talked about how the intellectual change happened years before any real changed occurred in their ministry or marriage. It is hard changing life long patters of interaction. There is bias that occurs whether we want there to be or not.
Even though I am fairly clear in my own mind on the issue, I found many different and new perspectives on scripture and the way we approach cultural change inside and outside the church. Like many good Christian books, one of the things that is striking is the humility that many of the writer’s exhibited. It is difficult to write about how you believe that you were once wrong. Some were simply changing their mind, but others were admitting what they see now as clear sin in a very open and public way.
This is a very approachable book and because it is made up of self contained essays, do not feel bad about reading out of order and even skipping some of the essays.