Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry

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Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. By Stanley J. Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995, 284 pp., n.p.

"[H]istorical, biblical and theological considerations converge not only to allow but indeed to insist that women serve as full partners with men in all dimensions of the church's life and ministry" (p. 16). This thesis is developed in seven chapters: (1) Women in the Church (contemporary American denominations), (2) Women in Church History, (3) Women in the Faith Community (OT, gospels, Acts), (4) Women in the Writings of Paul, (5) Women in Creation, (6) Women in the Church and the Priesthood and (7) Women in the Ordained Ministry. The stakes are raised high when it is asserted that the question of women in ministry "is central to the gospel" (p. 142) and that nonegalitarians who "categorically deny women the opportunity to obey the Spirit" are "acting unjustly toward women" and "standing in opposition to the work of the sovereign Holy Spirit" (p. 16). In the following review we will trace and critique the argument at significant points and conclude with some general comments regarding the work's overall approach and thesis.

In the first two chapters, D. Kjesbo seeks to substantiate the thesis that Church history evidences a pattern moving from "charismatic ministry" (with full female participation) to institutionalization (with the marginalization of women). Though this pattern may be characteristic of various stages of Church history, however, the question remains whether it also applies to the period of the early Church. At this point Kjesbo provides virtually no evidence but merely assumes an egalitarian reading of the NT. At the end of her survey she concludes that history indeed bears out the egalitarian view. Here it should be remembered that history itself cannot "prove" any position, be it egalitarian or otherwise. Another notable point in Kjesbo's portion of the book is the casting of the issue of women in ministry as an all-or-nothing proposition: To oppose women's ordination is to deny them any ministry whatsoever. Also, Kjesbo believes to have established women's God-given right to exercise their callings free from any restrictions by showing that women historically were engaged in learning, teaching and leadership roles. Her treatment here would need a more disciplined focus: How does the evidence she adduces show that women functioned in roles of ultimate responsibility over the Church before God?

The major portion of the book contains S. Grenz' survey of the Biblical and theological data. He uses a phenomenological approach that interprets the Scriptural data with a view toward their significance for the issue of women in ministry. His treatment of the OT therefore does not start, as might be considered appropriate, with Genesis 1-3, but with ancient Hebrew society. Acknowledging merely in passing the lack of women priests in OT Israel, Grenz points to the leadership of Miriam, Deborah's role as a judge, and Huldah's prophetic office as examples of authoritative functions fulfilled by women in OT history. From this data the rather ambiguous conclusion is drawn that "Scripture offers no evidence that the Israelites ever rejected a woman's leadership simply on the basis of gender" (p. 67). But what about the fact that all OT priests were male? Does this not qualify as evidence?

The author's survey of the NT data likewise fails to persuade at significant points. Espousing a strongly realized eschatology, with Gal 3:28, "Paul's Charter of Equality," as his theological center, Grenz maintains that "[o]ur position in Christ carries us beyond creation . . . by lifting creation to God's redemptive intent" (p. 105). But arguably redemption reaffirms God's creative purposes rather than supplanting them, as if the Creator's original design needed improvement or alteration. Grenz considers Jesus' appointment of twelve male apostles to be merely a function of salvationhistorical realities that are superseded by concerns of the kingdom. …