Crossway Books has published a timely book, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, co-authored by two members of the Presbyterian Church in America, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan and Mrs. Susan Hunt. Although the book itself is relatively small (175 pages), it provides some necessary Biblical insight into the current questions surrounding the place and use of the gifts and talents of women in the church of Jesus Christ.
In the past, under the guise of “evangelical feminism,” the modern church focused more on feminism than it did on the evangelical part. A number of secular notions were covered with a kind of “Christian sauce” that was supposed to pass for solid Biblical exegesis and application. Some Biblical scholars rejected evangelical feminism, and yet the questions remained, and still remain, about what the role(s) of godly women should be in the local congregation.
Duncan and Hunt have undertaken — successfully — to answer some of those practical questions in this work. What makes this a book that Christians need to read is that the practical is based upon Scripture. That is not to say that there is a great deal of detailed exegeses — there isn’t — but the book is helpful in many ways to those who are wrestling with how women are to be integral parts of a covenant community.
Structurally, the book is divided into two parts with three appendices. Part 1 comprises the Introduction (chapters 1–3); Part 2 encompasses The Apologetic (chapters 4–10). The topics “The Danvers Statement — Rationale and Purposes,” “Titus 2 Discipleship Ministry,” and “Women’s Bible Studies” comprise the three appendices. In the opening remarks, we read, “The subject of this book is not women; it is the Church of the Lord Jesus” (p. 17).
Duncan’s appreciation for his own mother is indicative, I believe, of what we ought to consider Christian women to be and how we should cherish and treat them: “Mother thinks theologically and deeply, writes beautifully, is a gifted public speaker, works harder than anyone I know, and has poured her whole life into the service of Christ and His people. I have had the enormous privilege of fellowship with some of the brightest theological minds in the English-speaking world over the last thirty years … and Mother is every bit their intellectual peer. Yet she has never aspired to the eldership, nor resented male spiritual leadership” (p. 19).
What also makes this work indispensable is the authors’ covenantal approach. It is God’s covenant of grace that “defines our relationship to God and to one another. It orders a way of life that flows out of a promise of life. To realize this is to think and live covenantally” (p. 32). Both Duncan and Hunt strengthen the value of the book by approaching their subject from the viewpoint of the covenant as well as from a life and worldview that reminds us that “Biblical womanhood and worldly womanhood are radically different, just as everything about the Christian life is countercultural and counterintuitive” (p. 33, italics added).
A church ought to do five things to promote a practical embrace of Biblical womanhood in local congregations. There is a need to cultivate godly, feminine, Christian women; to promote healthy Christian marriages; to promote godly, monogamous, heterosexual marriages; to cultivate among our Christian women a joyous embrace of godly, healthy, Christian male spiritual leadership in the church; and to help Christian women appreciate the manifold areas of service that are open to them in the church and to equip them distinctively as women to fulfill their ministry (pp. 37–38).
In our postmodern, neo-pagan landscape, Christians must be on their guard that they do not “ape” their culture but rather “shape” it. The two-pronged assault from the so-called cultural progressives comes in the forms of ethical reordering and doctrinal unfaithfulness, the latter coming primarily from theological liberalism (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1–5).
In the face of such opposition from within and from without, we are reminded that “It is never, ever safe to act unbiblically or to ignore Biblical teaching, and the Bible says so much about the way that men and women are to relate, especially in the home and in the church” (p. 39).
In the fourth chapter (Foundations), Susan Hunt walks us through five “Foundational Themes” for an effective women’s ministry in a local church. They are The Gospel, Truth, Sound Doctrine, Discipleship, and Covenant. With the last theme of covenant, she reminds us that the covenant is sovereignly initiated, restorative, relational, compassionate, corporate, and generational (pp. 62–63). These themes are powerful spiritual tools not merely for an effective women’s ministry in a congregation, but for effective ministry in the entire congregation.
One of the many provocative issues touched upon in this work has to do with women being good theologians. A false dilemma has been erected in some modern churches where women who are theologically astute somehow believe that they are therefore entitled to fill the offices of Teaching/Ruling Elder or Deacon. Duncan and Hunt point out, however, that while “Paul continues to build his case by inviting women to go beyond immature flamboyance to serious study of God’s Word,” he does not encourage them to usurp the divine order of male leadership ordained by God (p. 72).
The authors demonstrate that Biblical submission and headship are about function and not about superiority and inferiority. In the final analysis, “Submission is not a legalistic list of behaviors. It is an attitude of the heart that believes God’s kingdom order is good because we trust Him. It is a passion of the heart that loves ‘the church our blest Redeemer saved’ more than self” (p. 73).
The balance contained in the book between male and female, speaking from a complimentarian position, manifests that true harmony can be reached in the church of our Lord without compromising Biblical principles.