The Biblical Case for Equality:
by Arden Thiessen, Guardian books, 2002, 164 pages.
Arden Thiessen has done the church a great service by drawing the biblical and rational arguments for gender equality in the church into a short, highly readable book. He writes for the average church member who is seeking clarity on the controversial subject of the role of women in the church today. After having read the book, most readers will need to ask themselves honestly what the controversy was all about in the first place. While aware that implementing a biblical vision of gender equality in our churches may take time, Thiessen leaves no stones unturned in trying to convince the reader that gender equality is biblical.
In the first four chapters of the book, Thiessen prepares the reader for the more serious biblical study beginning in chapter five. Drawing from a life-time of study and service in the church, he lays bare the inconsistencies of church life where women are not allowed to fully exercise their gifts. He encourages readers to be aware of the cultural baggage they bring with them as they consider what the Bible really says about women. He also challenges them to use consistent principles of biblical interpretation that will keep them from forcing the Bible to agree with their preconceived notions.
Contrary to the standard line of argument that begins with a few divergent texts in the New Testament, Thiessen reserves his discussion of these “problem” texts for the end of his study. He does this deliberately because he is convinced that when the question of the role of women is studied through a wide-angle lens, the scriptures point clearly toward the full emancipation of women. Beginning with the creation account he asserts that the statement which indicates that man will rule over women is not a prescription of God’s will, but rather a description of how life will be after the Fall.
He admits that both the Old and New Testament narratives are male-dominated, but he notes that there are frequent exceptions. These exceptions, Thiessen argues, are not deviations from God’s design but a glimpse of his more perfect will. In the New Testament Jesus is shown to be instrumental in affirming the full value and potential of the women in his life. And, argues Thiessen, Pentecost broke open the dam of resistance to the full participation of women in the life of the church. Now, as the Apostle Paul states, there would be no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female (Gal. 3:28).
Thiessen finishes his biblical study by reflecting on what he calls the “divergent” texts which have for so long been the proof-texts for those advocating a secondary role for women in the church. He handles them sensitively but insists that they must fit into the trajectory found in the rest of the scriptures that frees women to be all they were created to be.
I highly recommend this book for small group studies within the church. If you end up not agreeing with Arden Thiessen on all points, you will have to grant that his arguments are fair and worthy of consideration.