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CBMW expresses concerns over teaching of Carolyn Custis James. Part I: Women leashed by church’s ‘blueprint’?

March 27, 2006

Author and speaker Carolyn Custis James told attendees of the annual Kaleo Conference, held Feb. 10-11 at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga., of the need to swing open the doors for women to have increased levels of ministry in the church.

Even in a postmodern, post-polite culture, men often open doors for women in public. In much the same way, they need to swing open the doors for women to have increased levels of ministry in the church, author and speaker Carolyn Custis James told attendees of the annual Kaleo Conference, held Feb. 10-11 at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

Mrs. James, author of When Life and Beliefs Collide (Zondervan, 2002) and Lost Women of the Bible (Zondervan, 2005) and president of Whitby Forum, said woman are shackled from the full use of their ministerial gifts by a blueprint that the church has imposed upon them both in her denomination—the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)—and in evangelicalism as a whole.

The blueprint, Mrs. James says, includes two pictures of women, one positive and one negative; it has depicted women negatively as a temptress and positively as a mother and wife. Though women are called to be godly wives and mothers, their callings are not limited to those roles, she said. Nor are women’s gifts limited solely to ministering to other women in the church, Mrs. James asserted.

"The stewardship of women’s gifts is a huge issue we cannot avoid," she said. "It is a serious matter to Jesus when talents are buried in the ground. But an equally important issue is the simple fact that both men and women need the spiritual ministries women offer.

"God has equipped women to edify and build up his church too. I daresay that as women exercise their gifts in new ways, PCA men will echo the words of Jesus and say, ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me.’"

Randy Stinson, executive director of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), expresses concern about Mrs. James’ nebulous assertion that women are to exercise their gifts in new ways.

"I would be interested to know specifically what these ‘new ways’ are," Stinson said. "We are certainly glad that someone is addressing the issue of empowering women to use their God-given gifts in the church and fully support that biblical idea.

"However, there is a clear complementary framework within the fabric of Scripture that must serve as the foundation for the way in which both men and women use those gifts in the church. God’s Word has given us much clear guidance on this and we must not move beyond it."

Carolyn and husband Frank James, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla., were keynote speakers of the conference. Mrs. James specifically addressed the situation of gender roles in the church as it relates to Covenant College’s parent denomination, the PCA.

In response to a question following her presentation, Mrs. James agreed with a young female student that the discussion over gender roles in the church is often stifled or guarded due to fear in both men and women.

"Men are afraid they will lose their male authority," Mrs. James said, "or women are afraid they will be seen as ‘bad.’ What I see as the ‘blessed alliance’ between men and women doesn’t diminish men at all."

The PCA holds to the biblical teaching that limits the ordination of elders to men only, a teaching with which Mrs. James expresses agreement. However, there remain plenty of untapped opportunities for women to work in the church, she said.

"The PCA’s position on the matter of women’s ordination is firm, clear, and defended by Scripture," she said. "But this position still leaves plenty of room for the PCA to build a reputation as the denomination where women’s gifts are embraced, fully utilized and publicly affirmed as vital to the health of the Body of Christ.

"There is still opportunity for us to think of substantial ways to incorporate women into the full life of the church and to brainstorm new ministry vocations for women in our congregations. An encouraging precedent has already been set by the fact that some of the brightest lights in the PCA galaxy are female theologians."

Mrs. James named conference speaker Joni Eareckson Tada and authors Nancy Pearcey and Susan Hunt as examples of female theologians who are making a major impact on the PCA as well as the broader evangelical world.

"Women like these should not be exceptions, but role models for other PCA women," Mrs. James said. "The PCA is rightly proud of their achievements and our denomination benefits from their wisdom. They, in turn, cast a vision for what is possible as we contemplate the other gifted women theologians God has entrusted to us."

Stinson applauds the ministry of women such as Eareckson, Pearcey, and Hunt (Hunt serves enthusiastically as a CBMW council member), but says there must be a greater degree of biblical clarity regarding the ministries that women are to carry out within the church.

"My concern is that while Mrs. James notes the position of the PCA she does not clarify whether or not, or to what extent, she is in agreement with that position or its basis. She indicates that women are to be `unleashed’ and that the church has not fully utilized the gifts of women, but does not deal with what she thinks a corrective might look like.

"Further, regarding the gender discussions within evangelicalism, often things that go unsaid are just as problematic as things that are said. It does not seem responsible in today’s climate to call for an unleashing of women but then remain silent on the solution.

"While Mrs. James allows for the PCA’s position on ordination, the leading complementarian theologians both inside the PCA and without have said for many years that the real issue is function and content. In other words, this issue is not just about a biblical prohibition regarding ordination to an office but also about a Scriptural restriction on the function of authoritative teaching in the church.

"First Timothy 2:12 is dealing with the function of teaching and the exercise of authority, not simply prohibiting women from a title, status, or office and then telling them that they can’t have the office but they can perform the function. So, if Mrs. James wants to assert that women are not limited to teaching children and other women, then she will surely be anxious to explain specifically what other kinds of teaching ministries she is talking about and how they square with 1 Timothy 2:12."

Part two of CBMW’s two-part examination of James’ teaching will look at her assertion that the essence of biblical womanhood is the calling of the woman to be a warrior and a theologian within the‘blessed alliance’ between men and women God has ordained within creation to carry out the cultural mandate.

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