As we approach the PCA’s 37th General Assembly, it is striking that four of the 22 overtures submitted deal with women. At every level, PCA leaders face questions about women’s proper roles. The interest, uncertainty, and demand for specific answers show no sign of waning.
Just five months ago, Dr. Jerram Barrs, resident scholar of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute and professor of Christian studies and contemporary culture at Covenant Theological Seminary, published Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible (Crossway Books, 2009). We spoke with Barrs about God’s view of women and ours—and how the two differ.
Of all the subjects you could write about, why God’s perspective on women?
I suppose the simplest and most direct answer is that God’s Word has much more to say about women than we usually hear in most of our churches, and this has deeply troubled me for many years. I was already thinking about the subject matter of the book when the leaders of a women’s Bible study that I was teaching came to me and asked if I would tackle the subject of “women of the Word.” I gladly agreed and the women in that group were greatly encouraged by the studies and they urged me to write this book.
What are the primary misconceptions we have about God’s perspective on women?
In many churches, reflections about women begin with the passage about male headship and women’s subjection in marriage (Ephesians 5) and the so-called restrictive passages about women’s ministry in the church (1 Corinthians 11 and 14, and 1 Timothy 2); and reflections on women often end with these passages, as if Scripture had nothing else to say about women. But this is not where Scripture begins its discussion of women and it is not where Scripture ends! I think we rarely ask the foundational question: “How does the Lord see women?” I was eager to write a book about women through God’s eyes—not a book about women seen entirely through the eyes of men reacting to feminist emphases by focusing all their deliberation on those four passages. I am not saying that those passages should be ignored or set aside, for they are of course important, but beginning and ending with them has given rise to severe misconceptions.
And what are the ramifications? How are we experiencing consequences of our misunderstanding?
I could give you hundreds of examples that would illustrate the consequences of this profound misunderstanding of God’s perspective on women, but I will give just two examples of women who came to speak to me after they began to read Through His Eyes. One of them is the wife of a pastor of one of the most prominent evangelical churches in this country. She spoke with tears about the pain of raising her daughter in her church. She said that women are basically treated as second-class citizens in the church and are never encouraged to give their opinion about any spiritual matter or to share their understanding of God’s Word or their experience of living as a Christian. It is as if the female half of the congregation were barely human. The second example is a young woman who is a student at a major university. She was asked by several other female students to lead a small group. She said that one of the great difficulties they have experienced is that not one of them had ever been asked to pray aloud—either in their homes or their churches—and that they simply did not know how to pray. I weep as I think about the tragedy of this.
In your research, what surprised you most? And what do you suppose will surprise readers?
I was not really surprised by what I discovered in my research because I had the privilege as a very young Christian of working in the home of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. In that setting there was a glad submission to the teaching of Paul in the passages mentioned above—but there was also a deep commitment to honor the Lord’s declaration that women and men are equals as the image of God, equals as sinners, and equals in spirituality as joint-heirs of the grace of life. The consequence was that Edith gave talks about prayer and about the Christian life (and many other subjects) very frequently to mixed audiences of men and women. Also, all of us, both men and women, were encouraged to develop and to use whatever gifts the Lord had given us as we served Him in the ministry of L’Abri.
What will surprise my readers? I hope and pray that many whose experience is like the sad examples I shared above will be delighted to discover that God honors women and delights in giving them wisdom, moral strength, and gifts—all of which He intends to be a blessing to God’s people, both male and female.
If readers take your message to heart, what will change? How will their lives be better? And how will the life of the Church be improved?
I pray that many women will be encouraged to delight in their creation, redemption, and calling, and that many men, especially pastors and teachers, will be challenged to honor women as does the Lord Himself. My especial prayer is that women who are becoming disenchanted with the Church and with the Christian faith will be sufficiently encouraged by the book to embrace their faith gladly. I long for men to treat their wives, and women in general, better, and I long for our churches to be places where women feel welcomed, treasured, honored, and encouraged to use their gifts to the glory of God.