What About Women?
To Be a Man, To Be a Woman, by Kenneth and Alice Hamilton (Abingdon, 1975, 159 pp., $2.95 pb), Love, Honor and Be Free, by Maxine Hancock (Moody, 1975, 191 pp., $5.95), Christian Freedom For Women* and Other Human Beings, by Harry N. Hollis et al. (Broadman, 1975, 192 pp., n.p.), The Feminine Principle, by Judith Miles (Broadman, 1975, 154 pp., $3.50 pb), The Fulfilled Woman, by Lou Beardsley and Toni Spry (Harvest House, 1975, 172 pp., $2.95 pb), Jesus According to a Woman, by Rachel Conrad Wahlberg (Paulist, 1975, 106 pp., $1.75 pb), and Women in a Strange Land, edited by Clare B. Fisher, Betsy Brenneman, and Anne M. Bennett (Fortress, 1975, 132 pb), To Have and to Hold, by Jill Renich (Zondervan, 1974, 160 pp., $4.95, $1.95 pb) are reviewed by Carol Prester McFadden, Arlington, Virginia.
The 1970s have already produced scores of secular books on women’s liberation, oppression, fulfillment, servility, and related topics. Marabel Morgan’s best-selling The Total Woman prodded many Christians who were sympathetic, furious, or just mercenary to pull out their typewriters, so that now religious publishers are flooding the market with books on how to be submissive though happy, egalitarian marriage, and how a Christian woman can maintain her home, career, and sanity.
These eight recent books discuss the role of women from a religious stance. Three are very good and three have at least a little value.
Kenneth and Alice Hamilton, husband and wife and professors at the University of Winnipeg, cooperated on a book important for both men and women, To Be a Man, To Be a Woman. Marriage is approached holistically, but man and woman are seen to be significant as individuals. The Hamiltons grapple with the hindrances to being a whole man and woman, a unified couple. Without ignoring the mundane problems of role interchangeability, they search for a biblical perspective on male-female relationships. A teaching-learning section at the end of each chapter precedes discussion questions. The book is ideally suited for a couples’ discussion group.
Love, Honor and Be Free by Maxine Hancock is subtitled “A Christian Woman’s Response to Today’s Call for Liberation.” The author grew up and went to school in Canada, married, and then began to teach. Several years later she left teaching to rear a family. She therefore can speak to the issues of career versus homemaking as one who has done both. Her book reaches an unusual level of maturity and balance, evidencing her security in a role she finds freeing.
Submission, nurture, service, and ministry are tackled head on with humorous insight. Most appealing is her obvious excitement at being a wife and mother. Many readers will be inspired to seek greater freedom and satisfaction.
Christian Freedom For Women* and Other Human Beings is a fortunate pooling of insights by four well-qualified author-lecturers. Thirteen essays trace the history of women’s freedom from Old Testament laws and customs to contemporary attitudes, including a projection of future behavior. In one essay, a Quaker husband and wife, David and Vera Mace, challenge the popular notion that ancient Hebrew women were regarded as chattel. Sarah Frances Anders discusses institutional discrimination against women in another essay, and editor Harry Hollis analyzes what the sexual revolution really means.
Fictitious letters between author Judith Miles and an unbelieving friend are the vehicle for developing The Feminine Principle. What is that principle? Near the beginning of the book in one of the author’s letters we read: “The highest good to which a woman may aspire is to give pleasure.” Even though Miles rightly calls this an “outrageous generalization,” the letters do in fact emphasize a woman’s pleasure-giving function as her key to total fulfillment. The steps of salvation and sanctification are also outlined as the book is intended to be an evangelistic tool.
The Fulfilled Woman could be more accurately titled The Fulfilled Wife or better yet Perhaps the Fulfilled Wife. Growing out of a marriage seminar, it has nothing to say to the single woman, widow, or divorcee, all by implication, therefore, relegated to unfulfillment. The role descriptions are the traditional Western stereotypes in which the husband is away at the office all day while the wife is at home with the kids and the housework. The scenarios with “Wendy Wonderful” and “Dora the Drudge” are generally too simplistic to provide much help.
Doubtless many Christian wives will persevere beyond these drawbacks to find practical help on everything from submission to shopping, from discipline to decorating. The authors, Lou Beardsley and Toni Spry, arranged the book into projects meant to be tackled chronologically. The Fulfilled Woman is not far from The Total Woman.
In Jesus According to a Woman, Rachel Wahlberg says she attempts to “balance out negative attitudes concerning women which pervade major Christian thinkers from Paul and Augustine to the present.” She goes on to reinterpret some of the Scripture passages dealing with women, especially in the Gospels. The story of Jesus and the adulterous woman, the parable of the woman searching for her lost coin, the conflict between Martha and Mary over serving the food—all these are seen from a fresh perspective. Her interpretations are decidedly off-beat and a few inferences are far-fetched, but readers will be refreshed by her main emphasis: that Christ approached women as intellectual/spiritual persons, equal in the resurrection.
To Have and to Hold by Jill Renich, clearly and simply written, covers a lot of familiar territory. Chapters like “Meeting His Needs,” “The Real You,” and “Happy Homemaking” are followed by questions for self-evaluation as well as recommended reading. The author specifies that the book is intended only for wives.
Women in a Strange Land is an esoteric collection of essays by some disenchanted women. Ranging from bitter poetry to a piece entitled “We, as Ministers, Amen!,” the selections are of unequal value and for the most part very subjective. The three editors are either students or staff at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and would not classify themselves as evangelicals. Breaking through the acerbity here and there are courageous proposals for achieving greater freedom for more women. Humility and grace, seemingly virtues of the unliberated, are nowhere evidenced in this book.
If there is a common theme running through these eight books, it is a deep concern by men and women alike that women be encouraged to achieve their full potential. Whether or not we agree with all the particulars, we can be heartened that Christians are admitting there is a problem and making attempts to correct it.
Jesus Christ, Troubadour
The Singer, by Calvin Miller (InterVarsity, 151 pp., $3.95 pb), is reviewed by Cheryl Forbes, assistant editor, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.
The publishers of this narrative poem greatly overstate the comparison between Miller and Lewis or Tolkien. Among other things, the allegorical technique is too obvious.
The poem does have some nice stanzas. Miller uses alliteration effectively, and the idea of a singer as Christ intrigues and charms the reader. The miracle scenes show a sensitivity to suffering and a good sense of the words needed to describe it. The ideas introducing each section succinctly and at times cryptically lead the reader into the poetry. One of the best of these is from section XIV: “To God obscenity is not uncovered flesh. It is exposed intention. Nakedness is just a state of heart. Was Adam any more unclothed when he discovered shame? Yes.”
Miller successfully sustains his metaphor of Christ as the Troubadour called to sing freedom to men. But the best things about the book are its layout, design, and typography and the beautiful illustrations by Joe DeValasco.
The Wcc’S Vision For The World
In Search of a Responsible World Society, by Paul Bock (Westminster, 1974, 251 pp., $10), is reviewed by Arthur Johnson, professor of world mission, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
This study of the Life and Work movement reveals the continuing pilgrimage of the missionary movement in the nineteenth century from its original emphasis upon evangelism to the contemporary humanism within the World Council of Churches. Bock has taken the theme of the “responsible society” and shown how since the First Assembly at Amsterdam in 1948 the WCC has continued to develop its doctrine of and program for a responsible world society. By a careful selection of official documents Bock has produced an excellent historical survey of ecumenical social pronouncements and actions. With some repetition he has retraced the historical growth of this ideal as it applies to political and economic orders, war and peace, Communism, racial and ethnic relations, and social development. Each chapter develops the pronouncements on a problem of world society beginning in Stockholm 1925, Jerusalem 1928, or Oxford 1937 and concluding with those of the Geneva World Conference on Church and Society 1966 and the Fourth WCC Assembly at Uppsala 1968. Post-1968 references deal primarily with the application of the Geneva 1966 and Uppsala 1968 proclamations to events such as the Viet Nam war. More concerning Africa and South America could be expected.
At the end of each chapter Bock comments on the papal encyclicals of the Roman Catholic Church as they apply to each subject. He attempts to show the mutual development and convergence of Roman Catholic pronouncements with those of the WCC. In 1968 persistent ecumenical efforts finally produced a new cooperative WCC-Roman Catholic program called SODEPAX, a joint Committee on Society, Development, and Peace.
Bock shows how the earlier world conferences were preoccupied with the problems of Western society, but then how recent decades slowly came to think in global terms. Because of economic development in the northern hemisphere, the former East-West world polarization has now become North-South. The Geneva 1966 conference, however, endeavored to give the Third World a fully equal voice with the northern hemisphere. It also asserted that the widening economic gap would introduce and require revolutionary changes in developed as well as developing countries. Only in this way, Geneva said, could technology be harnessed for the betterment of all mankind.
Thus the concept of a responsible society was enlarged to the concept of a responsible world society, where rich and poor nations have responsibilities within their own societies, to each other, and also to international bodies [p. 221],
Uppsala 1968 urged the churches to make responsible citizens by education so as to meet the demands of development. Theologians are to work with technology in order “to come to grips with the meaning and goal of peoples all over the world who have awakened to a new sense of the human.”
Evangelicals who struggled through the modernist-fundamentalist controversy in the earlier part of this century are rapidly disappearing, and many Christians have difficulty in grasping the basic differences that have created a growing gulf between evangelicals and the WCC, between biblical evangelism and social action. Bock, unfortunately, does not give the first phase that would make the book intelligible for evangelicals, but rather gives the second and succeeding phases of this controversy.
The first phase of the transition took place before and after Edinburgh 1910, when all participants were accepted as “Christians” and their individual theological differences were respected. The participants represented primarily evangelical missions cooperating together in winning individuals to Christ and the fellowship of the Church. A pluralism of theologies, however, became the principle of participation in the post-Edinburgh conferences where those who questioned or rejected the verbal inerrancy of the Scripture predominated. Evangelical Christianity lost its only line of defense, and the non-evangelical denominations of Protestantism took over the movement. Thus the liberal theology of Ritschl and Harnack and the modernism of Rauschenbusch became the dynamic for social action and the damper of historic evangelical evangelism because of the fallible Bible.
Bock picks up the trend at this point and calls it the “international social gospel phase … based on a liberal theology.… The church was to convert men to social responsibility and thus imbue a Christian spirit into all of society, thereby humanizing society.” The ecumenical movement sought through this social gospel to establish the Kingdom of God among men, believing that man can be changed by education and the improvement of his earthly environment:
Many Christians believed that by working with secular institutions—reform movements, governments, labor unions, and the League of Nations—they could bring life on earth close to the Kingdom of God [p. 35].
The next phase reflects the dialectic theology of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner and the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr. Secularism was seen as the enemy of the Kingdom of God at both the 1928 Jerusalem meeting of the International Missionary Council and the Oxford 1937 Life and Work Conference. Oxford “took a realistic view of man and his sinfulness and did not anticipate a utopian society but rather one in which power had to be used to assure justice.” The Kingdom of God, no longer an earthly possibility, now became an ethical standard to measure man’s social achievements: man is both drawn forward toward its ideal and judged by it.
In the contemporary theological phase, Christian realism has declined in favor of a new humanism or a theology of secularization wherein “the church was asked to take a positive stand toward the world.” Secularism has become a friend. World ideologies such as Marxism “do have something to contribute to humanization and social justice.” Contextual or situation ethics replaced the “middle axioms” of J. H. Oldham and the ethics of principles that applied to all the nations and cultures of the world:
The Christian community needed to find what God was doing in each historical situation and to respond to his actions. It would be difficult to find general principles valid for all parts of the world [p. 50].
When Edinburgh 1910 left the solid foundation of an inerrant text, it embarked on a sea of progressive consensus theology. The evident changes in social ethics and teachings reflect the theologians dominant during a particular decade and ecumenical meeting. The change from the modernist’s optimistic view of the nature of man as good to the Barthian pessimistic view of man’s nature required a total revision of social theology.
The contemporary non-theological era, in deference to the national theologies of the Third World, requires another major revision. The progressive theology of the last seventy-five years is now multiplied to include a potentially different theology (African, Liberation, Black, Water Buffalo, etc.) for every continent and culture! It is difficult to see how the members of a world society built upon this pluralistic foundation and ethic can act responsibly with each other.
Bock’s study revives old and new questions for the evangelical who seriously desires to do God’s will in and for society. The evangelical is troubled by the horizontal emphasis upon society that has also come to dominate the theology of evangelism in the WCC since the merger of the International Missionary Council with the WCC in New Delhi in 1961. His fears that the vertical relationship to God has been almost abandoned were reflected and further confirmed by the subsequent strong objections to horizontalism by Eastern Orthodoxy after Bangkok 1973. The contemporary WCC quest for a responsible world society resembles the social gospel rejected by the fundamentalists at the beginning of this century. The new wrapping of a “responsible world society” does not change the issues initiating that major division in Protestantism.
Reflecting the WCC view, Bock repudiates the individualism and pietism characteristic of contemporary evangelical witness and mission. Ironically, Bock quotes Carl McIntire’s negative view of Amsterdam 1948 concerning the harm the new council would do “in misleading the nations, in opposing the pure gospel, in closing doors to faithful missions, and in advancing socialism and political intrigue with the state.” Many evangelicals who may not care to identify with McIntire today may, nevertheless, find in this book much historical support for that prophecy. Bock documents how the WCC-sponsored Geneva 1966 conference pronouncements left room for violent revolutions “in extreme situations” (Geneva 1966) and how the official Uppsala Assembly in 1968 gave veiled but definite support for certain revolutions that may be violent:
Nations should recognize that the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms has now become a common concern of the whole international community, and should therefore not regard international concern for the implementation of these rights as an unwarranted interference” [Uppsala 1968].
Countries are encouraged to take risks for peace and cession of hostilities, but the pronouncements do not answer the question as to how far peace-seeking nations can go when international agreements are promptly broken. The “domino” principle has now all but emptied much of Southeast Asia of evangelical missions. Has Bock proven McIntire’s prophecy to be right?
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