Women and the Gospel

Posted by Karen Soole Karen Soole
This week has been a disturbing week for women, or rather its been a disturbing week for everyone as stories of the abuse, violation and even murder of young girls have filled our news headlines. The horror of sexual violence that some women experience really does not bear thinking about. When I heard about Sky TV’s new drama Hannibal in which more women are killed in a ‘glossy, gory new crime drama’ for entertainment I expressed my frustration aloud, my son happened to overhear and exclaimed, “ Gosh you sound like a feminist!”

Feminism is a loaded word – it means many things to many people. As someone who believes that God created man and woman in his image equally I might own this word but as someone who also believes that God gave man and woman different roles in marriage and the church I know that I am considered a traitor to the cause.

I wonder how many women on hearing the news this week have had their feminism reaffirmed as they look at the evil oppression of a man? How many have had bad memories and past hurt resurface? How many have rallied to a cause that seeks to fight this oppression?

I want to fight this oppression too but I know that radical feminism isn’t the answer however tempting it might appear. But it sounds glib to say the gospel is the answer especially as the debates about the role of women in the church rage and so many accuse Christians of an alternative form of oppression. Yet I know the truth of the gospel is the one place that offers reconciliation between men and women. I know the joy of being loved by God in Christ. I know the confidence and freedom that comes from being loved by a godly husband who encourages me to grow. Margaret Kostenberger says:

  Christian wives should experience liberation from the dominant, unloving, abusive exercise of their husband’s authority (Gen 3:16), a form of  “rule” that in the Bible is contrasted with the loving, sacrificial exercise of the husband’s servant leadership in Christ (Eph. 5:25-28). [1]

However this is anathema to feminists who view even this as a form of oppression maybe because they have never seen this lived out in practice; maybe they have only seen perversions of this which reinforce stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. How can those of us who know the experience of liberation in marriage witness to the transforming power of the gospel in our relationships? Something of how we live out these relationships should be radically different and point to the reality of our relationship with Christ. I don’t think theological arguments which try and engage reason alone will persuade women in our culture to ever think that submitting to a husband is a good thing – there is too much baggage, too much history, too much water under the bridge. As Kostenberger goes on to say:

  But the gospel does not entail a promise of, or call to, women’s liberation from all forms of male authority over them.[2]

Submission to a husband and submission to your shepherd/pastor is not something that an unbeliever will ever think is a good idea. In fact I know many Christian women who really struggle with this and the only thing that enables them to accept it is their relationship with Christ. It is when we rejoice in Christ’s submission to the Father that it becomes possible to value its place in our homes and churches.

So how do we help vulnerable hurting women? We need to witness to the possibility of the restoration of relationships in Christ. We need to show women the huge value that they have in God’s eyes. We need to speak out against the abuse of women in our society and not just argue about roles in church. We need to be active in reaching out with the gospel through women’s ministries and not at any time give off the impression that somehow ministry to ‘ladies’ is second best and unimportant.

I think we have a long way to go.

[1] Margaret Elizabeth Kostenberger Jesus and the Feminists – Who do they say that He is? (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008), 34.

[2] Ibid.

(This will be the first of several blogs about ‘women and the gospel’.)