Book Review: Women, Leadership, and the Bible. By Dr. Natalie Eastman

Dr. Natalie Eastman is one of the smartest women I know. If you’re looking for proof of that, check out her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible. It’s a smart read, but not so much so that it’ll bog you down. In fact, I was enthralled from page one. If you’re the theologically- and academically-inclined type with a passion for women’s issues, I know you’ll feel the same.

Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation.

By Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman. Cascade Books, 280 pp., $31.50.

In her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible, Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman does not, as one might imagine based on the title, try to convince readers of her position on the role of women in the church. In fact, she argues that women have for too long relied on the theological positions of others rather then undertake their own study, a practice that has only worked toward women’s detriment. Twelve long years in the making, the intent of Women, Leadership, and the Bible is to right that wrong.

Eastman received her Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Realizing that the majority of women will not receive the same extensive seminary training that she did, her hope is to teach formal Biblical interpretation skills to the lay reader so that they can decide for themselves what God intends the role of women in the church to be.

Eastman writes specifically to a female audience, explaining that women are less likely to go to seminary, less likely to have time for theological study, and less likely to have the confidence necessary to take on as tough and divisive a topic as women in the church. While all that may be, Eastman is unequivocal that women are responsible both to themselves and to God to “think through these questions Biblically and theologically.”

That’s where Eastman’s “practical guide” comes in, as she takes on the heavy task of equipping women with the skills necessary to equalize a field traditionally dominated by men. Steering clear of four-syllable and hard-to-pronounce words, Eastman assumes her readers are unfamiliar with even basic interpretation skills. She defines “scary” words such as hermeneutic and exegesis, and includes a table of Scripture abbreviations, acronyms referring to different versions of the Bible, and detailed appendices for easy reference to outside sources of study. Despite her clear effort to write to a lay audience, by virtue of the subject matter the language used and study methods taught are best suited for those who have had at least some experience with higher education, as well as possess a great capacity for self-direction.

Staying true to Christian fundamentals, Eastman first and foremost points to the Bible as one’s primary study source. Outside resources are important, but the Bible is the ultimate authority on what the role of women in the church should be—it is in its interpretation that things get sticky. The primacy of the Bible firmly established, Eastman then provides a five-step strategy for methodically obtaining and sorting data and thinking logically about it: prepare (to engage in a concentrated study); identify (existing views and interpretations); study (the Bible as well as outside sources); filter (analyze what studying has uncovered); and choose (one’s position on the role of women in the church).

The third step—study—makes up the heart of the book, and is where the bulk of the burgeoning theologian’s work is done. Those interested in simply being told what to think or believe will not find any easy answers; instead, as Eastman openly tells readers, the study and discernment processes for even this one issue could take years, and even then may never reach full resolution.

Eastman takes seriously the individual responsibility to self and God to think through questions Biblically and theologically, keeping her own position hidden, choosing instead to draw out each step of her study plan by quoting women from varied backgrounds and positions. These women—a large number of whom are scholars—explain what they believe, why they believe it, and how they reached their conclusion. Readers hear from complimentarians and egalitarians equally, but all those quoted are women. This leaves Eastman vulnerable to criticism for excluding male voices in an otherwise balanced book. The study process taught, however, is gender-neutral, and men interested in learning more about Biblical interpretation can certainly benefit from Women, Leadership, and the Bible.

But it’s really no surprise that Eastman writes exclusively to women: the mere act of studying and learning is confidence building and empowering, traits women desperately need in the male-dominated field of theology. In fact, this is one way Eastman fails to keep her opinion on the “woman’s issue” to herself: clearly she finds women capable of the type of theological exploration they have long been kept from as unqualified. One can only assume she doesn’t think that after months or years of study that women should then keep silent about their findings.

It is, of course, true that women can attend seminary, hold ministerial positions, and teach in certain situations and in limited ways. But women have yet to reach full actualization as leaders through positions of higher authority in which they lead, teach, and minister to all church members, not just women and children.

Some think this is what God intended. Others do not. Regardless of opinion, it’s certainly worth asking how that opinion was formed. If the answer is that “someone told me so,” it is worth undertaking months or even years of study to determine if that someone was correct or not. For those without formal training but with an above-average skill set for self-teaching, Women, Leadership, and the Bible is a great place to start learning how to do just that.

You can find out more about Dr. Eastman and her book here.


Is the American Way the Jesus Way?

Brian Zahnd is the co-founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Brian is known for his focus on embracing the deep and long history of the Church and wholeheartedly participating in God’s mission to redeem and restore His world. He is also the author of several books, including, A Farewell To MarsBeauty Will Save the World, and Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness. Today, as we in the US prepare to celebrate Independence Day, Brian talks to us about the conflation of flag and cross, Christianity’s long history of accommodating itself to the pressures of nationalism, and the transformative hope of local churches to overcome both of these distortions of the true message of Christ.

You’ve said that for many American Christians, the American Way and the Jesus Way are essentially the same way of being human. What do you mean by that?

Many American Christians would be hard pressed to identify five examples of how the Jesus way differs significantly from the American way. In the civil religion of America, the Jesus way and the American way have been conflated into the same mode of being human. In essence this means Christianity exists primarily to support the supreme idea of America. Put just so it sounds ludicrous, nevertheless it remains the tacit assumption of American civil religion. But authentic Christianity is a radical challenge to all other allegiances.

Christians confess that Jesus is Lord and thus “We the People” are not. Christians are far more committed to the Beatitudes than the Bill of Rights. Christians believe that only Jesus has a manifest destiny to rule the nations. Christians proclaim that “the last best hope of the world” is Jesus, not America. And that most American Christians would view these assertions as controversial reveals just how deeply the Jesus way has been subverted by the American way.

You can read the rest of my interview with Brian Zahnd at Red Letter Christians. He’s an amazing writer and speaker — the interview is truly worth a read!

Brian Zahnd headshot

Amy Schumer’s Feminism: And Then What?

I am not one to eschew the feminist label. I am a feminist, plain and simple.

But I reject the notion that there is one standard definition of “feminist.” I remember how rejected and misunderstood I once felt in the women’s studies department of my undergraduate institution — so much so, in fact, that I dropped my women’s studies minor a mere one class short of completion. My particular Christian ethics did not jibe with the feminist norm being taught, and many thought me a traitor to the cause.

That was about 15 years ago. In the interim years I’ve learned a lot about popular conceptions of what it means to be a feminist. I’ve realized ideals I once thought immutable are actually cyclical and subject to both minor and major revisions, made by different thought leaders over time. And one current, popular semi-wave of feminism is being led by comedian and actress Amy Schumer.

You can read the rest of today’s post on the “new” (problematic) face of feminism at Sojourners(Definitely worth a visit, if for no other reason than to check out their beautiful new website!)


Where is the Hope in Charleston?

Last night while attending Sojourners’ annual conference, The Summit, I heard from Senator Elizabeth Warren, Jim Wallis, C.T. Vivian, and so many other legends in their fields. Afterwards, I stood in a small circle with others, discussing faith, justice, and reconciliation. I was the lone white face in my group of five; the other four were African-American, faith- and thought-leaders all.

One person, the only man in the group, referenced white supremacy. My ears perked up and I wondered, “Is that really a large part of the issue anymore?” I waited for a break in conversation so I could ask, “Aren’t we dealing more with subtle, insidious, and implicit biases these days?”

I never got the chance to ask. This morning at 5:00 a.m. when I picked up my phone to hit snooze, I saw an NPR alert: nine dead. I knew without question that those nine were black. Turing on CNN confirmed it, and I cried. No one had yet said the gunman was a white supremacist, but what else could he be? Who other than someone who feels his life supreme could take the lives of nine others, cause such aching disbelief and sorrow to their friends and family, and bring such hot pain to those around the nation who, like me, woke to tears and rage and confusion and heartache?

You can read the rest of my morning-after lament at Sojourners.

A Primer on Fast Track Trade Authority for People of Faith

In what the Obama Administration called a “procedural snafu,” the House last week refused to extend a four-decade old program that grants protections to workers displaced by global trade. While this longstanding program has traditionally been popular among Democrats, the trade deal it would usher in if passed is one they fiercely oppose.

Image via pogonici/

While the procedural details of what exactly transpired in the vote are fairly complex, the take-home message is this: the House successfully shot down a contentious piece of legislation, commonly referred to as Fast Track, that would grant the president executive powers to negotiate trade deals that cannot be amended or filibustered by Congress. And once that happens, President Obama would certainly use his fast track authority to speed along passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a proposed free trade agreement with 11 other nations along the Pacific Rim that would affect 40 percent of the global economy. The TPP would be the most expansive trade deal reached in history, and President Obama has made its success a top legislative priority in his last term.

It’s also one of the most divisive political issues on the Hill right now. Here’s why:

You can find out why, and read the rest of today’s post, by visiting Sojourners.

Freeing Men From Patriarchy’s Chains

Carolyn Custis James is president of the Whitby Forum, a ministry dedicated to addressing the deeper needs that confront both men and women as they work together to extend God’s kingdom in a messy and complicated world. She is also the founder of Synergy Women’s Network, a national organization for women emerging or engaged in ministry leadership. She is the author of six books, including Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, and Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing Worldwhich is scheduled for release this month. In Malestrom, Carolyn explores how our culture’s narrow definition of manhood is upended when we consider the examples of men in the Bible and Jesus’ gospel. She shares with us today how Jesus’ gospel liberates men from the strictures of patriarchy and restores them to their true calling as God’s sons. 

What is the malestrom?

The maelstrom—a powerful whirlpool in the open seas that threatens to drag ships, crew, and cargo down into the ocean’s watery depths—offered the strong image I needed to represent the power and seriousness of what men and boys are facing. A slight alteration in the spelling, and Malestrom was born. Put simply,

The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species—causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons.

These currents can be overt and brutal, leading to the kinds of atrocities and violence we witness in the headlines—wars, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, and the trafficking of men and boys for sex, forced labor, and soldiering. The number of male casualties on the giving and receiving ends of the violence is beyond epidemic. But these currents also come in subtle, even benign forms that catch men unawares yet still rob them of their full humanity as God intended.

The repercussions of such devastating personal losses are not merely disastrous for the men themselves, but catastrophic globally as the world is depleted of the goodness and gifts men were originally designed to offer.

You can read the rest of my interview with Carolyn Custis James on the Red Letter Carpet.


Heavenly Treasures

Today I have the pleasure of writing for my friend, Lindsey Smallwood. I wrote this over a year ago, as we prepared for our move to Maryland. I’m happy to say I’ve learned my lesson, but it did take a while. We’re all a work in progress…

You can read the post here, at Lindsey’s excellent blog.

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)

(Graphic by Lindsey Smallwood)