Review: Half the Church

Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women

Author: Carolyn Custis James

Hardcover: 208 pages

Publisher: Zondervan

ISBN: 978-0-310-32556-7



First off, I would like to thank the folks over at Zondervan for asking me to be a part of this blog tour and for providing an extra copy of the book to give away.  Here are the details of the giveaway.

Women comprise at least half the world, and usually more than half the church, but so often Christian teaching to women either fails to move beyond a discussion of roles or assumes a particular economic situation or stage of life.  This all but shuts women out from contributing to God’s kingdom as they were designed to do.  Furthermore, the plight of women in the Majority World demands a Christian response, a holistic embrace of all that God calls women and men to be in his world. (Back cover)

James utilizes the creation account in Genesis 1 as her model for empowerment.  Men and women, according to James, were both created in God’s image and were both called “to be fruitful and multiply and to rule and subdue the whole earth.”  Both were equal and tasked with the same responsibilities.  When looking at the creation account in Genesis 2, James points out that it is not out of sync with Genesis 1.  That the would translated as ‘helper’ (ezer) carries the weight of ‘strong helper’ (as opposed to the common translation ‘suitable helper’).  According to James, ezer is used 16 times in reference to “God as Israel’s helper”.  (112)  That should make one stop and think.  Ezer is used twice in relation to women and 16 times in relation to God.

My one issue with the book was as James was discussing one of the great debates in the church today, the complementarian/egalitarian debate and the issues surrounding the ordination of women.  The main issue I had was, despite her previous empowering of women, James fails to make public her stance on the subject of women’s ordination.  To me, this undercuts her argument to this point.  It appears as if she is only concerned with injustices committed in some far away land, but is unwilling to take a stand on injustices committed closer to home.  Where’s the good news for the woman in South who was told she would be a great fit for pastor, if she was a man?  Where’s the good news for the woman from the conservative church who has her sense of call beaten and kicked around because only men are ordained?

Taken as a whole, I was fascinated by this book.  I can’t say I enjoyed the book because the stories James shares elicited strong, negative emotions.  As I read the stories that she shares about the horrendous acts committed against women around the world; acts like sex trafficking abuse, I found myself shocked to the point of being speechless at these heinous acts.  As I read these stories, I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach grow.  It is a feeling that I have not felt since I read The Blue Notebook a few years ago.  But the message of the book is not one of hopelessness, it is one of hope and that is where James shines.  These stories, while bleak, can be stories of empowerment, of how women have broken the chains of oppressiveness around the world, how they have beaten the odds to reclaim their identity.  That is the message James wants to share with us.


I received this book free from Zondervan as a part of the Half the Church Blog Tour. Providing me a free copy in no way guarantees a favorable review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


4 thoughts on “Review: Half the Church

  1. Since I am the winner of the book and it has just arrived, I obviously have not read it yet (thank you, btw!).

    A quick aside: I have seen James in a You Tube video that makes me believe that she does care about the problems of female Christians in the U.S., and I admit I’m going to be too lazy to look it up at the moment.

    I’d like to ask you how familiar you are with James’ faith tradition (if she does indeed still belong to the same denomination). How familiar are you with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)?

    According to my own experiences in and with the PCA, while it can be acceptable to question other doctrines in a PCA church (e.g., Calvinism vs. Arminianism), the belief in hierarchical gender “roles” approaches sacrosanct. There doesn’t seem to be any real *questioning* going on there: not much that’s intellectually honest, at any rate.

    If James “came out” in support of the ordination of women, her ability to serve the church in the way she appears to be called to would be severely limited, as she would be immediately written off as “not taking the Bible seriously”. Obviously there would be financial repercussions, as well. But if, by *not* saying, “I support the ordination of women,” she can get her audience to think in new ways about scripture and the women in it, to consider scripture in new ways, that is a gigantic step in the right direction. IMO, the PCA is at this point relying more on their *tradition* of interpreting scripture in ways that limit women, more than they are investigating in a scholarly manner the possibility that they could be mistaken in their understanding.

    Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) promotes numerous authors who will indeed make that public stand for the ordination of women, as well as for the equality of women in marriage. CBE also makes lots of information available online for no charge. I recommend the organization highly.

    • I know a little about the PCA (I would equate it to the LC-MC in Lutheranism).

      As for the CBE, I linked to them a while ago…but I don’t utilize them as much as I should.

  2. Hmmm. I would guess (not really knowing anything about Lutheranism) that the PCA would be more like the LC-MS, which, according to its Wikipedia entry, teaches that the ordination of women is contrary to scripture, which is consistent with the teaching of the PCA. The Wikipedia entry is silent on whether it is taught that the husband is the “leader” of his wife, however, which is certainly something the PCA teaches.

    My point about CBE is that it (and authors associated with it) provide something that your review indicates (correct me if I am mistaken) you are missing from the work of Carolyn Custis James. Perhaps I will also find it glaring that she does not make a stand in her latest book. Yet I think that her work accomplishes something that all of CBE may not be able to do, or at least reaches an audience that is beyond the reach of anyone who flat-out, directly states support for the ordination of women, so I do not fault James for making the arguments, yet not stating the conclusion.

    • Michelle,

      I have a proposal for you. If you write up a review of the book, I’ll post it here. Maybe we can spark some discussion on the book.

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