Sarah J. Blake

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Book Reviews

A great number of books have been published about various issues concerning women, ministry, and theology. This bibliography introduces pastors and other interested readers to about a fair sampling from the areas of biblical analysis, historical resources, theology, and books concerning women clergy. I am a woman in ministry, and my theology concerning women is fairly moderate. Reading radical feminist theology has been difficult for me; but I have found it important to come to an understanding of the ways in which women think and why. If you are a conservative thinker, I encourage you to read in this field even if you do not expect to change your mind. If nothing else, it will assist you in becoming able to discuss your own position clearly.

Biblical Analysis

Bellis, Alice Ogden. Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women's Stories in the Hebrew Bible. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.

Bellis compares various feminist interpretations of stories featuring women throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. She begins by explaining key concepts regarding feminist and womanist theology and the impact of racial orientation on textual interpretation. While she herself does not attempt to analyze the texts, she criticizes the interpreters' readings.

Jeansonne, Sharon Pace. The Women of Genesis: From Sarah to Potiphar’s Wife. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990.

Sharon Pace Jeansonne provides an exegetical analysis of eight narratives concerning women in Genesis. The analysis does not always feature the women prominently. For instance, the analysis of the story of Lot's daughters focuses primarily on Lot's behavior before concluding with points regarding the roles of Lot's daughters in the narrative. The book sheds light on the roles of ten females in the first book of the Bible, laying a strong foundation for attention to the roles of females and the impact of other characters' behavior on their lives throughout the Bible.

Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.

Craig Keener begins his examination of Paul's writings by sharing the story of his own struggle to come to terms with questions about women in ministry. After explaining why he feels that it is necessary to learn the historical background of the biblical writings, he discusses various aspects of Paul's writing regarding women in the church using historical information to aid exegesis. He includes chapters on head coverings, women speaking in church, learning in silence, and several aspects of women's roles in the family. The book is appropriate reading for people with academic background as well as laypeople.

Kroeger, Catherine Clark and Richard Kroeger. I Suffer Not a Woman: Rethinking I Timothy 2:11-15 in Light of Ancient Evidence. Baker Books, 1998.

Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger examine the text of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 in light of the cultural issues affecting the city of Ephesus. They provide detailed information on Pagan and Gnostic religious practices which may have influenced the Ephesian church, where Timothy served. They explain possible alternative meanings of the Greek text and suggest alternative ways to translate and interpret the passage.

This passage is a difficult passage to handle since it seems to speak strongly against the possibility of women serving in ministry despite support for women serving in ministry in many other places in the Bible. This book provides a helpful explanation regarding the context of the passage and should be in the libraries of church leaders and anyone wishing to learn more about women in ministry and biblical interpretation. If it does nothing else, it will encourage readers to wrestle with the original context of the text and find ways to draw from the new interpretation.

Meyers, Carol. Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Carol Meyers discusses important background information regarding patriarchy and ancient Israelite customs before turning to an examination of attitudes and texts about Eve. Her text analysis is detailed and includes discussion of implications for interpretation. She also includes discussion of extra biblical texts.

Spencer, Aída Besançon. Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1985.

This book presents a study of New Testament teaching regarding women's roles in ministry with preliminary notes on Gen. 1 and final notes on feminine images of God. In the preliminary notes, discussion of the submission perspective is included and followed by the author's explanation of why she believes that Gen. 1 demonstrates equality for women and why she believes that the two creation narratives do not oppose each other. This book provides a reasonable overview of many passages regarding this issue; however, these passages can also be discussed at great length, and this is a very small book.

Tetlow, Elizabeth M. Women in Ministry in the New Testament. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1980.

Elizabeth Tetlow examines environmental factors which shaped the New Testament practices concerning women's participation in ministry. Her survey includes discussion of ancient Sumerian and Egyptian practices as well as Jewish and Greek practices before moving into discussion of New Testament practices in light of the culture in which New Testament Christianity was born. The text is heavily referenced, and the reading is very factual. Few quotations from primary sources are used. However, the information is useful for understanding the roles of women in the New Testament church.

Teubal, Savina J. Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1984.

Savina Teubal presents an alternate study of the narratives concerning Abraham and Sarah in Genesis, accompanied by historical background and relevant information about mythology. She proposes that the social system in which Sarah and Abraham lived was matriarchal and that the narratives demonstrate this fact as well as attempts by men to gain control of the system. This is a fascinating perspective on Sarah's life and provides much to consider.

Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1984.

Phyllis Trible analyzes the stories of Hagar, Tamar, an unnamed woman in Jdg. 19:1-30, and Jephtha's daughter from a feminist perspective. Her analyses include attention to the structure of the text and differences in meaning between English and Hebrew versions. She demonstrates not only the existence of male power over females but also instances of female power over males and other females (e.g. Sarah's power over Abraham and their joint power over Hagar). This text is not only about oppression of women but also about racial issues and issues affecting children. The text provides a needed perspective on passages which often remain unread.

Witherington, Ben. Women in the Earliest Churches. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Ben Witherington examines texts concerning women's roles in the New Testament church and in the churches of the period of the ante-Nicene Fathers. He begins by presenting background material regarding women's roles in first-century Mediterranean cultures, which he considers essential to the interpretation of New Testament texts. In his discussion, he defines Greek terms which may be significant in interpreting texts. He moves next to a discussion of women in the physical family, which includes discussion of various Pauline references to marriage and household codes. His third chapter concerns women's roles in worship and evangelism and Paul's views. In chapter four, Witherington discusses the presentation of women in the Gospels and Acts. In the final chapter, he discusses women's roles in the post-New Testament church, including a discussion of Gnosticism and Montanism as well as church order and offices. Witherington draws from numerous primary sources for this discussion. This book is a valuable resource for in-depth information regarding the roles of women in the church during the first four centuries.

Witherington, Ben. Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus' Attitudes to Women and their Roles as Reflected in His Earthly Life (Society for New Testament Studies. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

This monograph precedes Ben Witherington's work on women in the earliest churches. It is a topically arranged discussion of women's participation in Jesus' ministry. Witherington compares parallel passages where appropriate and discusses various issues affecting interpretation. He also presents relevant background information which impacts interpretation of passages which he is discussing.

Historical Perspective

Hardesty, Nancy. Women Called to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the 19th Century. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984.

Nancy Hardesty traces factors in American history affecting the participation of women in ministry. These factors include changes associated with industrialization, the impact of revivalism, the impact of the holiness meetings, changes in the educational opportunities available to women, and social activism. Discussion of these issues is woven into a creative history featuring a number of women from a variety of backgrounds who played roles in opening doors for women in ministry. Some simply responded to God's personal call by testifying boldly. Others studied theology in environments where women had never done so before. Still others led class meetings or preached regularly.

Hassey, Janette. No Time for Silence: Evangelical Women in Public Ministry Around the Turn of the Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986.

Janette Hassey presents an overview of the state of women's roles in the church at the turn of the century and then discusses the history of women's participation in theological education, perspectives on ordination of women, denominational issues, and an in-depth look at the Evangelical Free Church in America. Finally, a chapter regarding Evangelical feminist biblical interpretation explores how feminist biblical interpretation has opened doors for women in ministry.

Stanley, Susie C. Holy Boldness: Women Preachers' Autobiographies And The Sanctified Self. University Tennessee Press, 2002.

Susie Stanley examines 34 autobiographies of American holiness women preachers and traces the development of holiness theology through the nineteenth century. She provides important information about the differences between the autobiographies of women in ministry and women who were activists. She highlights important quotations from each biography amid her discussion of holiness theology and the general historical climate in which each woman operated.

Torjesen, Karen Jo. When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993.

In this book, Karen Jo Torjesen examines the roles of women in the leadership of the early church and the factors leading to the persecution of women. She provides examples of women who served as leaders in the early church. She also discusses philosophical issues, cultural practices, and the changes that took place over the first few centuries in church history. The book provides an enlightening discussion of aspects of church history which may be poorly understood.

Tucker, Ruth. Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1987

This book presents a history of women in the church from New Testament times to the present. In the first chapter, the author discusses Jesus' relationships with women as portrayed in the gospels. In the second chapter, women's portrayal in Acts and the epistles is discussed along with additional historical information which sheds light on interpretation of key passages. Later chapters feature profiles of notable historical women. Important writings from each time period are also discussed, and historical background is provided.

Discussing the vast array of events and changes that have taken place over two thousand years is truly a difficult task. Ruth Tucker has done a phenomenal job of consolidating a great deal of information into a relatively small space. This book provides an excellent overview of issues affecting women in the church throughout its history, though it is only a point of beginning and should be supplemented with additional reading.


Bloesch, Donald G. Is the Bible Sexist: Beyond Feminism and Patriarchalism. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982.

In this small book, Donald Bloesch powerfully addresses several important issues involved in the debate over women's participation in ministry. He argues for a complementarian perspective, backing up his points with a number of biblical passages. He presents a brief history of women in ministry, featuring several notable women and discussing a number of challenges which women have faced at various times. The portion of his book which stands out most is his explanation of the efforts of feminists to promote the use of alternative language.

Grenz, Stanley and Denise Muir Klesbo. Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. Downer's Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1995.

This book provides a call to support the full participation of women in all aspects of the life of the church, including ministry. Discussion covers historical, biblical, and theological issues. The authors differentiate between the egalitarian and complementarian positions and defend the egalitarian position as biblical. Discussion begins with an overview of the current situation in various churches and groups and moves on to examine the roles of women in church history. Next, the authors explore biblical portrayals of women in the faith community. A lengthy chapter is dedicated to discussion of various interpretations of Paul's writings about women. Final chapters examine theological issues such as the nature of creation and the argument that men were created first and are therefore superior; women and the priesthood; and women and ordained ministry.

This book weaves together discussions from several fields of study and is an excellent resource for approaching the study of the topic of women's roles in the church from a variety of angles. It would serve as an excellent starting point for study.

Sanders, Cheryl J. Ministry at the Margins: The Prophetic Mission of Women, Youth & the Poor. InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Cheryl Sanders discusses the biblical mandate for the ministry of marginalized people: women, young people, and the poor. She proposes that churches often do not preach this, and those that do preach it do not practice it. A portion of the book is dedicated to each topic. The discussion of women's ministry includes discussion of motherhood as a life-giving force, the ministry of anointing, and women's participation in the upper room as an example of Spirit-led ministry. The ministries of women, as well as those of other marginalized groups, serve as examples for men. Sanders' presentation urges the church toward reflection and action through preaching and greater encouragement of women and others from marginalized groups to participate in ministry.

Soelle, Dorothee. (ed.) The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1984.

This book includes chapters discussing various theological ideas from a feminist perspective. The contributors often propose dismantling existing dogma and rebuilding theology without dogma. Some of the discussion is quite intriguing (e.g. the discussion of the role of suffering in maintaining compassion in chapter 1 and the discussion of male oppression in chapter 5. Some of the discussion can be difficult reading depending on one's personal background. Resurrection (in chapter 8) is presented as something that happens when we speak of the dead person. Homosexuality is presented as an approvable alternative lifestyle. Without agreeing with every detail in the book, it is useful reading in order to understand feminist thinking and gain some additional perspective.

Fabella, Virginia, (ed.) and Mercy Amba Oduyoye. (ed.) With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology Reflections from the Women's Commission of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988.

This book is a compilation of reports regarding the church, theological issues, and issues affecting women from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Since the situations are not the same in each continent, the chapters are not parallel. For instance, Africa is a place where women have been oppressed. The chapter, "Women and Men Building Together the Church in Africa," argues for addressing this oppression rather than creating the appearance of reconciliation without liberation. The chapter, "Women in the Bible," offers a report from an African women's conference regarding new ways of reading biblical narratives about women in order to demonstrate God's will for women's roles. Chapters on Asian women attempt to describe the realities which are quite varied in the many Asian countries in order to create a framework for discussing Asian women's spirituality and theology.

This book is an excellent resource for acquainting oneself with background issues facing African, Asian, and Latin American women. This knowledge is important to have when reading theologies or other works written by women from these continents because it is inevitable that their personal situations affect their writing. While authors often explain something about their background, it is quite helpful to have some general understanding of third world issues as well.

Books About Women Clergy

Goger, Marion. Women in Parish Ministry: Stress and Support. New York, NY: The Alban Institute, 1985.

This study of stress factors and support needs of women in parish ministry relates specifically to the United Methodist Church but also provides insight for other groups as well. Coger examines factors that influence the experience of stress and the need for support and the impact of token status as well as patterns in the development and maintenance of support networks of women clergy. She then examines factors influencing success (thriving) in ministry and identifies pitfalls that should be avoided. Finally, she discusses the implications of the study for the United Methodist Church and for seminaries.

Everist, Norma Cook. (ed.) Ordinary Ministry, Extraordinary Challenge: Women and the Roles of Ministry. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2000.

This book is a compilation of personal stories written by twenty-five women in various ministries. Many are ordained, but some are laypeople. The women come from a variety of denominational backgrounds and from rural, urban, and suburban settings and all church sizes. The compilation represents the fact that women's participation in ministry is not strange or new and that the ministries of all believers are important.

The stories are gripping and deeply personal. At the same time, they speak of things that are common to the experiences of many people who serve in ministry settings. The book both prompts additional reading and prompts pausing for reflection. This is an excellent resource for spiritual formation as well as for learning about the experiences of women in ministry.

Huber, Randal. Called, Equipped, and No Place to Go: Women Pastors and the Church. Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 2003.

Randall Huber addresses objections to the possibility of women serving in ministry in a question and answer format. Each chapter opens with the text of a letter presenting an objection for discussion. This text is followed by Huber's discussion; and each chapter closes with discussion questions.

The book is an excellent resource for any group seeking to formulate opinions regarding this topic, whether made up of students, church board members, or any other combination of people from various backgrounds. It should be studied widely.

Leonard, Juanita E. [ed.]. Called to minister, empowered to serve: Women in ministry and missions in the Church of God reformation movement. Anderson, IN: Warner Press, 1989.

This book is a compilation of articles written by women in ministry affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, IN). Article topics include biblical support for women in ministry; practical problems facing women clergy; historical information regarding women in ministry in the Church of God; and profiles of women from various ethnic backgrounds and serving in various settings. The book is a valuable resource to consult for information regarding women in ministry in this movement.

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