For years now, the Christian community has pondered how to make the Gospel relevant to those outside our bubble. I’ve long wondered if the trouble wasn’t so much the Gospel’s irrelevancy as it was our own.
In reading Carolyn Custis James’s Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, I am finding support for my theory—while also feeling the burn from ideas that don’t land where my opinions have currently taken roost. During this series, you can feel the burn too by joining this iron-sharpening-iron discussion based on Half the Church.
As the book’s subtitle states, James is writing to women, to this half of the Church; she is calling women to dare to dream of what our all-powerful God might do through them to touch the world with His mercy and love. She may be speaking directly to women, but I think this is a Church-wide discussion because both halves have struggled to walk out God’s Gospel vision. Both halves have been strong in some places, weak in others; blame has been cast from one half to the other and back again.
James doesn’t waste any time wading into this conundrum; chapter one plunges us in at the deep end of this age-old, male-female wrangle. But James makes it clear that blame doesn’t help either half in fulfilling God’s call to spread the Gospel. Our endless debating is not getting the task done. There are billions of people who are in desperate situations, in need of help, in need of the Savior. Yet we who have both hope to share and resources to do so are caught in these male-female debates that are only of significance here in our society of affluence.
James explains that it is only in affluence that Christians can disengage from desperate need for the sake of theological debate. Take, for example, the debate about Christian women pursuing a career. James says:
We ask questions like, “Do I plan to use my college degree or set it aside?” and “Should I be a stay-at-home mom or work outside the home?” But for the rest of the world, these questions are unimaginable luxuries. For them, education is a lifeline that promises a better life for a woman and her children and will doubtless benefit her community. Working outside the home is not an option where grinding poverty exists and there are hungry mouths to feed.
Our Christian culture takes these precious freedoms and opportunities and turns them into a ruler by which we measure the spiritual maturity of a woman, the submissiveness of a wife, and the priorities of a mom. In this bubble, it is difficult to believe God might actually call a woman to pursue a career in which she is gifted, through which God’s image can be displayed, and by which the Gospel can be spread to those in need. This version of the Gospel is irrelevant to women living elsewhere.
This is why the Gospel sounds irrelevant to the world at large: Because we have run it through our grid of affluence. Other, less affluent cultures cannot relate. The suffering masses do not see the beauty in the Gospel when women shrink back and squander the opportunities our affluence affords for expressing God’s love.
James is not proposing—nor am I—that American women need to rise up with a feminist squawk against our Christian culture. That’s merely running from one extreme to the other. There is a middle ground to rest within, one that is becoming to the follower of Christ (whether male or female). Instead, American women need to rise up with the power of Gospel against the dark forces of this world. It is not about male-female. It is about the Kingdom of Light versus the Kingdom of Darkness.
It’s absolutely necessary for women to step into the mission that God has for them if God’s mandate for the Church—the whole Church—is to be fulfilled. This is our honor, not because we want to stick it to men or to the scriptural mandates about male leadership held by some within the Church. All of this is about Jesus, His fame, and the people who need Him. This is not about women claiming space, but about stepping up with the whole Church into the role granted to us all by God.
The questions and challenges brought forth by James are directed to the female half of the Church but are applicable to the whole Church. Just as we were created together, male and female, to reflect God’s image, so together we are to carry His Gospel wherever He leads. This sort of view brings both halves of the Church in line to fulfill the Great Commission. As James says:
This is a moment for us to put on display before a watching world the greatness and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the radical difference he makes in relationships between men and women as we serve him together.
Ultimately, it’s not about us and whether we are male or female. It’s about God and His Gospel, the power that makes both men and women into new creations through Christ Jesus. This is the Gospel that is relevant to all people, everywhere.