Half of Cornerstone

“...Both men and women—and therefore the church as a whole—thrive when women are challenged to live up to God’s calling in their lives.”

I thought a lot about the women of Cornerstone when I first read Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James. I thought about friends who set aside time to counsel other women, those who welcome foster children into their homes along with the schedule disruptions and paperwork and potential heartache, and women who study deeply the Word of God so that they may bring it to bear on our souls at conferences and events. My heart lifts with every text message from a woman who has taken time to pray faithfully about something I shared in our last conversation. I owe so much to those that teach my children in Sunday School. I am inspired by women who are nurses and engineers and artists, using their gifts in our community to honor God. Women make up half of Cornerstone, and I have been so encouraged to see the ways in which they give tirelessly of themselves to Kingdom work in West LA.

Half the Church is a great resource in the conversation about womanhood and what it means to engage women in the church, helpful for the complimentarian and egalitarian alike. James’ argument centers on the idea that both men and women—and therefore the church as a whole—thrive when women are challenged to live up to God’s calling in their lives. Rather than focusing the conversation on what women can or cannot do either professionally or in church structure, her book inspires women to serve and lead alongside their brothers, using their gifts as opportunities arise:

“The strongest voices speaking into women’s lives in the twenty-first century are Islam and feminism—systems that reside at opposite ends of the spectrum. Does the church’s message for women stake out a middle ground, or does the gospel lead the way to something much better? ...I am convinced we have a message for women that is ready to take on the challenges of the new millennium—a message that far out-strips these other voices and unlocks untapped potential of half the church. And what may surprise a lot of readers is that fact that this message is good news for our brothers, too.”

There is much to appreciate in Half the Church, but I will offer just four reasons why I think it is worth the read:                                                                                                                                                      
  1. James structures her framework of womanhood on God’s design for humanity before the Fall, describing what it means for women to join with men in the call to “be fruitful and multiply” (not just in physical reproduction, but in the important work of replicating image bearers of God), and to “rule and subdue.” She points to Jesus as our example of the upside-down way that we are intended to live out this calling and thoughtfully illuminates ways in which other female figures in the Bible follow His lead.                                                                        
  2. The book considers a wide range of examples from the lives of women around the globe to challenge some of the stereotypical discussions we often have in the 21st-century American church. James argues that “The Bible’s message for women doesn’t depend on ideal circumstances, but applies fully to those who live in the brutal outskirts of society where poverty engulfs, education is non-existent, women’s bodies are ravaged, and lives are in constant peril simply because they are female.”                                                                                      
  3. James’ call for women begins with our youngest converts and lasts until our dying days. Without diminishing the value of motherhood, she casts a broad vision for women with life-long implications. Our lives are not simply the buildup toward or denouement after marriage and children. Even those who do embrace the calling to raise their own children will do so actively for less than half of their life, so she expounds upon how our designation in Genesis 2 as “ezer warriors” raises the bar for women in all seasons and callings.                                        
  4. She coins a term, “blessed alliance,” to describe how God intends for men and women to work together as image bearers. She thoughtfully applies how strong women are a blessing to their husbands, but also expands the vision to include how brothers and sisters in the church relate to one another. As the secular world churns even today against the abuses of male power and the lack of opportunity many marginalized still face, the message of the Bible for women offers great hope. “What sounds like a new and revolutionary idea is as old as the garden of Eden,” James explains, “—not simply that women should be given a place at the table, but rather that things improve and better decisions are reached when men and women work together.”

I’m inspired by this book as I think about the women of Cornerstone who are already engaged with our brothers in so many ways. I want to see it all the more! The Bible presents a powerful call that unites us together as one, whole church body. Let us not become distracted by rhetoric that divides us in half, but instead chase together after our new, God-given identity:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” —1 Peter 2:9-10

Any vision casting for womanhood will eventually circle around for me in the most personal terms, when I look into the bright eyes of my daughter, who is just starting to build a theological framework. I pray that someday she will make a decision to follow Jesus, and I can look at her with a twinkle in my eye and say, “God has kingdom work for you, little sister, right now.