Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review of The Resignation of Eve by Jim Henderson

Warning: My introduction may be totally unwise.  It could add fuel to what could become a wild fire.  Read on…

A few years ago I attended my very first Missouri Baptist State Convention.  At one point there was a very heated discussion on the issue of alcohol.  Anyone following SBC life knows that the use of moderate alcohol for recreational (or missional) purposes is highly debated. 

In my opinion there are people who give very reasonable arguments on both sides of the discussion.  But what happened at the MBC was not a reasoned discussion.  What ended up happening was that at least four people right after another came to the microphone and gave emotional and passionate stories of how alcohol use had ruined their life.  We clearly moved from reasonably debating the issues from a biblical standpoint to emotional appeals based on varying personal experience. 

That is what you have, in my opinion, in Jim Henderson’s book The Resignation of Eve.  The fundamental question in this book is what would happen if women stopped coming to church.  Henderson believes that all across the church landscape women are overcome with a sad resignation.  Women are wondering why it is that God has gifted them but leaders in the church (men) are not allowing them to lead. 

What follows are numerous stories of women and their views of women in the church.  The book begins by highlighting women that are “resigned to” their position.  In other words they agree with the complementarian position.  Then the stories slowly move towards the other end of the spectrum.  Henderson does an excellent job showing that this issue is far more complex than simply complementarian and egalitarian. 

The problem, though, is in the way Henderson frames his arguments.  He treats those on the complementarian problem as those that are simply blind to the problem.  They do not hold their position because of a reasonable biblical defense.  They hold their position because they are blind to the other world that could be theirs.  For Rose Claxton who is committed to a more traditional interpretation of submission, Henderson cannot help but note that “none of us escape the influence of our past”.  It must be because of her “confusing childhood” that Rose is “grateful for the structure and security submission has provided for her”.  (35)

Fast forward to Jennifer Roach.  She too had a troubled past but through the help of “three important men” she has risen above that past and is now “being ordained as a priest and becoming one of the first female church planters in her denomination”  (223).  Yes, this is Jesus’ rescue, and his empowering of Jennifer and elevating her.  Not even considered is that her story of abuse does not impact her understanding of Scripture. 

This is the problem throughout the book.  Henderson has a bias—which appears to be the same structural disdain found in all things Barna—and it clouds everything in the book.  And that is really sad.  It is sad because I think there are actually some really good things to be said here.  It is true that men have abused power and that churches have been really sloppy in how they handle the teachings of Scripture concerning women.  These stories are real and they are sad.

But what I find increasingly sad is that the mindset that permeates this book is the same one that I have encountered in counseling struggling couples that pursue a divorce, or those struggling with homosexuality that decide to give up on the struggle.  The argument is simple.  A) God made me this way.  B) What you are saying the Bible says would go against how God made me, and would lead to my unhappiness.  C) God would never desire me to not use my gifts, not be who I am, not be happy.  D) Therefore, what you are saying must be incorrect and your interpretation of the Bible must be outdated. 

There is much room here for discussion and reasoned debate.  The problem is, as it was at the MBC a few years ago, such a discussion is not allowed to happen because of the emotional appeal, sloppy rhetoric, exaltation of personal experience, and anthropocentric world views. 

Should You Buy It?

I wouldn’t.  It’s irresponsible.  These stories might very well be ones that should be told.  There is much that those of us that come from a complementarian position can learn from hearing these stories.  But at the end of the day this book is just simply irresponsible on a very difficult and often heated topic. 

Yes, it comes from the same perspective as I do but I have found Tom Schreiner’s book Women in the Church very reasonable and a good defense of the complementarian position.  Which by the way is never really fairly represented in this book.  It’s just caricatured and then torched as an outdated and brainless (perhaps heartless if the analogy would fit) straw-man. 

On the Barna agenda you might find this beneficial.  It’s far from watchblogging.
I received this book for free from Tyndale (I think) in exchange for a review.  It didn’t have to be positive—as you can clearly see. 


  1. Thank you for taking the time to write a thoughtful review of my book.

  2. I just finished The Resignation of Eve and thought it was an excellent, balanced look at women in the church. At the end of each story, Jim gives his thoughts and makes it clear that they are "his thoughts." That doesn't mean he is discounting or belittling the women in the stories. This is a complicated issue and I think this book does a great service to women by showing the different ways we cope with the whole "women in leadership in the church" issue.

  3. "he fundamental question in this book is what would happen if women stopped coming to church."

    Mike— Jim Henderson's book was motivated by what many of us have seen and what Barna has quantified— women are leaving the church and are underused by the church. Henderson uses the women's own stories as an excellent "conversation starter". It's a conversation in which we all must engage, egalitarian and complementarian. I think this book is a "must read" by the men in the church. I think Henderson did a great job of tempering (not neutering) his own position.

  4. Wow, I don't even feel like I read the same book you did. No one, including you, can write without bias, but I felt the author self-disclosed his well. It is clear from your comments about your counseling sessions that you have one as well, one that would never permit you to give this book a positive review.

  5. Just for the sake of clarity, I freely acknowledge that we all have biases and presuppositions. Even ones that do cloud our thinking. It is one thing to have presuppositions that cause you to lean one way or see things from a certain perspective. It is quite another thing to misrepresent those who see things differently. I would have given this book a positive review--though I disagree with Henderson's position--if he would have represented the opposing viewpoint fairly.



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