Hildegard of Bingen St. Foy Church in Sélestat, France. making biblical womanhood

Hildegard of Bingen
“Hildegard preached regularly in Germany, undertaking four preaching tours between 1158 and 1170.” (p. 89)

In this third blog post on Dr Beth Allison Barr’s new bestselling book The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, I quote from the final chapter entitled,” Isn’t it Time to Set Women Free?” (You can read previous posts here.)

Throughout the book, Beth shares snippets and stories from her own life. In the last chapter she gets even more personal and shares how damaging and dangerous “biblical womanhood” (AKA complementarianism or patriarchy) can be for women. I won’t relate Beth’s darkest story here; you can read it for yourself in her book. Instead, I share quotations that I think present a summary of The Making of Biblical Womanhood.

Beth writes about losing faith in complementarianism:

… it wasn’t until I began to pull on the historical threads that weave complementarianism together that I really began to doubt it. You see, I had fallen for the biggest lie of all: that adhering to complementarianism is the only option for those who believe the Bible is the authoritative Word of God.…
Evidence shows me how Christian patriarchy was built, stone by stone, throughout the centuries.
Evidence shows me how, century after century, arguments for women’s subordination reflect historical circumstances more than the face of God.
Evidence shows me that just because complementarianism uses biblical texts doesn’t mean it reflects biblical truth.
Evidence shows me the trail of sin and destruction left in the wake of teachings that place women under the power of men.
Evidence shows me, throughout history, the women who have always known the truth about patriarchy and who have always believed that Jesus sets women free. (pp. 204-205)

The goal of Beth’s work is “to change the future by more accurately understanding our past.” (p. 214) This includes remembering the many women in church history, a “great cloud of witnesses,” who led, taught, and preached, and made significant spiritual, intellectual, and inspiring contributions to the church.

I love Beth’s observations here:

… regardless of whether the ecclesiastical establishment recognized their work, women persisted in preaching the gospel and ministering in the service of God.… From Mary Magdalene to Waldensian women, Ursuline nuns, Moravian wives, Quaker sisters, Black women preachers, and suffragette activists, history shows us that women do not wait on the approval of men to do the work of God. We can hear women’s voices in our Christian past, and despite all the obstacles in their way, nevertheless, “they are preaching.” (pp. 213-214)

Beth then poses these questions:

What if evangelicals remembered women like Christine de Pizan and Dorothy L. Sayers?
What if we remembered that women have always been leaders, teachers, and preachers, even in evangelical history?
What if our seminaries used textbooks that included women?
What if our Sunday school and Bible study curriculum correctly reflected Junia as an apostle, Priscilla as a coworker, and women like Hildegard of Bingen as preachers?
What if we recognized women’s leadership the same way Paul did throughout his letters—even entrusting the Letter to the Romans to the deacon Phoebe?
What if we listened to women in our evangelical churches the way Jesus listened to women?
Women stand with a great cloud of witnesses. We always have. It is time, far past time, for us to remember. (p. 214)

Here are Beth’s closing words:

Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus. I don’t remember when I started it, but for a long time now, I have been dismissing my students from class with this phrase: Go, be free! I think that is a fitting way to end this book as well. Jesus set women free a long time ago. Isn’t it finally time for evangelical Christians to do the same? Go, be free! (pp. 218)

I, Marg, couldn’t agree more. The artificial limits and boundaries that churches have placed, and continue to place, on her women are stifling and hurting many women and girls. They are also harming and hindering the mission of the church. More and more, as I look around, I see how sick some sectors of the church are, and patriarchy and the false notion of “biblical womanhood” play a part in this sickness. I’m happy to be playing my part in the un-making of so-called “biblical womanhood.”

Beth’s book The Making of Biblical Womanhood is easy to read. It is conversational in style, and even though Beth draws on history—church history as well as her own—the information is never technical or difficult to understand. On the other hand, the concepts presented in the book are sometimes painful to read and they demand deep thought. They also demand action. We can and must do better. The health of the church, especially in America, is at stake.

Paul and womenThe Making Biblical Womanhood is available from Amazon and other booksellers.
A seven-minute interview on NPR with Beth about her book is here.
Sarah Skansorb has written an excellent and interesting piece here.


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Image Credit

Hildegard of Bingen holding a model of the church. Stained glass window in St. Foy Church in Sélestat. France. Excerpt of an original image by Ralph Hammann. (Source: Wikimedia) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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