Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church: A Review Article -- By: Dorothy Patterson

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 08:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church: A Review Article
Author: Dorothy Patterson

Sarah Sumner’s
Men and Women in the Church:
A Review Article1

Dorothy Patterson

Professor of Women’s Studies
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Wake Forest, North Carolina

Men and Women in the Church by Sarah Sumner, associate professor of ministry and theology at Azusa Pacific University, unfolds as the journey of a woman tracing a dream from her earliest childhood. Her purpose in writing this book is to attempt to present the positions of complementarianism and egalitarianism and point out her perceived inconsistencies with each in order to bring some clarity to the subject of men and women’s roles in the church. Unfortunately, Sumner’s work brings more confusion than clarity.

Sumner’s first chapter gives the reader a look at her presuppositions. On one hand, every genuine evangelical can heartily affirm some of these:

  • She values her relationship with God as the center of life (13).
  • She believes that she holds a high view of Scripture.
  • She loves and honors her parents (14).
  • She sees the importance of laity in the work of the kingdom (15).

On the other hand, there are a number of concerns regarding her theological and hermeneutical methods, since Sumner seems to make decisions and affirm positions using guidelines gleaned with the underlying priority of experience, which has frequently characterized biblical interpretation within egalitarianism:

  • Sumner was energized by her discovery that a woman is teaching the Bible to “people” and another woman is planting churches (15). Immediately Sumner seems drawn to what these women were doing with success. Obviously to affirm a task because others are doing it, and even if doing it with success, is a jump from the moorings of biblical principles to the whims of personal experiences.
  • As a fourth-grade girl, Sumner copied sermons to be delivered by her layman father “three or four” times. This task felt “natural” to Sumner (15) and thus seemed to be for her a catalyst drawing her to a ministry of preaching—again experience over biblical mandate.
  • Sumner, as a child, caricatured her pastor’s wife and expressed her own distaste for “planning skating parties and potluck dinners.” Her “heart’s desire was to do something more [than planning for skating parties and potluck dinners], but I didn’t know how to picture a woman doing more” (16).
  • Sumner embraces role models for what they do rather than who they are (16).2

  • Sumner seems comfortable in sanctifying a task— whatever it may be—with seemingly whatever credibility is n...
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