A Valuable Historical Study -- By: Courtney Reissig
JBMW 17:1 (Spring 2012) p. 57
A Valuable Historical Study
A Review of Diana Lynn Severance Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History. Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2011.
Pastor’s wife; writer
Little Rock, Arkansas
A common point of disagreement in the debate between complementarians and egalitarians is that each side believes a study of church history would substantiate the claims of its own position. Complementarians appeal to the Bible and church history as evidence that men and women are equal in worth and value, but are given different, gender-specific roles in the church and in the home. Egalitarians build their case on the Bible and church history, affirming that leadership in the home and the church is based on God’s gifting. Without a thorough study of church history, how is one to decide which side is right? What roles have women played in the church and home throughout Christian history?
Diana Lynn Severance seeks to answer this question and more in Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History. Severance, who is a historian and the Director of the Dunham Bible Museum at Houston Baptist University, provides a comprehensive and insightful unpacking of the role women have played in church history. Due to the rise of feminism and the interest in women’s studies in church history, Severance aims to present an accurate portrayal of Christian women by letting them speak for themselves (13). The book’s twelve chapters are divided into five specific historical periods spanning two thousand years: early church history, the middle ages, reformation and revival, the Victorian era, and women’s rights and the church today.
Beginning with the New Testament, Severance takes the reader on a narrative journey, considering women in the bible and church history. She begins by showing that, while the culture of Jesus’ day was not affirming of women, Jesus himself set a precedent of including women in his teaching and considering them his friends (22). This standard further solidified the value and equality of women as image bearers, and set the stage for the early church’s valuing of women in the face of a culture that did not (51). But it did not eradicate role distinctions for men and women, as some have argued. Severance shows that the New Testament affirms a God-given role for women in marriage in which a wife submits to the leadership of her own husband (34). This truth about God’s design, Severance argues, was the normative pattern for the church from a very early age and continues to this day (89, 142, 179, 258). She recounts stories of women who studied God’s word, taught the bible to women, loved and served their families, and gave their lives for God’s...
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