God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says About Men and Women by Claire Smith
This new book by Claire Smith about the roles of men and women is very refreshing because it seeks to ground the arguments throughout the book by going back to the Scriptures. What we end up finding in this book is a complementarian approach to the roles of men and women that is both well-reasoned and biblically faithful. What I find most appealing in the book was the broad and narrow lens with which Claire sought to examine the Scriptures from (narrow in looking at grammatical and exegetical issues and broad with an eye towards contextual issues).
In the beginning of the book, Claire outlines the three waves of feminism that have brought a host of questions regarding men and women. While being open to the idea that ‘feminism can advance God’s plans for justice, peace, and his glory,’ she tempers this concept with the idea that ‘where the agenda of feminism is different from God’s agenda …, it is working against God’s purposes and can bring only misery’ (15). Feminism is not entirely to blame for the dysfunction among the sexes, but where this philosophy and practice run counter to God’s word, disaster ensues. This first chapter gives the reader a cultural framework for the world we live in, whether or not we have read feminist literature, we breathe the air of a culture that eschews submission and male headship.
In her discussion on 1 Timothy 2, Claire describes that “They were made of the same stuff but given different responsibilities. He was the firstborn; she was the helper” (36). Speaking of Adam and Eve here, we get the sense that Adam was first created with ‘temporal priority’ but this priority was not linked to a defect or inferiority on the part of the female. Different roles but equality in the image of God gives men and women a clear vision for how they are to serve in the church. Claire writes, “The battle for women in our day is to accept God’s wisdom in this and be content with it, when our entire culture has taught us not to be. The battle for men, as it was in Genesis 3, is to step up to the sort of leadership Paul has in mind…” (37). In writing about that tricky passage where Paul says that ‘women will be saved through childbearing,’ Claire takes a most peculiar position by writing, “It helps us to see that he is not talking about childbirth being a means of salvation, but about Christian women being spiritually preserved or saved from the temptations and fate of Eve and the dangers of false teaching, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control” (39). The positive nature of this reading is that it aligns the idea that for Christian women, they will be content in the roles God has placed them in as they love and care for their children and not seek to cast aside these God given roles.
In her elaboration of the meaning of 1 Corinthians 14 and women being silent, Claire makes a fascinating application of this text. She writes, “The ability to do something does not come with the right to do it…What is best for the congregation? What promotes order? What does God’s word say about the relationships between men and women?” (101). If there is a woman in the congregation who is an amazing Bible teacher, does this fact necessarily mean that she should be the preacher? Ability does not translate into right, including in the church. Claire goes onto indicate that “When we participate, we participate for the sake of others (and for the glory of God), no ourselves” (101). The building up of the church is different than the self-promotion that comes with exercising our own gifts in prideful ways.
Overall, this book was a very good explanation of specific texts about men and women in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 14, etc.). I thought Claire’s explanations were clear, succinct, and helpful in understanding the trajectory of the Bible. She also deals with objections in a winsome manner to the complementarian understanding of men and women.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Matthias Media for the review copy of the book in exchange for review.