In this second part of my critique of Jen Wilkin’s talk given at the Acts29 Regional Conference, I will focus on the feminist agenda behind much of Wilkin’s words. Wilkin starts off by listing:
“What do we need from women as a church?”
- We need women’s unique perspective.
- We need women’s relational capital.
- We need women in visible leadership. (Here Wilkin qualifies her statement to say as visible as your church’s complementarianism will allow.)
I’m not going to cover the first two points of this question because I think it’s fairly obvious that what Wilkin has to say about women in these is not only true, but helpful. We do need female perspective in the Church and we do very much need their relational capital. Women tend to have very special relational skills which are evident if you’ve spent any amount of time around groups of women. Instead, I’m going to focus on her third and most hyperbolic statement so far.
Wilkin claims that one of the most important things she does when traveling to teach the Bible is not that she teaches the Bible, but that she shows up looking like a woman teaching the Bible. She argues that women will invariably not be able to learn well under all male authority in Biblical teaching since they don’t see themselves as real students of the Bible. I don’t want to disregard the importance of Godly women in my own life or in the lives of other women who gain much from female friendship, mentorship, and learning under women who know more Scripture than they do. Clearly, this is important. In my own life, I’ve seen the long-term effects of weekly fellowship with other female believers and it is often wise to get perspective from female groupings no matter the information being passed around.
My fault with Wilkin’s statement is not that women have nothing to offer other women, or even men, but that she neglects how the Bible and its teaching surpass gender lines. In vastly patriarchal societies prior to the 20th century, women teachers of Scripture weren’t exactly rampant. Men were the teachers, the writers, and the preachers. Were all of the apostles, church fathers, reformers, and everyone else in between that time in such a ‘dark age’ because, alas, the women could not see themselves as students of the Word? Where are the books of the Bible written by women? Why didn’t Jesus choose a woman to be one of the Twelve? Yes, women appear in the Gospels and are discussed in the Epistles, but always in servant or student roles, and never in leadership. Should this be triggering? Or, is it possible if we cast aside this feminist lens, that can women still learn humbly and diligently under male headship and see themselves as students of the Word? Has God not called us out of darkness into light to be part of a royal priesthood too or not? I think Wilkin would have to admit that we have been and continue to be.
Wilkin switches to the next question: “What do women need from the Church?”
- Women need to be shepherded.
- Women need to be leveraged.
It is interesting that Wilkin starts this portion by pointing out that women have been given a feeling faith, rather than a thinking faith. It’s unclear to me if she considers this positive or negative, but I will go ahead and say this is unbiblical and perhaps even a low view of women. I do agree with Wilkin that women do need to be shepherded. In fact, every complementarian I know agrees with this fact, but I find it curious why Wilkin never turns to Scripture to flesh out what this means. Apart from shepherding done by a pastor or husband, Titus 2:3-5 tells us that older women should be mentoring and exhorting younger women in the ways they can honor the word of God. Women have been commanded to shepherd other women in these ways and God even graciously gives us specific things women should be mentoring us about! To be fair, Wilkin does not explicitly state these ways are inferior or that she has some higher ethic of mentorship in mind, but it is clear she does not believe churches are using women to the best of their abilities if there are not enough women in leadership. Placing women in leadership for the sake of seeing women in leadership is pandering at the very least. However, encouraging women to befriend and mentor younger or new believers regardless of how much prestige comes with that position is Biblical. What’s more, this is a position that can be taken up by women of all different backgrounds. You don’t have to be married or bear children to be a friend or mentor to someone else. Widows, married women, young mothers, young single women, women who have lost children, and barren women are all called to this task and we should take it up with pride in the One who sustains us through all of those things.
Similarly, Wilkin states that “women are leaving complementarian churches because they believe a theological trait is necessary to serve in meaningful roles.” She claims our “practice is broken” and because of that women think our theology is broken. In this I can largely agree, the Church has been lazy in disregarding rising feminist ideologies for almost a century now as something no worse than an annoyance. But something that began with what should be non-controversial positions such as voting rights has grown into a demand for legal abortion, women neglecting their families to go to work, rising divorce rates, sexual immorality, and rising suicide rates among women. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, the secular world has taken woman up to the top of the mountain and shown her all that lay before her could be hers and she has unequivocally accepted. Now, women don’t want equality, they want equity. Unfortunately, the Church should have taken all of this time to instill the value and worth God has given to women into the hearts and minds of little girls, taught them to find their identity in who God says they are and not who the world says they are, and encouraged and exhorted them to turn aside from temptations that seem to offer more equality than a simple identity as an image bearer ever could. Wilkin is right in this regard, our practice has been broken for quite some time but in an ironic twist, Wilkin exhorts us to help women find their place with no Biblical instruction. Biblically speaking, the place they will find most contentment and abundant life will be in the identity of Christ and thusly in the fulfillment of God ordained roles given to women. No, Jen, women do not need to be leveraged, they need to be pointed toward Christ.
If you had asked me to watch this video five years ago, I would have wholeheartedly agreed with Wilkin on all points. I would have electronically shared my heart out about how refreshing and satisfying it was to see a woman given a podium to declare the importance of women on a theological level. Most important to note, I would have loved every second of this feminist gospel spoken by Wilkin and I would have breathed it out to every man and woman I know as truth. The issue for me then, is that I couldn’t find enough proof in feminist ideologies to back up any of my claims of what female empowerment should mean, so I was constantly trying to shove a square peg through a round hole. Looking back, it is clear I was never content in the first place with what God had ordained as good and I was listening to those lies the serpent still tells us today, “Did God really say…?” And if I wasn’t content with what God had created and ordained as good, I certainly wasn’t going to be content with some version of femininity that I’d made up myself.
Brothers and Sisters, God did say. God did say that women were important—so important that we are given a command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. We were told to obey and submit to our husbands and to teach our children the ways and statutes of our Lord (our very own disciples!) so that we might mirror the Bride of Christ in this way. God’s ideal for women was that we might be wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, mentors and friends, who harbor life within ourselves and therefore nurture, and disciple that life and others to grow in the admonition of the Lord. He didn’t choose men to do this wonderful and glorious thing, He chose women.
Beyond that what can women do?
Proverbs 31 says women can do much, and if you know any godly women in your life, that much is often multiplied. The Proverbs 31 woman, the woman God desires us to be, and the woman given us as an example to emulate doesn’t have time to listen to frivolous nonsense about more percentages of women in leadership or more women Bible teachers because she’s too busy being a good steward of what God has given her. She is content to learn under any who would teach her His statutes. She is not discontent with her role because she’s been given a glorious one already. She doesn’t fall into the meaningless trap of wondering what she’s here for or who can help her find her place. Why? Because there’s work to do! She doesn’t lend herself to doubt because she knows the Lord sees her work, whether it is making a delicious dinner for her family or making money in the marketplace to provide, or mentoring other women in the Word. Christian women should be finding their worth from what is stated explicitly over and over again in the word of God: we are image bearers, fruit trees, arrow makers, architects, advisors, bondservants, worshipers of the Almighty God.
If that’s not worthy work, I don’t know what is.