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By Sarah Sumner / IVP / 2003
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Avoiding the pitfalls of both radical feminism and reactionary conservatism, Sarah Sumner traces a new path through the issues – biblical, theological, psychological and practical – that arise between complementarians and egalitarians on the topic of women and the Church. Arguing that men and women are both equal and distinct, Sumner encourages us to find ways to honor and benefit from the leadership gifts of both. Men and Women in the Church is a book for all who want a fresh and hope-filled look at a persistent problem.
Evangelicals stand divided in their view of women in the church. On one side stand complementarians, arguing the full worth of women but assigning them to differing roles. On the other side stand egalitarians, arguing that the full worth of women demands their equal treatment and access to leadership roles. Is there a way to mend the breach and build consensus? This easily accessible volume looks beneath the surface at how complementarians and egalitarians talk past one another, and offers a hope for the parties on either side of the divide.
Read the full interview here.
IVP: Briefly describe the purpose of Men and Women in the Church.
Sarah Sumner: Part of the answer is this--the purpose of the book is to address people such as myself who need daily to repent from selfish ambition. My own biases, for instance, have been very self-serving. My sins of dressing immodestly have been problematic too. But God has forgiven me and helped me to make wiser decisions. To be perfectly frank, I wrote the book because I felt called by God to write it. Or rather, I felt hemmed in by God. Almost every signal in my world told me to write this book. And now, the glorious outcome is that God changed me in the process of writing this book. He changed me for the better. I am praying He will change my readers too.
IVP: What is your hope for the readers of Men and Women in the Church?
Sumner: My hope is that each reader will catch a vision. That each one will be inspired by the idea of making it a top priority to obey the commandments of God. I can't wait to hear someone say, "I get it! I see what you're talking about! I want to repent from my worldly view of manhood and womanhood. And I want to repent from my sins of partiality. I want to be the kind of husband who trusts God enough to exalt my wife as the Father exalts the Son. Or I want to be the kind of wife who respects my husband and submits to him in everything. I want to be the kind of person who celebrates the dignity of men and women. I don't want to miss out on God's plan. I don't want to be stuck in sexual sin, and finally, I think it's possible for me not to be. I don't want be caged in a prison of fear, and finally, I see that I don't have to be." On and on I could go. My hope is that my readers will choose to become long-term doers of the Word (Js 1:22).
This is a deep and important book, with a significance far beyond what the title alone would suggest.… I strongly encourage anyone who is concerned about the conduct of visible church life to study this book carefully. It provides a rich discussion of all the major issues concerning gender and leadership in the church, and often brilliantly engages the major voices already on the field.
—Dallas Willard, author of The Divine Conspiracy
This book is a tribute to Sarah Sumner's academic devotion and puts to good use her theological training. Her analysis is fresh and much on the mark. Helga and I are praying that her ministry will have a great and holy impact.
—Carl F. H. Henry, Founding Editor of Christianity Today, and author of God, Revelation and Authority
With courage and honesty, Dr. Sumner explores the biblical and cultural assumptions behind evangelicals' disagreements over gender and leadership. This book cuts to the heart of Christian anxieties about sexuality and the church. It gives new hope to women and men who have felt torn between their support for women's ministries and their adherence to scriptural norms. I recommend it very highly.
—Dana L. Robert, Truman Collins Professor of World Mission, Boston University
Dr. Sumner's Men & Women in the Church is one of the most carefully and sensitively written and argued works available on a topic of vital concern for the churches, their leaders and their people in this new millennium. Even among readers who have already taken definite stands, egalitarians can learn modesty, complementarians moderation.
—Harold O. J. Brown, John R. Richardson Professor of Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte campus
I've met with hundreds of female students, youth workers and pastors desperate for a balanced biblical view on women in leadership. Finally, we have one.
—Kara Powell, Ph.D., Coordinator of Women's Youth Network
This landmark book by theologian Dr. Sarah Sumner is long overdue. I predict this book will engender helpful discussions among concerned Christian leaders for decades to come.
—Ted Engstrom, President Emeritus of World Vision International and former President of Youth for Christ International
Sarah Sumner's book has the promise to break the divisive deadlock between egalitarians and complementarians that continues to hinder the effectiveness of the church. Sumner's clear, carefully argued message challenges all of us regardless of our position. A must-read for Christian leaders and potential leaders.
—Lilian Calles Barger, President of the Damaris Project
Sarah's solid biblical approach clarified several issues for me personally. Men & Women in the Church is the 'talking point' book on this subject for this generation.
—Jim Burns, Ph.D., President, YouthBuilders
Every once in a while someone enters into a theological skirmish and lifts it to a level where rays of biblical sunshine reveal a whole new way of looking at the issue. Honest male readers will repent—at least, I did—of some thoughts. So will honest female readers. And we'll humbly and joyfully explore the new dimension Sarah has helped us see.
—Jim Garlow, Senior Pastor, Skyline Wesleyan Church
Dr. Sumner's book is like a fresh breeze from the New Testament, moving clouds of bias and freeing us to look again at the valuable ministry for women in the kingdom of God.
—Dr. Barry McMurtrie, Senior Pastor, Crossroads Christian Church, Corona, California, and Chairman, Londen Institute for World Evangelism
Sarah Sumner's practical approach to Scripture offers the church new hope for unity and growth
—Pat Verbal, Founder, Ministry to Today's Child
I have felt deep need for someone to enter the discussion of gender and leadership in the church and provide some fresh perspectives and new approaches. Dr. Sumner has listened well. Her work is done in the context both of careful scholarship and of personal experience within the evangelical community. And, I believe, she provides an important contribution to the life of the church.
—Gregory Waybright, Ph.D., President, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Sarah Sumner (Ph.D. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Special Assistant to the Dean/Strategic Development and Professor of Theology and Ministry at the Haggard School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University (Azusa, California).