Jim Henderson’s book The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? was an interesting, if ultimately frustrating and incomplete, look at the role of women in the church. The purpose for the book, Henderson says, was that “I wanted to find out how women spiritually navigate the church and Christianity, particularly given the ferment in the culture and the church about women’s roles” (xvii). He begins the book with a thought experiment: if all the women involved in church life simply left, what would happen to the church?
This book raised a crucial issue for me as I read it: how should privileged people address injustice? In the first few pages of the book, Henderson addresses the issue of him writing the book without a woman as a coauthor. “It became clear that I was to write the book on my own” (xx). What does that passive construction even mean? Did he have a coauthor that pulled out of the project? Did he simply decide that he was supposed to do it by himself? The construction makes it sound like God called him to write it by himself. He continues, “some women misunderstand my decision or are even angry with me.” (xx) It is an odd dismissal of what I would suggest are very valid concerns.
He divided the book into three main sections: Resigned To, Resigned From, and Re-Signed, which he thinks are the three main ways women respond to their lack of opportunity in the church.
The structure of this book was strange. He interviewed various women and then, at the end of their chapters, summed up what he heard them saying and interpreted why they believed the things they did. Particularly when he disagreed with their conclusions about the role of women in the church, Henderson dismissed their reasoning as valid. One woman’s story in particular was particularly problematic. She was abused as a child, and was now in a complementarian marriage where she submitted to her husband. Henderson says, “When you consider her confusing childhood… it’s easy to understand why Rose is grateful for the structure and security submission has provided for her” (35). This is a ridiculously condescending way to think about women’s autonomy, by using pop psychology to dismiss her views as invalid.
Other times the author assumes he knows what is going on in an interviewee’s head. “Laura was staring at the ceiling trying to find the right words to describe the angst she’s learned with live with simply for being born the ‘wrong’ gender” (120). Here, he even confuses the distinction between sex and gender, which simply confirmed to me that he really didn’t know what he was talking about.
There were problems as well. The author believes in a “pre-Fall” and “post-Fall” paradigm. The first, most obvious difficulty with this is his assumption that before the Fall, Adam and Eve had gender roles that line up with his personal vision of the role of women in the church. There’s nothing wrong with asserting that women should be ordained and have equal rights and responsibilities in the church, but it verges on arrogant to think that your personal understanding of what that looks like is Edenic (257).
At the very beginning of the book, Henderson clarifies that “This book is more of a pastoral appeal than a theological argument” (14). A book like this needs more theology to convince people that his conclusions are at all worth thinking about.
Disclosure: I got this book from Tyndale for the purposes of this review. I did not have to write a positive review.