24.8.09

Virgo and Influential Women in parentheses

Well, I have now finished Wendy Virgo's 'Influential women'. This book grabbed my attention because of the blurb on its front cover, which explains: 'From the New Testament to today - how women can build up (or undermine) their local church.'

On Amazon it is described with this incredibly long title, which is not actually to be found on either the front or back of the book.

'Influential Women: From the New Testament to Today - How Women Can Build Up or Undermine Their Local Church: How Women Can Bless - or Ruin - Their Local Church - Wendy Virgo'

Of its original slogan, aforementioned, I was puzzled as to why the idea of women undermining the church was put in parentheses. I realise why now. I think the aim is that women will be attracted to this book as they seek to learn how they might build up the church. I think in some ways she is seeking a readership looking for affirmation. What they must realise it that this book's aims are subtle at first, hence the parentheses but then liberated from such punctuation inhibitors later on, for the book's aims will squarely smack you between the chops and if you are undecided about what you think God's will might be for women in the Church, you will be taught that if your callings are to eldership, the pastorate and to leadership that is to mixed congregation, then according to Wendy Virgo you are entertaining a 'Jezebelic spirit' as she puts it.

When I started this book, I skimmed a little. it is a bit pedestrian. But it is light-hearted and entertaining. I am on holiday so I began to see it as a holiday read and I enjoyed it. It is imaginative. She adds lots of details to the biblical portrayals of Priscilla, Tabitha, Lois and Eunice, Euodia and Syntyche, and others. The blurb on the back describes how 'Some were saints, full of good works; some were frankly poisonous and did considerable harm. What can we learn?'

So what did I learn? Well, at first I wondered whether learning was the point. And I think that this is part of the book's problem. And yes, I am aware that we tell entertaining stories to teach each other but somehow Virgo doesn't quite pull it off. Three quarters of the read was entertaining and interesting, of a kind. More entertaining is the Good Book itself which tell us these tales of our previous sisters but Virgo adds colour and detail from her imagination, which fleshes out the holes in the original stories, as she surmises about how old these women were, how they entertained themselves, what they thought about...

The last third of the book though, is of a different tone, altogether. Here, we are to swallow her bitter pill, concur with the 'theology' of her complementarian mindset, prayerfully seek forgiveness for our 'jezebelic spirits', if we have entertained 'aspirations' for which we were not built. Virgo morphs from imaginative fancy grounded in truths but padded out for our delight to, well, attempts to correct and admonish the wayward thinking that is a product of our times and demonic influence.

The book ends prematurely. It is as if we are left with nowhere to go, perhaps just to our knees. But if we weep, well, she has already been there as she struggled to tame her own rebellious heart! So even our weeping will not comfort us. We are presented, before this premature end, with descriptions of her ultimately 'influential women': Eve and Mary. Eve failed her husband and failed God. It was her independent spirit which has ruined us! Mary obeyed God, was willing to be his servant in bearing Jesus. The theology here is well-worn and centuries old, we are either the rebel or the virgin and there are no shades in between. it's all that simple! The argument is crass and unconvincing in its application to women. Never is there any discussion of Mary's counter-cultural predicament, what her relationship must have been like with Joseph in this marriage which did little to conform to the norms. Never is there any discussion of any other way of looking at the fall and what God planned for man and woman before it. Headship and hierarchy are the Holy words in this book and we are left in no doubt as to the sort of woman who will ruin her local church, for Eve-like, if she is unable to gain the power she quests, she will result to using her sexuality to unsettle the weakness of the men there. This book does not inspire a healthy vision for either men or women, in either their sin or their righteousness.

Entertaining until the end when Virgo's parentheses aims emerged. 3 out of 10.

Onto the next read....

2 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

Interesting. So, according to Virgo, was Priscilla "entertaining a 'Jezebelic spirit'" and "frankly poisonous" for daring to teach Apollos (Acts 18:27) and thereby undermining the doctrine which he was preaching?

Rachel Marszalek said...

I guess Priscilla is admired, as she should be. Now, of course, for complementarians, Priscilla is in a ministry team where she comes under Aquila's headship, so she doesn't present any problems. It is assumed that she always taught Apollos in the company of Aquila. Interestingly their house is described as 'Priscilla's' rather than Priscilla and Aquila's to highlight her gifting of hospitality. Whenever teaching occurs both Priscilla and Aquila feature in the sentence and this is why Virgo does allow Priscilla to describe herself as a teacher.

It does leave me puzzled because if we are 'to admire and emulate' Priscilla then why are women told later in the book that 'they are not to assume a leadership position in the church...their teaching gifts can find expression in teaching other women.' Virgo uses the image of a father who places a rail around a dangerous balcony for his daughter because she might fall off(p.156). Men are given authority from God and the restrictions for women actually give them ultimate freedom, or so goes the theory ie they are free to play without fear of falling on the balcony that men have so carefully made safe for them! The thing is, for me, isn't God's word enough for me? Do I also need a man to keep me safe from falling? This is very gallant, I suppose, but in a way it is treating an equal like something less, in the sense that I am not allowed to learn for myself, develop my own relationship with God, it is mediated by a man. I don't know!I love my husband and I guess we all put up these railings but I think ultimate love is allowing your partner to be everything they can be, the very best version of themselves which exists In Christ, it is not about boxing them in. it is trusting that indeed God's grace is sufficient for them.

Interestingly, Virgo says 'it will always be Father, Son and Holy Spirit in that order' It is this in her reasoning which must be reflected in 'our marriages and relationships in the Church.' (p.160)

What we have in Virgo's teaching is the same old story - a promotion of the eternal subordination of Jesus in the trinity and man is to God as woman is to Jesus and so woman submits to man or is subordinate to man but of course is completely equal, just like Jesus is with the Father. Oh heck - that argument again!

For Virgo '...it was his [God's] idea that the main leadership [in church] should be occupied by men.' (p.176)

You must read the book, I guess, to come to your own opinions, for these are only mine, opinions.

Thanks Peter

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.