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God's Good Design

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  1. A great book. Doesn't cover every angle, but gets to a surprising amount of stuff in a simple and clear way. Definitely recommended. Review / Tip by A.

    Based on the testimonials alone, one might reasonably expect Claire Smith’s book to offer much insight and careful theology. In this, it does not disappoint. Smith considers and explores (in a reasonable amount of depth) passages addressing the ministry and role of women in the church. In doing so, she builds an argument for the complementarity of the sexes: man and woman are completely equal, yet God’s design is for men to lead, and women to submit and support. While there are some ideas which Smith did not engage with, or could have addressed more comprehensively, this book is a worthwhile read and a faithful account of God’s plan for gender.
    For anyone who wants a clear, biblical picture of what the bible says about men and women, this book is the arguable the best resource to which they can turn.
    In the 21st century, gender is somewhat in vogue. Though recent news headlines have tended to focus on homosexuality in the church, within the church gender is one of the most contentious issues of our era. Links have indeed been drawn (notably by Grudem) between the two, and link the ordination of woman to a gradual slide to liberal theology. Claire Smith acknowledges that feminism has reaped many good results for humanity, but that it has become part of the air we breathe, and its influence is not always so positive. Far from dismissing any claim to a more egalitarian perspective of gender in ministry on this basis, Smith says that we merely need to make sure that our views are founded in scripture, not primarily in culture.
    Smith deals with several key passages which have been used (and misused) in the gender debate. She divides the main body of the book into 2 sections: Church and home. 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14 are explored for the former, and the latter is addressed by exegesis of Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31.
    “God’s Good Design”, like any book – particularly on this subject – has room for improvement of expansion. Though the exegesis is clear and the tone is firm but loving, some may consider it too firm. Though not my own experience, several people have commented saying that while they agree with all that she said, they thought that Smith did not concede that there may be other valid interpretations of some ambiguous points.
    The treatment of the subject of prophecy was helpful, yet does not draw any hard or fast conclusions. The reader could benefit from a somewhat deeper exploration: the analogy of prophecy to preaching, and the authority of prophecy are considered, but could be expanded upon.
    Similarly, the concept of teaching in 1 Timothy 2 could have been explored further. John Dickson has recently proposed that “teaching” here refers not to preaching but to an activity of preserving and protecting apostolic teaching before the New Testament canon. Smith’s treatment of this – notion that Paul prohibits women from “teaching” but not modern preaching – is brief. Any future treatment of 1 Timothy 2 would benefit from engaging deeply with this argument.
    “God’s Good Design” did not contain a full survey of references to female leaders in the early church. Though several women are considered in the course of Smith’s exegesis, some will find it frustrating that she does not address all such references. Given that some scholars (e.g. Gordon Fee) use these to argue that ministry has everything to do with gifting and nothing to do with gender, a survey of all such references would have been helpful.
    A final critique: Smith does not engage with Trinitarian arguments over gender roles. Some have suggested that a woman’s submission to man is like that of God the Son to his Father. It embodies equality, yet still a relationship characterised by submission (even “functional subordination”). This concept has been hotly debated by those such as Kevin Giles (who rejects the concept of gender roles, on Trinitarian basis) and Bruce Ware (who argues against Giles). Consideration of this debate could have added to Smith’s book.
    These quibbles, however, are minor: in a short book focused around the exegesis of key texts, we cannot expect this level of depth on every point.
    It was perhaps a little unusual to start with something other than Genesis 1-3 texts. Smith notes that the prohibition on women teaching in the church (in her first passage) is firmly tied to some sort of order in creation. This requires that the reader, while garnering hints from this early section, must wait before this creation order is explored in more depth. The strength of this approach is that it allows the created relationship of Adam and Eve to be tackled with a view to how it informs marriage (rather than being abstracted).
    As someone who has often been frustrated by the gender debate, the approach of this book was very helpful. Smith’s approach is that we should not dismiss or ignore texts because they are difficult to comprehend. Though there sometimes appears to be contradiction, Smith is adamant that rejecting the authority of these passages or speculating ways in which to allay their significance are not good solutions. In order to understand, we must hold firmly to the authority of scripture.
    All in all, Smith convincingly argues that God’s plan is that men ought to lead the church and the household, and that women should submit to this leadership and carry out their own God-given roles and responsibilities. God’s Good Design could not, however, be considered patriarchal or oppressive. She devotes a chapter to refuting the claim that her theology of gender gives men a license to abuse or antagonise their wives. Indeed, this is “The ultimate distortion” of God’s plan. The solution, however, is not the abandonment of the blueprint. Instead, men are to lead lovingly and sacrificially, as Christ loved the church.
    In summary: though there are some areas of this debate that this book could not consider, it is incredibly useful in that it provides a clear overview of what it means to be male and female. Addressing creation, the church and the family, Smith argues convincingly that God’s good design for gender still applies to us today. Not only is this a great book in the way that it considers many factors, it is also simple to read and helpful in its tone. It manages to balance depth with brevity, and is faithful to God’s word. As a book to read for one’s own understanding, to give to those who have questions, or to keep for reference, “God’s Good Design” is worthy of holding a place in your bookshelf.
    (Posted on 3/06/2013)

  2. God's Good Design Review / Tip by Meredith

    I have been having an email conversation with a friend about the roles of men and women in church over the last few months. It's been a fairly protracted discussion. Long gaps between the emails while we ponder the questions and frame our answers.

    We all know stuff about these issues - bits of what the Bible has to say - and we know it all to be very emotive. Especially as we approach those muddied, murky waters that are the two words "headship" and "submission." But are we able to sufficiently push aside what our emotions are telling us for long enough to really see what the Bible is actually saying about these things?

    So my friend and I were glad to discover a new book that has been published this year about this very subject - God's Good Design: What the Bible Really Says About Men and Women by Claire Smith. I have just finished reading it and loved it.

    After an opening chapter providing a brief survey of feminism, the book is divided into two sections covering the role of men and women in the church and within the home. Claire Smith takes seven of the key Bible passages about the roles of men and women - looking at 1Timothy 2, 1Corinthians 11 and 1Corinthians 14 within the church and then Ephesians 5, 1Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31 within the home - and does a thorough study of what each of them has to say about the role of men and women.

    What did I like about this book?

    Each of the passages is tackled in detail, one chapter at a time. Claire Smith presents what she calls a plain reading of the passage - asking, "What does the Bible have to say about this?" rather than "What does my head/heart/need to have my rights met say (with bits but maybe not all of the Bible/passage informing my thoughts) about this issue ?" (See how messy it gets - and quickly.) There are a number of specific verses along the way in some of these passages (if not the whole passage in toto) that often stop people women in their tracks. In tackling fairly large chunks of Scripture she is able to put those traffic stopping verses in their wider context and in light of the whole counsel of God, unpack them with a clear head rather than in an emotive lather. Claire Smith has done her work. Her studies are thorough and well founded. As I was reading along I kept thinking, "Wow, this is a really straight shooting book."

    God's Good Design may be straight shooting but it isn't harsh. Claire Smith writes gently, lovingly, humbly, and generously. All through the studies she seeks to explain in clear terms what the Bible is saying about things that are pretty challenging - but she also leads us pastorally through all those "What if..." and "What about..." questions. She knows all the niggling doubts and concerns we have. She's been there too. And to demonstrate that, she tells her own story in the final chapter and shows how she personally applies these passages in her own life.

    This is a very encouraging book and a good read for women AND men as we aim to understand one another's roles at home and at church and seek encourage each other to be and do our very best for the sake of unity, harmony, service and living in a way that honours one another and brings all glory to God - the Master of this good design and plan for our lives.


    (Posted on 13/08/2012)

  3. Book Review - Recommended Reading! Review / Tip by Liz P

    I received a free copy of God's Good Design in order to review it for Matthias Media. I am not obligated to give a positive review of the book. 

    The subtitle of Claire Smith's book, God's Good Design, is "What the Bible Really Says About Men And Women" and it is an accurate preview of the book's content. Smith engages with specific Biblical texts that deal with the roles and ministries of men and women, devoting an entire chapter to each passage. In those chapters, each verse is studied carefully, sometimes looking at each word individually to understand what the Bible is saying in each instance. 

    The key passages examined are the most contentious passages on the subject of the roles of women (and men), specifically 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 1-3 and Proverbs 31. 

    Smith is even handed in dealing with the Scriptures and acknowledges the counter-arguments and addressing these. She carefully examines each passage in the light of the whole of Scripture and acknowledges the few instances where the passage is not perfectly clear, but outlines the best understandings of that passage. 

    The book is engaging and easy to read without being "light and fluffy". I would throughly recommend this book to all Christians, whether single or married, old or young, in ministry or in the pews. (Posted on 16/06/2012)

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