Reuniting Mary and Martha

Theology is women's work, too
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WHEN LIFE AND BELIEFS COLLIDE:
How Knowing God Makes a Difference
Carolyn Custis James
Zondervan, 224 pages, $15.99

Carolyn Custis James wants women to be theologians—passionate, unabashed, and learned theologians, regardless of their official title. Her book When Life and Beliefs Collide encourages bake-sale supervisors to do this as much as academics. James is so audacious, that she wants every single Christian woman in the world to appropriate theology as a way of life, a discipline, a relationship, and a spirituality. And she wants men to recognize this desire as being in conformity with the will of God.

James, a seminary-trained conference speaker, describes resistance to women engaging theology, ranging from an assumption that "God didn't wire women that way" to some women's fears of spiritually superceding their husbands and pastors, sponsoring an insurrection in the church, or overstepping the bounds of "women's ministries." The question here, as James wisely insists, is not primarily about power or ordination. It is about whether and to what extent women ought to know their Savior and their Scriptures.

The Scriptures, unsurprisingly, have been a battleground regarding women's involvement in theology, and it is precisely on this territory that James endeavors to win women back. She is disgusted, and rightly so, with the false dichotomy between Marys and Marthas. The former, it is assumed, live in their heads and neglect proper service projects, while the latter more comfortably settle into a hospitality role without a care in the world for useless theological abstractions.

Thus the structure of James's book is an exegetical analysis of the stories about Mary of Bethany, whom she portrays as the first theologian ...

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