In 1997, Mary Belenky, Blythe Clinchy, Nancy Goldberger, and Jill Tarule published an important book titled Women's Ways of Knowing, in which they explored how women understand themselves, their minds, and their relationship to knowledge, and considered whether the cognitive process of knowing is different between the genders.

From their research, the authors discerned five relationships to knowledge, the most basic being "Silence." "Silent women" were often stranded in an elementary stage of knowing, having no personal voice with which to reflect on knowledge. Without a voice to represent their own perspectives of the world, these women were virtually dependent on the opinions of others.

Studies like this one demonstrate the power of having a voice. Expressing one's self and feeling heard are uniquely human activities that give us confidence to grow and create. We see this human need even in Scripture, including in the psalmist's statement, "There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard" (19:3).

The power of voice also composes the premise of Jim Henderson's new book, The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam's Rib Is No Longer Willing to be the Church's Backbone? (BarnaBooks). Picking up on Barna Group's recent findings about women exiting the church, Henderson (pastor, author of Jim and Casper Go to Church) brings the statistics to life with flesh-and-blood stories of evangelical women.

The book is divided into three major parts. In the first, Henderson presents the problem. The evangelical tradition's neglect of women, he says, has produced different types of resignation in women: those who are "resigned to," "resigned from," or "re-signed to" the current state of the church. In the second and largest part, Henderson interviews women who belong to one of the three categories of resignation, offering his own analysis of their stories. In the third part, Henderson ends by speculating why women suffer ill treatment in their church communities and by challenging evangelical churches to do better.

On a foundational level, the vision of Henderson's book is important. As Henderson notes, the topic of gender and the church is rarely marked by genuine listening. Opposing parties tend to approach the debate with preformed conclusions and generalizations, which produces little in the way of progress. A book in which women's stories are allowed to "speak for themselves" (xix) is a welcome change.

It should here be noted that the Barna study, which Henderson cites at the outset, has been contested. After its publication, The Wall Street Journal ran a response from Rodney Stark and Byron Johnson in which both scholars discredited the study's findings. They concluded that "across 38 years, there have been only small variations in church attendance, and Barna's reported 11 percentage-point decline in women's church attendance (to 44% from 55%) simply didn't happen."

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Whether or not Barna's findings are legitimate, the church is still called to reach the millions of lost women in this world. It is therefore incumbent upon Christians to listen to the voices of women inside and outside the church if we are to make disciples and retain them.

And on this front, the stories gathered in The Resignation of Eve are invaluable. Readers will hear from complementarian women, egalitarian women, women who have been hurt by the church but continue to serve, and women who have left altogether. By reading these stories at face value, church leaders get a peek into the diverse lives of their female congregants. For leaders who love women and want to reach them, these stories will be a tremendous resource.

The book requires a caveat, however. Those who agree with Henderson's unabashedly egalitarian views will love this book. Henderson's belief in the value of women and their place in the church is palpable, so this book is likely to be cathartic for any woman who has ever felt limited by her gender.

Those who do not agree with Henderson will find this a tough read. Henderson's treatment of complementarians is, in my opinion, the greatest weakness of this book. As mentioned, Henderson sets out to "let the stories speak for themselves, even when the women profiled arrived at different conclusions with which I personally disagreed." But Henderson is not faithful to this promise. For example, when summarizing the stories of women who share his position, he expresses sentiments such as, "I have the utmost respect and admiration for her" (61), while commending another egalitarian woman as a "hero" (210).

The complementarian women in this book receive different treatment. Following each story, Henderson ends with a "My Take" in which he offers final reflections. Aside from the fact that this is a strange insertion in a book about the experiences of women, this section often psychologizes the stories of complementarians, speculating that they haven't thought deeply enough about the topic (76) or that their position owes more to broken childhood experiences than honest theological reflection (35). Henderson even titled one complementarian woman's story "Satisfied with the Status Quo."

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Although Henderson's tone toward complementarian women carries an air of understanding, it wreaks more of paternalism than a genuine effort at respect. I suspect that Henderson did not intend this tone, but his generalizations about conservative evangelicals do little to carry us beyond the old trappings of this debate.

In this book, Henderson runs into the same problem that is facing feminists today: How does one advocate for women yet respectfully respond to those women who contest your very project? It's a challenge that tests the mettle of one's commitment to all women, and this book comes up short in that regard.

The church desperately needs to hear the voices of women. On that point, Henderson and I agree. I also love Henderson's heart for women and the passion with which he advocates for them. Even so, this is a discussion we must continue to improve upon. The voices of women, all women, deserve an honest hearing.