Women, Leadership and the Bible

July 8, 2015
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Natalie EastmanI first met Natalie R. Wilson Eastman on her wedding day, when she was marrying David, a good friend I went to church with when we both lived in Corvallis, Oregon. Over the years since then, God and writing have been the intersections that have connected the streams of our busy lives.

I have a great deal of respect for the Natalie’s enthusiasm for serious Bible study, her belief that women can and should engage in it, and the incredible amount of work she put into her new book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe?

I decided this was the perfect time to tell you about her book after we had explored the presence of women among Jesus’ disciples. I see plenty of evidence that Jesus expected women to use their intellect. He was happy to teach them and was interested in conversing with them about what they believed (see, Luke 10, John 4 and John 11).

Natalie’s book is a great tool for anyone today who wants to dig into the word for answers to complex spiritual topics, like women in leadership. I’ll let her tell you about it.

Welcome, Natalie! Tell us about the purpose of your book.

Natalie: Its purpose is to teach women to study the Bible, interpret what they study, and understand what they’ve interpreted, along with how what they’ve learned impacts and guides their life.

What makes it different from other books on women’s issues?

WLB book coverNatalie: Plenty of books espouse one position or another on women’s roles or any other issue, effectively telling women what to think and why to think that. Yet, few teach women to discern God’s messages and desires for his people through systematic, thoughtful, seminary-level analysis. Women, Leadership, and the Bible steps into that void, offering step-by-step, approachable, “non-jargonese,”methodical process of analyzing an issue on many levels: scriptural, academic, spiritual, emotional, community, and personal. The ultimate goal is to equip women (and any men who desire to read it) to thoroughly and effectively investigate God’s Word, along with filtering through various interpretations of it, and subsequently make up their own mind about an issue.

The book’s true strength lies in its ability to guide women through finding answers systematically for really tough life questions. As a quick example, consider Mary, a Christian woman who considers herself to be biblically conservative. (Let’s not get into political liberalism or conservativism, although people often conflate the two things.)

By biblical conservatism, I’d essentially mean that she believes the Bible is God’s Word, is without error, and is authoritative for all of life, basically subscribing to the belief that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for all doctrine, teaching, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:14–17).) Mary and her husband worship and serve actively in a Bible-believing church that subscribes to the same beliefs about Scripture. Her daughter, Corrine, calls her one day and shares with her that she has been leading a co-ed Bible study at her college. Corrine has clear leadership skills and gifting, and is additionally very biblically knowledgeable and spiritually sensitive. I could go on mentioning a lot of particular observations about Corrine’s skills, abilities, and such, but for Mary, the question is, “Is this okay? Should she be teaching Bible truths to young men? What does God say about that?”

Or consider another issue that has gained much attention lately. A mature Christian woman named Georgia has a brother named Erik. Erik is a born-again believer and faithful servant leader in the churches in which he has worshiped since his teen years. Georgia and Erick have always had a close and affectionate relationship. After Christmas dinner, Erik takes Georgia aside to talk, as they have always done on Christmas night ever since they were kids. This year, though, Erik shares with Georgia that his physical gender does not reflect his inner sexuality and never has. He has been considering a process of gender reassignment. Georgia doesn’t know how to feel about this, much less what to think about it biblically. She wonders, “How do I understand this entire situation? How do I process this biblically? And how do I hear what God has to say about it over and above what everyone else says about it, as well as my own personal feelings about it?”

These issues are tough. They’re complex. And, not to mention, they are but the tip of the iceberg of possible issues we face as humans in a fallen, often-confusing world. And, as humans, we experience them not simply as a set of theoretical or intellectual questions, although that needs to be part of our pursuit of understanding them fully. We face them within the context of the full range of human experience: intellectual, emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual, both individually and corporately.

Yet, rarely do we process issues and questions through such a grid as would address all of these areas in turn, systematically, within the context of biblical authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Need I say it? Although it sounds like a cheesy infomercial at this point in the conversation, “Now you can!”) I used a series of what I called “filters,” both external (Scripture, Christ, conversations, community, and church) and internal (personal convictions, internal harmony, and the Holy Spirit) to help women with this discernment process, because that is what it is: a discernment process.

WLB teaches women to process their toughest questions with the Spirit’s illuminating direction in such a way as to address those core human experiences and influences, while maintaining God’s Word as the highest authority in the matter.

What inspired you to write this book?

Natalie: I could say such dandies as “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and that would be true, partly. WLB was something I needed that didn’t yet exist. So I launched in and it developed into the resource it is.

The true answer is that I sensed – as in, “nowhere to run now, baby; nowhere to hide” sensed – God leading me to write it.

Sure, I saw the need. Sure, I saw how suited and well-positioned I was to write it; but, honestly, writing was not my thing, and I experienced quite a lot of internal resistance over it.

As I was finishing up my M.Div. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I had a very clear sense of call to write a book that would help women gain the same tools and skills I’d had the blessing of obtaining through attending seminary and particularly helping them find answers to the questions EVERY woman faces, simply because of her gender. I had several of what I call “Moses moments” at that time: “I think you’ve got the wrong gal here, Lord.”

Yet, I decided to agree and partner with God on his plan, rather than avoid the uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and sometimes downright frightening experience to which God seemed to be clearly calling me.

What view of women in leadership does this book promote?

Natalie: WLB helps women learn to interpret Scripture, then weigh the evidence and interpretations for themselves, filtering positions by various means, and making their own decision, with the help of and within the context of their own communities.

Why? So women can learn to discern answers from God’s Word for themselves and, consequently, learn to think critically for themselves. As such, it supports no particular view, but absolutely supports getting to know all of the views quite thoroughly.

How does your book promote the gospels as a source for insight on the topic of women’s roles?

Natalie: Within the overall context of God’s story as revealed throughout both old and new testaments, one critical piece for exploring any issue is the lens of how Jesus lived and what he expressed or taught directly regarding certain topics. When considering the questions surrounding women’s roles, one must consider Jesus’s interactions with women: how he spoke to them, that he spoke with them, that he traveled with them, that he was supported by them, that he taught them, that he healed them, that he called them “daughter,” etc. You must decide within the context of each story, as relayed by each gospel author for a particular purpose (and also, as I mentioned, within the overarching story of Scripture) what these interactions mean, and subsequently what they may, or may not, mean for us today.

NATALIE R. WILSON EASTMAN (M.Div. ‘02, D.Min. ’05–Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) is a freelance writer, editor, and member of the Redbud Writers Guild. She has served as a full-time youth minister to girls and women; Bible study teacher; worship leader and team developer; missionary to east Asia; and retreat and event teacher/speaker. She lives in Delaware, OH, with her husband and three young children. Links to her blogs may be found at natalieeastman.com, and her training and coaching at biblicalbreakthrough.com.

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