By Kent Blake
Recently I endorsed a television series, The Chosen, as a superlative in Christian media in 2021. In the book category I highly recommend God’s Woman Revisited: Pocket Edition by Gary Burke. This book has an interesting story and take on women’s roles in the church.
The book flew under the radar for the past two years because the publisher is not well known for producing religious books. Without marketing, it took a couple of years of word-of-mouth before people began to know of its existence. Lately it received endorsements by respected publications such as Restoration Quarterly, which echoes influential Christians like Dr. Philip Slate, who writes in the Foreword:
“Jack P. Lewis was approached by ‘a talented student, who was occupying a pulpit in size far in advance of others of his years’ and who asked him a question about the Holy Spirit. When Jack gave him his answer, the student responded, “Is that the position our brothers have always taken?” Jack’s typically condensed reply was, “I have never seen ‘What our brothers have always taught as the way to solve biblical questions.’” He held that one should go to scripture and handle it correctly in the effort to answer biblical questions. It is in this vein that Gary Burke has brought together many years of painstaking exegesis to produce this work on women and the church.”
Burke’s interpretation on women’s roles falls into a space which has no label. He is neither complementarian nor egalitarian, and he refuses to use either word in his books, believing they often obscure rather than illuminate the issue. Though I haven’t lived within 1000 miles of him for 15 years, he is still a beautiful enigma…
He is a conservative at heart who affirms the authority of scripture and has a master’s in biblical languages from ACU, (major professors were Everett Ferguson, Abe Malherbe, and J. W. Roberts) and a Ph.D. from Iowa in Christian Origins. He follows the text wherever it leads, which in this case is into the teeth of our traditional views on women.
Burke has been an elder, campus minister, church planter, and university professor. He worked for twenty years in hospital administration, where he honed his skills in process and meeting facilitation. That last sentence seems random, but it is quite relevant. More later.
In terms of interpreting scripture, his mantra is first understand what the text says, keeping assumptions to a minimum. Then you are in a good place to begin walking into texts which on the surface appear to be much easier than they really are to interpret. Matt Dabbs read the book and reviewed it early on for Wineskins and remarked that Burke’s guidelines alone on how to interpret the scripture are worth the price of the book.
The premise Burke sets forth, as a result of a 20-plus year study of the topic, is we have done poorly as a fellowship interpreting the passages, from Genesis to I Timothy, that deal with women’s roles in the church and the overall issue of male authority.
That is a bold claim. That is not to say Burke believes he has a watertight case, but he believes it is a much stronger case than the one we currently defend.
While there are many who are clamoring for change in our practice, Burke makes clear the only acceptable reason to change begins and ends with scripture. It has zero to do with conforming to culture.
The last couple of years Burke has been speaking to a number of elders, elderships, and congregations on this issue, and this is where his facilitation skills along with his Biblical knowledge meld in this moment.
What Burke has found is that while elders are committed to lead their congregations where the scriptures take them, when they get into the women’s roles topic they are conflicted.
Their deep desire to follow scripture wherever it leads conflicts with another paramount goal of “stability” and “safety.” When the perceived consequences of making a change are significant, leaders may overlook what they have to gain and focus like a laser on what they have to lose.
What do we have to gain?
The approval of God is more than enough to compensate for all we have to lose. But in the short-term, change may cause problems like these:
- We’ll have to admit our interpretations are not infallible. For many in our fellowship this will constitute a genuine existential crisis. In some minds it means we cease to exist as the only true church. (Hopefully, we’ll become satisfied with just being the church.)
- We’ll re-introduce ourselves to some scriptures which take effort to interpret but which we have considered easy to understand. It means asking, “What does the text actually say as opposed to what we assume it means?” This would be good for the long-term future of the church.
In the long run it can solve these problems:
- You can’t quantify the power and spiritual energy we realize when we hear women of God speak from their hearts and pray. Our congregations may grow again.
- If scripture does permit a greater role for women than we currently allow, it removes a growing objection our children and the world have toward our fellowship.
- If we are following scripture, we are more likely to be a part of the church which Jesus said the gates of Hades can’t destroy.
Within the past eight months readers who believe this book deserves a wider reading have contributed $12,000 to help in its marketing. This is something worth being a part of and I will send Gary Burke enough money for 50 books (including shipping) for Wineskins readers who are interested in this topic. Just email him and ask for a copy. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like it, let someone know.
[NOTE: There have already been 50 books given away and we will up that to 100! Thank you for your interest.
If you are blessed by reading it, please tell a friend!]
I have been talking as if Burke only has one book on this subject, but he has two. The book I am offering is the shorter Pocket Edition. This version is still 156 substantial pages and mirrors chapter by chapter the original God’s Woman Revisited, minus the 500 footnotes and 22-page bibliography.
Trust me, the Pocket Edition will be all you can manage for starters. Later, if you want the larger reference version order either book on Amazon. Both books were written essentially at the same time. The Pocket Edition is an abridged version of the original. The Pocket Edition is also good for adult Bible classes, since it contains discussion questions after each chapter.
If you would like to read more from Gary, you can visit his website – garytburke.com.