Written by Stephen Cox
God’s Good Design: What the Bible really says about men and women
by Claire Smith
One of the dangers in the dialogue of God’s design for gender in the home and church is to divide the theological from the practical. In God’s Good Design, Claire Smith lays down theological soil from which practical directives for gender roles and responsibilities spring forth.
The opening chapter sets the scene well and explains the background from which Claire is coming from. She makes clear that her desire is to present God’s word in a way that is not obscured by our own opinions, difficulties or reservations that we might have, but to draw out the truth of the passage based on the actual text of Scripture, allowing it to speak. Throughout the book it is clear to see that this is exactly what has been achieved. Each passage is approached sensitively, with much thought and care, whilst retaining the truth of the text.
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 most hotly debated and criticised 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.
The passages are closely looked at one at a time, each in a similar way. First she asks basic comprehension questions. This allows the reader to ‘step back’ and view the passage as a whole unit allowing the text to speak for itself. This is one of the books strengths – it is more like a Bible study than just personal testimony.
Secondly, Claire draws out difficulties that we might find and outlines several Secondly, Claire draws out difficulties that we might find and outlines several responses, reactions or even rejections that one might have. She does not ignore or disregard the difficulty that could be found with a passage, but acknowledges it in a way that is open and honest. She states several views that surround the passage, before then presenting her own. Claire goes through the text verse by verse, word by word, drawing out her conclusions in a way that is clear and stays true to the text.
Although, at times I did find myself wanting more information, wanting to dig a little deeper into some of the arguments and differing interpretations of some of the ambiguous texts.
Each chapter is concluded with a word of application that is challenging and thought provoking.
Claire 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 (Chapter 8). The solution, however, is not the abandonment of the blueprint. Instead, men are to lead lovingly and sacrificially, as Christ loved the church.
Claire concludes the book with a final question: “But does it work?” (chapter 10). This latter question speaks to the practical concerns that many people have. Can sacrificial leadership and submissive spirits really, truly “work” these days? Can a marriage really be enriched and the gospel really be displayed by following these directives? According to Claire, the answer is yes, not because it is easy or always even a delight, but because faith in the goodness of God’s design should tame a woman’s desire to lead in ways she has not been created to lead. She summarises: “It is an outworking of my belief that the canonical Scriptures are the Spirit-inspired word of God in which God reveals all we need to know for salvation and to know and please Him, and that therefore His written word has priority in deciding all matters of faith and life” (217).
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.
Anyone who is eager to learn more about how God designed men and women for relationships within the church and a marriage would find this book extremely beneficial.