Suzanne Cross Burden, MA in Theological Studies, is one of the co-authors of the newly released book Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God (Beacon Hill Press). I know Suzanne through Redbud Writers Guild, an organization that amplifies the voices of Christian women in the church, community and culture, and am excited to share this Q&A about her new book with you.
In your book Reclaiming Eve, you encourage women to find their true identity and calling in the Kingdom of God. Why did you want to write a book like this?
My coauthors and I were separately studying Scripture and had become convinced that women need to own their identity as God’s image-bearers and the “strong power/strong helper” we see Eve to be in the biblical Creation account. It’s less about us wanting to write a book about this and more that we believe God compelled us to do so.
In fact, we were somewhat reluctant, wishing we didn’t need to have this conversation about women being freed up to be full participants in God’s Kingdom. But the fact is, we do. For me, it was personal at first: Would I step in to all God has for me, my marriage and other relationships and my calling? Or would I take my usual, safer, back-row seat? I couldn’t say no to God.
What is the purpose of the book and who is your ideal reader?
The book answers the question “What does the gospel make possible for women?” Essentially, it takes a straight look at who God created Eve—and every woman after her—to be. It causes women to look at long-held assumptions and evaluate them in light of God’s mission in the world. It leads an individual or group into a holistic understanding of the identity and calling of women in the Kingdom of God.
There are two stories of Eve. One says she is man’s inferior assistant, easily deceived and dangerous. The other says she is made in God’s own image, a strong power designed to partner with men to work in God’s Kingdom on earth. Unfortunately, the world and the Church have often parked their theology and practice with the first story. As a result, we have often taught and modeled that there is something lacking in women. This is deeply tragic, and it is why we must reclaim Eve.
Genesis says God created Eve to be a helper for Adam. What did you find when you looked into the meaning of “helper”?
I am sad that the English word “helper” is so inadequate to describe the Hebrew word God used when he introduced Eve. He called her an “ezer.” For centuries we’ve diminished Eve and painted her as inferior to Adam. But the word “ezer” calls our bluff. Tucked right into the Creation story, we see a word for God used 16 times in the Old Testament to describe how he comes through for his people in times of desperate need! God is our agent of rescue, a strong helper. And, according to God, so is Eve.
When we looked a little more deeply into what Old Testament experts have discovered, we were blown away, surprised and relieved. The word “ezer” connotes strength and power, so it would also be accurate to call Eve a “strong power.”
How is the definition of the Hebrew word “ezer,” used when God created Eve, transformational for women?
I can tell you how it is transforming me. For years, I found ways to be content with taking a back row seat to men at Church, at work and in my closest relationships. But we don’t get an “opt out” button, friends.
God is calling us to rise up as “ezers,” which can be translated as a “strong power” or “an agent of rescue,” because he created each one of us to be a strong advocate for his love and justice. And the beauty of this discovery is that we can be agents of rescue and redemption in any life stage or circumstance: as a homeschooling mother of five, as a teenager in your high school or youth group, as a professional working woman or a full-time single missionary. Even poor health does not disqualify us. One 80+ year-old woman heard the ezer message and said this: I’m glad to know I am still worth something in God’s Kingdom.
For centuries the church has taught that women cannot be leaders in the church. Is this because they did not understand God’s reason for creating Eve?
Following the Resurrection of Jesus, it appears that believers did begin to realize God’s reason for creating Eve. They were still a product of their times to some extent, but there was a leaning toward mutuality between males and females that actually made women want to become a part of the Christian church.
However, in the 4th century, the church united with the Roman Empire and things went downhill, slowly adopting the ways of the world and erasing women from Church history. To this day, [some] scholars still point to the fall and the curse of humanity and declare Eve to be subordinate to men. This would mean that while humanity’s relationship to God can be restored, Eve would remain in her fallen relationship with Adam, serving Adam instead of serving God directly.
If you believe this, it is easy to point out New Testament passages that say women are to be restricted in teaching within a particular context and then project them onto the creation story. But this approach negates the full redemptive power of the gospel. We must take another look at God’s intentions in Genesis if we are to effectively represent his interests on this earth.
What does it look like when a woman becomes an “ezer,” and when “adams” and “ezers” are partners?
Quite simply, a woman becomes who she was created to be from the beginning, a strong power designed to serve with her brothers as a powerful ally. We are so much stronger together than apart. Rather than separating men’s and women’s ministries or making up committees or teams of one sex or the other, there is literal power in strengthening a project or a ministry by involving both men and women. It’s not rocket science—it was God’s best plan in the beginning. Imagine what we could accomplish together as full partners!
What does “mutual submission” mean to you? How can it be possible in our relationships?
Submitting to one another is not an option for those who follow Jesus—it is a command. In Ephesians 5:21, Paul says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is only possible if we follow the example of Jesus and empty ourselves.
To see this practiced perfectly, we will have to wait until Jesus returns. But the Holy Spirit enables those who follow Christ to graciously accept and submit to one another. We seek to do this in all of our relationships, including marriage. And each time we submit to another in the healthy, Spirit-led way that God intends, we rejoice that we are following in the footsteps of our Savior.
You talk about “curse modification” in the book. Explain what that means.
The curse we write of is found in Genesis 3:16, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NIV 2011). The effects of sin entering into the world were vast, and so some sad predictions were made about toil in daily work, bearing children, and in men ruling over women. If we’re technical, relationships weren’t cursed but the ground was. Still, in popular Christian culture we think of all of this as part of “the curse” of sin.
As a result, many Christians (myself included) have practiced “curse modification.” We won’t completely agree with the notion of women being inferior and dominated by men; we’ll allow them to do some things, as long as they don’t go too far for our personal comfort. My views, however, changed dramatically as I embraced the power of the gospel and the example set by Jesus. I believe the curse was reversed through His life, death, and Resurrection. In Jesus the restoration of women is a done deal.
In chapter four, coauthor Carla Sunberg writes about the world being filled with wounded women. Do you believe the cause of gender-based violence (including the high incidence of abuse happening toward girls and women in the US) is related to what we believe about the role of women in the Church and home? And if so, how?
There is a global epidemic of mistreatment and violence against women, and it is happening in our homes, our backyards, even in our churches. Some of these women are sitting next to you in church—even closer. Maybe you are a victim of violence.
Christian leaders are called to speak out publicly, defending women and calling men to account for their brutalization. And although women are so often the ones experiencing the mistreatment, I believe they are also part of the solution. Get women involved by using their voice or exercising leadership at home, work and Church, and you will see justice rise up. Even better, get men and women engaged in this mission together, and the power unleashed will be amazing. As God’s imagebearers, we are his representatives for justice and righteousness.
How can spiritual disciplines help a woman fulfill her calling?
In Reclaiming Eve, Jamie writes, “When we are intentionally seeking to be formed into the likeness of Christ, believers often turn to the spiritual disciplines for help.” In whatever God calls us to do, he wants us to do that thing in the way Jesus would. Jesus regularly practiced these ways of staying close to his heavenly Father: prayer, solitude, fasting, worship, study and service.
We pursue these means of becoming like Jesus because they transform us. When we meet with Jesus in the morning, we reset ourselves to see people and things and work his way. When we wait on God in solitude and fasting, he reveals things to us about what we should be doing or how we should approach our work or family or ministry. When we worship, study or serve, our hearts soar and we develop a God-confidence that cannot be shaken. We need a firm foundation. The spiritual disciplines are there to anchor us.
What are some things women can do if they feel certain doors are closed to them?
It is essential that we find a way not to be discouraged in who God has called us to be. Please receive this encouragement: You are a female imagebearer of the living God. It pleased God to create you this way on purpose, and you play a valuable part in building His Kingdom on this earth.
For some of us, this may mean prayerfully seeking out a church where we can fully use our voices and our gifts. For others, it’s finding a network of relationships where we are valued and appreciated, even if we are limited within our church context. But always we pray that our heavenly Father would give light to our path, that he would help us to process emotions of discouragement and find healing, and that when he calls us to step out and step up, we would do so with a mix of humility and boldness.
What is the most important change the Church as a whole needs to make in raising up women to freely use their gifts in God’s Kingdom?
The most important change is this: Stop identifying women as primarily fallen and defined by the effects of sin. Begin to see girls and women as restored through the power of the gospel. When women are defined by how Jesus sees us, we are set free to be all God has created us to be.
What is your greatest hope for every woman who reads this book?
To be set free. To know she was created on purpose to be a strong power and imagebearer in God’s Kingdom. Women are essential to God’s plan, and he delights in seeing us flourish.
“A woman’s biblical identity is broad enough to apply to the mother of five who home schools her children, to the 15-year-old worshipping the Lord in the church praise band, the professional working woman, the full-time single missionary, and any woman who feels limited by her health or social status . . . what the real Eve of Eden teaches us is this: In God’s Kingdom, every woman—no matter her circumstance—can be reclaimed.” – Reclaiming Eve
You say that women often tear each other down. How can they lift each other up instead?
In Jesus, we can say no to trying to compete with one another. It is not about not letting your light shine; it’s about shining together. Jesus has shown us what it means to love well and to love long—to love like he does. We can pray for discernment to see other women’s strengths or gifts and to praise and seek to develop them. We can provide opportunities for other women to flourish.
The Bible says younger women should learn from older women. How does this kind of mentoring work?
This is mentioned in Titus 2 and entire ministries have been created from this concept. But be careful: the passage referred to is set in the Greco-Roman culture where the only respectable option for a woman was to be married and have children. Mentoring and discipleship certainly cannot be limited to older women teaching younger women how to be good wives and mothers. If so, we will eliminate 40-50% of the women who desperately need to be mentored, too!
By taking a broader look at the New Testament, we see that each one of us is called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves—regardless of age. We are also called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, setting up relationships with one another that foster spiritual growth.
How did this group of authors come together for this project?
Truth be told, I think it was a man’s encouragement of a woman’s idea! During my coauthor Carla’s years in seminary, she read and studied about woman as ezer. The concept so touched her that she had theological materials on the topic translated into Russian during her time as a missionary. Back in America, Carla pastored alongside her husband, Chuck, in Indiana. As senior pastor, Chuck supported the idea of us writing this Bible study. About 40 women attended, and many of them grasped new facets of their identity in Christ for the first time. It was thrilling!
The process of coauthoring a book, however, was much harder than writing a simple Bible study. We plunged into it together and formed a multigenerational team with varied perspectives and experiences. We cried together, laughed together and supported each other through trying times. Is it possible for sisters to truly support each other without competing against one another? We say yes.
Is it best to read this book individually or in community?
Yes! The book starts with the individual, but it is also designed for small group study. Three to four questions are available at the end of each chapter for reflection. And in July 2014, our publisher, Beacon Hill Press, will release a DVD discussion piece that offers a ten-minute weekly video discussion among the authors for each chapter, leading into a downloadable Bible study to complement each week’s reading. We had a blast recording the video! We pray it starts a movement that gets women talking and sharing about their identity in Jesus, then living that identity out in their day-to-day lives.