Justice + Unity: Toward the Healing of a Fractured Church

Part 3: Women in the Kingdom

On April 16, 2019, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary concluded our special Talking Points series and hosted the third of three conferences exploring the themes of justice and unity in Scripture. Our first event centered on Black/African American perspectives, our second event centered on Hispanic/Latino(a) perspectives, and the third event centered the perspectives of women.

Conversations between women and men in the church often focus on theological positions about leadership and authority, and once conclusions are drawn, we tend to move on. However, there is more at stake than exegetical and theological positions. Those discussions are important, but we need to explore some larger questions about the practical day-to-day life of the church.

As we concluded our Justice + Unity series, we invited the people of God to reflect on the experience of women in the church—how they are flourishing and how they are marginalized—and to consider how the body of Christ can recognize their giftings and encourage them in their callings. The key question driving this event is adapted from Carolyn Custis James' work in her book "Half the Church": Is our vision for women robust enough to enlist and empower all women to bring all their gifts to the body of Christ? If not, at what cost?

Audio Recordings 

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Speakers and Panelists

Carolyn Custis James | "The Blessed Alliance Mobilized" and "The Blessed Alliance and the Power of the Gospel"

Headshot of Carolyn Curtis JamesCarolyn Custis James (B.A. Sociology, M.A. Biblical Studies) is an activist, blogger and award-winning author. Her books include "Finding God in the Margins," "Malestrom," "Half the Church" and "The Gospel of Ruth." She is a consulting editor for Zondervan's Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament and an adjunct professor at Missio Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. She's a member of Evangelicals for Justice and blogs at carolyncustisjames.com, Huffington Post/Religion and as a Leading Voice at Missio Alliance.

Carolyn's work focuses on the intersection between Christianity and 21st-century cultural issues facing women and men globally and has earned her recognition by Christianity Today as one of "50 Evangelical Women to Watch."

In two foundational conference sessions, Carolyn will explore God's global vision for women in light of the Genesis creation accounts and guided by biblical examples of men and women partnering together for God's purposes. We often read the Bible through the lenses of our theological, cultural or church traditions, which can obscure this vision and leave us captive to the world's values. Regardless of where one falls in the debate about leadership, Carolyn will help listeners read the biblical text with fresh eyes.

Lynn Cohick | "Women Learning and Leading in the New Testament and Today"

Headshot of Lynn CohickLynn H. Cohick (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is provost/dean and professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Previously, Lynn taught for three years at Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya, and at Wheaton College (Ill.). She serves as president of the Institute for Biblical Research and on the U.S. board of Langham Partnership International.

Lynn's publications include "Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through the Fifth Centuries" (co-authored with Amy Brown Hughes, Baker Academic, Summer 2017); "Philippians in the Story of God Commentary" (Zondervan, 2013); "Ephesians in New Covenant Commentary" (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010); and "Women in the World of the Earliest Christians" (Baker Academic, 2009).

Lynn Cohick will discuss the ways women have always been active and influential in the development of Christian theology and practice. Their influence is often overlooked or forgotten, leaving us without their examples to follow today. Lynn will draw from her research to paint a fuller picture of the influence, authority and legacy of women in the kingdom. She will also share some of her own experience of teaching and leading.

In a conference session entitled "Women Learning and Leading in the New Testament and Today," Lynn will discuss the ways women have always been active and influential in the development of Christian theology and practice. Their influence is often overlooked or forgotten, leaving us without their examples to follow today. Lynn will draw from her research to paint a fuller picture of the influence, authority and legacy of women in the kingdom. She will also share some of her own experience of teaching and leading.

Elizabeth Conde-Frazier | Panelist

Headshot of Elizabeth FrazierRev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier is a practical theologian. She is an ordained pastor of the American Baptist Churches with over 10 years of pastoral experience. She was founder of the Orlando E. Costas Hispanic and Latin American Ministries Program at Andover Newton Theological School and served as a tenured professor of religious education at the Claremont School of theology and as academic dean and vice president of education at Esperanza College of Eastern University.

Currently, Elizabeth is the coordinator of relations for theological entities at the Association of Hispanic Theological Education. Some of her publications are "Latina Evangelicas: A Theological Survey from the Margins," "A Many Colored Kingdom," "Hispanic Bible Institutes," "Listen to the Children" and numerous chapters on practical theology and religious education.

Dr. Conde-Frazier holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, an M.Div. from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a B.A. from Brooklyn College, City University of New York.

Christina Edmondson | Panelist

Headshot of Christina EdmondsonDr. Christina Edmondson serves as the dean for intercultural student development at Calvin College. She holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and an M.S. in Family Therapy and is a Qualified Assessor for the Intercultural Development Inventory, Certified Cultural Intelligence facilitator, public speaker and mental health therapist.

Christina has a track record of bringing diverse people together to promote personal and team flourishing and is often contacted by churches and organizations to consult about both diversity and inclusion and mental health issues. Her writing has been seen and referenced in a variety of outlets including Essence.com, The Witness: A Black Christian Collective (formerly, Reformed African American Network, RAAN), The Twelve/Perspectives Journal and Gospel Today magazine.

With conviction, boldness and emotional intelligence, Christina speaks about anti-racism, cultural differences, team dynamics and servant leadership. She is also a co-host of Truth's Table, a podcast that centers the Black female experience and provides insight on church, culture, race, politics, gender, current events and pop culture all filtered through the Christian faith.

Christina is a native of Baltimore, Md., but resides in Grand Rapids with her family. She is married to Pastor Mika Edmondson of New City Fellowship Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., and she is the mother of two wonderful little girls.

Justin Holcomb | "The Church and Women at Risk"

Headshot of Justin HolcombDr. Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida) and teaches theology and apologetics at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously taught at the University of Virginia and Emory University. He holds two master's degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Emory University.

Justin serves on the boards of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments), Leaders Collective and REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade), co-founded by his wife Lindsey Holcomb. Justin and Lindsey serve and counsel victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse and have written several books together on the topic: "Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault," "Is It My Fault? Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence" and "God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies." Justin and Lindsey live in Orlando, Fla., with their two daughters.

In a conference session entitled "The Church and Women at Risk," Justin shared how pastors and church leaders can (and why they should) prepare for and respond faithfully to sexual assault and abuse. Our current cultural moment—known for the hashtags #metoo, #churchtoo and others—is bringing to light what women have always experienced. Justin will provide practical insight on how to prevent, recognize and respond well to these realities. 

Marcus Little | "A Pastor's Regrets: What We've Lost Doing Ministry in a Man's World"

Headshot of Marcus LittleMarcus Little has been the Senior Pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Grand Rapids since 2014.  He received an M.A. in Theology from Talbot Theological Seminary in his native Southern California where he met Kelsey, the gifted partner he has had the privilege of being married to for 12 years.  She sharpens him daily as they together engage in the ministries to which God has called them.  Chief among those is the training of their three children (Calvin, age 10, Eva, age 8 and Zoe, age 8) to be passionate followers of Christ who extend the shalom of the Spirit to their world.

As a pastor, Marcus' central passion is to see the body of Christ united.  In a fractured world, he believes that a church united in nothing other than a shared identity in Christ is the most compelling apologetic for the reality of the gospel.  He has been involved in efforts in his ministry to bring believers together across denominational and racial divides.  In his church, he is leading a conversation about empowering women to exercise the fullness of the giftings and callings God has given them.  He continues to ask God to reveal where we fall short and to soften his heart to his own failings to seek God's best for all of he is called to serve.

In a conference session entitled "A Pastor's Regrets: What We've Lost Doing Ministry in a Man's World," Marcus shared some of his own journey of how this topic became critical for him and how he and his leadership team are navigating these questions:

  • How do you engage honest discussions about the experience of women in contexts where men have always led?
  • Why should pastors lead their elders, deacons and congregations into such a difficult topic?

Jennifer Vanderground | Panelist

Headshot of Jennifer VandergroundJennifer Vanderground has been an educator for over twenty years and has spent the past decade teaching in the Professional & Graduate Studies program at Cornerstone University. She holds an M.A. in Education, specializing in reading.

Jen is a member of Ada Bible Church and served as their director of MOPS, a ministry designed to support mothers of preschoolers. She has worked with World Impact in urban St. Louis, Mo., a faith-based, community-outreach nonprofit.

Jen is always curious, loves the outdoors and is a voracious reader who is passionate about thinking critically, engaging in healthy debate and analyzing ideas from every perspective. She encourages her adult students to critique ideas and evolve their thinking based on what they learn.

As a mother to three school-age sons and wife of almost 20 years, Jen is passionate about teaching them to be continually open, empathetic and compassionate. She is active in coaching youth lacrosse and basketball, seeing it as an opportunity to instill a sense of confidence and humility in young men.