The Congregation at Duke University Chapel

Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Christian Leadership for the 21st Century

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Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Christian Leadership for the 21st Century

presentation at Adult Forum by Laceye Warner
Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies, Duke Divinity School
September 15, 2013

Saving Women: Thesis

Evangelism, largely construed as preaching throughout Christian tradition, has generally excluded women from its study and practice.

icon of Mary telling the disciples about the resurrection


"At issue is the appropriation of what evangelism has actually meant in the early church and in history, not judged by the etymology of the word evangelism and its rather occasional use in Scripture, but by what evangelists have actually done in both proclaiming the gospel and establishing new converts in the [reign] of God."

William Abraham, Logic of Evangelism

Saving Women

The women in this study:

  • Preached and published,
  • Advocated and served,
  • Proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in their words and lives.

Saving Women

The women in this study ministered primarily within Protestantism in the United States, most often influenced by Wesleyan and Arminian traditions from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries.

Saving Women

Two main obstacles:

  • Anti-intellectualism
    including a lack of theological reflection
  • Objectification of the “other”
    related to class, race, and/or gender discrimination

Saving Women

The women relied heavily upon simple personal practices of devotion such as prayer and bible study.

Evangelistic Theology and Practice

With little if any encouragement, much less guidance from communities of faith, the women’s doubts and anxieties for their salvations led them to facilitate God’s salvation for others.

Evangelistic Theology and Practice

The women’s evangelistic ministries demonstrate an inability to separate Christian conversion from condition, their own and others.

Saving Women

In the ministries of these women a profound synthesis of verbal proclamation and other evangelistic practices embodied the gospel message, offering resources to broaden contemporary concepts.

Saving Women

The selected affiliated with a variety of Protestant traditions:

  • Episcopal
  • Methodist
  • Presbyterian
  • Baptist
  • Quaker

Offering the Gospel to All

Dorothy Ripley

Ripley’s example legitimates an evangelistic theology that subverts the tradition of limited atonement by offering the gospel to all.

Selfless Sinning

Sarah and Angelina Grimke
(1792-1873)    (1805-1879)

Within their evangelistic theology the Grimke’s defined sin in its many dimensions — personal, social, institutional.

Living Transformation

Julia Foote

A careful evangelistic theology avoids both works righteousness and antinomianism allowing persons and communities to experience a living transformation.

A Serving Church

Frances WillardJulia Foote

Such a comprehensive evangelistic theology refuses to separate social responsibility from evangelism.

Narrating Salvation

Helen Barrett Montgomery

An authentic evangelistic theology relies upon the whole salvation narrative, rather than a myopic Marcionism.

Salvation Now

Mary McLeod Bethune

A faithful evangelistic theology does not ignore the present implications of salvation for an eschatology that merely looks to a future reward.


(1) Their synthesis of practices, most often with proclamation at the heart, necessarily blurs the boundaries between evangelism and discipleship

(2) Beyond the simple, yet profound, importance of biblical foundations for evangelism, the study of evangelism must acknowledge the significance of the Old Testament alongside the New.

(3) While advocating for various social agendas, the women’s ministries remained grounded in theological frames with evangelism as the primary purpose.

(4) The women’s evangelistic ministries responded to a comprehensive concept of sin beyond merely individual pride.

To learn more, read:
Laceye C. Warner, Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Theology and Practice, Baylor University Press, 2007.