Book Notice: John Stackhouse on Partner’s in Christ

John G. Stackhouse
Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism
Wheaton, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Available at Amazon.com

Reviewed by Felicity Clift

In the conservative evangelical world (and perhaps beyond) it seems that conscientious evangelical women pursuing ministry, beyond the realms of feminine and infantile pedagogy, are expected to give some thought – preferably serious thought – to the complementarian/egalitarian debate. It would be encouraging to think that the expectation was equally incumbent on men while studying theology and ministry. Not only does John G. Stackhouse, Jr. turn out to be one such conscientious man, but his book Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism should be considered a useful resource to men and women as they pursue this line of thinking.

In a typical but necessary way, Stackhouse opens his book by acknowledging the biased nature of the discussion at hand and lays his cards on the table. He is Christian and assumes most of his readers are the same, he assumes his readers are intelligent and capable of academic thought, and he acknowledges that much conscientious biblical analysis has been done with resulting polarised perspectives. He then clarifies his use of particular terms – feminism, egalitarian and complementarian – and highlights some common interpretive traps – Biblicism, contemporary social wisdom, and personal intuition – also sharing his own journey from Plymouth Brethren to egalitarian belief.

In some ways, Stackhouse doesn’t offer new material in the debate. He readily (and appropriately) draws from the work of others, such as William Webb, in his discussion of biblical hermeneutics. What Partners in Christ does offer the reader is a progression of thought that acknowledges the social, ecclesiastical, and practical convolutions that make certitude difficult. Stackhouse is not afraid to speak the difficult truths (as he sees them). Amongst these truths he touches on counterarguments to egalitarianism including issues around homosexuality, LGBTQ, parenting responsibilities, and submission in un-Christ-like systems, culminating in the conclusion that some hard sayings are to be borne (albeit temporarily) where it advances shalom & the gospel.

Perhaps the best thing about Partners in Christ is that John G. Stackouse has committed a quarter of the book to the practical outworking of his thinking. Not only does he have an opinion, but he has a plan for how to implement which encompasses any willing Christian who is prepared to acknowledge that they are called to seek personal vocation and the shalom of the kingdom.

Partners in Christ is the sort of book that will undoubtedly rub the wrong way for many readers given the nature of the discussion, but along with my recommendation I would encourage the reader to seek Christ’s shalom through the transformation of their mind rather than conformity to the world, and would highlight Partners in Christ as a starting point for challenging church life and personal responsibility in bringing about such change.

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