Michelle Lee-Barnewall
Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Debate
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.
Available on Amazon.com

Reviewed by Felicity Clift

When people enter the complementarian/egalitarian debate most people are looking for an answer. Most want a definitive answer: ‘Yes, women may hold positions of authority in the church’, or ‘Yes, the man is the head of the household’. For those seeking an either/or outcome Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian (2016) may be a disappointing read. However, for those who want to expand their thinking on gender roles in Christianity, Michelle Lee-Barnewall offers an interesting alternative. Highlighting the influence of cultural shift on the egalitarian/complementarian debate, Lee-Barnewall reframes the discussion of Biblical authority suggesting that unity and reversal are more significant ideas when considering authority in the church, as are holiness, sacrifice, and love.

While the debate has often centred around rights and individuality, Lee-Barnewall instead highlights the kingdom ethic of unity which, she suggests, is presented in Genesis in the joining of Adam and Eve, ruptured at the fall and repeated throughout the Bible. Lee-Barnewall also highlights Christ’s reversal of social roles and his sacrifice of his personal rights for the benefit of others. Michelle Lee-Barnewall is inviting all Christians to look at the Scriptures and the notion of authority drawn from the ‘head/body’ metaphor in their historical context, and then to consider them in light of Christs’ teaching and example. Ideas presented in Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian, such as sacrificial love and servant leadership, are not new concepts in the church yet this book makes me wonder whether, despite Christ’s example, we haven’t yet managed to separate our understanding of authority from the socially expected connection to worldly recognition and honour. In this book Lee-Barnewall encourages her readers to reconsider their expectations.

It is impressive and encouraging that Michelle Lee-Barnewall has managed to present a discussion which is solidly scriptural but also, as she states, neither complementarian nor egalitarian. It is impressive for the discussion is so often emotionally charged, yet this book is written without criticism or vehemence. And it is encouraging to see a perspective that looks to Christ and his sovereignty rather than fighting to establish personal rights. In Christ there is no male or female, slave or free. Instead there are redeemed people empowered and united by the Spirit to bear witness to the grace of God as a community. Without dismissing the need to continue the discussions around gender and authority in the church, Michelle Lee-Barnewall has contributed rich new material for discussion, making this book a valuable resource for anybody thinking about church structure, authority or gender roles in ministry.

In light of Julia Baird’s disturbing investigation about the prevalence of domestic violence in conservative churches, I thought I would republish something I wrote for Bible Study Magazine a couple of years ago.

The Household Codes and Domestic Violence

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.  33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.  (Eph 5:21-33 NIV)

Many Christians have mixed feelings about the Ephesian household code. On the one hand, it is celebrated for its wonderful and lavish description of marriage between a man and a woman likened to the love of Christ for his Church. On the other hand, it seems to effectively borrow and baptize a pagan way of ordering one’s household and prescribe it as a rule for Christian domestic relationships. In particular, the notion of submission, with wives submitting to their husbands, is not going to command universal assent in an age of gender equality. The Ephesian household code, despite its christological centerpiece can be all too easily discarded because it is perceived to be patriarchal and androcentric.

There are a number of ways explaining or defending the Ephesian household code. Some would argue that it was simply part of the cultural furniture of the Greco-Roman world, but is not directly applicable to modern cultures like ours which are not patriarchal. Others would affirm the principle of male headship and wifely submission, but urge that husbands should love their wives and children in a way that is self-giving, self-sacrificial, and not abusive. I’m not going to enter into that debate, rather, I have a bigger issue to discuss.

I want to briefly pursue the uncomfortable topic of domestic violence and what the Ephesian household can teach us. The fact of the matter is that the biblical household codes, like the one we find in Ephesians, with their call for women and children to submit to a male authority figure, are often used by abusive men as a justification for their violence. I know those who identify as complementarian and egalitarian both share revulsion at the thought of domestic violence, even if their reasons for doing so differ, and even if they see a different root to the problem. But I would urge all preachers and teachers to speak up more about this issue since domestic violence is endemic in our communities and even in our churches.

I know this is an odd thing to focus on when examining the Ephesian household code, but two things have led me to it. First, my own country, Australia, is facing a domestic violence epidemic. On average two women a week are killed at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends, or estranged partners. Two years ago, a young boy named Luke Batty was killed by his father at cricket practice merely to spite his mother. His mother, Rosie Batty, has since then worked tirelessly to publicize this issue and urge law-makers and law-enforcers to do more to combat domestic violence. Rosie Batty was recently named Australian of the Year and the state of Victoria has pledged to form a royal commission into combating domestic violence.[1] Second, a pastor friend of mine, Michael Jensen, recently wrote an article saying that he’s heard a number of sermons warning about the dangers of feminism, but never heard a sermon about the evils of domestic violence.[2] But it should not be so. The church cannot be a place where we pretend this issue does not exist or be a place where male abusers think that they can find shelter for their wicked deeds. However you understand submission – and I understand it in light of v. 21 about mutual submission – we should all make it clear that no-one has the right to physically, sexually, or psychologically to abuse another person. We must be vigilant on this issue as Australian Anglican bishop John Harrower writes:

There is a temptation for pastors to collude with offenders that their behaviour is nothing more than a matter of private morality. This is a temptation for pastors as we feel we have much to offer in the area of personal morality. Unfortunately, it is in the perpetrators interest to reduce his behaviour to ‘just a matter’ of private morality. If the church colludes in this sleight of hand, it can find itself, as it did in the matter of sexual abuse of children, ignoring the fact [a] that these matters are criminal behaviours; and that they have very real long term consequences for the victims. We must deal with perpetrators of domestic violence firmly, in truth, love and equipping them for true repentance.[3]

Preaching on a text like Eph 5:21-33 – if so inclined – might lead one to open with a joke about the war between the sexes, then maybe critique the perceived errors of radical feminism, affirm the complementarity between men and women, expound the meaning of submission, and end by extolling Christ as the true model for male relationships with women and children. However, I would strongly suggest that as part of our application of this text, we should address this dark and unspoken terror of domestic violence. We do so because I can guarantee you that in every church, there will be more than one person who has suffered domestic violence, either in the past or perhaps even in the present. Victims of domestic violence need to be comforted and perpetrators of domestic violence must be confronted, perhaps punished, and then brought to repentance.

Pastors who want to pastor their flock cannot turn a blind-eye to the issue, no matter who is involved. To preach on the Ephesian household code means expounding how a husband’s love for his family must be like the pure, protecting, and self-giving love of Christ for his church. However, we parse “submission,” it must mean a mission to be like Christ, who loves his bride without malice. What is more, domestic violence is not only a denial of that mission, it is a sinful betrayal of what Scripture teaches us about family relationships in a Christian home. The sin must be named and shamed for what it is.

[1] Helen Garner, “Mother Courage: At Home with Rosie Batty,” The Monthly: Australian Politics, Society & Culture. https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2014/october/1412085600/helen-garner/mother-courage. Cited 19 May 2015.

[2] Michael Jensen, “Perhaps Feminism is Not the Enemy,” Bible Society: Live Light. 16 April 2015. http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/perhaps-feminism-is-not-the-enemy. Cited 19 May 2015.

[3] John Harrower, “A Christian Response to Domestic Violence,” Anglican Church in Tasmania. 29 April 2004. http://www.anglicantas.org.au/resources-domesticviolence/. Cited 16 May 2015.

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.

Last year at ETS, four resolution were passed by the society pertaining to issues about gender and sexuality:

(1) We affirm that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess inherent dignity and worth.
(2) We affirm that marriage is the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life.
(3) We affirm that Scripture teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage as defined above. This excludes all other forms of sexual intimacy.
(4) We affirm that God created men and women, imbued with the distinct traits of manhood and womanhood, and that each is an unchangeable gift of God that constitutes personal identity.

In an open letter published by ETS, Stan Gundry, a former ETS President, explains why he voted against the resolution: “Because the resolutions went beyond the Doctrinal Basis of the Society and were inconsistent with the clearly stated Purpose of ETS.” Gundry – a publisher and a friend – is concerned that the resolution is part of a “conspiracy” to push ETS in a specific complementarian direction when the society has no formal commitment to complementarianism and egalitarianism. Gundry worries that the resolution is a covert effort to:

 1.) ease out biblical egalitarians, 2.) exclude women from the leadership of ETS, 3.) let qualified women scholars know they are not part of “the old boys network,” 4.) shut down discussion of contentious ethical and theological issues, 5.) marginalize those who do not come out on the “right side” of those issues, 6.) “pack” the nominating committee so as to get their compatriots in the positions of leadership, 7.) question the evangelical and inerrantist bona fides of those who ask hard questions and come up with answers that most of us are not persuaded by, and 8.) propose and pass a poorly framed set of four resolutions that makes the Society sound more like the Family Research Council or the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood than the intentionally diverse “medium for the oral and written expressions of thought and research in the general field of the theological disciplines as centered in the Scriptures” as stated in the ETS Purpose statement.

Please do read Gundry’s statement if this is part of your context and tribe. Let me add that I believe in ETS, I believe there is good will among the leadership to make it a broad evangelical tent (broad as the gospel at least!), and ETS remains a great forum to promote discussion and debate by evangelical scholars. However, there are legitimate concerns about those who may be trying to take ETS in a very particular direction which would not accord with the stated intention of the leadership to try and attract more women and minorities. But I’ll let others debate that  point.

I wasn’t at the Atlanta meeting last year and I would not have affirmed the resolution. Not because I’m some ultra-left wing tree hugging femonazi from Harvard who rails against heteronormativity; rather, I simply think # 4 of the resolution is notoriously inadequate. Issues related to gender identity and gender dysphoria require a multi-disciplinary medical, social, theological, and pastoral response, not a 30-word precis.  You cannot offer superficial responses to complex topics, passing them as resolutions, and be expected to be taken seriously.

Over at Housewife Theologian, Aimee Byrd laments why only egalitarians seem to write about Phoebe in Rom 16.1-2. She provides a good list of sources and citations about Phoebe including my own comments in Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby HaircutsAimee exhorts fellow complementarian readers with these wise words: “These are not women that we should feel uncomfortable talking about. There’s a lot to learn here. I would love for more complementarians to be writing about this.”


I predict that there is about to be a miniature civil war among conservative Calvinist Complementarians about Trinity and gender.

One wing of that movement has been arguing for a while that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father and importantly the way that the Son submits to the Father is mirrored in the way that wives submit to their husbands. So the hierarchy in the Trinity is said to provide grounds for a hierarchy in gender relationships. Since this trinitarian debate is not really about the Trinity but about gender and equality, it is no surprise that Complementarians have been arguing for the subordinationist view (e.g., Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem) over and against the Egalitarians who have been arguing for an equality of persons view (e.g., Kevin Giles, Gilbert Belizekian).

Yet it is worth noting that many Calvinistic Complementarians, especially one’s that know their patristic theology and doctrine of the Trinity, have always balked at the idea of postulating the Son’s eternal subordination and questioned the wisdom of using the Trinity to bankroll a particular view of gender. In their mind, Calvinist Orthodoxy is Nicene, it affirms the eternal equality of the divine persons, which rules out any hierarchical subordination. They are still complementarian in regards to marriage and ministry but they reject perceived tinkering with the Trinity by the Subordinationist Calvinists. This group of Nicene Calvinists has always been rather silent and never really offered vocal protest against the Subordinationist Calvinist. However, I think that is about to change.

Over at the Mortification of Spin, (part 1 and part 2), Dr Liam Goligher of 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, offers a scathing and penetrating critique of – what I will now call – Homoian Complementarians. Now Goligher is a Conservative Calvinistic Complementarian, and yet he writes:

I am an unashamed biblical complementarian. The original use of that word took its cue from the biblical teaching about the differences yet complementarity of human beings made in the image of God while not running away from the challenges of applying biblical exhortations for wives to submit to their own husbands in the Lord or the prohibition on ordination for women in the church. With only those two caveats, as Calvin told John Knox, women may be princes in the state, but not pastors in the church. But this new teaching is not limiting itself to that agenda. It now presumes to tell women what they can or cannot say to their husbands, and how many inches longer their hair should be than their husbands!  They, like the Pharisees of old are going beyond Scripture and heaping up burdens to place on believers’ backs, and their arguments are slowly descending into farce.  They are building their case by reinventing the doctrine of God, and are doing so without telling the Christian public what they are up to. What we have is in fact a departure from biblical Christianity as expressed in our creeds and confessions. Out of that redefinition of God their teaching is being used to promote a new way of looking at human relationships which is more like Islam than Christianity; more concerned with control and governance than with understanding the nuances of the relationship of the Son with His Father in eternity on the one hand and how that differs from the roles they adopt in the economy of redemption on the other. They make this move by failing to distinguish between God as He is in Himself (ontology) and God as He is in Christ in outworking of the plan of redemption (economy).
Carl Trueman speaks frankly and wisely on what is at stake:
Indeed, the question which the leadership of the various groups associated with New Calvinism — the Gospel Coalition, CBMW etc. — must answer is simply this: do you consider Nicene orthodoxy to be a non-negotiable part of your movement’s beliefs?  Now, we live in a free country and, as Protestants, we are committed to scripture alone as the norming norm.  Thus, you are free to say that Nicene orthodoxy has no place in the church today. You are also free to say that it is something of secondary importance on which Christians can differ.  You are even free to say that the Creed of Constantinople and the Chalcedonian Christology which flowed from it are erroneous and contrary to biblical teaching.  But make no mistake: in doing any of these things you place yourself and therefore your movement not simply outside of the boundaries of the consensus of the confessions of Reformation Protestantism but also outside what has historically been considered orthodox Christianity in its broadest sense.  That is your prerogative and if your conscience and your understanding of the Word of God bind you to it, then you must do it. But you need to be honest and transparent about what you are doing.
Now I’ve been part of this debate myself along with my former colleague Robert Shillaker. What I would say is:
– The Son’s submission to the Father during his earthly life does inform us about the Son’s eternal relationship to the Father.
– The problem is that “subordination” wreaks of Arianism and should be avoided like the plague.
– I’ve always preferred Pannenberg’s way of referring to “the Son’s obedient self-distinct from the Father” as expressed in terms of a Nicene understanding of a divine equality between the persons.
– I find it pointless to use the Trinity to argue for subordination in marriage relationships, unless your marriage includes an older man, a younger man, and eunuch. (Sorry, I should have given a sarcasm alert warning!)
– Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem are not Arians, their denials are clear enough on that, but they are perilously close to Homoianism, which is semi-Arianism, or in the very least, they are non-Nicenes. In fact, the book by Bruce Ware and John Starke, One God in Three Persons looks like an apology for a Homoian or a non-Nicene view of the Trinity.

The tragic thing is that, if so inclined, you can be Nicene and still be Complementarian. Furthermore, Homoianism is a more subtle and therefore more dangerous sub-variety of Arianism. So this is a pointless and dangerous position to espouse. The root of the problem is that some Complementarians are willing to ditch Nicene christology for Homoian christology if it will give them a bigger stick to use to keep women out of the pulpit!

It just so happens that Scott Harrower and I are working on a collaborative project dealing with this issue, so watch this space, more to come in the future.

Mark L. Strauss
Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Available at Amazon.com

Reviewed by Adam Ch’ng

All of us, to one extent or another, read our Bibles selectively.  Feel-good passages are set against picturesque scenery as desktop backgrounds.  While challenging passages are conveniently rationalised or simply ignored.

Much the same attitude is regrettably adopted when reading the gospels.  Instead of confronting Jesus as he is presented, we prefer a Jesus of our own cultural imagination.

In Jesus Behaving Badly, Mark Strauss refocuses the cultural lens through which we see Jesus.  He displays Jesus in high definition, casting light on all the paradoxes of his character that offend our 21st century Western sensibilities.  Strauss presents the Jesus of the gospels uncensored, unedited and uncut.

From the outset, Strauss lays down the challenge: ‘Ultimately we have to decide if we are going to sit in judgment on Jesus or listen and learn from him’ (14).  Cherry-picking Jesus’ identity is simply not an option.

Strauss systematically assesses 11 puzzling paradoxes of Jesus, asking if he is: Revolutionary or Pacifist; Angry or Loving; Environmental or Earth Scorcher; Legalist or Grace Filled; Hellfire Preacher or Gentle Shepherd; Antifamily or Family Friendly; Racist or Inclusivist; Sexist or Egalitarian; Anti-Semitic; Failed Prophet or Victorious King; and Decaying Corpse or Resurrected Lord?

Readers may find each chapter peculiarly relevant to different individuals and cultures.  For example, the chapter, ‘Antifamily or Family Friendly?’ will have special resonance with Asian Christians who instinctively feel the cultural indignity of Jesus’ question: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ (Mark 3:33)

In each chapter, Strauss is refreshingly honest; indeed for some, maybe too honest.  When examining Jesus’ shocking words, ‘it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’ (Mark 7:27), Strauss is comically blunt: ‘Jesus, like the famous “Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld, says “No soup [bread] for you!” (129)  We are confronted with the full offence of Jesus’ rebuff.

Some readers may find Strauss uncomfortably slow to “explain away” this apparent racism.  However, that cultural discomfort is exactly what he intends for us to appreciate in full.  The key strength of this book is its brutally honest engagement with the culturally jarring facets of Jesus’ character.  This is no exercise in straw man argumentation.

According to Strauss, the key to untangling these 11 puzzling paradoxes is the kingdom of God.  This divine kingdom – ‘God’s authority and dominion, his sovereign rule over the universe’ (165) – is the interpretive key to unlocking Jesus’ mission, purpose and vision.  It is the lens through which each paradox is not only resolved but redefined.

So Jesus was indeed a revolutionary but against the true enemies of the kingdom.  He was genuinely angry but with those who opposed the kingdom’s herald.  And he was an ‘earth scorcher’ of sorts but inaugurated a kingdom of a new creation.

The book climaxes in its grand claim that Jesus is ‘the victorious King and Savior of the world’ (185).  This divine kingship was vindicated in his resurrection and is the quintessence of his multifaceted identity.

When Jesus is known as king, the puzzling paradoxes of his character fall into place.

Strauss has written a book that portrays Jesus in raw reality.  He refocuses our cultural lenses and confronts us with a Jesus we simply cannot ignore.

Adam Ch’ng is a student pastor at Holy Trinity Doncaster and studies theology at Ridley College, Melbourne.

John Goldingay
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs for Everyone
London: SPCK, 2014.
Available a Amazon.com

By Felicity Clift

If I was to attempt to summarise my first thoughts on Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs prior to reading John Goldingay’s study on these books “for Everyone” they may be something like this:

– Proverbs. An almost random collection of sayings for the purpose of teaching young men how to live wisely and prosperously… and a token chapter about a woman who is said to be exemplary at homemaking.

– Song of Songs. Written by Solomon; about sex; supposedly a metaphor for God’s relationship to his people; excessively pastoral (i.e. lots of fruits and vineyards); also telling girls to remain virgins until they’re married.

– Ecclesiastes. Realistic, and perhaps pessimistic; written by Solomon; a biblical anomaly.

In presenting these as my first thoughts I do not mean that I believe these to be a true understanding of these books. Instead, these are the ideas that have accumulated from various presentations and which remain the first thoughts which come to mind – my internal word-association (some of which need to be unlearned). I am blessed to be studying at theological college as I write, and have recently had opportunity to study further the biblical genre of wisdom literature, but higher education is not essential for a clearer understanding of these books. Instead, Goldingay’s ‘Old Testament for Everyone’ series offers clarification and simplification.

In my previous review of Deuteronomy and Numbers for Everyone by Goldingay (London: SPCK, 2015), I commented on the value of reading from the beginning. It seems this is Goldingay’s formula in this series – to lay important foundations in the introduction and then to fill these ideas out, and the ‘filling’ is worth reading. I particularly appreciate Goldingay’s lighthearted willingness to present his opinions openly. Goldingay has once again engaged my thinking in new and encouraging ways.

His explanation for the Solomonic association with these books suggests that Solomon was ‘clueless about love’ (p.3) and therefore an unlikely author. In fact, the association is because Solomon was the ‘patron saint of wisdom’ (p.3). Goldingay also encourages deeper reading and broader application of the text. He suggests that the links to Babylon and Egypt that are found in wisdom literature represent the ability to learn from anyone’s experiences. All people are image bearers of God in his world, irrespective of their culture or beliefs (p.4-5). Amongst many other ideas, Goldingay comments on Christian social responsibility (p.9), on a different biblical attitude to poverty (p.28), on making plans (p.86), and on the importance of feminine teaching (p.152). As a woman from an evangelical upbringing I find Goldingay’s preparedness to acknowledge the place of gender in the Scriptures encouraging. Instead of presenting the writer and the speakers within Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs as generically ‘human’, Goldingay explores what the gender of the speaker adds to our understanding of the text. He suggests that beginning and ending Proverbs with a focus on teaching from women (Wisdom, Folly, and the strong woman of Chapter 31) ‘completes’ the masculine teaching in the inner chapters, just as the story of Moses and Pharaoh (in Exodus 1-15) is set in the context of women (p.152). Song of Songs similarly is embellished in my mind by Goldingay’s suggestion that the young woman is an initiator in this egalitarian relationship (p.245) and not a mere piece of property, however cherished she is by the man.

In reading this study guide, Goldingay has helped me to recognise the half-truths of my first associations regarding these books:

– Indeed, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes do contain some random collections of sayings, but they do so for the purpose of encouraging the audience to learn from the experiences of others (both men and women) in a practical way in their present setting.

– Song of Songs is about sex but not in a metaphorical God/human sense. It is an acknowledgement of the present reality and management of human desires.

– Rather than being biblical anomalies, the language and content of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs may be explained by their intention to look to the present (as distinct from other biblical books which tend to consider Israel’s future or past).

It seems that, just as the writer of Ecclesiastes wants to keep faith honest and so says ‘things that you wouldn’t have thought a churchman would say’ (p.177), Goldingay, too, wants to keep faith honest, and so presents ideas that are sometimes less conventional but not without grounds. His presentation remains engaging and rich and entirely God-oriented, and having now read two of Goldingay’s ‘Old Testament for Everyone’ study guides my appetite for the series, as well as the Old Testament, has been whet. Goldingay certainly makes it clear that, just as the Old Testament was ‘a living resource for understanding God, God’s ways in the world and God’s ways with us’ for Jesus and the New Testament writers, it remains so for Christians today (p.1).

Flyck Clift studies theology at Ridley College in Melbourne alongside working as a nurse in her local hospital. She is currently involved in leading a home group at church and enjoys encouraging people in integrating their belief in God with their daily living.

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