January 18, 2017

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.

March 24, 2020

Over at 9 Marks, Jonathan Leeman has an article on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—Or Christlikeness? arguing that “It has become a common trope to argue that the Bible calls us to Christlikeness, not biblical manhood and womanhood. This is a category error. It undermines Christlikeness by turning it into something abstract, gnostic, idealized, even inhuman. It’s also antinomian.”

Hey, I like Jonathan, he’s a leading SBC ecclesiologist, just released a book One Assembly: Rethinking Multisite and Multiservice Church Models that I need to check out, but on this topic, but on this subject I think he’s turning a few partial right into an overall big wrong.

Where Leeman is right is that Christlikeness, or as I prefer to call it, the imitation of Christ, does express itself in our particular situations, whether as a female clerk in Kenya, or a male gardener in New Zealand. That itself is not a problem as discipleship always has a context and a particularity.

However, Leeman seems to be alarmed that if Christ-imitation in any way transcends gender differences or other particularities, then “Christlikeness becomes a generalized, non-specific, colorless, genderless, and frankly inhuman ideal. To use the language of the philosophers, it melts the many into the one, like a box of crayons melting into brown gray” or else it becomes “something androgynous, gnostic, anti-physical.” And herein is the problem.

I think Leeman’s concern is that if men and women can indeed imitate Christ in any sense of parity or sameness, then it potentially undermines the “rule structures he [God] has established in church and home” and that is what he’s worried about. It sounds like Christlikeness is good but only to the point that it does not interfere with a strict application of the NT household codes and a specific vision of maleness, marriage, and authority.

But note this, in the NT exhortations to follow Jesus or to imitate Jesus, they do not make gender or role distinctions, rather, the emphasis falls on what is expected of everyone!

“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants1 are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:15-17).

“I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent1 you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Cor 4:16-17).

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us1 and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2).

“Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17 ).

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess 1:6-7).

“And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:11-12).

Furthermore,  neither Jesus nor Paul, when they make their exhortations to imitation, show any worry or allergy about breaking rules, structures, or hierarchies. They are not worried about androgyny or anarchy. They do not issue caveats that the imitation of Christ comes in pink and blue. These are examples and commands for everyone, even if their expression might be different, nonetheless, they are generic and show that certain patterns of discipleship transcend differences of age, gender, ethnicity, and ableness.

This does erase not our various sub-identities of being, say, a black, female, daughter, wife, sister, aunt, mother, doctor, basketball coach, blogger; but there are holy habits, virtues, and character traits that Christ-believers share irrespective of their biological and social distinctions. There is something of Christ in all authentic Christ-followers that is recognizable, repeatable, enduring, imitative, and transcends differences, that’s surely one of the big points about being a Christian.

In other words, it is okay for men to have female role models! It means white suburban pastors can learn something about pastoring from black inner-city pastors. Soccer momes can have commonalities in discipleship with CEO’s called “Chuck.” The particularities of our selves are relative to the sameness of our shared mission, the similarities of the human experience, and the commonalities of our sanctification.

But if you want to talk about something artificial and alien to the Christian world, I would suggest it is “biblical manhood and womanhood,” which is best described in the words of Anthony Bradley:

 

I know it does not represent all complementarians, but it helps to remember that some of the celebrated leaders from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood brought you those classic hits like, “Women can’t be president or police officers” and “Consider hiring a housekeeper so you can have more time to work on your marriage.” So even if you swing on the complementarian side of the fence, anything badged by “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” needs some serious discernment.

In sum, yeah, of course there is a particularity in our discipleship, but there is a way of life in Christ that transcends culture and biology, and it is precisely union with Christ and the imitation of Christ that brings us together in our differences so we can learn from each other and support each other. I like to think that such a sentiment should be agreeable to complementarians and egalitarians.

Otherwise, read Jason Hood’s awesome book on The Imitation of God and Amy Byrd’s blow-your-mind volume Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

UPDATE!

Jonathan Leeman has made a response which I’m happy to post below:

March 13, 2020

If classes are canceled, if church is on hiatus, if you are quarantined, and if you’re just generally stuck at home, here are some tips for what to read, watch, and listen to while you’re cooped up at home.

Read

Nijay Gupta and Scot McKnight, The State of New Testament Studies, terrific volume that brings you up to date on what is happening in the various seminar rooms of NT studies, very informative, and highly recommended.

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, fantastic biography of the American founding father and the basis for the smash-hit musical.

William Webb and Gordon Oeste, Bloody, Brutal and Barbaric: Wrestling with Troubling War Texts, this is a good book, deals with the OT texts about war, inter-tribal violence, and how we as Christians deal with it.

Watch

I really enjoyed The Two Popes on Netflix and Brittany Runs a Marathon on Amazon Prime.

On You.Tube, check out Jorg Frey’s lectures on the Gospel of John and the Kings and General 15 mins documentary on the Ancient Greek State in Afghanistan.

You can also take out a subscription to Zondervan’s Master Lectures for access to Bible/theology/ministry lectures and there’s a variety of popular and academic programs on Faithlife TV too.

For the Bird-Wright book New Testament in its World, there is a lay level DVD and a seminary level DVD.

Listen

On audiobooks, try my What Christians Ought To Believe and Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel.

On podcasts, so many to choose from, my favs are Ask NTWright Anything, NT Review, OnScript, Disruptors, and Undeceptions.  But you might also like Where Do We Go From Here (about Christianity after purity culture), Theology in the Raw (with Preston Sprinkle), Church Grammar (by Brandon Smith), and Split Frame of Reference (about egalitarianism). For history podcasts, I like Revolutions, History of World War II, History of Byzantium, and History of Yugoslavia. For political podcasts, you can’t go past Quilette and Spiked.

Cooking

For breakfast, Vegemite on toast with avocado.

Lunch option, try cannellini soup, easy, tasty, and healthy.

Dinner, I’ve learned how to make buffalo wings and fish tacos – never disappoints anyone.

January 13, 2020

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd once appeared on the talk show Q&A where he was asked by a member of the audience why he, as a Christian, doesn’t believe what Jesus says in the Bible about marriage being a divinely sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman. His reply was curt and forceful version of a reductio absurdum argument: “Well mate, if I was gonna have that view, the Bible says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St. Paul said in the New Testament, ‘Slaves be obedient to your masters.’ Therefore, we should have all fought for the confederacy in the US civil war.” Rudd deployed the Pauline household codes with their recognition of the normalcy of slavery as a way of showing that biblical mandates are culturally contingent and therefore potentially replaceable with an ethical paradigm that is better informed by contemporary sciences and still upholds the basic love command of the New Testament.

The NT household codes prescribe the order of relations between masters, wives, children, and slaves (see Col 3:18–4: 1; Eph 5:22–6: 9; 1 Tim 2:9–15; Tit 2:2–10; 1 Pet 2:13–3:7; For the post-apostolic period see Did. 4.9-11; Barn. 19.5-7; 1 Clem. 1.3-2.1; 21.3-9).

It is widely acknowledged that the NT household codes were largely borrowed from Greco-Roman cultural norms and were adopted for Christian households for the purpose of promoting familial order and social cohesion. The problem is that application of these texts to our own setting is not straight forward. Christians today do not live within a Greco-Roman environment where the household codes were formulated and esteemed. Christians generally prefer social orders that are egalitarian rather than hierarchical. Even Christian complementarians who support male headship would not espouse the patriarchal powers normally given to a household’s paterfamilias including the power of life and death over all members. Contemporary Christian expectations of the manner a child’s obedience to his or her parents are markedly different as to what they were in the Greco-Roman world. Christians today overwhelmingly abhor the idea of slavery and usually have had a reformist or abolitionist stance towards its practice. Thus it is legitimate to ask how we are to understand and appropriate the NT household codes for ourselves while recognizing the normative nature of biblical commands and the complexities of applying them in diverse contexts.

One approach for us to consider, at least as a conversation starter, is William Webb’s redemptive-movement hermeneutic.[1] Webb attempts to set up a hermeneutical method by which we can discern which biblical commands remain in force and which biblical commands do not. He does that by observing how biblical texts compare with their broader culture and how they sound within the development of the canon and then applying the developmental pattern to how Christians can now apply biblical commands in their own culture. In which case, Webb plots a way to go beyond the Bible while still following what he sees as biblically defined trajectories.[2]

In the case of the household codes, Webb argues that the theological analogies about Christ’s headship over the church as a basis for male headship over women in Eph 5:22-24 and 1 Cor 11:3 are not necessarily transcultural. That is because similar theological analogies are used to justify slavery and submission to a monarchy in other biblical texts. To prove his point further he says that no man would use God’s command for Hosea to expose Gomer to disgrace as a model for husbands disciplining their wives (see Hosea 2). Male headship may continue to be practiced for pragmatic reasons in instances where physical protection and economic dependence are the norm, but the transcultural aspect here is that husbands and wives are to love and serve each other sacrificially.[3] On the submission of children to parents, Webb believes that some dimension of hierarchy between parents and children is normative in all cultures due to the dependency of children on their parents. Cultural factors in the ancient world meant that such submission would be life-long, whereas such cultural factors do not exist in the present time, with the result that adult children should be expected to honour rather than obey their parents.[4] In the case of slavery, Webb maintains that Scripture does not present a finalized ethic in the area of slavery, but establishes a reformist approach to the institution even when it is treated as normal. Moreover, the NT remarks about slavery logically entail a trajectory for a better ethic that calls for the abolition of slavery. What is more, the idea that employee-employer relationships are an application of master-slave relationships is a misnomer; there is simply no fitting analogy for the application of slavery to our modern context. The application we should make is to follow the biblical trajectory and work to abolish modern slavery and slave-like conditions throughout the world.[5]

[1] William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001).

[2] On the idea of having an ethic that is “better” than the Bible, Webb has courted much criticism. See Thomas R. Schreiner. “William J. Webb’s Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: A Review Article,” SBJT 6 (2002) 46–65; Wayne Grudem. “Review Article: Should We Move Beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic? An Analysis of William J. Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis,” JETS 47 (2004) 299–346; Benjamin Reaoch, Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2012).

[3] Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals, 188-90, 213-16, 248-50.

[4] Ibid., 212.

[5] Ibid., 247-48.

May 4, 2018

For me, it was reading Romans 16, noting all the women that Paul mentions, noting what he describes them doing, that brought me to the egalitarian position.

A couple of great things on the women of Romans 16 has just been published.

First, over at Commonweal, Michael Peppard has an article on Household Names: Junia, Phoebe, and Prisca in Early Christian Rome. After analysing the women mentioned, he points out: “For those keeping score, that’s five evangelistic “workers” and one “apostle” among the women Paul greets at Rome—not counting the “minister” carrying the letter itself.”

Second, British scholar, Dr. Paula Gooder, is about to release her debut historical novel called Phoebe, about the letter-carrier nominated in Romans 16. Looks like one to read! Here’s the blurb:

Sometime around 56 AD, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome. His letter was arguably his theological masterpiece, and has continued to shape Christian faith ever since. He entrusted this letter to Phoebe, the deacon of the church at Cenchreae; in writing to the church that almost surely met in her home, Paul refers to her both as a deacon and as a helper or patron of many. But who was this remarkable woman?

In this, her first work of fiction, Biblical scholar and popular author and speaker Paula Gooder tells Phoebe’s story – who she was, the life she lived and her first-century faith – and in doing so opens up Paul’s theology, giving a sense of the cultural and historical pressures that shaped Paul’s thinking, and the faith of the early church.

Written in the gripping style of Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean, and similarly rigorously researched, this is a book for everyone and anyone who wants to engage more deeply and imaginatively with Paul’s theology – from one of the UK’s foremost New Testament scholars.

 

January 25, 2018

I have been long convinced by Scripture and by experience that God has poured out his Spirit on all flesh, upon men and women, young and old, and every ethnic group there is, to gift the church with the ministries and offices that it needs for its mission.

This is why I encourage women in ministry, especially in academic ministries involving administration, teaching, or researching.

John Piper has enunciated a position whereby it is inappropriate for women to hold a teaching position at a seminary. I think Piper is trying to be a consistent complementarian here, so this should hardly be surprising. To his credit he affirms that women should get a seminary education, his tone is certainly not acidic, and I see no point in making vitriolic responses against him.

But I do disagree with him.

First, a seminary is not a church, it is not governed like a church, nor does it have the same form and function of a church. This is precisely why some complementarians are very comfortable with having women teach in a seminary.

Second, more importantly, women have always had a vital part in the kerygmatic and didactic ministries of the church.

The first witnesses of the risen Jesus were women and the first proclaimers of the resurrection were women (Mt 28.8; Lk 24.8-10; Jn 20.18).

There were female prophets and apostles in the early church (Acts 21.9; Rom 16.7).

There were female house-church leaders in the early church, like Chloe and Nympha (1 Cor 1.11; Col 4.15).

The first person to explain Paul’s letter to the Romans was probably a woman, Phoebe, Paul’s emissary to the Roman churches (Rom 16.1-2).

So I would wholeheartedly affirm that women can and do operate as “models, mentors, and teachers” for their students, whether male or female.For more on this, see my short book: Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry.

Third, I thank God for so many of the great female seminary professors that I know. My own colleagues here at Ridley like Anthea McCall and Jill Firth, and other brilliant women like Lynn Cohick, Mariam Kamell, Amy Peeler, Edwina Murphy, Sarah Harris, Myrto Theocharous and so many more. They are gifted and godly and I am privileged to learn from them and to serve with them!

Fourth, if women should go to seminary as Pastor John agrees, then surely it is fitting that those women are not subjected solely to the authority of men, but have an advocate in female faculty leaders who will voice their perspectives, raise their concerns, and protect them from being ignored, harassed, and subject to unfair treatment. I find it hypocritical that seminaries are happy to accept the money of female seminary students, but are totally unwilling to put a woman in a position where she has the power to protect women from mistreatment by men (whether by administrators, faculty, or other students). Gosh, if you believe in total depravity, and if you read the news (#AndySavage), you cannot trust men to police other men when it comes to women. So it is a pastoral necessity and a duty of care that female students have women role models and women advocates in any faculty. I’m a man and I don’t trust other men to always do right by women. Not because I’m an ultra-left-wing tree-hugging Marxist anarchist with a PhD in postmodern French cinema, but because I’m an evangelical man who believes in the doctrine of sin and who knows what men are like!

My first piece of advice for women preparing for seminary is that you should approach an all-male faculty with the same level of caution you would use sharing a cab ride with Harvey Weinstein. Not because all complementarians are sexual predators – they most definitely are not. Not because they do not genuinely love and value their female students, many do! But for this reason: female seminary students have told me repeatedly that in exclusively male-led environments that they feel invisible and vulnerable, afraid and expendable. Let me add that every woman’s experience of seminary is different, but honest to St. Billy Graham, I have heard this said to me so many times that it cannot be a coincidence. Women preparing for ministry want and need female role models, teachers, advocates, and protectors.

Look, I know I’m yanking the chain of my complementarian friends, but if you don’t believe me, let some women tell you anonymously what it is really like to be a woman at a male-dominated seminary. The results might shock you brothers! In fact, I formally challenge Pastor John Piper, as Chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, to do an anonymous survey of female students and ask them: what is it like to be a female student here, what is the best thing, what is the worst thing, what would you change, and how would having female faculty make it different? And to make ALL the results public! If the complementarian way of all-male faculty is so good for women, and if good Christian women know it, then I say it is time to put up! I’m not trying to turn Pastor John into an egalitarian, but I want to force him to see seminary experience through the eyes of women and for him to process that within the precincts of his own conscience.

My second piece of advice for women going to seminary is that a seminary with female faculty is more likely to make you feel valued rather than tolerated, where you’ll be free to speak rather than worried about being put in your place, where you’ll be encouraged rather than excoriated, where your ministries will be celebrated rather than judged, where your achievements will be recognized rather than relativized, and where your godly ambitions will be nurtured rather than nullified.

To my female colleagues, students, friends, readers, and to my daughters, do not be too discouraged. Some good things are happening to encourage evangelical women in academic ministries:

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has nestled within their Kingdom Diversity Center a Society for Women in Scholarship. Great idea, great women, great initiative from SEBTS!

St. Andrews University has launched the Logia initiative which “seeks to support current female students and staff and encourage women to pursue divinity disciplines at the postgraduate level.” I’m told that they had a great luncheon at the LA Theology conference (see the above photo, credit to @gritabiola).

Ridley College will host in July this year a conference called Finding Her Voice, for which the purpose is to “connect, inspire and develop female theological students, lecturers, tutors, and ministry practitioners in the church and world.” In fact, the women in academia conference we ran last year was our biggest conference, bigger even than our Reformation conference! It’ll be even bigger and better this year. Katya Covrett from Zondervan will be the main speaker! So come from near and far. (Out of irony, I’ve tempted to offer a free copy of John Piper’s excellent book on mission to any woman from an all-male seminary who signs up to come to the Ridley conference – will someone financially back me on this promise?).

Peace!

July 20, 2017

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.

February 12, 2017

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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