As Christ Submits to the Church

As Christ Submits to the Church November 1, 2011

Those who know the discussions about women in ministry as well as those about the relations of husbands and wives know the name Alan Padgett, and those who don’t know the name need to do (and should have known it). Alan is one of the few theologians who has actually written on most of the debated passages in the Bible about women. And he has given us all a gift in taking all those writings, condensing and clarifying them into one very readable and important book: As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission. I cannot speak enough to the alertness of this book to the history of interpretation, cultural context of each passage, and how to read such a text in the light of a gospel-centered (and he’s on the side of the angels when it comes to “gospel”) approach to the Bible (historical, canonical, and Jesus-centered).

It is impossible to get into each chapter of this book in a single review, unless this were to become tediously long (just to explain how he gets to his conclusions), so I want to emphasize some of the highlights of this exceptional book.

A gospel-shaped view of marriage and women’s ministries is shaped by the pattern of Jesus’ life, which is voluntary surrender to the other, and not shaped by authority and power.

He traces the roots of the present conflict between egalitarians and complementarians, whom he accurately calls man/male-centered leadership [some will see this as harsh; I see it as an accurate description; keep reading], and shows that this isn’t simply a feminist issue but arose in the Reformation (he mentions Argula von Grumbach), the Radical Reformation (he mentions Margaret Fell Fox), and Phoebe Palmer.

Why are we so attracted to “authority” and so afraid of “mutual submission”? What does the life pattern of Jesus tell us about church “hierarchy” and about the ministry of women?

The current heat has been set by Charles Ryrie, then Letha Scanzoni/Nancy Hardesty, Paul K. Jewett, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, the Evangelical Women’s Caucus that broke into two groups, leading many into the Christians for Biblical Equality, and saw responses in George W. Knight, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, et al.

Alan Padgett argues that “role” is a post-feminist term in this way: the first person to argue that men and women are equal in being but different in roles was George Knight (1977). The whole “role” thing then is very modern.

Furthermore, he examines the turn to the Trinity in theology and in this debate: inherent to this debate is that the male-centered complementarians think the Son though equal is eternally submissive/subordinate to the Father. He points to a Syndey diocese conclusion on this, and Padgett, a theologian, knows this view is not in fact orthodox. Kevin Giles, an Aussie, has examined the Trinitarian theology of the complementarians and finds it wanting.

Another major conclusion of Padgett’s, and here I have to do him the disservice of incompletely sketching his view, is that true Christian leadership, including in the home, is servant leadership and servant leadership is nothing other than Christ-following mutual submission. Too many think that men are “servant leaders” and women are servant followers, but Padgett argues persuasively that biblical servant leadership takes its shape in the pattern of the life of Jesus, who became a slave (temporarily) for the good of the other. And this is exactly what Paul means by mutual submission in Ephesians 5, and in that passage Jesus is the example, not of leadership or lordship, but of servant-like mutual submission. In effect, Jesus deconstructs authoritarian shapes of leadership and offers a brand new way for his followers: mutual submission for the good of the other.

Padgettt thinks that “the real problem with complementarian views is their man-centered notion of authority” (32). They have anchored authority in gender. Role expresses character, if and you connect submissiveness to role one connects it to character. [This is a monstrous reduction of a fine discussion by Padgett.]

Crucial to this book is Padgett’s breakdown of the meanings of “submission.” There are two types: Type I is involuntary obedience to an external authority; Type II is biblical: voluntary submission to another person out of love for the that person for the good of that person.

Christ “submits” to the Church in that he voluntarily, and temporarily, surrendered his status, took on the form of a slave, and worked for the good of humans out of love. That is what it means for a husband to be a “leader” and that is what mutual submission is all about.

Padgett finds examples outside of Ephesians 5, and he points — to take but one example — to 1 Cor 7:3-4: “3 The husband should meet his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should do the same for her husband. 4 The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This is mutual submission and surrender to one another for the good of the other. It is not coercion; it is not Type I but Type II.

I rest my case with this, but want you to know that he has sketches of his views of Ephesians 5, Philippians 2, 1 Corinthians 11 (bottom-up reading) and 14 (innovative views here including that the silence passage is both authentic and connected to one kind of silence), 1 Tim 2 (he’s into typology here), the later NT epistles (which he thinks partake at times more, for social reasons, of a Type I view of submission)


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