Georgia Book Reviews: Partners in Christ


Book: Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism, by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.*

Summary: A case for being an evangelical who believes in the authority of Scripture and isn’t complementarian.

Recommended By: A rather mixed review on the Gospel Coalition blog. You might not be surprised to learn that I agreed with a lot more of Stackhouse’s points than the TGC blogger…

My Thoughts: I think what I most appreciated about this book was the ‘middle way’ approach Stackhouse takes. He critiques flaws and too-glib arguments in both complementarian and feminist readings of Scripture, and his approach provoked me to take more honest looks at the ‘sticky’ passages regarding the roles of women in Scripture. Although I didn’t always agree with his interpretations– for example, I find a plain reading of Ephesians 5 to be much less supportive of male leadership roles than Stackhouse does even within it’s historical context (a blog subject for another day!)– I appreciate the chance to think critically and consider new perspectives on these passages.

Stackhouse presents the argument that New Testament norms in gender were adapted to their historical context, much in the way the sexual transgression laws of the Old Testament represented not God’s ultimate best standards, but his patience to meet hard-hearted humanity where they were at in their cultural surroundings. This isn’t a particularly ground-breaking argument, but Stackhouse’s approach to it is unique and moderate. His ‘model’ for best synthesizing and understanding the Scripture’s teaching on gender is as follows:
– Principle #1: “That men and women are equal in dignity before God.”
– Principle #2: “Since some things matter more than others, lesser things sometimes must be sacrificed in the interest of the greater. What matters most to God, it seems, is the furtherance of the gospel message.”
-Principle #3: We have “the Christian liberty to give up precisely some of the freedoms won for us in Christ– again, for the sake of a higher good.”
Stackhouse argues that Scripture presents a model of doubleness– affirming certain patriarchal practices and attitudes of the day, while at the same time– sometimes in the same breath– offering a taste, a breath, a reminder of the equality and unity of men and women. Although I don’t always agree with his interpretations or the broader framework he proposes, I think his approach to the task of forming a coherent interpretation from a widely varied body of Scriptural teaching on gender is wise and can be learned from: he is committed to not using ‘pet’ texts from murky passages to support his preconceived views, but instead trying to form a theology that most nearly agrees with the most clear teachings from the broadest passages on the subject. As I work to form a Biblical theology of gender, a task for which I most certainly find myself in flux and often in deep water, I appreciate this wise approach to interpreting, and I pray I can humbly and wisely approach Scripture in a similar way as I work to understand the sometimes-thorny issues surrounding gender and the word of God.

A final point I find very worth considering comes in this quote: “Indeed, as Howard Marhsall pointedly suggests, the very term complementarian may be nonsense: two classes of people are equally capable, but certain leadership roles are reserved to just one of those classes, yet everything else can be done by members of either class– what is ‘complementary’ about that arrangement?” I read this put another way on a blog post (which I’ve unfortunately lost track of since so will have to paraphrase from a very rough memory): “If the positions of pastor and church leader are closed to women by nature of their God-given roles, what positions within the church are correspondingly closed to men? Should men not serve in the nursery? Help with the dishes after a potluck? Offer support and advice to someone making a decision? In what sense do complementarians understand women’s ‘ezer‘ role to be distinct from an man offering their gifts of service and help within the church, such that we could say that man was ‘usurping’ a woman’s role?” Without a coherent answer to this, we are not really discussing women as ‘complementary’, but merely restricted.

*Book linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.

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