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Finished reading: Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism by John G. Stackhouse Jr.


I put this one on my Amazon wishlist after reading a few posts on Scot McKnight’s blog about it. Shortly thereafter my Mom bought it for me for my birthday. Thanks Mom!

I appreciate the direction Dr. John Stackhouse takes with Partners in Christ. He wants to maintain a faithful, high view of Scripture; not to dismiss difficult passages or write them off, but to look at the Scripture as a whole and try to come to a position on male/female roles/dynamics in the church.

The title gives his conclusion away: Stackhouse comes down on the side of egalitarianism – in other words, that men and women should have equal standing and ability to have leadership roles in the church. But wait, the reader will say, what about 1 Timothy 2 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”) or 3 (“an Elder shall be the husband of one wife”)? Well, Stackhouse counters, what about 1 Cor 11 which assumes that women will be praying and prophesying? Or about Priscilla, who with her husband Aquila taught Apollos? Or Junia, who is mentioned among “the apostles” in Romans 16?

Stackhouse has an interesting approach here, which on first read makes a lot of sense – that God has an ideal end state in mind, and that at each era through history he has revealed himself and his will in ways that would stretch his people toward that end state without snapping them past the breaking point.

So, in the Old Testament, God reveals himself to the Israelites as a god in many ways different, though in many ways similar to the gods of the countries around them. He establishes a sacrificial system that is different, not but that different. When Jesus comes, he chooses men as his apostles, because choosing any women would’ve been a challenge past the stretching point of the culture. Still, he challenged the status quo by treating women more as equals than anyone in that culture would have.

So, Stackhouse argues, while Paul writes directing how men would be leaders in the church, that direction isn’t intended to be fixed for all time, but was the accommodation of the church to the culture at the time.

Stackhouse acknowledges that some will want to take this argument and run with it down other controversial paths, e.g. the debate over homosexuality. He differentiates that case by saying that the Bible appears to be progressively loosening on the gender equality issue, while staying consistent in its position regarding homosexuality.

I’m gonna need to do a re-read and think through it some more, but I appreciated Dr. Stackhouse’s take here. Worth a read if you’re interested in the subject.

One Comment

  1. Daniel Garner Daniel Garner

    This is an argument George MacDonald uses to good effect (progressive revelation), except that MacDonald has the good sense not to anticipate the final answer. Now, I am in favor of women in church leadership with one or two caveats (and elsewhere with no caveats), a position I have revisited several times. It is telling to me that, all of the biblical arguments for women in leadership I have seen recently seem to hinge on three arguments. 1. Women were prophets (yep, no progressive revelation there, that predated the Christ by at least a thousand years). 2. Women should be deacons (yep, there were deaconesses in Paul’s time, and, Timothy, on the most direct reading of the Greek- and here I follow Swindol- provided for deaconesses.) 3. Women were dealt with differently because of culture. I have a great deal of difficulty with the cultural cop out, in part because it is partly true. Some parts of the restrictions on women (I Cor 11) were cultural. So, very soon after that was written, was burning, crucifiying and feeding Christian’s to lions. Christian thought leaders seem to miss the logical end of the cultural arguments. (Eusebius, for treatment of early Christians) Still, few of us see the need for head coverings etc.

    So, women can do anything in leadership, right? Well, Timothy is quite lucid in his leadership instructions, and provides for deaconesses, but never mentions women elders. Paul never mentions women elders. Lest we get caught back in the cultural web, there were women leading at every level of the Roman empire, and Paul had met women who were in secular leadership roles, and who had joined the church.

    What then? Well, for starters, I believe that every office in the church except elder is open to women, on an equal basis to men. For very many churches, this represents a major change, and it should be made.

    That leaves the elder thing. Relatively few churches actually follow the biblical model for church leadership, and I have come to the point where, if you aren’t going to follow the Bible on leadership and discipline, there isn’t any point in bringing it up to block women.

    On the other hand, there are a few churches that do follow the biblical description for church leadership. Every one of them that fully follows that description that I am aware of has a powerful impact on their communities, including one in Dubai! While I have never been intimately involved in any of these churches, (none are in my community) I do know women in these churches. One is the Children’s Pastor, but is not an elder, and it is not an option in her church. She is one of the most contented people I know.

    Anecdotes do not data make, but I am deeply suspicious that if we led our churches per the Bible, this issue would largely disappear. Being an elder is not a prestige job, and is generally unpaid, so it is more of a glass basement than a glass ceiling.

    I am open to further discussion on this, as my position has changed substantially over the last years, and I am far from settled on it.

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