Michelle Lee-Barnewall (Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Talbot School of Theology) recently wrote and published Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Gender Debate. We wanted to learn more about this book, so we had Michelle respond to some questions:
Michelle, we hear you have a new book out. What is the title, and what is the book about?
The book is called Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Gender Debate (Baker Academic, 2016). The debate is currently presented as a choice between complementarianism and egalitarianism with their respective themes of authority/leadership and equality. I argue that this presents significant limitations and that we need to do more to integrate themes such as unity, love, sacrifice, humility, holiness, and a theology of “reversal,” which you see in verses such as “the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16).
Who is your target audience and how will they benefit from reading the book?
It’s primarily aimed at anyone interested in the gender debate, whether at the academic, pastoral, or lay level, particularly those who would like to explore options beyond the current complementarian/egalitarian divide. In addition, I hope it would be helpful to anyone with questions about gender (specifically the relationships between men and women) and its relevance to the body of Christ.
What led you to write the book?
I became interested in pursuing the topic when I began to realize that the two current positions, while helpful in their own ways, were nevertheless leaving me with the sense that something was still missing. I was also concerned with what I saw were some unintended consequences of each position, from women sometimes feeling undervalued in the complementarian position to the combativeness and divisiveness that could emerge from the egalitarian side. I wanted to explore whether there could be another way to examine the issue that could also help address some of these problems.
Can you share with our readers a small excerpt from the book?
This excerpt comes from the Introduction, where I discuss the need for rethinking the gender issue.
As evangelical Christians, we often want to know what we can or cannot do, or what we should or should not do. As the gender debate has concentrated on specific activities, it runs the same risk of creating a theology defined by an external pattern of prohibitions and allowances. Various biblical and theological arguments are brought to bear to support a theology that concentrates on form and praxis, and in particular, as related to individuals. As a result, the discussion is dominated by practical questions such as “Can women be elders?” “Can women teach men?” and “Do men make the final decision in marriage?”
I understand the need to address the practical questions, but I also ask whether there is room to suspend them for a moment to reexamine Scripture without these predetermined goals. To use a modern analogy, we can easily see the problems of a theology of spiritual formation grounded on a question such as “Can Christians drink/smoke/gamble and so on?” These questions are formed by our desire to know precisely how to live, but if we present them as our starting point, we take a shortcut that causes us to miss the larger picture and perhaps do more harm in the long run. Not many people would say that Christian spirituality is defined simply by conformity to external rules, and the same is true in a theology of gender.
The focus on authority, leadership, equality, and rights tends to lead to yes or no answers that do not prompt deeper questioning. It is not that these do not matter, but rather that there is a way to reconsider them. The New Testament can reorient us in the purpose and implications of our new identity in Christ, including the corporate dimension as the people of God in relationship with him and with one another.
In this book, I propose the need to step back for a moment from the pressing questions of the day to ask whether they represent the best way to approach the issue.
In a sentence or two, what is the main “TAKE AWAY” you want your readers to get from your new book?
Instead of thinking we only have a choice between the two positions as they are currently understood, we can explore the issue in a new way. In addition to the dominant themes of equality, rights, authority, and leadership, other themes such as unity, love, sacrifice, humility, holiness, and a theology of “reversal” have the potential to reshape the gender discussion in powerful ways.