Discovering Biblical Equality

Evangelicals today are divided over the issue of gender. One view, known as the 'patriarchal' or 'hierarchical' view, asserts that the Bible confers leadership in home and church on men, while the other, known as the 'egalitarian' or 'evangelical feminist' view, asserts that the Bible confers an equal status on husbands and wives in the home, and allows both men and women equally to exercise leadership in the Church according to their spiritual gifts. This book advocates the second view.

Written by a team of 23 scholars, it presents a clear, competent and comprehensive case for 'biblical equality' in five parts. Part 1 sets the debate in its historical context, arguing that the book's position is not in fact new, nor a reaction to secular feminism, but a recovery of a position which existed in the church prior to the fundamentalist-liberal divide of the earlier part of the 20th century. Part 2 handles the relevant biblical texts. Here, we are reminded of examples of leadership exercised by women in the Bible, given an exposition of its egalitarian principles, and told why the patriarchal elements in texts such as 1 Corinthians 11:2-16; 14.34f.; Colossians 3:18f.; Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Peter 3:1-7 should be taken as specifically related to their contexts, rather than as universally applicable.

Part 3 reflects on some of the theological and logical issues surrounding the position of women, such as Spirit-gifting as the prime requisite for church ministry, the nature of the concept of 'authority' in the NT, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and the questionable consistency of claiming that women are equal to men in being, but not in role.

Part 4 addresses hermeneutical and cultural concerns, including chapters on the related cases of slavery, homosexuality, and abortion. Finally, Part 5 deals with the practical applications of the position adopted in the book, both in the home and in the Church. While the contributors do not always agree among themselves over points of detail, their basic unanimity is impressive. Moreover, their scholarship is of a high standard, their arguments well-presented, and their tone eirenic. This book may well become a classic statement of the 'evangelical feminist' position. All but two of the authors are Americans, and to a large extent the book reflects the lively debate on the issue of feminism in American evangelical circles over the past few decades. Nevertheless, British Christians will benefit from reading this book. Perhaps the chapter most relevant for contemporary British Methodism in particular is that on 'Gender, Equality and Homosexuality', where it is argued that the book's hermeneutical strategy does not, as some people imagine, open the door to an acceptance of homosexual practices. The occasional, context-bound restrictions placed on the role of women in some parts of the Bible are not in the same league as the clear, consistent, and categorical prohibitions of homosexual behaviour found throughout scripture. In short, this is an important publication on an important subject, which I warmly recommend to Headway members.

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