If you couldn’t tell from my update post, the topic of gender and Christianity is something that I am very intrigued by. The last book I reviewed from Baker Academic- Paul and Gender by Cynthia Westfall focused on the Apostle Paul’s theological corpus, and how his references to Gender have been inappropriately applied. A combination of a western worldview and ecclesiological tradition has neglected the context of these gender passages by cherry-picking “proof texts” only to develop an exegetically inaccurate doctrine, both demeaning and hierarchical. You can read my review of that book here if you’d like.
This review of Michelle Lee-Barnewall’s new book Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate bravely elevates the conversation to a new level of thinking by offering what she calls “a kingdom corrective” as an alternative to the already established schools of thought. Not only is her corrective argument informative, but also unapologetic, respectful, and simultaneously free of pompous candor or dogmatic assertions. This book is refreshing glass of water for the theologically parched, and a breath of fresh air for the either/or way of thinking that has brought hostile disunity to the church.
My review for this book will be a little different then my recent reviews. I will not expand in summary as I have prior, but not due to any form of laziness. The reason being that the kingdom perspective Lee-Barnewall argues for is what I consider to be an enormous contribution to the ongoing gender debate. Of every book I’ve reviewed, this is my highest recommendation for anyone willing to approach a new framework that goes beyond the egalitarian or complementarian sides of the coin. If you are even the slightest bit familiar with the conversation then this book will be beneficial, which is why I highly encourage all who are reading this to consider purchasing it. All that to say my review will be more reflective rather than informative, hoping that my ambiguity will intrigue you enough to consider reading it. Maybe we can even dialogue about it on here! Either way, I have a copy and would love to let anyone borrow it who is interested, but doesn’t have the funding. Comment on here and I’m sure we can work something out.
You might be asking yourselves why am I holding this book in such high regard, or what do I mean exactly by a kingdom perspective? In an attempt to answer both questions, and as I touched on earlier, Lee-Barnewall’s intent is to offer an alternative perspective to the traditional camps of thought—egalitarian and complementarian—persuading the reader to adopt an altogether different framework. Similar to how the contributions of James Dunn and E.P. Sanders new perspective on Paul contributions provided a new framework to Pauline scholarship, Lee-Barnewall’s kingdom perspective provides the new framework to the gender debate by exploring different categories and asking different questions from the traditional framework
***Before you say anything, remember that my analogy is regarding the new framework for the topic at hand, not a comparison of Lee-Barnewall to Sanders’ or Dunn’s work on the new perspective on Paul. If you are unfamiliar with the New Perspective on Paul you can click here to go to a page with what the new perspective entails.
From the books I’ve read on the Bible and gender, this work is unique to its predecessors. The complementarian and egalitarian views have limited the gender debate’s development, and have made the categories of authority, leadership, and rights the prioritized discussion points, resulting in the decline of its potential value. Though research and publication has continued to grow in this field, it still strays from any attempt of a kingdom framework concerning men and women in the church. If we are to live out our lives in a manner where the Kingdom of Heaven is a present reality, we need to alleviate any presuppositions that come with the traditional schools of thought, and make room for a new approach to this present reality from which we can (and should) build from. Below are two quotes from the book better explaining the point I am trying to make:
“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. . . . While our current questions [e.g. are all leadership positions open to both genders?] have a definite practical value, are there other questions we should be asking, ones that are more foundational to the topic? In other words, can we gain a more robust role of gender in the kingdom of God, which may then help to answer more specific questions?” (13).
If we can see how this rising individualism impacted the way that evangelicals thought about gender, it is worth considering whether we have adequately examined the biblical view of gender. Perhaps we should ask whether there are other aspects of understanding gender that we have not yet considered fully because we have focused our attention too narrowly on issues related to these social trends” (65).
The book lays Lee-Barnewall’s argument out twofold. Part One focuses on the historical developments of the traditional views over the past century. This sheds light on social norms of specific time frames (i.e. the growth of individualism in the 50’s and attention to equal rights in the 60’s), giving the reader a historical timeline of this conversation, which in turn supports the necessity for a new framework. Why? because the conversation’s direction is a result of that time’s culture. The social trends of the 50’s and 60’s influenced the gender conversation because they influenced those decades interpretation of scripture—much like how the racial injustices and hate crimes of the late 80’s and early 90’s influenced the jurors of the O.J. Simpson case; at least that’s how the FX series portrays it.
This lays the ground work for Part Two of the book, where Lee-Barnewall begins mapping out her kingdom corrective, following with how a new framework for the gender debate would affect the church today in ministry and marriage. This portion of the book can be described by asking a question—when we think of ministry or marriage, should the discussion revolve around authority and equality within the body of Christ? Or better yet, does disputing passages for the purpose of authority reflect the “already/not yet” kingdom we are citizens of? The afterward is written by Lynn Cohick and it praises Lee-Barnewall’s arguments. She also offers five different avenues to help move the gender discussion forward, which was very much appreciated.
This book is a gem that will undoubtedly promote healthy questions and kinder dialogue. It is a “new contender” in the egalitarian/complementarian ring and, for this point alone, should not be removed from your Amazon shopping cart. I believe wrestling with her arguments will be profitable to the gender debate, allowing the reader’s self-awareness usher in Christ-like humility before making any assumptions of other views. Whether or not you agree with her movement to pursue a different framework, there is still much to be taken from this book. In addition to this, the book received an award from Christianity Today, and to honor this they have it available for a discounted rate in store. I would encourage those in the Grand Rapids area to get a copy, but you can also order it online for $22.99 here.
Disclaimer: I was NOT provided a review copy of this book, but was offered one in exchange for an honest review. I went out to buy this book the minute I heard about it, and did not want to wait for shipping before I could start reading.