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Published Date: June 30, 2006

Book Info

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy

The editors of this large volume of 515 pages have put together twenty-nine essays arranged under five headings: Setting the Stage (the Historical Backdrop); Looking to Scripture (the Biblical Texts); Thinking It Through (Logical and Theological Perspectives); Addressing the Issues (Hermeneutical and Cultural Perspectives); Living It Out (Practical Applications). All are scholarly presentations that are well documented and compellingly written by more than twenty contributors, three by contributing editor Gordon Fee. Fee’s study “Male and Female in the New Creation” is a gem and represents in my estimation a biblical theology that is most faithful to the biblical material among options within the academy. My own research has led me to appreciate more deeply the central work of Christ in creating a new humanity embodied in himself and inaugurating the new creation. This central theme of the New Testament, where Jew and gentile, slave and free, and male and female are described as gathered into one new humanity in Christ (Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:13-15), each one gifted by the Holy Spirit, provides a common ground for evangelicals on the roles of women in ministry. Again, Fee’s article “The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry” is biblically on center. Indeed, all the essays in this volume assume these motifs and in one way or another affirm the gifting of the Spirit who sovereignly bestows complementary gifts upon believers, without human discrimination. The new humanity embodied in Christ is not characterized by fixed ethnic, generic, or gender roles but by the freedom of the Holy Spirit, who exhibits the power of the inaugurated new creation.

The absence of harsh polemic in the collected essays is commendable and attests the good heart and good will of the contributors. Among the excellent articles in the practical application section, I was particularly moved by Joan Burgess Winfrey’s “In Search of Holy Joy: Women and Self-Esteem,” a study which moves the heart on a deep issue while presenting a powerful critique of the modern emphasis in developmental psychology on separation, individuation, and autonomy, to the neglect of connection and affiliation. This is a great essay on self-esteem and the relational soul within a Christian context. In this regard, because of a longtime interest in the mutuality of the persons of the Trinity, I found Kevin Giles’ “The Subordination of Christ and the Subordination of Women” a lucid study on the archetypal patterns of the Trinity which corrects the mistaken notion of the eternal subordination of the Son often employed to undergird the asymmetrical subordination of women. Walter Liefield’s essay on “The Nature of Authority in the New Testament” explores the related theme of mutual servanthood, which I see as a fundamental theme originating within the Trinity itself. In regard to Genesis texts and New Testament passages used to support the subordinate status of women, clarifying exegesis is offered by R.K. McGregor Wright, “God, Metaphor, and Gender,” Richard Hess, “Equality With and Without Innocence,” Ronald Pierce, “From Old Testament Law to New Testament Gospel,” and Linda Belleville, “Women Leaders in the Bible” and “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15.” Excellent studies by Aida Besanyon Spencer, Craig Keener, I. Howard Marshall, Peter Davids, Roger Nicole, Stanley Grenz, and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis add to the exegetical studies and provide good background evaluation and bibliographies.

Informative essays on the more recent history of women in ministry are presented by Ruth Tucker, Janette Hassey, William Webb (on slavery and homosexuality), and Sulia Mason and Karen Mason (on abortion as a form of slavery). Concluding the book with practical applications for living it out are essays on the partnership of equals, complementarity, and reconciliation by Judith Balswick and Jack Balswick, Cynthia Neal Kimball, Mimi Haddad and Alvera Mickelsen, and Alice Mathews.

This volume truly represents a landmark in the reclamation of a good word, “complementarity,” from its misuse by the equal-but-unequal school of thought. A formidable collage of scholars with complementary gifts of the Spirit have contributed to a book which is sure to become a primary textbook and resource in the Christian circles of church and academia.