Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism is a challenging, extraordinary work. The first thought many readers might have when they see the title of this book is “A conservative case for egalitarianism? What!?” Yet that is exactly what this is. John G. Stackhouse, Jr. presents a case for egalitarianism that will challenge those on either side of the issue to rethink various aspects of their view.
The book is organized around a number of chapters, each of which is quite short. Each chapter’s title basically states what the goal of that chapter is. For example, a chapter entitled “Counterarguments from Church History” presents counterarguments to Stackhouse’s position from, well, church history. The organization is helpful, though it should not be mistaken for a license to jump around within the book. The case made herein is progressive and builds up over the course of the whole book.
Central to Stackhouse’s model is the notion that complementarians and egalitarians often talk past each other or fail to recognize the genuine concerns and possible insights from the “other side.” Thus, he challenges egalitarians to take more seriously the arguments for maintaining complementarity in gender, while he pushes complementarians to realize how often their case is based on presupposition rather than the biblical texts themselves. In other words, Stackhouse is going to make you uncomfortable, no matter what your position is. And, frankly, that’s a good thing. I’m a staunch egalitarian who used to be just as entrenched a complementarian, and it was good for me to have a book that challenged the assumptions I’m working under now. I think that effectively any reader could benefit from Stackhouse’s approach, even in disagreement.
The breadth of topics the book addresses makes it an excellent resource. Church history, theology, exegesis, modern social science, and more are each pieces of evidence that is brought forward to shed light on the issue. Particularly interesting was the chapter “Why, then, Do Women Not Lead?” which answered the question with a number of arguments from social science to theology. This kind of integrated approach is used beneficially throughout the book.
A disadvantage of the way the book is organized is that there is little space to dedicate to individual exegesis. Make no mistake, this is not the strongest egalitarian case from the Bible that can be made. It is an introduction to the full scope and depth of egalitarian arguments, yes, but it should not be mistaken for the most powerful argument possible.
Stackhouse’s ultimate conclusion is that women should be allowed the same roles in leadership in the church and home as men are allowed to fulfill. Again, this is not to say he will not challenge those who agree with this conclusion. I was taken aback by how fair and balanced this case was, and I know of no other book that presents as broad an introduction to such a complex topic as this one. I highly recommend Partners in Christ to you.
+Will challenge virtually every reader
+Excellent case, in brief, for egalitarianism
+Addresses wide variety of topics, arguments, and counter-arguments
-Quite brief on several key points
-Concedes the notion of the “feminization of worship”
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher. I was not required to write any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
John G. Stackhouse, Jr. Partners in Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).
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