Friday, June 24, 2011

Finally Feminist by John Stackhouse

I read this book a couple of times before I decided to start this blog and write about what I was thinking through. However, before I got to re-reading it, I read How I Changed My Mind About Women In Leadership, edited by Alan Johnson, and came across a nice summary of Finally Feminist in Bonnie Wurzbacher’s chapter. Because I’m lazy she’s done a good job of capturing the essence of Stackhouse’s argument, I’m going to quote her rather than trying to work out how to say it better:

“Stackhouse concludes that both God and Paul promoted the temporary accommodation of Christianity to the patriarchy of the time, because nothing was (or is) more important than advancing the gospel. To do so, in that time and place, would likely have interfered with this purpose.

But what about the church in our culture today? Stackhouse concludes that today we now face exactly the opposite problem in our country (and other countries that no longer espouse a patriarchal culture). In other words, by not embracing women in leadership roles, the western church is actually impairing the advancement of the gospel in their own countries” (page 262.)

It sounds quite blunt when summarised apart from the introduction, in which Stackhouse stresses that he doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, he argues that there may not be definitive answers for us in this lifetime. Our task, he writes, is not to wait until we have this issue all figured out so that we can move on to the next problem. Rather, we are to “dwell on the Bible, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the church; to make the best decision one can make about what Scripture means; and then to respond to it in faith, obedience and gratitude”. This means “remaining continually open to refinement of one’s interpretations and even to the acceptance of quite different positions as the Holy Spirit gives one more light” (both quotes from page 24).

I was convicted by this attitude of humility. In an article I recently found, Ian Morgan Cron suggests that there are five words that could save the church: “...but I could be wrong”. I don’t like admitting that I might be wrong, and I really don’t like admitting that those people might be right. I need to continue repenting of my pride and soak in this message until I’m wrinkly with its truth. I’m pretty sure that right now God’s more concerned with how I approach my research into this topic in particular than with what I discover from it. This “continually open” attitude also means that this isn’t an issue I’ll ever be able to pack away in my ‘solved’ box, never to look at again; there’s no issue I’ll ever be able to pack away in my ‘solved’ box, never to look at again. As someone who writes up retrospective to-do lists purely for the joy of crossing all of the (already completed) tasks off it so that I can bask in the gigantic sense of accomplishment, this was an especially painful revelation.

And that was just the introduction!

I really, really like this book. I relate to Stackhouse’s frustrations with the arguments commonly presented in books on the gender issue: “No one I had read (and I had read quite a few) could put all the relevant texts together into a single, finished puzzle with no pieces left over, with none manufactured to fill in gaps, and with none forced into place” (page 23). Stackhouse doesn’t work through each of the ‘difficult’ passages, trying to mould them to fit the egalitarian view, so I had fewer squirmy moments than I often do while reading books on this topic. I also agree with his theology, so no bending was required to line it up with mine. I think his argument makes a lot of sense of the patriarchy found throughout the Bible, history and our culture today. At first I thought this book was a good place to start in thinking about the gender issue; I’m starting to think it’s actually a good place to end up.

But I’m open to other suggestions...


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