In years past, the gender debates among evangelicals have focused largely on the interpretation of key biblical texts. Complementarians have presented their interpretation of of the Bibleâ€™s teaching, and Egalitarians have presented theirs.In recent years, however, a new line of argument has been emerging among those of an egalitarian bent. According to a recent book review by S. M. Hutchens in Touchstone magazine, this new approach appears in John G. Stackhouseâ€™s 2005 book Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender. Hutchens writes:
The problem for egalitarian theologians has become associated less with particular passages of Scripture as with the Scriptures considered as a whole. . . [For Stackhouse] patriarchy is an interim measure that God has, in â€œholy pragmatism,â€ ordained for humankind in its sinful and ignorant nonage, and from which he intends it to become extricated as it ventures further into the life, knowledge, and love of the genderless Godâ€”presented in male terms in Scripture because of the cultural captivity of the world and the Church to patriarchalism.
According to Hutchensâ€™ review of Stackhouseâ€™s book, Paul and other writers in scripture do teach patriarchy. The problem is not that complementarians have misunderstood Paulâ€™s teaching. The problem is that complementarians have not been able to move beyond Paulâ€™s teaching to the egalitarian ideal that God desires, despite what Paul has written.
If Hutchens is correct, then Stackhouseâ€™s approach is not unlike William Webbâ€™s infamous â€œredemptive movement hermeneuticâ€ (RMH) which has taken the evangelical world by storm. Webb argues in his book Slaves, Women, & Homosexuals, that partriarchy in the Bible (including the writings of Paul) is but an interim ethic, an imperfect state of affairs that an RMH can cure. Webbâ€™s RMH enjoins readers to move beyond pesky Pauline commands such as â€œI do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a manâ€ and to realize that God has a more perfect will that Paulâ€™s patriarchalism often falls short of. Thus we should move beyond Paulâ€™s teaching so that we can realize Godâ€™s hitherto undisclosed (but more perfect) will.
The bottom line is that Webb and other egalitarians relativize the teaching of Paul in certain texts (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:12; 1 Corinthians 11:3) so as to make way for Paulâ€™s teaching in egalitarian-friendly texts (e.g. Galatians 3:28). So folks like Webb (and apparently Stackhouse) admit that Paul forbids women to teach and exercise authority over men in the church. They just think Paulâ€™s teaching is wrong for todayâ€™s church.
The net effect of this interpretive strategy is the elimination of the authority of scripture by marginalizing the teachings of the apostle Paul. That is why Wayne Grudem responded so forcefully to William Webbâ€™s book in his essay â€œShould We Move Beyond the New Testament to a Better Ethic?â€ Of course Grudem answers this question in the negative, and Hutchens does the same in his evaluation of Stackhouseâ€™s book.
So I commend to you S. M. Hutchensâ€™ clever and critical book review: â€œA Maid To Order Bible.â€ He is right on the mark in his critique, as he recognizes that nothing less than the authority of scripture is at stake in this debate.