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Stackhouse’s Paradigm

2007 June 26
by Mike

So here’s the problem: sometimes the Bible sounds egalitarian and sometimes (perhaps even more often) it sounds complementarian/patriarchal. How can a person be honest to both perspectives? That’s what Stackhouse is asking.

He presents a paradigm that makes the best sense to him of the varied evidence.

His first principle in the paradigm is equality. As he looks at the creation story and then especially the ministry of Jesus and the events of Pentecost, he concludes: “God originally intended women and men to be coequal partners in stewarding the earth, without role differentiation, and he has never rescinded that mandate. Indeed in God’s renewal of all things, in his great salvation plan to restore shalom, men and women will treat each other as they were intended to treat each other. We already see this renewed order in the inbreaking of the kingdom evident in the New Testament.”

But what about passages that seem to sit in contrast to that vision — passages that seem to be patriarchal? That leads to a second principle in the paradigm: some things matter more than others, or what Stackhouse calls “holy pragmatism.”

God works within human limitations. In the Old Testament, you just have to think of polygamy. “God is willing to forgo the achievement of secondary objectives in the interest of furthering his primary purposes, and he expects us to do the same.” (More on this later.)

The third principle concerns eschatology. “What . . . would our understanding of gender look like if we took the ‘already but not yet’ principle seriously? What if we were to expect, instead of one extreme or the other, an appropriately paradoxical situation: a slow and partial realization of gospel values here and there, as God patiently and carefully works his mysterious ways along the multiple fronts of kingdom advance?”

He asks us to observe what missionaries have always known: “Missionaries of every era and locale often have practiced this policy. There was no point in undertaking a quixotic crusade against a deeply entrenched social evil when the church was tiny and young. Better to grow the church and then permeate society with gospel values, with the long-term hope of ameliorating or even revolutionizing what was wrong.”

Why does Paul sometimes sound like he believes in male leadership and sometimes like he’s an egalitarian? According to Stackhouse (and I agree), it’s because of “prudent instruction as to how to survive and thrive” in the patriarchal culture of that day. But he also promotes “the egalitarian dynamic already at work in the career of Jesus that in due course will leave gender lines behind.”

Here’s the conclusion of this paradigm:

“When society was patriarchal, as it was in the New Testament context and as it has been everywhere in the world except in modern society in our day, the church avoided scandal by going along with it — fundamentally evil as patriarchy was and is. Now, however, that modern society is at least officially egalitarian, the scandal is that the church is not going along with society, not rejoicing in the unprecedented freedom to let women and men serve according to gift and call without arbitrary gender line. This scandal impedes both the evangelism of others and the edification — the retention and development of faith — of those already converted.”

More manana.

55 Responses leave one →
  1. dalo permalink
    June 27, 2007

    dixie – that answer did not “suck” at all. Well stated. Only…about Christ. When we really REALLY love someone deeply we will do things for them that are not of our own comfort – like our kids. And when we know it will bring them joy or bring them help or comfort – even if it is hard or painful we do it with joy! Knowing…sounds like Hebrews 12:1-2 – “endured the cross…despising the pain/shame”… I don’t pretend to understand how He could but in our limited view perhaps we get an inkling of it all…

  2. June 27, 2007

    When we really REALLY love someone deeply we will do things for them that are not of our own comfort

    Amen. This is why I would never tell a woman that she cannot speak what the Holy Spirit lays on her heart, spontaneously lead a song of praise, or begin to pray in a mixed assembly of believers. I love my sister too much! Even if I am not comfortable with it (hypothetically speaking), I allow the Spirit to speak through whomever he/she wills (as if it is I who allow such a thing). Truth be told, none of this is actually about us at all.

  3. dalo permalink
    June 27, 2007

    wow….talk about taking something completely out of context! My! Of course you wouldn’t tell them that – but Paul would…AND MORE IMPORTANTLY DID!

  4. June 27, 2007

    dalo- No, I smelled what you were stepping in all along. I just decided to throw a curveball — you know, the old switcharoo. Forgive me. =)

    Allow me to share a scenario from my life. We have often “done church” around a table, first-century style. Worship … prayer … scripture … sharing … casual conversation are simply peppered throughout a meal. In other words, there’s really no beginning and end of the “5 acts of worship” (in fact, if we only get 2 or 4 in there, we don’t sweat it…). It’s all worship, from the casual conversation about sports to a moving testimony.

    Basically, it’s a family meal with Christ in our midst. Everyone participates — even the ones with brown hair. To be honest, we’re in and out of each other’s lives so much during the week, this special meal is really just an extension of lives lived with Christ. Personally, I can’t think of a more “real” manifestation of the Christian family, so you can see where conversations about who can and can’t participate in these times are found wanting. In a family, with Christ as the head, the body is built up only when “each part does its work” each time we assemble (Eph 4).

    I take that to mean EACH PART — every last part. Even the ones with brown hair, red shirts, or tattoos.

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