When it comes to discerning what male-female relationship looks like within churches, there are two popular evangelical approaches that dominate the conversation. The first might be called a church-centered lens in which everything is viewed through church-centered practices and meaning. The second approach we might call a marriage-centered lens in which everything is viewed through the marital relationship.
This new book, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate, falls within the church-centered lens. The author, Michelle Lee-Barnewall strives to find biblical reasons for a middle ground between complementarianism and egalitarianism, the divided evangelical camps over women as ordained leaders. She wants to breathe a breath of fresh air into the stalemate between complementarians and egalitarians.
She believes there is biblical justification for not taking either side. She carefully argues for bigger and grander themes using biblical themes of the kingdom and unity to reframe entrenched ruts within the egalitarian-complementarian divide. I can see how her passion to honor biblical authority within this debate would appeal to evangelicals who are on the biblical fence as it were, seeing positive biblical reasons for both sides. Christianity Today recently posted a favorable review of the book from an anglican female priest.
I don’t want to do an in-depth review but make a few observations about the book. A both/and approach immediately resonates with me. I have been in the evangelical camp for thirty-five years and in the past fifteen years or so, I have jettisoned many evangelical “either/or” postures on issues about a wide range of topics including how Christians are to revere and interpret the Bible itself. I am solidly within the both/and on many issues when we come to the Bible. I applaud Lee-Barnewall’s courage for seeking a both/and approach on this issue. She is quite brave for seeking a constructive move past a rigid either/or posture.