"Conversion Narratives" about Gender

Dr. Alan Johnson of Wheaton College has recently produced a new collection of essays on gender. This one is quite new: It offers the testimonies of a wide range of evangelical leaders and scholars—from church leaders Bill & Lynne Hybels to Bible scholar I. Howard Marshall to Coca-Cola executive Bonnie Wurzbacher—as to how each became persuaded of a Biblical feminism, a Christian egalitarianism.

And while you’re buying that book for every pastor, church leader, man, and woman you know, double their joy by buying them this one, too:

To whet your appetite (or to satisfy it, or perhaps to put you off the whole subject entirely), I’m going to include below my own contribution to the former book. But that’s only because it’s the only essay I’m entitled to put before you. Believe me, all the others are much, much better.

How to Produce an Egalitarian Man

by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Let’s get a couple of things straight right away.

First, I’m a man. I have a hairy chest. I used to play on the football team. I like Bruce Willis movies—at least, the ones in which something blows up, which is most of them. I drive too fast. And barbecue is among my favourite cuisines. (By the way, please don’t tell the guys on the football team that I used a word like “cuisines.”)

Second, I was not always an egalitarian. Oh, no. I was raised in an environment to produce quite the opposite. It was not only a Christian home, it was a Focus on the Family-type home. My dad was a surgeon and an athlete and an elder in our Christian (“Plymouth”) Brethren assembly. He was the breadwinner and our status in society and in church derived from him. My mom was a former schoolteacher and now a homemaker and a—well, we didn’t have titles for what women were in the church: she was just one of the “ladies,” as in “Ladies Coffee Hour” meetings, and “Ladies Missionary Society,” and the like, most of which my mother helped to run. So we’ll call her a “Mrs. Elder.” And I was raised in northern Ontario, Canada, in the 1960s and early 70s, a cultural backwater where the waves of feminism were reduced to tiny ripples if ever they lapped up there at all.

So how did I become an egalitarian? Indeed, how did I become an egalitarian who wrote a book (Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender) encouraging other people to become egalitarians?

This conversion experience, so to speak, was like all other important and benign conversion experiences: it was a work of God. We human beings do not have the ability to convert other people in such deep ways. We can’t even convert ourselves to the goodness we would like to attain. So let’s recognize immediately that any deep change in us, such as the change from patriarchalism to egalitarianism, results only from the transformative power of the Holy Spirit of God.

I make this point because sometimes we egalitarians act as if we think this way: “If we can just present the right evidence and the right arguments in the right way, then everyone will agree with us and all will be well.” Then when we try to do so, and our audiences don’t all immediately convert, we redouble our efforts. And when that doesn’t bring in the Kingdom of Peace, we incline to despair—or to bitter disparagement of the hold-outs as stubborn reprobates.

We need to remember that any lasting change of people’s values to those of the Kingdom of God—among which values I do number egalitarianism—is a part of authentic conversion, and conversion is the province of the Holy Spirit, not us. “How to produce an egalitarian man”? Main advice: pray that God will do it.

This isn’t all there is to be said, however. Indeed, let us invoke the monastic motto, ora et labora: “pray—and work.” God calls us to work with him in the spread of the Kingdom. So what work shall we do to cooperate with God in his great work of conversion?

In my case, five kinds of influences made the difference. Two of them had to do with men; three of them had to do with women.

First, I encountered good arguments written by male scholars, articles and books that showed me other ways of understanding the Bible’s teaching on gender. I remember particularly being helped by the writings of Robert Johnston, Ward Gasque, David Scholer, and Berkeley Mickelsen.

As good as these arguments were, however, they were not conclusive. I was still troubled, for example, by the apostle Paul’s reference to the order of creation in his argument in I Timothy 2. That passage, at least, seemed to root patriarchy in God’s original creation (Genesis 2), not in the Fall, in the next chapter of Genesis.

In the course of my theological studies, I came to see that no one could explain I Timothy 2 in a way that was lucid in every detail and consistent with all of the rest of Scripture. Lots of people have tried to explain this passage, and doubtless many think they have solved its several problems. But this important breakthrough for me in my thinking about gender resulted also as a general theological principle: our task as theologians—and, indeed, the task of any responsible Christian—is to do the best we can to understand the Word of God in its multifarious complexity, even as that will sometimes result in an interpretation that does not fit every piece of the puzzle together without strain, leaving no pieces on the table, and certainly not pocketing the inconvenient ones, hoping no one will notice! No, all we can do is what we can do, namely, to submit to the Word of God as we understand it while remaining open to improvement of our interpretation later on. Moreover, while we opt for this or that interpretation among the alternatives, we can recognize that our interpretation might not interpret every single verse and answer every single question better than every one of those alternatives do. Nonetheless, our responsibility is to select among the alternatives that interpretation that we believe does the best job of explaining all of scripture and answering all of the attendant questions. Yes, if we can afford to wait until every puzzle piece slides nicely into place, then we should wait. But in most cases, and the case of gender is one of them, life requires us to make some decisions now so we can act. And that means to choose the best of what interpretations we have available, while admitting that our view is not perfect in every way.

Thus I found the arguments of the egalitarians far more convincing than those of their counterparts. I found that this reading of Scripture makes more sense of more passages than the alternatives—along with the important fact that it also makes more sense of church history and of our contemporary experience in a culture that, for once, is actually trying to treat men and women equally.

Second, I was also helped by the fact that these men were both scholars and evangelicals. They provided, that is, not just arguments, but examples to follow. Their egalitarianism gave me a kind of permission to consider egalitarianism for myself. Indeed, while he wrote very little on the matter, when I found out (I think through a transcription of an interview) that eminent Brethren Bible scholar F. F. Bruce—than whom no intellectual star shone brighter in our little denominational firmament—supported women in public ministry, it deeply impressed me. “If F. F. Bruce thinks so, well, then: I’d better think about this some more.”

This second point, about male role models (for such they were), explains my silly introductory credentials on being a man. Men need other men to show them that it’s okay to be egalitarian. We need to know that we’re not giving up anything truly masculine in changing our attitudes toward women. When so much of our culture (as has every culture heretofore and elsewhere) intertwines genuine masculinity with patriarchy—indeed, with the domination of women, so that a “true man” condescends to women, mocks women, enjoys making use of women, and refuses to be importantly influenced by women—then we men can fear egalitarianism as, in fact, emasculation. This fear helps to explain why so many young North American pastors are recommending machismo as if it is identical with masculinity. (No, it isn’t, guys: Being an aggressive, sexist pig is not the same as being a strong, loving man.) So the example of a hairy-chested, football-playing, fast-driving, barbecue-chomping man can be important in the experience of conversion to egalitarianism. To be sure, I’m pretty confident that F. F. Bruce didn’t fit that particular description. But the general point here is that he was, for me, an admirable Christian man, and thus served powerfully as a role model as I stumbled my way toward Biblical feminism.

As I turn now to the several ways women have helped me, I note immediately that they also, of course, have been providing excellent arguments along the way. Patricia Gundry, Letha Scanzoni, Nancy Hardesty, Alvera Mickelsen, Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Catherine Clark Kroeger, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Ruth Tucker, Janette Hassey, Elaine Storkey—the list goes on of capable women providing excellent arguments that have confirmed and improved my egalitarianism. Beyond these contributions, however, women have played two other important roles in my move from patriarchy to feminism.

In fact, this account is really out of order. Long before I sought out egalitarian arguments against patriarchy, I was being prompted to do so by extended experience that unsettled my reflexive patriarchy. Long before I needed male Christian role models, I was being prepared to entertain and even embrace a different view of gender as I encountered female Christians who were the spiritual equal of men. Indeed, they seemed the equal of men in every way pertinent to leadership in church and society, and also to partnership at home.

My mother was herself such a woman: articulate, ambitious, tireless, creative, assertive, self-possessed, inspiring, critical—easily a match for any man I knew on any scale of leadership qualities. As everyone in our family will attest, she was certainly a match for my high-performance dad! And I saw her lead competently outside the home: in our church, in summer camp programs, on university and civic boards, and more.

But on Sundays, things got strange. Typically, the Brethren celebrate communion at an early service on Sunday mornings, before the main preaching service. The service proceeds with virtually no fixed order except perhaps an introductory greeting from a presiding elder and a subsequent closing, and with the passing of the bread and the wine sometime in between. But aside from those particulars, anyone can rise in the silence and give out the number of a hymn, which the congregation then sings, or pray aloud, or even offer an exposition of Scripture. Some people prepare well in advance for their participation in the service; others jump up on the spur of an inspiration. The Brethren believe that the Holy Spirit guides the meeting quite directly, leading first one, then another, to participate—just as I Corinthians 14 indicates he will. This free-form openness to the Spirit’s leadership amounts to a kind of “charismatic” worship—yet without any tongues-speaking, prophecies, healings, or other spectacular manifestations of the Spirit that would have caused consternation, not celebration, among the Brethren, who were scrupulously opposed to anything “pentecostal.”

This kind of meeting—which I often found quite moving—raised the gender question in a particularly stark way. In most other churches, discussions of who can preach or lead are conducted on at least two axes: clergy/laity and male/female. But the Brethren are unusual in having no such thing as ordination and therefore no formal clergy. So gender came more clearly to the fore among the Brethen than elsewhere because anyone could lead in the communion service—even young people were allowed, even encouraged to participate—as long as that one was male.

Thus I sat in the family pew and observed various male Christians participating week after week. Some did so with evident skill and passion. But others seemed to be singularly unsuited to such public leadership and a few seemed to participate only by rote. As I experienced all this over my entire childhood and adolescence, I began to wonder why my mother, who was otherwise so esteemed as a leader in our church, remained demurely silent week after week and year after year while Mr. So-and-so rose to bore us once again with his meanderings through Scripture and Mr. Such-and-such followed with his interminable prayers. And when young Bill or even younger Bobby was encouraged to lead in the service while his mother and grandmothers silently looked on—well, it made me think.

My mother’s sisters and sister-in-law also provided me with examples of women who simply were not inferior to men, who seemed to me in their respective ways to possess all that was necessary for full partnership in every social sphere. They were certainly feminine in classic ways—warm, nurturing, encouraging, patient, and gentle—but also rational, discerning, insightful, and pragmatic. So why were they supposed to submit to men? And why couldn’t we benefit from their leadership?

I did benefit, furthermore, from the work and companionship of capable Christian women in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Female staff leaders impressed me as Bible teachers and spiritual directors. Even more impressive to me were my fellow students in high school and university Christian clubs who were at least as godly, intelligent, and capable as any of us young men. And dazzling among these impressive young women was one particular woman who became my wife, Kari—a petite, curly-haired cutie whom my family once feared would be dominated by her effusive and overbearing fiancé. (They don’t fear that anymore!) Life with Kari has been a daily reminder to me that egalitarianism makes sense and patriarchy doesn’t.

Women thus provided me with good reasons to become egalitarian in the two ways parallel to what I received from men: in literal evidence and argument that helped change my mind, yes, but also in personal examples that contradicted patriarchy.

The philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is often cited to help us understand how people undergo significant changes in their thinking—what we call paradigm shifts. Kuhn suggests that we give up our ways of thinking, our paradigms, only under duress. Typically we do so only when we can no longer ignore or accommodate within our paradigms those evidences and arguments that don’t fit—what Kuhn called “anomalies.” Well, the arguments and examples provided by these men and women constituted a pretty big, and ever-growing, pile of anomalies. The collective force of these egalitarian evidences helped collapse my inherited patriarchy and put me in search of a new way of thinking (which I have set out in my little book).

So far, however, I have spoken about my change of mind as if it was just that: an alteration of intellection, a transfer of rational allegiance from one concept to another. It was that, but it was more than that. It was, as most important conversions are, also a change of heart.

Aristotle suggests that the speaker intent on persuasion must employ three modes of speech: logos (appeal to reason), ethos (appeal to a way of being), and pathos (appeal to the affections). From the male scholars I mentioned earlier, I received both logos (good arguments) and ethos (examples of how to be Christian, feminist, and male). From women, I received further logos (indeed, some of the best—both their verbal arguments and also the arguments from their impressive lives), but I also needed to receive, and did receive, the crucial gift of pathos. I needed to feel something of the pain of patriarchy: of being interrupted or ignored in conversation; of being passed over for recognition and promotion; of receiving condescension or suspicion instead of welcome partnership. And I needed to be confronted with their anger, with their refusal to be treated this way anymore.

Women have entrusted me with great gifts: their stories and their feelings about what they have been through and continue to encounter. My wife has told me of how people ignore her or interrupt her. Female friends, colleagues, and students have testified to the suffering they have endured—from conversational condescension to professional marginalization to marital oppression to actual sexual or physical abuse. We men will not change until we want to change, and one of the most powerful motives we will have for changing our minds is to alleviate the suffering of the women we admire and love—suffering that is obvious to women but often unseen by us men. I know it seems incredible to women that men can be so obtuse, but people of color will testify that we white North Americans are similarly obtuse about racism. Poor people will testify that we wealthy people are obtuse about financial differences. And tradespeople will testify that we professionals are obtuse about class distinctions.

We men usually don’t see how we dominate conversations, for instance. We figure that anyone who has something to say will just say it, so those silent women must not have anything to say—and, we sadly conclude, must not be all that bright or all that motivated. We don’t see how our feelings for women can take interactions that are supposed to be constructive and mutually beneficial, and divert them into erotic games that no one should have to play, and especially not in a work- or church-related context. We don’t see how we unconsciously disregard women’s abilities and interests, and because those decisions are unconscious, the women themselves will never know exactly what happened: They just somehow (again) won’t get the opportunity, or the honor, or the reward they actually deserve.

We men need to hear from women about what it’s like to be demeaned, disrespected, or dismissed. Yes, we can be told by other men to shape up, and that can help. Men certainly have responsibility here to speak up on behalf of their sisters, on behalf of justice, and on behalf of the greater good that accrues to everyone as women are treated properly. But we will respond more readily to exhortations from both sexes if we feel it, and feel how important it is. We need this powerful impetus to compel us to undergo the strain of actually changing our minds and hearts. Otherwise, we naturally will stay where we are, in the convenient and comfortable paradigms we have inherited.

Furthermore, I have needed these testimonies, not just when I was transiting from patriarchy to egalitarianism, but continually, to this very day. My wife has reminded me from time to time, “You’re not as feminist as you think you are.” I used to bristle when she would say that, for I had congratulated myself on having had my “conversion experience” to egalitarianism and I was now a fully enlightened man, totally emancipated from sexism, and (let’s be honest) a pretty admirable guy. But I have come to see, at least a little more clearly over the years, just how deeply entrenched are the “gender scripts” that I have tended to follow all along. I have not “arrived” at entire sanctification and I do not dwell in the New Jerusalem. I continue to mistreat women despite my sincere intention not to do so, and I have concluded that only women can help the situation by notifying me that, yes, John, you’re doing it again or, no, you failed this time to do what was appropriate. To recommend such action is not—horrors!—to blame women for my enduring sexism: “Since you aren’t complaining enough, it’s your fault I’m still mistreating you.” It is instead to say that if women want men to change in this way, then this is one crucial thing women can do to help us do so.

I recognize, of course, that not all men want to be so reminded. Many women do not have men in their lives who want to hear what they have to say. All sensible people, therefore, need to pick their battles and their moments. So women today will have to do what women have always done: press on, regardless, to make the best of their situation, to provide good examples to those women and men under their influence, to voice their concerns where and when they can, and to hope for something better, if only for their daughters.

Still, feminist psychologist Virginia Vanian urges women not just to wait for a brighter day, but to speak up now, and particularly about the small things that women tend just to swallow and endure. She points out that repeated small slights can constitute large-scale social patterns of repression—that mountains can, in fact, arise out of the accumulation of molehills. So women can and must do something to keep the pattern from being reinforced again and again in the “minor” interactions of each day. Add your anomalies to the paradigm to help collapse it, or it will remain your prison—and, indeed, the prison that disadvantages all of us.

Yes, we are to patiently endure each other’s shortcomings and not overreact to the social clumsiness of day-to-day life. And no one wants to be written off as a whiner, much less a shrew. But I, as a man, join with Dr. Vanian to plead with women to speak up more, to acquaint us men better with what’s going on and how it pains you. I know it’s discomfiting and I know it’s unfair (“Why, after all we’ve been through, do we have to keep teaching you men such elementary things?”), but here’s the sober and inescapable truth: If you keep letting patterns persist, then they will persist.

We men, of course, have our corresponding imperatives. We must help to create safe places and occasions in which we welcome women to say the hard things, the painful things, the confrontational things that tell the truth about how things really are. We need to brace ourselves for their words that will dislodge us from our comfortable seats of automatic privilege. And we must prepare ourselves to act on what we hear, not merely to let women vent, endure it with impassivity, and then congratulate ourselves on our magnanimity. For if we listen to women and then do not change, we victimize them twice. And we render ourselves doubly guilty.

All of us need both to see and to feel in order to change, and we men need the help of you women. Only then will we, in return, give you the help of our asymmetric social power that is so long overdue. Most of us men really do love you: We just don’t know how to love you as well as we can! We are responsible to sort ourselves out, of course. But may I ask you women to help us, please, become the egalitarian men we want to be.

0 Responses to “"Conversion Narratives" about Gender”

  1. D.J. Brown

    It’s about *#^*%*&^#* time evangelicals caught up with the 20th century on gender issues.

  2. Anonymous

    Well, I can tell you that as an African-American woman serving in a predominantly white church, I have the double whammy as I serve on an all-male elder board. I have felt many times over that I have been disregarded and minimized, not only by my counterparts, but some in the congregation. I have watched as ideas that I have shared were embraced or accepted down the road after being broached by someone else. Usually, that person is someone that has been accepted and regarded in certain circles. I have watched as I have spoken up in meetings and as if in a movie, all heads turn to look at me. Some truly listening, others incredulous at what I was saying, and still others with wonder at how I knew certain things. I even had a woman ask me once as we worked together on organizing an event how I knew to do all this stuff (all of this with an advanced degree and years of experience in corporate America. I’ve lived out the old saying that Blacks have to work harder). So, sometimes the minimization or disregard is because of being female and sometimes it’s because I’m African-American. It probably doesn’t help either that I’m an independent thinker who refuses to be part of the status quo. Either way, I don’t fit some peoples’ stereotype. It’s been a tough road and I’ve paid a high price emotionally, but hopefully along the way I’ve helped to enlarge some people’s thinking about minorities–be they racial or female.

    And thank you Prof. Stackhouse for encouraging us to speak up. It’s not easy because you don’t want to always feel like you’re piping up with something, but if we never speak up, some people may never become aware of shortsightedness. But it’s hard feeling as though you’re the lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

  3. poetreehugger

    Thanks for this posting. I have your book, Finally Feminist, with many underlinings, and it is now on loan to a friend who spotted it on my bookshelf.
    I find that many issues become clearer or more important to me as my family grows to include these issues. I have grown into a compassion based theology as my children or relatives have faced issues of gender, race, sexual orientation and more. Of course, I still have a lot of growing to go. But somehow the injustices I could have peaceably or silently lived with seem insufferable when they involve my children.
    I wonder if some of Jesus’ teachings are aimed more directly at us, their future beneficiaries, because the society at that time was not able to absorb them?

  4. M. Darrell

    Response to Poetrigger’s comment: Jesus said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” John 16:12 (NKJV)
    God’s revelation certainly proves to be progressive from Genesis 1:1 to now!
    From a “liberated” Christian woman who also sees that “submission” is not a four-letter word, as exemplified by our Lord who was certainly not “inferior” to anyone or anything.

  5. Don

    The “Changed my Mind” book has some very touching testimonies.

  6. Wesley

    John –
    It’s ironic that this book, “how i changed my mind …” was being discussed the other day, and the question was raised, ‘why doesn’t someone write a book with the same title, only with the subtext of “former Egals who’ve gone Comp”?’
    Being myself in that category, i would find that an equally interesting read. Haven’t read the other posts, but i have to say i was a bit disappointed with your treatment of the Biblical evidence(s) for your ‘conversion’ – you ostensibly dismiss the whole issue of what the Bible says about gender roles with a (and i’m pharaphrasing) kind of, ‘well … nobody has all the answers’ response; giving the whole issue maybe 2 minutes of ‘air time’ before moving on to (and spending the lion’s share of your time on) cultural and emotional arguments.
    I would be very interested in a post/book from you – as a theology professor – speaking solely to the Biblical evidence for your ‘conversion’ and how you deal with the passages that speak plainly against your current position. Also, one that presented all the options – your post seemed to suggest that one either had to be a patriarchal/sexist/misogynist or a loving/21st C/enlightened Egal. Hardly seems like a fair presentation and doesn’t even include the Complementarian position which – perhaps you’ll agree – avoids the pendulum swing of either choice you offer your readers.

    Hope you don’t mind the push-back. You know i love you and i know you’re my brother in Christ irregardless of this ‘open-hand’ issue.
    God’s peace –

    • John Stackhouse

      I agree, Brother Wesley, that a book of testimonies from the other direction would be interesting indeed. Alas, when we get to tell our own stories, questions that other people might properly want to know sometimes get short shrift, such as the one you raise: How did you actually come to the conclusion you had before, and then how did you come to the latter conclusion–theologically speaking? When I have read about “conversions” the other way, such as Al Mohler’s or Tim Keller’s, I have the feeling that their former egalitarianism was badly grounded and so was vulnerable to the good theological arguments some complementarians can make. But I’m not sure how one would be able to prove that feeling, short of one or more of these folks submitting to a searching interview along those lines. (If anyone knows of such, do tell!)

      You leave me perplexed, however, when you ask for a post from me on “the Biblical evidence for my ‘conversion’,” etc. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I have published an entire BOOK setting out my theological argument and, what’s more, I featured it shamelessly in the original post (that’s the one called “Finally Feminist” with my name on it).

      Or am I missing your point?

      • Wesley

        John –
        thank you for your reply. I was, in truth, responding solely to what you posted from the “How I changed my mind …” book, as I have not read the other book you wrote – I will endeavour to get my hands on a copy so as to understand your position from a theological perspective. Forgive my initial repsonse then if it seemed unfair.
        As to your point about men and women ‘coverting’ the other way, i know Mohlers’s and Keller’s stories, but i can only speak for myself. In truth, my former Egal views were based on either ignorance of the whole Text of Scripture or teaching from the pulpit and culture that seemed to just “make good sense”, but then, my Arminian theology came from the same place. I pushed hard against my Reformed brothers and sisters on both these points and found their arguments back unconvincing to sway me. And yet, when i began to seriously read for myself without skipping texts or trying to explain them away with my presuppositionalism, i found the Holy Spirit ‘converting’ me as well, not only to a reformed understanding of Salvation but of the Complementarian understanding of gender roles. There is a very interesting post from Kevin Deyoung at GC where he tries to explore what appears to be the link between reformed theology and Complementarianism. I’ll try to get ahold of your book and you check out the article, deal?
        God’s peace –
        here’s the post:


        • katz


          There was a similar conversation on Jesus Creed a little while ago and someone raised your question.

          The trouble is that changing your view to one that gives you more power and authority isn’t a very admirable choice, even if it’s correct. Accepting such a view should only come with extreme reluctance.

          Now, a book of women who changed from egalitarian to complementarian would be interesting indeed.

          • Wesley

            Katz –
            i appreciate your commenting on my comment. You seem to imply (firstly) that I was the one who changed my own view and (secondly) that I chose it on the basis that it gave me more power and authority, and (finally) that I stridently embraced this choice I made with no thought to the ramifications.
            Simply, as with my reformed theology, I was not looking/seeking to change my view to one that gave me more power and authority and, even more simply, I don’t believe I was the primary agent in this change. I found through studying the Scriptures that the Comp view is a correct understanding of the way God designed the world to work. It was not some willy-nilly, ‘oh, this choice gives me the driver’s seat’ kind of decision but one tat I was compelled to through the text. I was quite happy as an Egal and wasn’t looking to change my view at all. But, as with my Reformed theology, since being convinced of the Comp position, I see the goodness of it while respecting the weighty-ness of its’ implications.

            • katz


              Regardless of your reasons, you are switching to a view that gives you more power and authority, and such an opinion will always be dubious.

            • Wesley

              Katz (re:comment below)
              i think i would prefer the term ’embracing’ over ‘switching’. again, i think motivation of the heart is primary in making a judgement on such an issue viz. if my view was changed out of a fleshly desire to grasp more authority and power, then it would be dubious indeed, if not sinful, however, the same could be said of one who embraces the Egal position simply b/c it affords them authority and power previously denied to them. my view is that we are to place ourselves under the teaching and authority of Scripture however our person or our culture may seem to contradict it. If i embrace a position b/c it has been revealed to be true from Scripture, it hardly seems right or fair to call it dubious simply b/c of the implications that accompany it – otherwise, we might call embracing an exclusivist-Christianity ‘dubious’ simply b/c it places our faith in a position of authority and power over other faiths.

      • Andrew Tsai

        Dr. Stackhouse:
        It is indeed unfair to be criticized for not mentioning in detail what other readers want to know, but I think Wesley’s other comment:
        “your post seemed to suggest that one either had to be a patriarchal/sexist/misogynist or a loving/21st C/enlightened Egal. Hardly seems like a fair presentation and doesn’t even include the Complementarian position which – perhaps you’ll agree – avoids the pendulum swing of either choice you offer your readers.”
        seems to be a fair remark. It is easier to compare the best of what you like to the worst of what you don’t like than trying to analyze each with fairness.

        I resonate a lot with Wesley since I myself am a Egal-turned-to-Comp Christian, and my journey is similar to his. And believe me, the complementarian position that I have adopted is not as extreme as you have described in this post. If that is the only alternative to Egal, I would embrace Egal fairly easily.

  7. Peggy

    Thank you for this, Dr. Stackhouse. I am glad that some women have replied here … and continue to “reply” in many places. The internet has made a huge difference in leveling the playing field, as it were, of getting one’s ideas across.

    It is a challengingly fine line one must walk when representing the perspective of the disenfranchised. I have walked, not only in the “woman in ministry” shoes, but also in what I have come to call the “Purple Martyrdom” … a life that is full of service through varying levels of brokenness. Another kind of “invisibility” that transcends gender and race and age and theology. There is something about people in need that “others” them — especially among Christians. As long as the need can be met efficiently and effectively, fine. But what to do with long-term issues? Job is my long friend — and so many still misinterpret his friends as speaking truth. Sigh….

    I am learning the hard way (I don’t think there really is any other way!) that I must always be restrained in some way … so that I may be free to speak and do and be when inspired by the Spirit. It is a bit frightful to experience the dismissal of those who don’t know what to do with people who are hurting … and even worse when told to “snap out of it” or some other form of “get over it”, and yet remain a pebble in the shoe of the otherwise pious brother or sister.

    So, we all just keep on struggling each step of the journey, trusting that our constant companion and Savior hears and sees and understands all our burdens and heartaches. And when he asks me to be vulnerable and available, then I am.

    There is no easy way out of this long socialization. Following a radical savior requires some radical thinking, eh? There really is no place for “comfort”, is there?

    Grace and peace to you.

    • Verity3

      No place for hiding in “comfort zones,” anyway. But your words acknowledging the reality of pain are a comfort to me. Blessings, Sister.

  8. Carolyn Culbertson

    The thing that I have most appreciated about Dr.Stackhouse’s book (and why I have given it to some people and recommended it to more) is that, instead of just trading competing explanations of passages, helped me understand how it is that the church does theology. I could never figure out how I was supposed to decide which of the well-respected evangelical theologians whose views I read was right – this book framed the discussion quite differently. Read the book, folks!

  9. D.J. Brown

    Those who are honestly struggling to put their personal experience of gender-, racist-, classist- oppression together with traditional Xtn theology of the cross, might appreciate the book “Embracing Travail” by Cynthia Crysdale.
    She describes an alternate starting point for perspective on the crucifixion.
    Some of us like myself, and “Anonymous”, my suffering sister in the comment above, need to begin from the place of identifying with the crucified One, rather than from the place of the arrogant, powerful, unrepentant crucifiers.
    It is only then (M. Darrell) that the oppressed can move into a healthy, holy “submission”. For many, the gospel does not begin with “Repent of your pride!”, but rather “Come to me, all ye who are weary” and “I came so that you might have more abundant life”.

  10. Anonymous

    D.J., I can tell you through my experience that I have come to identify with the suffering Christ in a way that I never have before. Thanks.

  11. meinmysmallcorner

    Thanks for this. The following link is to my first blogosphere-wade into trying to explain the painfulness of feeling gifted in a certain way only to experience that identity being questioned due to my gender. From there – if anyone’s interested – it should be possible to follow a bit of my journey (and others in the comments) to face the issue.


    Your post renews my hope and my desire to live bravely and faithfully before those who may question me and mostly before God who made me me.

  12. Joseph

    “Nonetheless, our responsibility is to select among the alternatives that interpretation that we believe does the best job of explaining all of scripture and answering all of the attendant questions.”

    Hello Professor Stackhouse.

    I’ve been a faithful reader, but first time poster, since spurred by your recent offer for more feedback.

    I appreciate your comments here, especially the ones immediately preceding your text that I’ve included. My question relates more precisely to the comments that I quoted here.

    You advise us as intellectuals and individuals to try to discern helpful interpretations from unhealthy ones. Fair point, I think.

    However, is there nothing to be said for faithful adherence to church authority, in all of its beauty and tragedy?

    I don’t think I would advocate for the blind leading the blind, but I tend to have humble admiration for those who recognize such mysteries are beyond them, and instead seek to place their faith in the church authority the Almighty has placed over them.

    A flawed argument I know, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Thank you for your time.

    • John Stackhouse

      I’ll perhaps write about this large subject another time. But I do discuss church history and tradition in “Finally Feminist.” As a historian myself, I have great respect for the tradition(s) of the church. But as a theologian, I want to be responsible to do my part to think with my own generation about the issues God puts before us, rather than simply reproduce whatever a previous generation might have thought–particularly when previous generations have not all agreed on all the matters at stake in a given subject, such as here.

      So that’s all I’ll say for now, and perhaps revisit this question of how we are to deal with tradition respectfully in a later post.

  13. Dan

    Can people work as executives for Coca-Cola without fundamentally contradicting their identity in Christ?

  14. Mark

    Dan, I’m scrambling my brain, but how could the production of God’s favourite drink possibly amount to a contradiction in one’s Christian identity?

      • John Stackhouse

        O-o-o-kay, Brother Dan! I’m not going to let you shanghai my blog on feminism for you to go after Coca-Cola. The executive in question, in fact, is a friend of mine whose work on behalf of impoverished communities, and particularly of women, around the world–and aided, in fact, by her company–is pretty impressive.

        So perhaps we’ll take up “Can Coke Be Christian?” another time, but not now. I won’t be allowing further posts on this issue on this thread, and I trust you’ll all understand why.

        (Anyhow, Dan, I’m still waiting for you to get back to me about your thesis–so quit starting wild threads on my blog, you bad, bad boy.)

        • Mark

          It’s my fault for feeding the controversy with my irreverent remark. Blast these non-deletable blog posts!

        • Dan

          Fair enough (although I will note that oppressive institutions have always engaged in different forms of charity — it’s good for the brand status — so the issue isn’t if Coke does nice things every now and again, but rather if Coke is an overwhelmingly death-dealing corporation [answer: yes]).

          And now I’ll drop the matter and send you an email.

  15. Tom

    Thanks, Professor Stackhouse. I’ve recommended your blog to my readers (a mere handful comparatively, but I’d love more to join the conversation your hosting here).

    I appreciate your re-entry to the blogosphere. Thanks for all your hard work.

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  17. Richard Cronin

    I am depressed that you cannot find a resolution to Tim 2 . I am even more depressed that you have let this lack of understanding to allow you to believe what you do. This seems to me to be the cruncher passage. We are all aware that it has major problems but surely (whatever else it might teach) it at least teaches a difference between the sexes???
    I hear what you are saying about trying to do the best job of interepreting that we can do but that to me seems like a cop out. I would rather wait till we understand and keep the tradition we have inherited till then.
    I should add that i attend a church with women ministers and i enjoy their preaching. The debate in one manner seems preposterous to me- of course women can lead!! But i am keenly aware that could just very well be how the world around me has trained me. My issue with this issue is more to do with what i percieve as “possible” kow-towing to cultural norms. Many of the arguments that i have heard from egal’s could just as easily be used to justify sex outside marraige be it gay straight group or animal. I also could never get past why Jesus had 12 disciples all of whom were men. Anyway thats me. God Bless.

    • John Stackhouse

      As I have made pretty clear, I have argued theologically at length–at BOOK length–in “Finally Feminist.” So don’t write off my position until you’ve actually considered the arguments for it. Thanks!

  18. Pat Pope

    Richard, to your comment about “kow-towing to cultural norms”, the same could be said for Paul, couldn’t it? Maybe he kow-towed to the cultural norms of his day and wrote what he felt would help keep the peace.

  19. Richard Cronin


    I don’t know if any orthodox theology of scripture would allow that Spirit kow-towed to the surrounding culture.

  20. Verity3

    As a recovering complementarian (but not an egalitarian), I really want to share my story but find the prospect emotionally exhausting right now. Suffice to say, for now, that I am working on my testimony.

    I do have a pressing question, though. I hope this will not come across as off-topic.

    Can anyone direct me to a book or website that provides a fair-minded introduction to the “narrative approach” to Biblical interpretation? My (admittedly limited) research thus far has yielded sources that seem decidedly anti-reason. Scot McKnight’s “Blue Parakeet,” for example, seems to overlook the difference between description and proscription. I admit I have not read the book and am basing my comment on reviews by others. But I am reluctant to spend my time reading that particular book if it is not the best argument out there.

    • Verity3

      Okay, maybe that was harsh, at least regarding Scot McKnight. I really am trying to be more dialogic, and look for opportunities to say “both… and…” rather than knee-jerk “either-or.”

      But to borrow terminology from Dr. Sarah Sumner’s People Model (in “Leadership Above the Line”), I see an emerging Humanitarian (compassion-oriented) culture seeking to silence the Strategist (truth-oriented) culture that went before it. But in the process they trample Strategist *people*. And I don’t see that as an improvement over the old Strategist culture trampling Humanitarian people. The body of Christ still needs all its members.

      I have already had to leave one church whose Humanitarian approach was so anti-reason that it left me feeling attacked all the time. So maybe I am being oversensitive now. On further reflection, I think I should be willing to read “The Blue Parakeet” if its influence on the church is becoming significant. But if there is an even more significant work out there, I would rather start with that one.

      I hope that made sense. To summarize, I am looking for the best introduction to the narrative approach to understanding Scripture. Preferably one that employs a “both-and” stance toward the systematic approach, rather than an “either-or” stance that tries to claim that narrative is superior. Can anyone help me out?

      • Daniel Ginn

        Wow, Verity3. I can definitely relate to what you said about the conflict between Humanitarianism and Strategy; though when I think of this, I generally frame it more starkly as Loyalty vs. Truth. And, yeah, as a truth/strategy guy, I’m definitely feeling the hurt. It reminds me of Thomas Sowell’s book A Conflict of Visions where-in he discusses what he calls the constrained versus the unconstrained vision.

        But I have hope one day that Christ will reconcile the current apparent split between fact and feeling, truth and loyalty, strategy and humanitarianism. He is the way, the truth, and the life; and God is love. But I am getting a little tired of waiting for “pie in the sky, by and by.” Marana tha, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

        Sorry I don’t have any advice on resources for a narrative approach for interpreting Scripture.

        • verity3

          “Maranatha” — amen.

          I don’t think that Sumner conceives of the two values (and a third — Diplomacy) as starkly opposing, as Sowell seems to consider the two visions he describes (here I am again, trying to reference another book I haven’t read). Rather, Sumner describes everyone as a mix of all three, to different degrees. And I think Sumner is arguing for us to humble ourselves, by (1) admitting the weaknesses of our primary “type,” and (2) appreciating the strengths of the other two. She encourages the reader to try to be “above the line” in all three areas.

          I am finding her model to be a great encouragement to pursue all kingdom values (not just the ones I naturally notice and favor), and to work on overcoming my sins. I don’t think we can achieve perfection in this life, but I think Christ is using this model as a tool to change me.


    • HEvencense

      You might take a gander at “Epic” by John Eldredge of Ransomed Heart Ministries. 2004, Thomas Nelson. 104 pages. Can be read in an afternoon. (I have read ‘The Blue Parakeet’ and recommend it.)

      • Verity3

        Thank you for your input, HEvencense. I have put a hold request on “The Blue Parakeet” at my library, and I’m looking into acquiring “Epic.”

    • Verity3

      Scot McKnight, if you are reading this, I want to apologize for critiquing your perpective before adequately trying to understand it, in a book I had not even begun to read. I based my comments on a review by someone else, assuming it was safe to do so because it was a sympathetic review. But it wasn’t safe, or fair to you, to attribute ideas to you that had been distilled through the perspective of another. I am sorry that I did so.

  21. katz

    P.S. Don’t think nobody noticed that you have a “gender” tag instead of a “women” tag. You are indeed recognizing the small actions that make a difference.

  22. bwebaptistwomenforequality

    John, would you stand up with me and demand an apology from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood? On July 24, 2010, I demanded an apology from the CBMW group for their teaching that denigrates women. You can read the apology on my website and/or blog. http://www.bwebaptist.com.

    • John Stackhouse

      Oh, my sister, I have time only for activities that I think will make a difference. And I don’t see how this sort of thing will make any difference at all. The CBMW people will just chuck your demand in the garbage can and press on. I did pay you the respect of visiting your site and reading your list of demands, and there’s nothing you’re saying to them that hasn’t been said by evangelical feminists for years and years.

      So I encourage you, if I may, to channel your energy to other modes more helpful to the women and men you seek to serve.

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  24. Laurie M.

    Wow, I feel like I found a gem today! Thanks for this.

    …and especially for this: “And we must prepare ourselves to act on what we hear, not merely to let women vent, endure it with impassivity, and then congratulate ourselves on our magnanimity. For if we listen to women and then do not change, we victimize them twice. And we render ourselves doubly guilty.” Oh how this condescension hurts!

  25. Becky Bonham

    Hi Professor Stackhouse, thanks for these words! They’re quite timely as I’ve begun blogging on this very topic. I recently listed my own “ifs, ands or buts” of patriarchy and interestingly, they are closely parallel to your own experiences. I appreciated your emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s role in persuasion, as well as the practical suggestions for how both men and women can move toward change. I’ll be quoting you!

    Becky Bonham – former Regent student 🙂

    • John Stackhouse

      It is ALWAYS especially good to hear from alumnae such as you, Becky, and also MKHom below. Regent tries hard to be a place that welcomes Christians of various stripes to a common life and commitment to Christ.

      We particularly want to welcome women as well as as men to serious Christian learning–including learning about gender. We don’t insist that everyone agree on this question, as is evident from Regent people posting from both sides even on this little weblog–but we insist that everyone feel just as welcome as anyone else, whether she is female or he is Chinese or she is single or he is older or she is rich or he is Pentecostal or she is retiring from a successful career or he is confused as to what his should be.

      “Welcome,” of course, does not mean “will always be agreed with”! So let’s keep welcoming each other to conversation, even as we will controvert many, many issues among us.

  26. Robert

    I didn’t realize there was such a problem!
    Being a capable young man who has not been given opportunities to serve, and whose opinion is very frequently ignored, I hope that I have sympathy and can give grace and favour to women in the same way that Jesus Christ has given these gifts to me.

  27. Andrea

    I heard about this book via another blog recently. I couldn’t put it down. I’ve effectively avoided the debate for years (even while in seminary) because I did not want to be written off by other evangelicals as being liberal. I didn’t research the issue because I didn’t want to decide my position and have to take a stand. By the time I came to your chapter, my mind and heart were made up…and then I read your request for women to stand up. Thank you. I have some apologies to make-to both women and men from my past. And now I am trying to figure out what it means for me to be a Christian feminist with sensitivity and fortitude. I just started your book-perhaps it will have some answers.

    By the way, I really believe narratives of conversion will have a bigger impact on the future of women in the church than purely text-driven arguments. I knew the debate well…what I think I needed was permission and encouragement from evangelicals I respected. Thanks to all who contributed to this book!

    • Wesley

      Andrea –
      can you explain your process a bit more to me? From what you wrote in your reply it came across to me as:
      I didn’t study or research this issue so i would be labeled, but then i read this book and my mind and heart were made up. Is that what you meant to communicate? Also, when you said, “I really believe narratives of conversion will have a bigger impact on the future of women in the church than purely text-driven arguments.”, it sounded like you were saying, people’s stories will have a bigger impact on the future of women in the church than arguing from what the Bible says on this issue.
      The problem with that line of thinking seems to suggest that we begin with our heart and intellect and then go to the Bible for support, instead of beginning with the Bible and then submitting to what it shows us regardless of how we feel or think about it. Of course, there is room to move here in interpretation, but your reply sounded much like the former: beginning with secondary resources (including yourself) and then going to the Bible for support. Where am i missing you?

  28. Andrea


    First of all, I appreciate your tone as you engaged with me regarding my response. I’ve noticed in your other posts on this thread that you have a deep commitment to upholding scripture as the authority we need to start with and go back to over and over. I am in agreement with you on this. The difficulty of this medium of expression (blog/responses) is that it’s quite limited. I would like to write out my own story, including how I engage key texts and scripture as a whole but it would be way too long! For now-

    I began researching this issue when I was in high school about 15 years ago because I wanted to know what God expected of me as a woman who didn’t seem to fit the right mold. Through the next few years I studied up on comp. writings such as Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (still on my shelf). I went to seminary in part to delve into this very issue. What I didn’t do was take as serious a look at the egal views as I had the comp. I really wanted to come to peace with Piper & Carson’s interpretations and call to the church. Eventually I tabled it and stayed within the limits of the comp churches I attended. There is more to my story but, as Dr.Stackhouse said in his essay, over the years I heard many exegetical interpretations of key texts and it seemed to me that none were totally satisfactory. I pulled myself out of that particular debate and focused my energy on other theological issues. Ah…so much more could be said…

    As for my comment on narratives having a bigger impact, I stand by this statement. I’m not saying they should, but that “story” or people’s “stories” have a bigger impact on the younger generation than most other persuasive techniques. So your suggestion to have a book devoted to egal to comp conversions would also have a big impact on the future of this debate.


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