Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism
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Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism

IVP Academic / 2015 / Paperback

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Product Description

The Bible says that women should keep silent in church and that they should pray and prophesy. It calls wives the weaker partner and says that men and women are equal.

When it comes to understanding what Scripture says about men and women, those on both sides of the debate can and do marshal strong evidence from the Bible. Why are they able to do this? John Stackhouse boldly contends it is because Scripture in fact says both things.

Does the Bible contradict itself then? Not so. Rather, in this revised and expanded edition of Finally Feminist, Stackhouse describes the single approach in Scripture that guides us with clear direction on these important matters of relationships in the church and the family.

Are you looking for an approach that takes the whole Bible into account and not just bits and pieces of it? While treating Scripture with utmost seriousness, Stackhouse moves us all beyond the impasse in this important debate.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 208
Vendor: IVP Academic
Publication Date: 2015
Dimensions: 9.00 X 6.00 (inches)
ISBN: 0830840818
ISBN-13: 9780830840816

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Unlike many writers on both sides of this debate, Stackhouse offers a hermeneutical approach that recognizes the diversity of Scripture and accounts for it. For many readers familiar with the texts and the debate, the effect of this distinctive contribution will be like viewing a familiar landscape from a new vantage point.
-Richard Bauckham,
senior scholar, Ridley Hall, University of Cambridge

Stackhouse continues to challenge oversimplification in Christian conversation about gender, and he offers a model for real partnership in Christ. Readers will appreciate the care he takes with contested biblical passages. An evangelicalism that wishes to continue to be salt and light in the world will need to take that world seriously too, as Stackhouse does here.
-Beth Felker Jones,
associate professor of theology, Wheaton College

This wide-ranging, patient and careful study by a leading Canadian theologian caps off the author's poignant pilgrimage, from conservative Plymouth Brethren to mainstream scholar and noted social commentator, regarding the Bible's teaching on the sexes. Along the way, John Stackhouse has hammered out a hermeneutic that seeks to do justice to the truth of Scripture, the ways of God in cultures and today's unfolding views of human flourishing. Even those of us unconvinced by every point this book advances will find much of value to ponder, especially if our primary goal is to trace and learn from a comprehensive outline of egalitarian reasoning.
-Robert W. Yarbrough,
professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

Stackhouse writes with a self-effacing, respectful spirit. He does not pretend to have the final word on gender roles and male-female relationships. Partners in Christ encourages believers to adopt the position with the fewest practical problems, rather than the one that ties up all loose ends. As important as it is to analyze (and debate) the Bible's take on gender roles, our disagreements shouldn't prevent us from coming together to love, serve, and advance the kingdom of God.
-Craig L. Blomberg

Author Bio

John G. Stackhouse, Jr. is the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, Canada, and the author of nine books, including Humble Apologetics, Finally Feminist and Can God Be Trusted?

Editorial Review

Stackhouse’s book fosters deeper and more significant communication about the issues of egalitarianism. The title of the book is certainly one of the weaker points. If the title Finally Feminist was offensive to the point of potential readers eschewing the book, then Partners In Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism is unclear and innocuous to the point of not awakening enough motivation to read the book. The title Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism begs the question of what he really wants to talk about. Partners in Christ sounds very neutral and no one would counter the theoretical idea of partnering together with others regardless of race, ethnicity, social status, or gender. It sounds as if it might even be a more pragmatic book. Usually subtitles indicate more clearly what issues will be addressed which this one only does in passing. At the end of the reading of the book I have been stimulated to think of important questions, but I am still not sure what a “conservative case for egalitarianism” means or looks like. Words like “accommodating” or “irenic” or “conciliatory” might be better substituted than “conservative.”

The author’s good contribution is doing a thorough job of looking at three significant factors in developing a proper concept of any kind of belief, conviction, or theology, in this case egalitarianism: 1) Scripture and its attendant scholarship, 2) tradition expressed through what has been done generally throughout biblical history, and 3) experience and intuition as individuals have been led to follow God sometimes against what appears to be “biblical” or traditional, allowing this to raise legitimate questions as to whether what appears to be “obvious” is really so obvious. Stackhouse readily accepts a traditional reading of Scripture and then takes pains to raise questions about the text from a more deductive approach. His case for this is well-taken in chapters 2-5 where he lays out his hermeneutic. There are occasions when I questioned the necessity of this when biblical scholarship has really dealt much more simply with the text (ex.: I Corinthians 14 on the silencing of women—p. 85-6), but in general, I found this approach helpful.

This is also the author’s genius as he allows the mind to pursue the heart of God, accepting full well that God’s Word is our ultimate authority, yet making the reader aware not only of a different way of understanding the text, but presenting a much broader hermeneutic that encompasses God’s heart to reach out to a world filled with many cultural expressions of human sociology and interaction with the message of reconciliation in Christ. This might best be described as a godly “accommodation” to ultimately reach the divine goal of making the gospel as clear as possible. This book is really not just about gender, but a general guide to a hermeneutic that not only stands the test of the text but also the test of God’s work in history and in personal experience (p. 93).

After spending a bit over half of the book developing his hermeneutic of understanding the bigger picture of gender, he then turns to a few specific objections from history and experience that are often raised by the complementarian. Yet, these sections are short and leave the reader dangling with a list of other questions that the author could and perhaps even should have dealt with. His section on history could easily refer to the many examples of women taking leadership initiative and working together with men that could be better utilized and worked into a treatise like this one: The Celts, significant women reformers, the Anabaptists, the Moravians, the Salvation Army, Katherine Bushnell, the Pentecostal movements of the twentieth century, etc. Using more of these would enhance the title Partners in Christ which I feel awakens expectations in the reader that are not met well in the book. It promises more practical help then the title delivers, yet the conceptual help the book delivers is worthy of its being read.


Stackhouse’s more practical side does come out in his closing chapters. His principle of accommodation sometimes leaves me a bit lukewarm, because it seems that he neglects the radicalness of the gospel. He makes the point well that God is often very patient in his waiting for change and tolerates far too long, it might seem to us, a system, for example, like patriarchy.

The author is very clear about the abuses of patriarchy and that God’s original intent did not include such a societal system (p. 126). Yet throughout the centuries, there have been representatives of God’s people who have taken a strong stand against societal ills and God has confirmed and rewarded their conviction with success, albeit not always immediate and not without pain. In this regard, Stackhouse is almost too irenic. Finding the balance of “shalom” (one of the author’s recurrent themes—see p. 131) while at the same time upholding the banner of scriptural and spiritual integrity is a theme that could use more work.

The book is worth the read and challenging to those of us who are continually processing Scripture and finding wisdom in the struggle of what is descriptive and what is prescriptive. Stackhouse raises the interesting question of whether or not both might be present in a text or a revelation of God in history and helps the reader then to sort through the hermeneutical options to arrive at a clearly egalitarian position. But he leaves you wondering along the way whether or not he is going to close the case clearly, and the reader may wish for more clarity and conviction.

Someone looking for a practical discourse on how men and women can more effectively be partners in marriage, family, church, and society will be disappointed with Stackhouse. The person looking for a clear and cogent defense of egalitarianism to bolster their impassioned concerns for the equality of men and women in these areas will likewise be disappointed.

Stackhouse sometimes seems too quick to accept a more hierarchical viewpoint just because it seems to be in the Bible or has been confirmed in the historical practice of the church and let it stand instead of dealing with the questions that would dismantle the argument. Although clearly egalitarian, I found myself looking for a clearer stance at times. Perhaps this is what Stackhouse is referring to when he calls his case “conservative.” What Stackhouse does do is present certain egalitarian arguments in a subtler and provocative way that will cause both egalitarian and complementarian thinkers to have to stop and consider how to go forward.

The book is thought-provoking. I would not consider it a foundational book on the topic. It could be used well with a skeptic with whom one has a close relationship and can interact with on the chapters. Simply handing the book to a complementarian and recommending they read it would probably not be effective. One needs to be on the journey toward egalitarianism to appreciate this book most.

---by Ed Murray
---Used with permission from Christians for Biblical Equality



John Stackhouse should be a natural ally of Christians for Biblical Equality. He is a committed follower of Jesus, a careful thinker, and an unabashed egalitarian, gladly identifying himself as a Christian feminist who “champions the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men” (p. 14). In his book Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism, he makes a nuanced case for the full equality of women. However, Stackhouse’s approach will make some egalitarians uneasy, and his strong emphasis on accommodating to the prevailing culture runs the risk of undermining the social change he intends to champion. His approach, in his own words:

“I propose, then, a paradigm of gender that does, indeed, draw no lines between men and women as to role in home, church, or society—beyond those required by biology. Unlike many egalitarians, however, I will do so in large part by listening to the view of my complementarian counterparts. They simply are not wrong about everything. Furthermore, I believe that the typical egalitarian argumentation (particularly the so-called redemptive movement hermeneutic) can and must be improved on as well” (p. 45).

Some egalitarians will be put off by how much ground Stackhouse cedes to the complementarian side of the discussion and by his assessment of gender issues as secondary. I share their discontent. Nevertheless, I found enough to appreciate in this contribution to the ongoing discussion that I would recommend it as one of several books to interested readers, though not as the one book for them to read.

Partners in Christ is organized into four main sections:

  • The introductory section proposes some ground rules for the debate, lays out important methodological concerns, and relates the story of Stackhouse’s own conversion to egalitarianism. I especially appreciated his exhortation to check our attitude and focus as we engage in these conversations—a welcome change from the kind of “bomb throwing” that too often characterizes this debate. His methodological chapters lay a helpful foundation for further study and raise intriguing points of consideration for both sides of the conversation and for Bible reading more generally.
  • In the subsequent section, he elucidates the key principles of his proposal: equality (men and women are equal before God), gospel priorities and holy pragmatism (the proclamation of Jesus is primary and lesser things must sometimes be sacrificed in the interest of the greater; hence, accommodation is sometimes necessary), eschatology (the irruption of the kingdom of God is re-ordering the world, but we still live in the already-and-not-yet, so we must play the long game), and liberty (we are given a radical freedom in Christ, including the freedom to not enjoy that freedom for the sake of the greater good).
  • In the third section, he tests his model against counter-arguments from theology, church history, and contemporary experience/practice. In these chapters, he offers thoughtful responses to common objections to egalitarianism.
  • In the last section, he demonstrates his paradigm in application by considering a number of contemporary issues and offering practical advice on: inclusive language in Bible translation, feminist theology, the new machismo and supposed feminization of the church, and practical obstacles to women leading.


Stackhouse’s paradigm rests on two key ideas which are related—what he calls “the pattern of doubleness” and the “principle of accommodation.” By doubleness, he means that Scripture affirms both some sort of patriarchal conduct and the fundamental equality of women and men, the former providing the biblical grounds for complementarianism, the latter for egalitarianism. That is, he sees a “double message almost from the beginning of the Bible and showing up right through the New Testament” (p. 86) which he explains as an accommodation to a patriarchal culture; the kingdom seeds of egalitarianism, also present in the Word, are expected to germinate, grow, and eventually, to supersede the old order completely. He sees accommodation as a repeated pattern of the way that God effects change in sinful human societies and cultures—not typically by revolution but by working within “both individual and corporate limitations—to transform the world according to his good purposes” (p. 52).

Stackhouse’s approach is not without its advantages—chiefly that he can claim to be listening seriously to and learning from his conversation partners on the other side of the debate. His affirmation of complementarian (what some would consider the traditional) readings of key passages (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, 1 Timothy 2) is an example of this and has the added benefit of allowing egalitarians to hold unwaveringly to the conviction that women and men are equal, while not arguing that most of the church misinterpreted those passages for most of church history. His emphasis on accommodation is both historically realistic and still contemporarily relevant in many parts of the world; yet even with his “long game” approach to change, we can still expect to see equality lived out in the church and Christian marriages, as believers and the cultures in which they live are able to bear it. This ‘third way’ approach (my terminology, not Stackhouse’s) may have appeal to complementarians who are friendly to egalitarianism, but have not been convinced by fully egalitarian readings of the Bible, notably of Paul. It also removes the “our side was right; your side was wrong” dynamic from the debate, giving respect and validation to earnest proponents on both sides.

However, Stackhouse’s argumentation and paradigm and their implications are troubling as well. He concedes patriarchal readings of key passages without exploring some of the stronger arguments of biblical egalitarians (though one can find references to substantive egalitarian biblical scholarship in the footnotes, for instance on p. 191). This is a conscious decision, born of a conviction that “only a theological take on these matters will avail” (a point found in a footnote on p. 191, but which I would have appreciated in the body of the book). But that is an argument that could have been made while still exposing his readers to the best egalitarian scholarship on the passages in question, if only in abbreviated form. He pleads for patience from women—for a willingness to accommodate to a male-dominated culture and church, enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel—asserting that sometimes change would be too disruptive or even destructive to the church or its mission. That is a real world consideration, and generations of missionaries have had to prioritize in much the way he is describing.

But who gets to determine how much disruption is too much, or when the cost of the disruption is greater than the cost of the oppression it seeks to overturn? One could always argue that confrontation is too costly, too disruptive to the cause of the gospel. I can imagine Christians who were empathetic to the plight of slaves castigating abolitionists for being too impatient in their opposition to slavery and causing unnecessary division and bloodshed, or moderate white Christians during Jim Crow counseling patience and playing the long game, becoming frustrated by Martin Luther King Jr.’s insistence on direct action and the tension and crisis it was meant to create. Finally, it is especially hard to hear him call gender a “secondary issue” (p. 170), apparently seeing it as separable from the gospel instead of part of its core. It is hard not to wonder if his relative privilege as a white male contributes to a lack of urgency; after all, he does not bear the direct cost of the forbearance he counsels. Seemingly aware of this, he makes a forthright appeal for Christian brothers to be proactive in advocating for change, especially in the Western world (p. 176).

I laud Stackhouse for his unapologetic commitment to the full equality of women and men and for his desire to offer a paradigm which draws no lines between them in the home, church, or broader society. I appreciate that he takes seriously the Scriptures, the history of the church, the priority of its mission, and the necessity of yielding to God’s ways and timing, even at personal cost. His reminder about keeping a Christ-like attitude in the debate and his attention to methodological concerns are both welcome and needed. But his relatively light and one-sided treatment of critical Bible passages which could derail would-be egalitarians will require supplementation for many readers, and his heavy emphasis on accommodation runs the risk of putting too much responsibility on those who are living in unjust situations and letting all of us off the hook with respect to taking the risks necessary to effect change, both in and outside the church. My recommendation: read this with a learner’s posture, eating the meat and throwing away the bones—and read it with other books which dive deeper into key Bible passages and other concerns (for instance, Discovering Biblical Equality, ed. Pierce and Groothuis).

---by Barry Wong
---Used with permission from Christians for Biblical Equality

Editorial Reviews

"Stackhouse writes with a self-effacing, respectful spirit. He does not pretend to have the final word on gender roles and male-female relationships. Partners in Christ encourages believers to adopt the position with the fewest practical problems, rather than the one that ties up all loose ends. As important as it is to analyze (and debate) the Bible's take on gender roles, our disagreements shouldn't prevent us from coming together to love, serve, and advance the kingdom of God."
"I recommend this book for anyone wanting to think through their position on women in ministry. . . . Regardless of whether you find Stackhouse compelling, he does a superb job of naming the contours of the complementarian/egalitarian debate."

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