Michelle Lee-Barnewall in her Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian starts by succinctly describing the two polarized positions on gender in the evangelical world.
First there are those who say that both at home and in the Christian community there are biblically set roles for how men and women relate to each other. These include male leadership in both spheres. These roles are not cultural, but are permanent realities of creation.
The other view is that the Bible gives us an ideal of equality between men and women and that when you work that ideal out it means that both at home and in the church men and women should have equal opportunities and share equal authority.
The complementarian advocate focuses on the issue of power and authority. The egalitarian advocate focuses on equality and women’s rights.
Lee-Barnewall says this debate has had the benefit of driving us to look again at the ancient sources, but that it has also limited us. It causes us to look at the two sides and ask what is wrong with one or the other position.
She cites the work of Timothy George who asks other, more relational, questions of this kind:
What do I owe to people of the other sex?
What can I learn from people of the other sex?
How can I better trust and understand people of the other sex?
This is a springboard for moving the discussion on from the issue of who has authority or who has rights. Although these are important issues, the Christian idea that all in the body of Christ are servants of each other moves the conversation beyond power and rights.
The book is going to have two parts. The first part will deal with the cultural context of the complementarian-egalitarian debate in the evangelical movement. Both sides have accused the other of yielding to social trends. So she is going to look at these by retelling some of the history of American evangelicalism by looking at it through the lens of male and female roles.
She is looking for a third way. I think the following gives some sense of where she wants to go:
In this book, I propose the need to step back for a moment from the pressing questions of the day to ask whether they represent the best way to approach the issue. I also present some other possibilities. While our current questions have a definite practical value, are there other questions we should be asking, ones that are more foundational to the topic. In other words, can we gain a more robust understanding of the role of gender in the kingdom of God. which may then help us answer our specific questions? (p. 13).
The specific questions she is thinking of are questions like whether women can hold positions of authority in the church and whether wives can be equal partners in marriage. I think her view is that those questions have divided evangelicals, so what we need is to go back to the basic themes that unite evangelicals. From there perhaps there is a way forward.