Lee-Barnewall–a transcendent perspective

Michelle Lee-Barnewall turns to the biblical basis for gender relations.  This is in her book, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian

Her first category is the kingdom of God.  The issue here is whether the post-French Revolution idea of egalitarianism applies to the kingdom.  Most feminists will say that their movement is all about equality.  But the kingdom of God in the Bible is not necessarily about that.  Perhaps, though, the idea is not totally unbiblical.

Within the kingdom of God, she says, human relations are more about unity and corporate identity.  God has redeemed a people to be his own.  She sees the church as the fulfillment of the promises to Israel.  (I am not now going to get sidetracked by the issue of the supercessionism her argument implies.)  The church is now God’s holy nation (1 Peter 2:9).  Among human communities the church is supposed to stand out as different because of its unique identity as God’s own people.  People in the church are to love one another.  They are to maintain unity of purpose and devotion.

So for the church it cannot be about either male privileges or female rights. It has to be more about corporate unity and witness.

A second category is that of “reversals”.  In the Hebrew Bible there are a large number of reversals of expectations about social rights and privileges.  Younger children receive power in cases like that of David against the social expectations associated with birth order.  In the New Testament there is a reversal of expectations in regard to rich and poor.  In Hades Lazarus rather than the rich man receives blessing.  Women, rather than men, become the first witnesses to the resurrection.  These are just a few instances of the wide range of biblical reversals that show that God’s ways are not our ways.

In 1 Corinthians Paul offers something of a rational for such reversals in a dialogue about the power in weakness.  What matters in the kingdom is not human power but dependence upon God.  He sees in the cross of Jesus the ultimate reversal as weakness breaks through and attains a victory over human claims to power.

Jesus’ teaching that the first will be last and the last first fits with the theme of reversal in the kingdom and applies to leadership.  Lee-Barnewall concludes that in the church people’s identity does not come from position in a hierarchy but from dependence upon God.

So on the one hand, the kingdom is about corporate identity and self-denial in furtherance of the interests of a people and their God.  It is not about our equality as individuals.  On the other hand, reversals of social expectations call any rigid leadership structure into question.

For Lee-Barnewall this means that equality is not a very helpful notion.  She says that it means different things to different people, making it hard to define anyway.  A more helpful idea is that of inclusiveness.  According to Paul the basic mark of the church is not equality but oneness.  This oneness implies an inclusive community reaching across gender, racial and economic boundaries.

If equality means a lessening of the importance of such boundaries, then a kind of egalitarianism will be implied.  But for Paul and the New Testament in general, practice must be about mutual upbuilding.  There is a new relationship between Jews and gentiles, slaves and free people, and males and females.  But it is not about claiming rights or pushing individuality.

She calls this approach a “transcendent perspective”.  It is the beginning of her “third way” beyond complementarian and egalitarian.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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