Few topics roil the evangelical waters as much as the role(s) of women. On one side are complementarians, who affirm the spiritual equality of men and women but deny that this results in the equal calling of both sexes to leadership roles in church and society. On the other side are egalitarians, who both equality of spirit and of role.
Although both sides employ social science arguments in an ancillary manner, their primary arguments are scriptural. Both sides agree that ancient near eastern culture was patriarchal and that the Bible reflects this patriarchalism. The question is whether patriarchy is a universal norm or a particular context. Complementarians argue the former. Egalitarians argue the latter. For them, biblical norms subvert patriarchy and establish a trajectory of equality between the sexes, which is still being realized in the church.
The Message of Women by husband-and-wife team Derek and Dianne Tidball offers an introductory level egalitarian biblical theology. Derek is a Baptist minister who was principal of the London School of Theology and is currently a visiting scholar at Spurgeon’s College, London. He is series editor for the volumes on biblical themes in The Bible Speaks Today series, of which The Message of Women is a part. Dianne is the regional minister (team leader) of the East Midlands Baptist Association.
The Tidballs organize their biblical theology under four headings: (1) Foundations, which outlines the status and role(s) of women in creation (ch. 1), the fall (ch. 2), and the new creation (ch. 3); (2) Women under the old covenant (chs. 4–10), which surveys how the Old Testament portrays women; (3) Women in the kingdom chs. 11–14, which examines how Jesus’ teaching about and ministry to (and with) women; and (4) Women in the new community (chs. 15–20), which examines what Paul taught about women.
The Bible Speaks Today series has “a threefold ideal”: “to expound the biblical text with accuracy,” “to relate it to contemporary life,” and “to be readable.” The Message of Women embodies these ideals. Within the limits of an introductory level text, the Tidballs’ book is comprehensive in scope, nuanced in argumentation, and clear in presentation.
The authors do not shy away from the difficult texts in Paul—such as 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, 14:26–40; Ephesians 5:21–33, and 1 Timothy 2:11–15—which loom large in the complementarian argument. Rather, the Tidballs engage these texts, taking into account their canonical and social contexts. In other words, they do not treat these texts in isolation but in correlation with the entire biblical teaching on women. And they diligently reconstruct the background social issues that called forth Paul’s response. By contextualizing these passages in these ways, the Tidballs effectively blunt the force of complementarianism and show the plausibility of egalitarianism.
Almost as valuable as the Tidballs’ argument is their tone, which is irenic throughout. The bibliography on pages 13–22 shows the authors’ familiarity with the relevant complementarian, egalitarian, and feminist texts. (Readers who want to pursue the issues in more detail would be wise to begin with the complementarian Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the egalitarian Discovering Biblical Equality, and the feminist In Memory of Her.) The Tidballs seek points of agreement where possibly, but never disagree disagreeably. In a church (and society at large) that is often rent by contentiousness, the Tidballs’ irenic writing style is welcome.
I highly recommend The Message of Women. I agreed with the overall force of their argument, though I disagreed with a few of their specific interpretations. (Even people on the same side of a debate can niggle about the details.) The book includes discussion questions for each chapter. Combined with its other virtues, this makes the book ideal for Sunday school classes and small-group Bible studies. I especially encourage Christian men to read this book and to follow the example of Jesus in their relationships with women generally and their wives particularly.
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