Margaret E. Kostenberger
Crossway Books, 256 pages (paperback, 2008)
This review is of the kindle version
Each day in the RSS feed at the top right of my google chrome browser I receive Tim Challies’ A La Carte posting. It usually opens with a section on Amazon Kindle deals for the day. This is where I learned about the work under review by Dr. Margaret E. Kostenberger, Ph.D., an adjunct professor at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. I tend to be an impulsive book buyer so it was not with any purposeful desire that this work came into my orbit. However, as is often the case my lack of planning in reading leads leads me to read things I normally would not consider spending time in.
As some of you may know the particular subject under consideration in Dr. Kostenberger’s book, biblical roles for women and Jesus’ teaching, hits close to home. Both my mother and middle sister are ordained ministers. It was the author’s husband’s book on 1 Timothy 2:9-15 that in large measure moved me, from what the present author calls “evangelical feminism” to the Complimentarian position that both Dr. Kostenberger’s defend in their respective works.
Now to the meat of the review.
This book is a rewriting of a Ph.D. thesis and because of that it follows the general organizational flow of that kind of project. Opening with a couple of chapters grounding the purpose, intent, and the larger questions under consideration it then moves on to the heart of the book where there are four parts broken into the quartet of schools under examination. It ends with a concluding chapter and also includes a couple of appendices, full bibliography, general index, and helpfully a scripture index.
In each of the four sections the author will address the best scholarship which each school presents. Starting at their earliest representative examples (nearly all post-50’s) and moving forward to contemporary teachers one of the things Dr. Kostenberger does very well is let the professors of these positions speak for themselves. While there are some interjections and comments concerning trajectories of thought it is not the case that these minor interruptions negatively influence either the flow or the progression of argument being given. These four are listed below:
1) Jesus and Radical Feminism
2) Jesus and Reformist Feminism
3) Jesus and Evangelical Feminism (Egalitarianism)
4) Jesus and the Gospels: An Evangelical Non-Feminist Reading (Complimentarianism)
In many ways the the first and the fourth parts can be said to be the most “logical” of the really two competing schools of thought, because one of things you will take from the book is that the radical feminists, best illustrated by the writing of Daphne Hampson, in many ways read the words of Christ in the same way as the Complementarians. Dr. Hampson is clear that she has come to reject the “Christian Myth”, because, ironically, she takes seriously what the Bible teaches. In her own words you cannot separate the Jesus of the Scriptures from the Patriarchalism He espouses. The two middle sections both try (unsuccessfully in my and the author’s mind) to marry their reading of the Biblical text, one from a liberal hermeneutic and the other from an evangelical point-of-view, with their intention to show Jesus as either a full-blown Feminist (c.f. – Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza) or accepting of women in leadership roles in the church (c.f. – Linda Belleville). Each of these schools of thought require the promoters thereof to make compromises with their principles of interpretation in order to arrive at the desired conclusions. I found the first part the most fascinating of the four, primarily because through my education at seminary (Pittsburgh Theo Sem) I generally read in the middle sections and was already familiar with the arguments.
I promised in the subheading of this blog that I would keep the posts between 500-750 words and that is what I intend to do. So to sum up this review I do recommend this book for any interested either in the history of the scholarship surrounding Feminism and the Church as well as those questioning the tenability of evangelical readings that allow for women to be in ministerial and eldership positions in the church.
(This is an addendum to say I am considering a ratings system for these reviews. If you think this is a good idea please let me know in the comments).