Friday, November 16, 2012

Women, Slaves and the Gender Debate, by Benajmin Reaoch

I'm exhaling because I finally finished this one. Then again, I'm sucking in another breathe of air and holding it in a panic,now that it's time to write my review. Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate: A Complementarian Response to the Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic is not at all "light" reading. When I took it on for review, I didn't realize how much I was going to struggle through Reoach's arguments.

When I say "struggle" with Reaoch, I want to quickly point out that I'm not struggling because of a disagreement that I have with him. Rather, I agree with his position as I also consider myself a complementarian. Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate is not the easiest book to relax with because it is a debate. He is examining the positions of those in the Redemptive movement, examining their belief in the light of Biblical exegesis and contrasting them with what Complementarians believe. As you might expect, the first difficultly in reading this book is in securing an understanding of definitions and terminology. Ha.

This book, as I mentioned, is a debate and it's been a long, long time since I've devoted brain cells to debating anything (other than things like where we ought to go on vacation or how the children should be behaving, that is). There was a time when I loved debating and wanted to be very good at it. Lately though I've become more apathetic and that's to my detriment. I don't say that because I'm proud of that fact. I absolutely should not be shrinking back from intelligent debate but should be ready to give an answer for the things I believe.

The truth is, I have to be able to write this review without being ready to give such an answer for myself. Oh, I can tell you that I agree with Reaoch on every single one of his points (which I'll describe for you in a moment) but I have yet to work through the issues raised in this book to such an extent that I can intelligently state my case for myself. My thoughts and words are still rumbling about in my brain and I'm not feeling quite ready to discuss or argue. Yet there is this review. Irony.

In Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate Reaoch attempts to argue against the Redemptive movement of defining scripture in such ways which would suggest that the issues of slavery and women can be combined in scripture and argument. The ultimate point he endeavors to make - based on his examinations of scripture (and personal study) - is that you cannot argue the issue of slavery in the same breath that you examine the Biblical roles of men and women because the scriptural passages frequently cited in relation to these two subjects do not combine the two as a single issue from a single source. He is stressing the point throughout this book that we can (and should) look to see what the Bible has to say about the issue of slavery and we should also look to see what it says about the role of women but that you cannot lump the two together and declare that anything you might read there no longer as any cultural relevancy. Scripture must and can only be interpreted in light of other scriptures. While he acknowledges that this is a tricky thing to commit to doing, one absolutely must commit to doing it in order to avoid personal presuppositions and false interpretations.

The ultimate thing he strives to prove by looking at Biblical text is that:

A.) God made man and woman equal in status before the Lord, but designed them to have different roles from one another. Each sex is full of worth and are on an equal playing field in the sense that God receives them in the same manner. He argues that God created man and woman and marriage between the two, setting a definite standard for how both sexes should operate and how marriage ought to be viewed.* ; and

B.) That slavery is not commanded in Scripture but is "accommodated, but never endorsed." (p. 44) In comparison, Reaoch cites the issue of divorce, which is not at all condoned in scripture although it is accommodated due to the hardness of people's sinful hearts. At no point in time does scripture set out an order for slavery to exist but it does address the attitude which a Christian slave should have to his or her master and vice versa. It definitely makes mention as the issue, as it was one that existed, but slavery itself was not designed and instituted by God. In fact, it is contrary to the very nature of God and how He designed humans to be.

"The complementarian position observes a fundamental distinction between the slavery issue and the issue of women's roles. The Bible does not, in fact, condone slavery. Rather, it regulates it and points to its demise. Regarding women, on the other hand, we find instructions that are rooted in the creation order and therefore transcend culture." (pg. 13)

Reaoch, in my mind, does a convincing job of laying out his argument and explaining the differences between his point of view and the egalitarians' redemptive movement. Then again, I'm reading this book more because I would like to sharpen the thoughts in my head to be able to better articulate what they are. In today's society the question of what the Bible says about slavery and the role of women are quite relevant. While neither of these are particularly pleasant subjects in the sense that you are likely to have calm conversations about it with others (look at the number of people who recently started hollering about "binders full of women" for instance) you still should be aware of what the Bible teaches. And in order to know what it teaches you have to grapple with various passages, giving careful attention to the meaning of individual words, understanding context and culture and it can indeed start to give you a headache.

The two foci of this study (slavery and women's roles) have been related to one another in fascinating ways throughout the years. The nineteenth-century debate reminds us that we all have presuppositions, and we ought to be mindful of the effect those presuppositions can have on our exegetical conclusions. A reflective and self-critical spirit is needed in dealing with these sensitive issues. (p. 21)

I respect the way that Reaoch approached both of these "sensitive issues" showing the strengths in Redemptive-movement arguments (while still disagreeing with the ultimate outcome), respecting those who did not agree with him, while at the same time trying to clearly explain the Complementarian approach to both. He seeks to be heard in a very humble, thoughtful way which are two traits which make for a very good debater. I appreciate the time and attention he has given to this intellectual dialogue. And I especially like that this book is available to the general public to read and learn from. Regardless of which position you take, this is definitely a book worth reading as it helps clarify and define the Complementarian position. Also, it is good for people like me to read such a book, despite how difficult I found it (and despite how much I'm still wrestling through my own thoughts**) because it is a challenge. We shouldn't shrink from challenges. Instead we might perhaps want to make adequate time to study and know scriptures better, not only for our own sake but for society's sake as well. I highly recommend the read.

Thank you, P&R Publishing, for sending a copy of Women, Slaves, and the Gender Debate in exchange for my honest thoughts.

* It should also be noted that I'm not spending any time talking about the specific differences between the roles of men and women. That's a more detailed conversation for another book, another day.
** It should be very clearly noted that I have stated very few of my own thoughts on this matter. I have striven to present the book and its contents to you in this review. I did let you know that I do consider myself a Complementarian.
Consider both of these things before you launch into any particular argument in the comment section.


Kristin said...

I must confess that I had never heard the term "redemptive movement". I had to google it. And no, I don't agree with that either. From the brief reading I did, it seems like a handy way to dismiss any portions of scripture that we don't care for. I do realize, there are passages that appear to have cultural implications (headcoverings), but I would be extremely cautious about what scriptures I would say that about. Maybe I grew up brainwashed :), but I have never felt downtrodden or "less than" men. Somebody had to be in charge, and God chose men. I actually believe in some ways it's because they're better at it, but in some ways, because they are worse at it (same for the women's role). God loves to put us in situations where we can't do things without His help. I think it's a bunch of bologne when people try to pin Christianity on women's poor condition throughout that world. Only in the countries where the gospel has had an influence are women treated with dignity. Okay, I'll step off my soapbox now. :)

Barbara H. said...

I had not heard of the redemptive movement, either, and looked it up just a little bit -- I can't say I have a firm grasp on it but it seems like it's saying because culture has changed from Bible times, then we don't have to obey those passages that seem to be addressing the culture of the day? Is that a fair statement? Of all the things God could have put in the Bible (one former pastor described it as "divinely brief"), and knowing that the Holy Spirit does not waste words, even those passages addressing a certain culture in a certain time are there for a reason -- the underlying principles affect us today.

I'm still confused as to why the book discusses slavery and women in the same book. Seems like two different topics. I'm guessing because the redemptive movement does as well? It troubled me for a while that the Bible did not explicitly say that slavery was wrong, but it is implied so many places, namely in doing to others what we would do to ourselves, treating others the way we would want to be treated. A different former pastor, when discussing the patriarchs having multiple wives and why the Bible didn't explicitly say that was wrong, said, "Did it have to? Wasn't it obvious?" And I feel the same about slavery. There are passages that address is because it was a reality in the day and people had to know how God wanted them to act in such situations in a way that would best honor Him. That doesn't mean it was condoned, much less promoted. But I think the Bible didn't call for its overthrow because it calls for a heart change, and when that is accomplished it can an should take care of wrong social practices.

B said...

I learned a new word today... :)

Carrie said...

@Barbara H. - Well, I'm not going to claim that I have a firm grasp on it either. (I had to look it up as well.) Then, through reading the book, I came away with the explanation you gave. That sums it up fairly well as far as I understand. Sort of a "Paul started a movement away from what scriptures have taught and what has been understood, the trajectory of which would lead us in a different direction with more independent females (as we see being argued today)." It's an argument that wants to agree more with culture as we know it, as opposed to the complementarian approach which is more counter-cultural, shall we say?

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

All I can say is I'm impressed you made it through it AND lived to write about it! ;-)

Annette Whipple said...

I mean this kindly...

Reading your review felt like reading a book bc of all the new vocabulary!

Liked the review and enjoyed the comments, but wow...what heavy reading, though it sounds delightful for the sake of preparing yourself for your own position.

Shonya said...

It's Friday, girlfriend! And my brain is fried!

Totally impressed that you read *and* reviewed that one--there was lots of new-to-me info in just the review!

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I'll save my argument for my own blog in a future post, but I did want to say a few things about the argument in this book. (And in the book that it is a response to.)

First off, I formerly considered myself to be a complementarian. However, I think that the term is no longer used the way I understood it. That is, it seems to be used by its most vocal proponents to represent more of a patriarchal viewpoint than the idea that Carrie adheres to.

As Carrie correctly points out, much of the argument centers around exactly how the roles play out in our modern society, and there is plenty of disagreement about that, even among those of us who are more or less complementarian.

In answer to Barbara H., perhaps I can shed some light on why the two topics (male/female relations and slavery) are grouped. First is that there are several passages in the Bible that group them, so they tend to be thought of in connection. One point of view is that Paul addresses how we are to act in the situations we find ourselves in, and others view these passages as more prescriptive.

The second reason is historical. Some theologians/philosophers have expressly linked the two relationships. For example, Confederate theologian R. L. Dabney argued in favor of slavery and against women's sufferage on the grounds that equality violates the Bible.

A similar argument was made in more modern times by R. J. Rushdoony (who has had a major influence on the modern homeschooling movement) in favor of strict gender roles and in favor of segregation.

A final reason why the two would be linked is that the arguments used in our culture regarding equality for non-whites and for women use much of the same language.

Thus, I can see where this book would feel a need to make a distinction between the two.

BerlinerinPoet said...

Yeah, I'm kind of interested in this book because I'm not sure how the author deals with the historical linkage between race and gender. Did he go into it much or was it mainly about the scriptures.
I'm pretty impressed with your review, Carrie. I always feel grossly inadequate reviewing stuff like this.

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