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Not a good place to start
on 16 May 2016
If you want a book to unintentionally persuade you that the arguments for women to be elders and bishops are incredibly weak, then I suspect this might be the book. It is one of the worst I have read.
The editors tells us "The aim of this book is to help individual Christians, small groups and even whole churches to look again honestly and carefully at what the Bible says about women and men in family life, in ministry and in society." (p. ix) They do then go on to admit that all the authors are egalitarian, but the book could still be even-handed. In particular it was compiled (too hastily I might suggest) to speak into the situation after the general synod vote where the legislation for women bishops did not pass in 2012. Commendably they suggest the way forward is "more than a process to keep everyone together. We must also examine what we believe." (p. ix) and even more commendable they turn to Scripture for that purpose.
However, I think the purpose of the book is more accurately summarised as follows: "The authors all share the conviction that the Church of England should move rapidly towards the consecration of women as bishops, and a conviction that this is more consistent with and supported by the Scriptures." (p.xiv) The purpose is to persuade the reader that Scripture need be no barrier to the agenda of consecration of women bishops.
With those aims, the book is written at a popular level, with study questions and guides to reflection and is certainly a fairly straightforward read. Each chapter is written by a different author with some extra notes on most of the chapters written by Paula Gooder.
So why am I so negative about the book. Here are a few thoughts.
1. An egalitarian position is too often stated rather than exegeted.
2. Complementarian arguments are ignored or treated shabbily.
3. Context is king, but not when we import it.
4. Much of the discussion seems to set up a straw man.
5. Language is loaded rather than precise.
6. The book is theologically variable.
As a book to push women bishop's legislation over the final hurdle, this may have been effective. However, for someone who really wants to engage "honestly and carefully" with the Bible on this issue, it is frankly pretty dismal. There are much better books written from both sides of the debate, books that take more care exegetically and are less manipulative in trying to achieve their result. Some excuse may be given because of the brevity of the book and the speed of its publication, but I'm not sure that is satisfactory.