Gender Debate Reading: a book review

The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate by Kevin Giles

Upon discussion with my pastor about where our church stands on the gender debate, I was lent this book,’The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate’, by Kevin Giles. Not as representative, necessarily, but as something that digs into the theology of the debate. And that, friends, is definitely what this book attempts to do.

I would categorize the book’s framework as tri-partite in format covering three related issues: (1) Theology of the Trinity, (2) Women, subordinate or equal?, and (3) Slavery, as Church theology has dealt with it and how it relates to gender theology. It uses a two-pronged approach to the arguments, one based within the Athanasian formula of “overview” exegesis and the second based upon the idea of cultural change requiring scriptural interpretation change, or what I term an “evolutionary” view of interpreting scripture. This two-pronged approach was submitted early on, in the introduction, but it wasn’t until the final chapters which dealt with Slavery, that I understood better how Giles explains his application of the evolutionary, or cultural, form of argument. I still felt it was the much weaker manner of arguing the issues, especially for someone like me. And I basically disagreed with the premise, but additionally, I felt Giles took a facile manner of dealing with this form, as if it was self-evident truth. I would debate that, but in the further development of his ideas I could see a platform of agreement in the argument that as time progresses more of God’s intent is unfolded, and gives greater understanding. Rather than an unvarnished promotion of “things are different now, and that forces us to re-interpret scripture” which is how I tended to read his line of thinking earlier in his formation of the presentation.

But in commenting further upon these two ways of arguing hermeneutics, I believe Athanasius’ formula of “overview” is best for dealing with application of scripture to society’s dilemmas. If following the watershed path of theological outcomes in society, strict protocols constraining women leads to a society in variance with Bible principles of freedom and equality. Handling those principles will be key in unlocking the correct approach to understanding God’s Word on women.

Giles view on “cultural” evolution and force is very weak, not usable ‘as is’, since it depends on relativism.The idea that Christian principle once accepted within general society results in a juggernaut which cracks open wrong thinking and exposes injustice is plausible, but believing that society moves along as a force in itself, self-propelled without a cause for the ideas source? I believe in cause and effect, and so cannot embrace this culture evolution, as stated. It is framed as a theory that culture so changes that old ideas don’t fit or hold up to present understanding, and thus “forces” a change in the Church and its hermeneutics.

I think that cultural acceptance of a high view of equality and of women requires an “overview” -principle approach to theology which then is caught by other streams of thought in the culture. To see culture as a power in itself, ie the Enlightenment, giving rise to our freedoms and forcing scripture interpretation to change is basically faulty. I immediately thought of Rousseau’s ideas as expressed in the Unibomber’s thinking. In his manifesto his view that man is a “beautiful savage” who only needs to be set free from the corruption of society’s constructs to return to his primitive paradise. This holds a premise of man’s basic goodness, that evil is imposed upon him. An idea wrecking havoc in our present
society. The scriptures view of depravity posits another scenario: that if you destroy the institutions of society with its constructs of civility and law, you leave man helpless and exposed to the worst criminal elements, and vulnerable to the vicissitudes of nature. This all argues that culture is the cart that the horse of philosophy carries to its destiny. The question will remain, what is the basic driving nature of philosophy upon which our carriage of society is riding? What is in control of the basic ideas of the philosophy? Essentially that will boil down to our ideas of God.

There are those who don’t see the pertinence of how the Trinity question of subordination versus equality relates to the gender questions. I think the idea that ones understanding of God influences ones understanding of the formation and direction of society is set forth in that previous paragraph. Additionally, the nature of the Trinity is used as an argument within the reasonings of the theological debate itself.

The subject matter is weighty when a books emphasis is theology, as might be expected. It isn’t light summer reading on the beach. Since the first part of the book, the concept of the Trinity, dealt primarily with theological terms, history, and study, it took much attention and concentration from a reader, such as I am, who does not ordinarily study uncut theology. Besides the fact that the Trinity is a difficult topic for the best of theologians! Giles handled it well, and thoroughly. Of course, I am biased towards the Athanusian “overview”, which I call “principle”, exegesis for the truly thorny doctrinal arguments, which Giles submitted with overwhelming rationale. This portion was just my cup of tea, well laced with historical references and well written in almost a story form. Not at all dry.

As the book,’The Trinity & Subordinationism’, progresses it becomes clear that Giles is arguing the egalitarian side of the gender debate, although I wasn’t sure until he expressed it more clearly half way through the book. This is probably due to the careful submission of the two sides, egalitarian and hierarchal views. Although he does use a rebuttal style, which tips his hand, whenever dealing with the hierarchal-subordination based books such as Piper’s ‘Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism’. By the end of the book Giles is quite forthright in his conviction of the egalitarian stance.

I will admit that I have been moving more strongly in that direction, not particularly from reading this book so much as examining the questions, but Giles weak ‘culture arguments’ did the egalitarian stance no favors in my estimation. I think that is just the bias of those who hold to primarily egalitarian theological views holding sway. They think it wipes away the oppositional view of hierarchal subordination. I don’t agree, and hope to submit my own ideas on where hierarchy fits with a strongly egalitarian view of women. But this book introduced a side of the issue which many of us categorize separately: slavery.

Giles doesn’t spend alot of time on this, but what time there is is well spent making the case for how deluded even the best theologians often were on this issue. I think the history on this and the woman issues was the most enlightening for me. To pay attention to the actual theology of past times when there were still serious arguments about the humanity of people upon the basis of their gender and race.

We shouldn’t forget, and should appreciate how far we have come on some of these social issues. It is both discouraging and encouraging. That the church could promote some of the ideas it has- discouraging…. that it was instrumental in getting on the right side of the issues- encouraging.

I want to further discuss some of the points made in the sections of the debate, so some of my posts may seem like an extension of this review. I think the book is an important one, and lifts the gender discussion to the higher level it needs, outside the emotional mudpit it is often found in.

(Crosspost found @ Intellectuelle)

Book can be found at Amazon.com

10 thoughts on “Gender Debate Reading: a book review”

  1. Well thought out review Ilona. Came across as balanced and fair. The slavery issue is interesting – I have done some reading on it lately too.

  2. I suspect we shall have some interesting discussion, then 🙂 I thought Giles raised a fair question in his book when asking traditionalists how they can dismiss the former ideas on slavery that the Church held forth and yet hold to the subordination of women today. Quite interesting.

    Although I have to say I found a few weaknesses in the egalitarian use of this argument, still there is valid point to be discussed.

  3. Ilona, I want to recommend you consider posting this at Amazon.com. This is just the sort of review I look for when I’m purchasing books, and I always read the reviews on Amazon first and they carry some weight for me, even if I don’t always purchase from them.

  4. Hi Ilona – I was really just wanting to say I thought it was a good review. I don’t call myself a traditionalist (if you were referring to me).

  5. Catez,
    Traditionalists descibe the people with views on one side of the debate. In my sentence I used the prepositional phrase “in his book”. Many of us would have a hard time pegging ourselves on this issue, I think…that is one reason I really am determined to dig further into the topic. Have you decided where you stand? I have so many qualifications on what I would say about my own opinion that it would take me quite awhile to explain…. I’m hoping to get more succinct as the topic moves along in the posts.

    Mark,
    Thanks for the heads up- I’m vastly interested in this topic as you can tell and will scoot over there to read today. 🙂

    🙁 Tried to find what you were referring to… There are some things in the download section, but I have dial-up and it would take me forever to go through everything.

    Hannah,
    Thanks so much…. I think I will follow your suggestion.

  6. Mark, I plan to use some posts to go further into the thinking- it takes breaking down into workable segments; but basically subordination refers to placement and the relationship that results from that- this is how I would describe it. So in the Trinity the question was whether the Son was eternally subordinate to the Father or whether there was equality in the persons of the Trinity.

    With women there was the correlating question of whether women were subordinate in this sort of lasting way, and how that’s defined. Does a woman by nature have placement below all men? And many other questions which spiral off of that type of thought. Also whether the subordination is permanent.

    There is a lot of dancing around in the way both sides define themselves and differentiate their platforms of belief on this. In some ways both claim the same view: that men and women are complementary and so both are called “complementarians” by Giles.

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