STOTT, John, "Women, Men and God," Chapter 5 of Our Social & Sexual Revolution: Major Issues for a New Century, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, pp. 103-131

by Robert Brow  (

I am focusing on just one chapter of this third edition ( 1984, 1990, 1999) of a book by John Stott. The Preface to the 1999 edition is important. "It is extraordinary that in the topic of every chapter the debate has moved on, and in some cases the situation has changed significantly" (11). I am not clear why Stott finds this extraordinary. Unless we believe in a permanent fixity of the received tradition, surely the Holy Spirit will be leading us into new perceptions of what God has in mind. Tradition records what we understood in the past. Revelation is God breaking in to express his mind for the present.

Chapter 5 begins with chronicling the rise of feminist thinking and writing. And evidently Stott has had to change his mind considerably. He has no doubt about equality (106), but "equality and identity are not to be confused" (111). He very helpfully outlines the main approaches to Paul's doctrine of "headship" (Ephesians 5:23). John Stott's position is that "headship must be compatible with equality" and "headship implies some degree of leadership" (121). But leadership is best expressed not in terms of "authority" but of "responsibility" (121).

He takes Paul's picture of the gifts of the Spirit seriously and subscribes to an "every-member ministry of the Body of Christ" (127). But then "Jesus chose, appointed and inspired his apostles as the infallible teachers of his Church. And they were all men" (128). This convinces him that it is "biblically permissible for women to teach men" with the proviso that "a man should be the team leader" (128-129). That allows him to say "there is no a prior reason why women should not be ordained" and he concludes "It remains my view that the best way to reconcile women's ministry with masculine headship is to ordain women for ministry in a local team situation" (129).

And he adds : "The fact that in recent years in the Anglican Communion some women have been appointed rectors or vicars and that, at the time of writing, eleven have become bishops, has not changed my mind about the ideal arrangement" (129). What then does he propose to do? "We should neither make an unprincipled surrender to cultural pressure, nor give up and secede from the Church . . . We should continue the dialogue, refusing to regard the issue as settled" (129)

As I continue this dialogue I wonder why John Stott did not discuss the fact that in marriage there is to be a tenfold mutual submission between husbands and wives ? (1 Corinthians 7:1-16). How does headship apply when there is total mutual submission? And how do you reconcile headship in the church if it is a Body of which the Messiah is the head ? (Ephesians 4:15-16). It is true as a historical fact that the elders of the early Christian synagogues and the leaders of apostolic teams in the book of Acts were male. But then they were also exclusively Jews, and that changed in the process of time. And what do we say of the valiant women who acted as team leaders for the planting of churches all over the world?

Obviously John Stott is in a King Canute rising tide situation among Anglicans. Perhaps he hopes that the tide will ebb? If it does not, what will he write, God willing, in the next edition?

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