A Review of “Beyond Authority and Submission” by Rachel Green Miller

Rachel Green Miller believes that “authority and submission have become the lens through which all of women’s and men’s interactions are viewed” (14). In Beyond Authority and Submission she has identified serious problems within this focus, namely the ways in which it undervalues women and distorts Biblical teaching. Despite what critics have said, I don’t perceive Miller to be some sort of secret progressive attempting to undermine Biblical teaching on gender roles. Rather, this book offers correction to a major imbalance in the Christian community.

Rachel Green Miller is not an academic, and so she does not write as one. Yet, her professional credentials should not detract from the very thorough and competent work that she has done in Beyond Authority and Submission. Writing as a lay woman, she gives pastors and theologians better insight into how doctrine and preaching are being applied and experienced in the church. Her writings, furthermore, garnered the support of several respected theologians. Carl Trueman and Liam Goligher both endorsed this book, giving it the support of some keen academics and conservative theologians. These endorsements are important too because Miller has been wrongly identified as some sort of secret progressive trying to undermine Biblical gender roles. That is not the case. Miller is not against the historic understanding of God designed gender roles in the family and the church. She is, however, against the over use of authority and submission in those contexts.

The book is broken down into six parts, each focusing on a specific sphere of the man/woman relationship. She starts by laying a Biblical foundation for mutuality, and for setting it as the primary emphasis in Scripture for governing all relationships, even that of men and women. Part two, turns to consider history and how gender roles have evolved (or stayed the same) over time. Her scathing analysis of male dominated societies is worth reading. As a general rule, from the Greeks up to the modern era, women have been treated as inferior to men, even among Christians. Part three focuses on current theological teaching regarding the “nature of men and women,” and the ways in which Scripture challenges some of these notions. Part four focuses on men and women in the home. Parts five and six close the book out by exploring men and women in the church and in society at large.

The book presents us with some important challenges to the ways in which male headship is expressed in many corners of conservative Christianity. She quotes extensively from modern teachers and theologians, and reveals some very serious errors among some corners of our community. The professed belief that men and women are “equal in essence” doesn’t seem to manifest in practice. She points to the ways in which gender stereotypes don’t fit with Scripture, and how the Scriptural emphases on mutuality and self-sacrifice are lost in much of the present conversation. I especially appreciated the way in which Miller contrasts modern conceptions of authority and submission in military terms, with the Scriptural exploration of those terms. There is a tremendous amount of valuable critique offered in this book.

I do wish that Miller had done more to wrestle with the Scriptural texts which are often used to defend a stricter or stronger form of Complimentarianism. She offers some general definitions of male headship and female submission but she doesn’t offer an alternative exegesis for the common interpretations people give in defense of different definitions of these terms. I think that would have made the book stronger in some parts. I understand the book’s main argument to be against the overuse of authority and submission, but many believe that they are simply echoing the Bible’s emphasis when it speaks of authority and submission in marital, and more broadly gendered, relationships. The book’s argument could have been more powerful if she had taken those interpretations to task and wrestled with what the commonly cited texts mean. In many cases, Miller doesn’t necessarily disagree with those interpretations but rather their expression or manifestation. I think she could have done more to demonstrate that difference.

Over all this is an excellent resource and one worth reading. It is not intended to be a formal theology of manhood and womanhood, nor a detailed exploration of marriage. Yet, it’s constructive critique of Complimentarianism is on point. We don’t need to throw out all that Complimentarinism teaches, but we do need to reevaluate the emphasis that many theologians have on authority and submission, and we certainly need to reevaluate our expression of those principles.

I enjoyed this book and I would commend it to all men and all pastors in particular. Even if you disagree with Miller’s analysis it is helpful to read her perspective and to see how views of male headship and female submission are being understood and experienced. Theologians and pastors ought to be open to reevaluating their expression of Biblical principles and attempt to clarify their points. This matters because it can leader to greater valuing of women, and greater protection of wives. Beyond Authority and Submission identifies, in my opinion, real problems in the contemporary church, many of which are coming to the surface during the age of #metoo and #churchtoo. Rachel Green Miller provides us some guidance on where to begin our self and church evaluations.

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