“To Follow the Lead of Christ”
A review of
As Christ Submits to the Church:
A Biblical Understanding
of Leadership and Mutual Submission
by Alan Padgett.
Review by Micah Weedman.
Alan Padgett states quite clearly that he writes this book as a “study of biblical ethics and Christ-centered mutual submission… to set out for readers the strength and wisdom of the biblical egalitarian perspective.” (11) This alone makes it an important effort, if not one already taken by many writers and thinkers.
However, two things distinguish Padgett’s work from other attempts: first, Padgett explores both New Testament texts and the ethics of gender from a distinctive vantage point: assuming that in the New Testament, all leadership is framed by what is commonly called “servant leadership,” which Padgett prefers to call mutual submission. “The first type is external, hierarchical, and legal. The second type is internal, personal, and a kind of gift or grace.” The second type of submission, for Padgett, is precisely what we see happen in the Gospel of John when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. It is not a coalescing to a power structure that is in place, but the intentional inversion of that power, so that those who might find themselves in positions of power opt instead to submit themselves to those who are without power. It is, in other words, Jesus submitting himself to the church.
That Jesus submits himself to the church becomes the cornerstone for the rest of the book, and it is a strong and persuasive starting point. Following the recent publication of Christan Smith’s book, among others, Padgett argues that “[if] the claims we make about Jesus at the heart of the gospel are true, then we can no longer approach the Bible in a way that limits us to what a given book’s author might have originally thought.” (21). Canonical approaches to hermeneutics are not particularly original, but as the remainder of the book demonstrates, Padgett’s method offers a unique and important perspective on NT texts surrounding women, men and leadership—because he confesses at the beginning that he uses Christ’s own submission to the church as the basis for how he reads tough passages in Scripture.
Furthermore, Padgett uses Christ’s submissive posture in exploring what theories of leadership look like. He notes that while servant leadership and mutual submission are not identical, they must be considered related. Servant leadership is a form (but only one) of Christ-like submission, and thus invoking servant leadership also invokes Christ’s own submission to the church. This point has broad implications—as readers will see in further chapters where Padgett looks at a number of specific texts from the New Testament. It also has pointed implications, as it calls into question the ways some interpreters—those who maintain a complementarian view of gender roles—use (or misuse) leadership theory and concepts to support their own positions.
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