Featured Reviews, VOLUME 4

Featured: As Christ Submits to the Church – Alan Padgett [Vol. 4, #24]

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But, theologically, how can we understand Christ submitting to the church?  Padgett invokes classic Trinitarian theology, arguing that the orthodox understanding is that Christ is co-equal with the Father, but temporarily submits himself to “the one he called Abba” in the incarnation (and here he powerfully suggests that complementarian theology is inherently un-orthodox, as it maintains the functional and ongoing submission of Christ to the Father—see p. 12-14)

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During his incarnation, Christ displays submission to his disciples by washing their feet.  It’s servant leadership, but theologically charged.  In Christ, the church encounters (a man!) who has all Godly authority, and yet submits himself to those who should be recognizing his own authority.  Lest we think that this argument fit with complementarian thoughts about male servant leadership, Padgett spends quite a few pages highlighting how Jesus consistently teaches that, in the reign of God, the only true authority resides with those who are the “servants of all.”  In Mark 10, Jesus even contrasts kingdom authority with wordly authority—in the world, those with authority lord it over those who serve them; in the kingdom of God, all are called to serve all.  Authority comes only to those who humble themselves before all they encounter.  In Padgett’s words, “(s)ervant leadership is the sign of greatness and precedence in the reign and realm of God.”  (53) Authority is not based on roles, but on character, and a character built on mutual submission.

From here, Padgett is able to exegete all the usual NT texts about women, men, leadership and husbands and wives.  Starting with 1 Corinthians 7:4-5, he persuasively argues that authority in marriage is found not in roles, but rather in mutual submission to one another: as the husband has authority over the wife’s body, so then does the wife have authority (“leadership”) over the husband.  Again, authority or leadership is an issue of character and action, not of role.

It’s outside the scope of this review to look closely at every of Padgett’s exegetical moves, not to mention the expertise of this reviewer.  But Padgett offers a persuasive and compelling reading of the usual suspects, offering fresh and interesting takes on often contentious passages.

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One Comment

  1. Interesting! I have been thinking of the idea of submission and servanthood as complementary. Authority is ordained, but only to be used as a servant. The idea of mutual submission has puzzled me, though, because it seems an oxymoron unless we redefine submission, which Padgett seems to do (but which entails its own, considerable, set of problems).