A friend of mine asked me to read Powerful and Free: Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church by Danny Silk. He was excited about the book, saying it would be impactful for me. I borrowed it and read it, mostly because I will likely want to place a book in his hand someday, but also because I’ve not read much on gender roles in the church written from the egalitarian position. I should have read another book.
I should warn everyone that I’m a complementarian when it comes to gender roles. I hold this position both within the church and the family, and to a lesser extent, society at large. My wife jokes that I’m a He-man Woman Hater like Spanky, Alfalfa, and Buckwheat. I don’t think that’s true but I’m sure some will label me seriously as such because I hold to a traditional view of gender differences. Silk’s book hasn’t changed my mind. In fact, it has solidified me more in the complementarian perspective.
Powerful and Free is by no means a scholarly treatment of the subject. It is an emotional appeal based on the experiences and opinions of the author. There is one chapter dealing with Paul’s writing about the role of women in the church and in the family. The author demonstrates a lack of consistency how he handles the English text as well as a laughable interaction with the original Greek. His argument is that because Paul says there is neither “male nor female” that all gender roles, even those he writes about, are null. Silk fails to interact with his primary text within its context and to tie it in with his other arguments. He handles Paul’s words with care like that of a chimpanzee driving a semi-truck.
I recognized when I started the book that the author was a Bethel devotee. I was not surprised that much of the work spoke of anointing and power and other such language rooted in that movement. It did surprise me that such high regard was given to a “word” received while the biblical text was treated in so shallow a fashion. Here is where I find my greatest difference with the author. When someone claims to have received divine revelation outside of the Scriptures, and in this case counter to it, I will err on the side of the text rather than some feller’s inwardly received word. Silk seems to go the other way.
Another issue I have with the book is its description of power. Power is always described in terms of authority and influence - usually in an institutional setting. This seems to be a rather masculine understanding. While the author does make clear the distinction between masculinity and femininity he fails to describe feminine power. In fairness, he comes close in chapter 7 while talking about Proverbs 31 but misses the opportunity and instead provides testimonials about women being empowered by their husbands to take leadership roles in business and the church. A biblical description of feminine power would be more helpful than examples of women in ministry positions.
At several points in the book, Silk comes close to espousing a complementarian position. This is because he recognizes the clear distinction between male in female both in the text as well as in his own experience. Despite this, he fails to see that an equal standing before God in Christ with regard to judgment is not the same thing as an equal standing in positions of authority in the church or family. He lacks a biblical anthropology and ecclesiology. As a result, seems to be influenced by secular, feminist views.
Never in Powerful and Free is there a reasonable description of those holding the complementarian view. He fails to interact with anyone holding the opposing position. I realize that a popular level book is not expected to deal extensively with the alternative view but gross mischaracterization, a charitable description of the author’s tone, is inappropriate. Silk should read Piper and Grudem’s Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to better understand the position he opposes.
I would also like to point out that making a comparison between the way biblical gender roles have been abused to the institution of slavery is dishonest. It is disrespectful to those harmed by slavery and misogyny.
Powerful but Free misses the mark in furthering the discussion in the complementarian/egalitarian debate in any meaningful way. It may serve as a starting point for those interested in the subject, but it fails to support the author’s position or level serious criticism to his opposition. I'd skip it.