Miller does deserve a great deal of credit for calling out certain gross errors within evangelical complementarian circles. In this area she has done sterling service to the church. Chief among these are the ESS doctrine with respect to the Trinity, and the various instances of abuse and neglect masking as forms of patriarchy. There can also be confusion or unnecessary guilt caused by shallow portrayals of traditional men and women.
Although I do not know Rachel Green Miller personally and I am not on social media, I have been able to follow some of the debate surrounding her writing for a number of years. In my work for ACE, I have published her articles in the past, and have defended her in various ways both publicly and privately, while also voicing what I hope were fair and constructive criticisms. Miller’s recent book, Beyond Authority and Submission, published by our friends at P&R, was endorsed by some close personal friends of mine, people whose expertise and acumen I greatly admire. In addition, several positive endorsements of the book have appeared on ACE sites. All of these things contributed to my interest in reading and reviewing the book for myself, though, because of the constraints of time, this will be less than a full academic review.
Miller’s argument in the book involves three key parts. The first is essentially historical. Miller surveys Greco-Roman and Victorian views of women, and also briefly surveys modern feminism. She argues that the Greco-Roman and Victorian view of women has clouded modern conservative biblical interpretation. In her discussion of feminism, she seeks to show that the development of modern feminism is not an unalloyed evil, but rather contains both good and bad elements.
The second part of the book (which she also surveys at the book’s outset) attempts to address some of the key biblical texts to give both a big-picture perspective and to respond to teaching on specific passages. Finally, she critically engages with what she considers to be dangerous views found within the church – views which result in heresy, confusion, or abuse.
While some of her historical analysis of the Greco-Roman view on men and women lacks nuance (hinging, at key points, on a tendentious etymological analysis of the word “hysterical”), Miller is correct to remind readers about the ways in which Christian teaching gave greater dignity to the role of wives and women than that which was on offer in the Roman world. In making her case, she relies heavily on substantial summative scholarship. This strengthens her case in some regard – her analysis is based on more than simply stringing together a handful of quotes – but it also does cause her conclusions to rest on the work of a few specific scholars. Nonetheless, the overall contrast that she draws between the Bible and culture of the Roman Empire is worthy of emphasis.
Miller is far less convincing in her analysis of the Victorian era. Here she does not offer enough evidence to sustain her conclusions.