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Book Review: Evangelical Feminism

1581347340.jpgA New Path to Liberalism? by Wayne Grudem

The focus of this book by Wayne Grudem is his concern that evangelical feminism will prove, over time, to draw people into theological liberalism. By liberalism, Grudem is referring to a system of belief that does not accept the Bible as the supreme authority in the lives of believers, or accept the absolute truthfulness of what is written in it.

Grudem bases this concern of his in many of the arguments made in support of egalitarianism. They are, he says, often exactly the same arguments used first in liberal Protestant denomination—arguments that deny (although sometimes in subtle ways) that the text of scripture is completely error free, and that what we find written there is the final arbitrator of things in a believer’s life and in the life of the church.

Grudem’s first argument is from history. He makes the case that, generally speaking, denominations that ordain women are also denominations that at least tolerate liberalism. The lists are interesting, and it does seem that the ordination of women and a denial of the inerrancy of scripture (or at least a tolerance of those who deny the inerrancy of scripture) tend to go hand in hand within denominations. I’m not sure exactly what this proves, but the correlation is worth noting.

The second section of the book is a collection of short chapters (fifteen in all), with each one examining a single argument put forward by evangelical feminists. Each arguments examined is one that Grudem believes undermines the authority of scripture. I won’t run through the various arguments, but I will give you one example, and a summary of Grudem’s reasoning for his charge that this particular argument undermines scripture.

The first chapter in this section deals with a couple of arguments that put forward the idea that the account of creation given to us in Genesis 1-3 is not exactly accurate. One of the arguments, made by William Webb, is that the priority of Adam’s creation, with instructions given by God to Adam alone, is not the way things really happened; but rather, is a literary device, perhaps used to foreshadow the curse, or used by Moses to make things easier for people of his time and culture to understand the story, or used to anticipate life in an agrarian society. The point of denying the historicity of the text that says that Adam was created first is that this makes it possible to argue that when Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:13, where he argues from Adam’s creation before Eve that women are not to exercise authority over a man, the argument he uses is merely a cultural one, and not one rooted in the actual events of creation. At the very least, it’s an odd way for someone with a high view of scripture to handle the text; but further, it seems a little like toying with the evidence for the purpose of coming to one’s desired conclusion. Grudem’s point is that this argument is a step on the road to denying the inerrancy of scripture by denying that the Genesis account represents the historical events of creation.

There are many more troubling arguments in this section. Some, like the example above, deny the authority of scripture by claiming that the text is wrong in some way. Other arguments simply claim that there are certain things that trump the authority of scripture, like experience, or “calling”, or individual circumstances.

The next section of Evangelical Feminism deals with arguments that are based on claims that come mostly from conjecture, either about what a certain word really means, or what the particular circumstances surrounding a text really were. These conjectures allow for whole new interpretations of some passages, but the unsubstantiated nature of the claims upon which these interpretations are made make the interpretations themselves speculative at best, and yet the claims are not presented as speculations, but as already proven facts.

The way these undermine the authority of scripture is more subtle than the ones in the previous section of the book.

if those alleged facts are incorrect and people believe them anyway, then people will think the Bible says something different than what it does say, and then they will no longer believe or obey what the Bible really says. And thus, in a different way, the effective authority of the Bible is undermined in our churches.

There are ten chapters in this section dealing with various unsubstantiated claims. You’ve heard some of them, I’m sure. There’s the claim, for instance, that the women in the church of Corinth were particularly unruly or disruptive. Did you know there is really no evidence, either internal to the text of 1 Corinthians or historical, that this was so? Yet you will hear it repeated—I certainly have—as if it were a historical fact.

Have you heard that the women of Ephesus were uneducated, so that’s why Paul forbids them to teach? There is no historical evidence that this was the case, and what historical evidence there is points to the existence of educated women there—like Priscilla, for one. Nevertheless, you will hear this unsubstantiated theory bandied about as if there were something more than guess work behind it.

That last section of the book deals with Grudem’s prediction of where it is that evangelical feminism is leading: toward the denial of the uniquely masculine (or feminine) except the physical differences; toward a God whom we can address as “our Mother”, even though he never describes himself this way; and toward an approval of homosexual practice.

The last chapter is a summary of the argument of this book: that the evangelical feminist arguments persistently undermine the authority of scripture, and ultimately, it is the high view of scripture that is at stake in this debate. Perhaps you are thinking, as I was, that there must be egalitarians who do not use any of these sorts of arguments. Grudem’s response is that he doesn’t know any.

…every evangelical feminist author I know of adopts at least some of the argument I have listed in this book, and most of them adopt a number of these arguments.

It should be noted that Grudem is not saying that all (or even most) egalitarians are liberals, or moving personally toward liberalism. What he is saying is that, while many egalitarians may affirm the authority of scripture, many of their arguments undermine scripture’s authority, so that it is toward liberalism that egalitarianism is likely leading, with each successive generation going further in that direction.

Like all of Grudem’s books, there are extensive footnotes that allow you to check out everything he says to see if his claims are really so. I also appreciate his care in presenting the arguments of those whose ideas he is opposing. He seems to go out of his way to get their position exactly right without any exaggeration, and I like that.

Even though I’ve written reviews of a couple of books on the subject of egalitarianism, this is not a subject I am naturally interested in. I’m a complementarian, and I know why I believe what I believe, but I’ve not been fascinated by the ins and outs of all the arguments. But I do think it’s an important subject, perhaps more important than I understood previously, and Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? is an important book on the subject, and one that is easily read and understood by a non-expert reader like me.


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Reader Comments (7)

I'm reading this book now.I've seen the huge impact of evangelical feminism on the church, and it is not good. Grudem explains the thought behind it that I didn't understand and shows egalitarianism to be even more destructive than I realized. This is a tremendously important book, and I hope it's widely read by men and women.

June 26, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterrosemary

Oh this book is very important! I am headed off to a women's Bible Study this morning. The leader chose an IVP book on the images of Christ. Lesson 7 is entitled "The Bridegroom" and is based on Eph. 5:25-33. There is an answer section in the back that makes sure that the egalitarian hatchet job on this passage is asserted in the lamest tie-in to the question, "How does Christ show sacrificial love for his bride, the church?"

She considered IVP materials safe, not knowing how to check for the liberal "trouble spots."

Sorry this comment is long, but I left the mainline heresies only to find them snaking into evangelical Christianity. It makes me MAD!

Thank you for your thoughtful review!

June 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

I tend to agree with the premise of this book--at least agree with how you've presented it, since I haven't yet read the book. But always in the back of my mind a little nagging thought: In the evangelical churches I've been involved in, womem simply don't concern themselves with deep matters of theology and Bible study. A problem with the absence of real thinking among the men exists too, but among the women it is definite and pronounced. I know many other factors figure in here (the general lack of real thought in the culture at large) but I can't help but think that women in the church who are interested in deep matters of scriptures face a extra barrier. There simply aren't outlets for this "intellectual energy."

At church parties I used to find myself levitating to the men's conversations because they were invariably more interesting. Now that I have a child I of course have things in common with the women too. But I remember thinking, "If I make a comment in the conversation, am I disobeying the Biblical injunction to not teach men?"

June 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRuthie Cuiabana

If I make a comment in the conversation, am I disobeying the Biblical injunction to not teach men?"

I certainly don't think so. I think discussions are a whole different things than teaching that's done in an official capacity within the church. In a discussion, you don't have authority over anyone. You are simply presenting your ideas and your reasons for them.

June 27, 2007 | Registered Commenterrebecca

But isn't the Biblical injunction not simply against being a teacher or preacher, but an instruction for women to remain silent? Women were to ask their husbands at home if they had questions.

I'm playing the Devil's advocate here and probably with partial knowledge. I can't imagine that God is honored when women don't express their opinions. The passage has always bothered me, though.

June 28, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRuthie Cuiabana

Hi Ruthie,

I think the passage (1 Corinthians 14) that says that women are to remain silent is in the context of judging prophesies in the church service. It doesn't seem like it can mean that they can't speak at all, because in chapter 11, Paul talks about women praying and prophesying in church. So I think the thought is like this:

"Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said....[But] the women should keep silent...'

June 28, 2007 | Registered Commenterrebecca

Yes, that makes sense. Thanks for the imput. I always seem to get snagged on passages like this, and it tends to hinder my ability to dig into other passages, I hate to say it: it errodes my faith. Whether it is my own self-doubt or the Devil, I don't know, but often in the back of my mind there's the fear that God isn't who He said He is and that life in Jesus is merely a myth; afterall, there are a many many interpretations of any given passage of scripture by well-meaning Christians. Of course, as you've illustrated, some of them are much more well-grounded in context and logic than others; I suppose that's the key. Thanks again.

July 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRuthie Cuiabana

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