The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?. If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series.
Ch. 2: The Historical Connection Between Liberalism and the Endorsement of Women’s Ordination in the Church
In this chapter, Grudem refers to sociologist Mark Chaves’s book Ordaining Women for information on when various denominations began ordaining women. Notably, he skips American Baptists, which made me sad. Chaves, Grudem explains, has found that denominations resistant to ordaining women are either those that (1) place a premium on “sacramental ritual” (like the Roman Catholic Church or Eastern Orthodox Church; supposedly this also explains why Episcopalians took until 1976 to ordain women) or (2) believe in biblical inerrancy. Grudem admits that some inerrantists do embrace women in ministry, too—in particular those emphasizing the Holy Spirit or congregational autonomy—but generally, he still thinks it is significant that even if all egalitarians aren’t liberal, all liberals are egalitarians. He specifically identifies a pathway to liberalism he believes everyone is taking, which begins with “abandoning biblical inerrancy” and “endorsing the ordination of women” and ends with “ordaining homosexuals to high leadership positions in the denomination” (28). This is an unfortunate slight against the many inerrantist egalitarians that are a part of organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality, as well as an annoying conflation of two separate theological and ecclesiastical issues (women’s ordination and LGBT ordination).
The best part of this chapter, by far, is when Grudem talks about the “more liberal ‘moderates'” in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who were later ousted by those who again believed in inerrancy and traditional gender roles. (Conservatives—some would say fundamentalists—took control of the SBC in 1984.) Hilariously, he calls the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (a new movement from the 90s, gathering many moderates formerly affiliated with the SBC) liberal. He also specifically complains about my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary, because it removed inerrancy from its doctrinal statement in 1971 and is filled with egalitarian professors. He offers a letter from his friend William Mounce who adjuncted a class on the pastoral epistles at Fuller in 1987, in which Mounce complains about student and administrative responses to his more traditional views. I was proud to see that the Women’s Concerns Committee got a shout-out, since this is the historical precursor to my own position as VP for Women & Gender on the 2010-2011 All-Seminary Council.
Ch. 3: Saying That Genesis is Wrong: Some evangelical feminists deny the authority or truthfulness of Genesis 1-3
Here Grudem makes two complaints: First, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’s book Good News for Women says that any patriarchal bias in the Hebrew language should not be equated with God’s own opinion. Grudem says that, “[s]he talks about ‘the languages in which the Bible was written’ as if the debate were about words that occur outside Scripture. But she glosses over the fact that the story of God’s naming the human race man… is found in the Hebrew language in the text of the Bible… deny[ing] the authority of this part of Scripture” (36). Besides the fact that I consider ha adam to be a little more gender inclusive than Grudem gives it credit for, his argument is clearly based on an insistence that every single word of Scripture be hand-picked by God to convey some special meaning—something not even all inerrantists would say.
Grudem’s second complaint is that William Webb (Women, Slaves, and Homosexuals) doesn’t see Genesis 1-3 as “historically accurate” because Webb says there are possible literary reasons why the passage would seem to support patriarchy. Interestingly, Webb seems to see the text itself as more inherently patriarchal than I do, but he says that this might be because (a) Gen. 1-2 are in some sense foreshadowing the curse in ch. 3, (b) the text is trying to explain things in ways that would make sense to Moses’s audience, or (c) the text is anticipating the agrarian society which Adam and Eve will soon enter. After an attack by Grudem, Webb defended his views in a paper presented at the Evangelical Theological Society, saying that he did believe Gen. 1-3 gave a historical count of creation, he just thought some details might be “ahistorical” or “nonhistorical” instead of meant to be relied on for history. However, Grudem has not changed his mind: Tragically and hilariously, Grudem picks at this poor scholar over such a small concession to moderate theology. Our dear Dr. Webb apparently qualifies for ETS membership (unlike us heathens at Walking Towards Jerusalem), speaks as if Moses wrote the Torah, and even claims to believe that this portion of Scripture is historically accurate. For goodness sakes, I think it is clear that he is not coming even close to liberalism, so I’m not quite sure how this advances Grudem’s argument. However, I’m sure there are plenty of readers who would disagree!
Continue with this series–read about ch. 4-5!