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. Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.
Ch. 6- “Later Developments” Trump Scripture: Some evangelical feminists say our ultimate authority is not found in what is written in Scripture but in developments that came after the Bible
Here Grudem complains about a few authors (R. T. France and David Thompson) who say something along the lines of “Scripture had egalitarian ideals in mind, but the first-century situation didn’t allow a full implementation of these ideals.” Grudem dislikes this because he says it “means the teachings of the New Testament are no longer our final authority. Our authority now becomes our own ideas of the direction the New Testament was heading but never quite reached” (55-56). He also complains that I. Howard Marshall makes an argument that Paul gave instructions for his day, but that the principle of mutual love leads us to somewhat different standards for relationships today. Altogether, Grudem’s basic point is that we are under the new covenant and therefore “living in the same period in God’s plan for “the history of redemption” as the first-century Christians. And that is why we can read and apply the New Testament directly to ourselves today” (57).
Ch. 7- “Redemptive Movement” Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists adopt William Webb’s “redemptive-movement” approach and cast all ethical commands of the New Testament into doubt
This chapter is in many ways an extension of ch. 6, but this time Grudem focuses on one specific author, William Webb. Webb talks about ethics in terms of an X–>Y–>Z trajectory in which the X is the original culture, Y is the better ethic introduced in the biblical narrative, and Z is the ultimate ethic to which the Bible points. Grudem’s biggest problem with Webb actually seems to be Webb’s introduction of eighteen different criteria which he proposes as a means of understanding this “redemptive movement.” Grudem claims that Webb’s method requires “a new class of ‘priests,’ erudite scholars with expertise in the ancient world who will be able to give us reliable conclusions about what kind of ‘ultimate ethic’ we should follow today” (71), and he specifically puts such knowledge beyond all but perhaps 1% of scholars with PhDs in New Testament and Old Testament.
“…those few scholars who have the time and the specialized knowledge of rabbinic studies, of Graeco-Roman culture, and of ancient Egyptian and Babylonian and Assyrian and Persian cultures, and who have access to a major research library—only this very select group will be able to use Webb’s ‘redemptive-movement hermeneutic’ in the way he describes… This tiny group of experts will have to tell us what moral standards God wants us to follow today” (71).
Grudem claims this will lead to a massive confusion over what God actually wants from us, which could be prevented if only we would simply apply the New Testament directly. “We don’t have to use Webb’s eighteen criteria and study them through the filters of ancient Near Easter/Graeco-Roman culture to know whether they [God’s commands] apply to us! Nor do we need any specialist scholars to decide that for us. That is not they system God intended. His words are for his people to understand and obey” (72).
I knew Grudem was very conservative, but there are conservative people who still believe hermeneutics matter. Apparently Grudem’s solution to anything complicated in the Bible is simply to understand it more literally. Really, I wonder why he bothers to teach in a seminary at all, given the extremely anti-intellectual tone of these two chapters. I’m glad Grudem wants discussions about the Bible to stay accessible—I’m all for educating lay Christians so that more and more people can be a part of important theological conversations, but that education is necessary. We can’t pretend it isn’t crucial to understand ancient languages and cultures if we’re going to properly interpret the Bible. And this whining about how only 1% of scholars know anything about these cultures is complete hogwash.
Continue with this series–read about ch. 8-9!