D. G. Hart
Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? by Wayne Grudem. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006, 272 pages, $15.99, paper.
In this book, Wayne Grudem continues his courageous and valuable critique of sexual egalitarianism. Having already devoted books and institutions to defending different roles and responsibilities for men and women in marriage and the church, in Evangelical Feminism Grudem turns his sights on evangelical scholars, schools, and churches that have either tolerated or embraced feminism.
The author does so in a way sure to gain attention. Grudem's argument is simply that feminism is a shortcut to liberalism because evangelicals who read feminism into the Bible end up undermining the authority of Scripture.
The book consists of two parts. The first concerns evangelical feminist views that deny the "full" authority of Scripture. In this category fall such claims that experience, tradition, or history subsequent to the closing of the New Testament should supplant the norms that informed the biblical writers. In the second section Grudem addresses various historical and interpretive errors that undermine biblical authority. Examples here include claims such as that New Testament female homeowners were bishops in the church, or that the women whom Paul barred from speaking in the church were guilty of teaching heresy, thus making erroneous views rather than sex the reason for women remaining silent. In each chapter, of which all are short, Grudem summarizes the position, documents the persons responsible, and refutes the argument in question. A short concluding section raises the possibility that evangelical feminism will not merely stop with women's ordination but will lead to defective views of God and to tolerance for homosexuality.
As persuasive and forthright as Grudem is in dissecting the particular errors of evangelical feminism, his larger thesis about the drift to liberalism is less convincing. Grudem argues sensibly enough that a denial of biblical authority constitutes liberal Christianity. He also contends that evangelical feminism is an expression of a weak view of Scripture. But one could just as easily turn Grudem's logic around and say that evangelical feminists have such a high view of biblical authority that they feel compelled to find a justification for egalitarianism in the Bible. As a result, their pursuit of biblical grounds for feminism leads to questionable and or erroneous interpretations of certain biblical passages.
This is not to say that specific evangelical feminists take Paul at his word on men's and women's roles. They do actually turn the apostle's teaching on its head. But Grudem does not permit the possibility that such interpretations may also stem from a desire to find biblical warrants for egalitarianism. Obviously worse would be the case of feminists simply ignoring the Bible and proposing that modern ideas about men and women should be the norm for Christians. This is, of course, what Grudem believes evangelical feminists have done. But he does not allow that explicit rejection of biblical authority is different from questionable interpretations of the Bible.
Despite this flaw, Grudem's book will be helpful for two reasons. The first is to catalog the various ways by which evangelical feminism has become commonplace. The second is to alert readers to the serious decline of sound teaching within American evangelicalism. Protestant evangelicals once had the reputation for being the conservative counter-weight to liberal Protestantism and so enjoyed support and admiration from Reformed and Presbyterians who cooperated with born-again Protestants in various ways. Books like this demonstrate that the compatibility of Reformed Christianity and American evangelicalism is at the point of vanishing.
D. G. Hart
Intercollegiate Studies Institute