Saturday, November 12

Book Review: Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth

An Analysis of More Than One Hundred Disputed Questions, by Wayne Grudem, reviewed for The Diet of Bookworms.

This is some book! By that I mean that Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth is about as comprehensive a treatment of the issue of the proper biblical roles of men and women in the home and in the church as anyone could hope to find--856 pages, 80+ pages of which are bibliography and indexes, 8 appendices totaling over 200 pages, and 536 pages of text--all painstakingly documented and referenced.

Grudem argues for the complementarian viewpoint, which holds that the equal value and dignity of the sexes do not mean that men and women have the same God-given roles in marriage or the church. (I would consider myself a complementarian--although not necessarily a studied one[1]--so I was not reading this book as someone whose bias is critical of this viewpoint.) However, no matter what your personal view is--complementarian or egalitarian[2]--if you are interested in this issue, you will find this book invaluable for the careful documentation of the arguments for both sides. I wish everyone writing books arguing for a particular viewpoint were as fair as Grudem is in his representation of the arguments of the other side. In fact, he solicits comments from any egalitarian author who thinks he has unfairly quoted or summarized their arguments, giving an address for their complaints to be sent to.

In the first two chapters of this book, the positive case for the complementarian viewpoint is given. In the bulkiest section of the book, chapters 3-12, Grudem systematically answers the arguments made by egalitarians. If you've heard the argument made, you will undoubtedly find it set out for you in this section, right alongside Grudem's evaluation of the claim.

Let's take one you've probably heard: the argument that Junia was a woman apostle. I've heard this one stated flat out, as if there's no other reasonable way to interpret Romans 16:7. From this interpretation of the verse, the argument is made that if there was a woman apostle, then all church roles (or offices) should be open to women. Grudem gives the better part of four pages to the examination of this particular argument.

He argues that first of all, we cannot tell for certain from the spelling of the name whether the name is masculine or feminine. It could be either, although Grudem concedes that the Latin evidence makes it more likely, but not sure, that the name is a woman's. He also points out that for the first four hundred years after the writing of the New Testament, writer's comments are mixed regarding the gender of this name. So there remains a good bit of iffiness as to the gender of the person called Junia.

Secondly, and this is the strongest argument against this particular verse having any weight at all for the egalitarian view of roles in the church, Grudem argues that most recent Greek grammar research suggests that this verse means that Junia was "well-known to the apostles."[3] In other words, it is likely that all this scriptural text is saying is the the apostles knew Junia well.

The third general argument Grudem gives is that the word translated apostles can just mean "messengers", and is translated that way in several other places in the New Testament. It would not, then, have to refer to the church office of apostle, but might refer less specifically to someone who simply functions as a messenger.

Of course, Grudem goes into each of these arguments in more detail than what you'll find in my little summary statements, but it all adds up to a conclusion--that there was someone serving in the role of an apostle in the early church who was a woman--built from uncertain or speculative or even doubtful premises. It isn't much to make a positive conclusion from.

There are 118 egalitarian claims examined in this same detail in this middle section of the book. Even if you don't read this section clear through from start to finish, you should find it handy to have as a reference, no matter where you hang your hat on this issue.

The two summary chapters of the book contain Grudem's argument that evangelical feminism tends to lead to other liberal positions within a church, and an overview of the viewpoints held by the various denominations and parachurch organizations. He ends the text with some of his personal observations and opinion as to how and why egalitarianism is advancing in the church and what complementarians ought to do about it.

Then there are the previously mentioned appendices, which are almost a book in themselves, and just as interesting and informative as the regular text of the book. They include, for instance, two lengthy works on the meaning of the Greek word translated head. If you've heard many egalitarian arguments, you know that the meaning of this word figures large in their arguments.

To sum up, if this is an issue you care about, then you'll want to read this book in order to make sure you have a full grasp of the arguments on both sides. And your library is lacking if you don't have this book as a reference to draw from. If you, like me, are not a scholar, you'll appreciate that while Wayne Grudem is a scholar--and this is a very scholarly piece--it is still quite readable and understandable for the nonscholar.

[1]This doesn't mean I am simply what Grudem calls an "instinctive complementatian". In fact, my instinctive (or default) position would probably have been more toward egalitarianism. However, every argument I heard egalitarians make sounded "grasping" and flimsy, so I began to view the whole viewpoint with suspicion. After all, if your best arguments are a stretch, it doesn't matter much that you've got a whole slew of them--support for your argument is still weak.

[2] Egalitarianism is defined by Grudem as the view that there are no unique roles for men and women in marriage or the church that are based on gender alone (except for obvious physical differences).

[3] You can find Daniel Wallace's argument for possibly taking this as "well-known to the apostles" here. There are NET Bible notes on this subject (note 8), too.
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