HOW FEMINISM INVADED THE CHURCH

I first took serious notice of how feminism (also called egalitarianism) was invading the church in the later 1980s. For the next five years I devoted most of my research and writing to this subject. After a couple of years of concentrated research I concluded that the biggest problem in this area was in the area of hermeneutics. In a nutshell, I was convinced that feminist conclusions could be drawn from the Bible only by ignoring the basic rules of hermeneutics when interpreting the key gender passages.
In 1990 I began to write my analysis of the feminist phenomenon. My plan was to write a short introduction explaining the types of feminism existing in our culture, then to write an analysis of the key passages beginning with Genesis 1-3. The problem was that the introduction itself grew to about 350 pages, so it was published as a book, Feminism and the Bible: An Introduction to Feminism for Christians (College Press, 1992—no longer in print). In this book I explain the four main types of feminism as they relate to the Bible.
The first type is secular feminism, beginning around 1840 and continuing to the present time. Early leaders were Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. The Bible was basically dismissed as women’s enemy. In the 1890’s Stanton and others produced The Women’s Bible, which gives a feminist slant to relevant texts in the Bible. A landmark achievement was the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, which recognized the right of women to vote. When this happened secular feminism lost momentum for about 40 years, until it was revived in the early 1960s. The architects of this latter-day feminist movement were women such as Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, Germaine Greer, and Gloria Steinem. In 1966 Friedan and others formed the National Organization for Women (NOW). Other feminist organizations included the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH) and the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM). No joke.
The goal of this movement has been to implement a gender-free society, and its approach has become normative in our secular culture today, as enforced by political correctness.
The second type of feminism, beginning in the 1970s, accepted the goals of secular feminism but wanted to maintain some form of spirituality in its practice. Whereas secular feminism was all politics and no spirituality, this second group infused egalitarianism with spiritual power. However, its followers completely rejected traditional religions such as Judaism and Christianity, as well as any other religions that were built around “male” deities. Any genuine divine presence and influence must come from female deities. Hence this approach is called goddess feminism. Adherents embrace witchcraft and neo-paganism. They put much emphasis on extreme ecology, treating “Mother Earth” as a divine being (Gaia); they celebrate female sexuality as sacred. The movement is deliberately anti-Biblical, since the Bible is seen as the ultimate example of the hated male dominance and patriarchy.
The third major type of feminism is liberal Christian feminism, which goes back to the middle of the 20th century. Liberal feminism has the same political goals as the original secular feminism, and a spiritual side like goddess feminism. It differs from the latter, though, in wanting to maintain some connection (but not much) with the Christian Bible and with Jesus Christ. However, it rejects the divine origin and nature of the Bible. As a result liberal feminism rejects any part of the Bible that opposes feminist goals, and uses any part of it that might imply divine support for them. It unambiguously rejects the authority of the Bible, and does not accept it as any kind of norm for doctrine or practice. The only real norm for truth is something called “women’s experience,” which begins with the inward conviction of the absolute equality of all human beings (men and women) regarding both nature and roles. The Bible, God, and Jesus Christ are reinterpreted to conform to this experiential norm.
The fourth and last major type of feminism is what we can call either Biblical or Evangelical feminism. This has been present within conservative church circles since the early 1970s. It arose while the other forms of feminism were exercising a consolidated influence upon Western culture, which in turn was exerting pressure upon Bible-believers to accept feminist principles and find a way to justify them by reinterpreting key Bible texts. Thus from the mid-1970s and through the 1980s major works were published by Evangelical Christians, repudiating the traditional view of gender roles and reworking the Bible to support egalitarianism. Biblical authority was (supposedly) still accepted; the strategy was to reinterpret the relevant texts.
The major feminist writings during this period began with All We’re Meant To Be: A Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation, by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (1974, then later editions). This was the early “bible” of Evangelical feminism; it was called “ground-breaking” and “epoch-making.” Next was Paul King Jewett’s Man as Male and Female: A Study in Sexual Relationships from a Theological Point of View (1975). In this book Jewett declares that Paul inconsistently presents both traditional and feminist viewpoints, and that he was just wrong on the former.
Another early feminist was Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, who published Women, Men, and the Bible in 1977, along with several other later influential works. She has since become more associated with liberal and especially goddess feminism. Also in 1977 Patricia Gundry wrote Woman Be Free! The Clear Message of Scripture. She later (1980) wrote Mutual Submission in Marriage, defending what has become an almost universally-accepted (but false) view of the husband-wife relationship.
A major representative from the Restoration Movement published a couple of influential articles about this same time. This was Scott Bartchy, associated with what was then called Emmanuel School of Religion. In 1978 Standard Publishing issued Essays on New Testament Christianity, in which Bartchy wrote “Power, Submission, and Sexual Identity Among the Early Christians.” He also wrote similar articles for Christian journals in the 1980s.
Influential names from the 1980s include Philip B. Payne (who has some recent works relating to 1 Tim. 2:12); Aida Besançon Spencer (Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry, 1985); Gilbert Bilezikian (Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family, 1985); Alvera and Berkeley Mickelsen (see Women, Authority and the Bible, 1986); Catherine Clark Kroeger (who produced numerous works and was a recognized leader); and Gretchen Gaebelein Hull (Equal To Serve: Women and Men in the Church and Home, 1987). The works of Spencer, Bilezikian, and Kroeger are some of the worst examples of exegesis (hermeneutics) I have ever seen.
In 1974 an Evangelical counterpart to NOW was formed: the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, associated with the ESA (Evangelicals for Social Action). In 1986 it split over the issue of lesbianism; and in 1987, under the leadership of C. C. Kroeger, a new group was formed: Christians for Biblical Equality, which is Evangelical, non-lesbian, and radically feminist.
These are the forces that have been at work upon and within conservative Christendom for two-score decades and more. The secular, goddess, and liberal Christian feminist movements have plowed the ground and sowed the seed of egalitarianism, making it appear to be the “normal” view and creating dissatisfaction with the traditional view. Early Evangelical feminist writers have seized the opportunity and have reinterpreted the entire Biblical canon in a way that neutralizes anything that sounds hierarchical (complementarian) and makes it teach egalitarianism throughout.
Of course, while all this was happening, many Evangelical scholars were trying to defend the traditional view of gender roles against this new movement. Some of these were George W. Knight III, Susan T. Foh, Stephen B. Clark, Douglas J. Moo, James B. Hurley, F. LaGard Smith, H. Wayne House, and especially Wayne Grudem. In 1987 several of these, and others, formed a group called Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW—see its website), for the sole purpose of defending the traditional view and exposing the fallacies of feminism. One of its first major projects was to produce a multi-author volume responding to the recent feminist revisionist teaching. Edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, it was called Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Crossway 1991). On the one hand, I rejoiced to see this work. On the other hand, it took the wind out of my sails, since it did pretty much exactly what I had in mind for the book I was in the process of writing.
I did continue to produce the results of my own research, which ideally would involve three more volumes, in addition to my 350-page introduction. The first of these was Gender Roles and the Bible: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption: A Critique of Feminist Biblical Interpetation (College Press, 1994). I consider this to be one of my best-written and most important books. In it I show how feminists have falsely reinterpreted the Biblical teaching of creation and the fall in Genesis 1-3, how they have produced a fictional view of Jesus and the Gospels in order to make them friends of feminism, and how Galatians 3:28 has been hijacked and taken completely out of context to serve as a blueprint for egalitarianism of every stripe.
My second volume received its final form in 2008, published by College Press as Headship, Submission, and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home. The point here is twofold: first, it shows that the concept of “mutual submission” of husband and wife is an idea created by feminists with total disregard of context and word meanings; and second, it shows that feminism’s attempt to redefine the word “head” (Greek, kephalē), i.e., as “source” rather than “leader, one in authority,” is one of the most wretched examples of counterfeit “scholarship” that I have ever seen.
My third volume would have been about gender roles in the church, but I never got around to writing it. For one thing, my other volumes were pretty much ignored on all sides, which made me feel like I would be wasting my time on it. For another thing, a book had come out in 1995 that gave an excellent explanation of 1 Timothy 2:12, namely, Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (ed. Andreas J. Kӧstenberger, et al.).
My analysis of this whole process is this. Many conservative Christians are not themselves capable of doing the exegetical work that is required for a solid view of gender roles in the home and in the church. For centuries the scholarly (and common sense) interpretations of key gender texts saw them as teaching male headship and male leadership. Then, under the pressures of the cultural presence and dominance of feminism, some Bible scholars have created completely new interpretations of these same texts, ones that ostensibly support a genderless society, a genderless church, and genderless families. These new conclusions were a big hit with a large segment of Christendom, and were simply accepted by many without further question and without any real examination of the exegetical basis for them—or lack thereof. After all, these new feminist writers are scholars, art they not? Most have Ph.D. degrees, do they not? They know Greek, don’t they? They must know what they are talking about! End of story.
The problem is that this is NOT the end of the story. This story has three chapters, not just two. The first chapter is the centuries-old acceptance of the hierarchical (complementarian) view of gender roles. The second chapter is the feminist attempt to reinterpret Scripture in order to provide an alleged basis for the feminist view of gender roles. The third chapter is the examination (by people like me) of the various feminist attempts at exegesis, and the exposure of their results as false, phony, and fake. The problem is that many Bible-believers have digested the first two chapters and have decided they like the way it ends there. That’s where they want the story to end. Thus they have ignored the third chapter, perhaps not even being aware of it; and they have therefore bought into a fallacious and faulty worldview without realizing it.
Contributing to the ease with which feminism has deceived many are two factors. One is the common idea summarized as “the newer, the truer.” I.e., the more recent an idea is, the more likely it is to be true. And since the male leadership idea is the old one, it must be outdated and passé. The feminist approach and the feminist view of Scripture, being the more recent, must be the true view. We see this pattern emerge all the time in the scientific world; therefore it must be true for the social sciences as well!
The second fact is the often overlooked principle that in this sinful world, the will usually dominates the intellect. I.e., even if the objective evidence points another direction, we will see and accept what we WANT to accept. As Paul says in Romans 1:18, it is typical of sinners to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” There is SO much pressure today to WANT the feminist view to be correct. This is the power of “women’s experience,” as mentioned earlier. We need to face reality here. Will women’s experience be our norm, our final authority, or will the Bible?

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HOW FEMINISM INVADED THE CHURCH — 27 Comments

  1. God never decreed in Genesis for Adam to have authority over Eve. What he did decree was for humanity in general to have dominion on Earth and all other life forms in it, never is there any specification for authoritative liberties for either gender http://www.strivetoenter.com/wim/2010/03/21/eve-usurped-adam-authority/.
    And the verse that says for wives to submit to their husbands and husband to love their wives does not mean that both love and submission are not supposed to be mutual. In the time of the new testament writing, marriage was not treated as a partnership; women were literally purchased with money to get the fathers approval to let the man marry her, this is what Jesus meant by “given in marriage” when the pharisees asked him about who’s wife the woman would be in the resurrection. And women were considered second class citizens, with far less legal rights as men http://whatthebiblesays.info/marriage-in-heaven/. This is why it’s commanded for husbands to love their wives, because love typically wasn’t the reason for marriage when that was written. A marriage is a partnership of two people becoming one flesh, not a dictatorship. One flesh cannot have more authority than itself.
    In the septuagint, the Greek translation of the old testament and language that the new testament was originally written in, the Hebrew word for head, rosh, was never translated with the word kephale, the Greek word for head. It’s because rosh could mean a literal head and a position of authority, but the septuagint was always translated with archon in it’s place, a word that does mean a position of authority in Greek, because kephale was rarely used to indicate authority. That’s why there are scholars who doubt that a husband being the head of a wife means he has authority over her. Also if the way of God is in the spirit, not he flesh, one can wonder why someones fleshly makeup would be a standard for who has more authority in any type of relationship. https://thejawboneofanass.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/a-bad-answer-is-worse-than-no-answer-kephale-and-authority-1/ http://www.doxa.ws/social/Women/head2.html
    You provided no evidence that egalitarian scholars weren’t common until the feminist movement, trying to make it seem like that was just a result of twisting the bible to mean what we want. where is your evidence for egalitarian exegesis being historically incorrect? Has anyone ever responded to Wayne Grudems 1990 and 2001 critiques that have never been countered by the two respective scholars that he was arguing against? And what about the argument that kephale meaning a position of greater authority in the new testament is the consensus among scholars https://christianstudies.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/does-kephale-mean-source/?

    • And you are aware that the first person to preach the gospel of Jesus resurrection was a woman commissioned by Jesus himself and that there were many female preachers in the first churches, which were homes, right? To preach is to simply tell about the gospel, so anytime women tell about what they know about the bible on mission trips or to friends and family your goal is proven to be self defeating.

      • No, in fact, I am NOT “aware” of the things you have listed here, which are given a decidedly feminist slant. I AM aware that the first ones to discover the empty tomb and to encounter the risen Christ were women, and that Jesus instructed them to carry specific messages to the disciples (Matt. 28:10; John 20:17-18). But to equate this experience with “preaching the gospel” in our modern sense of that term, or even “telling what we know about the Bible,” is an example of what I have called “exaggerated radicalness” and “feminist hyperexegesis.” I suggest you and others read my book Gender Roles and the Bible: Creation, the Fall, & Redemption–A Critique of Feminist Biblical Interpretation, especially chapter 4, “Feminism and Jesus Christ” (pp. 149-216). See pp. 174-175, 183-184 regarding the resurrection experiences. One statement therefrom: “What is Jesus asking these women to do? He is asking them to serve as messengers and to deliver a specific message to a specific group of people, period. There is nothing about preaching and evangelism that can legitimately be concluded from this incident.” The idea that there were “many female preachers in the first churches” is likewise feminist hyperexegesis. The New Testament does indeed make a distinction between sharing the gospel with unbelievers (which is what Priscilla and Aquila were doing, Acts 18:24-19:7), and teaching Christian doctrine to Christian men, which is what Paul forbids women to do in 1 Tim. 2:12 (see 3:15). For more on Jesus and women, one can Google these studies of mine: “Was Jesus a Feminist? A Case of Mistaken Identity”; and “The Gender of Jesus and the Incarnation: A Case Study in Feminist Hermeneutics.” It is one thing to be aware of facts; it is quite a different thing to be aware of slanted interpretations of facts.

    • I wish this person could have read my books, Gender Roles and the Bible: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption–A Critique of Feminist Biblical Interpretation, and Headship, Submission, and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home, before making these remarks. That God established male headship at the creation is clearly seen in Genesis 2, where we can see that (1) the male is central in the narrative, (2) the male was created first, (3) the woman was created from the man, (4) the woman was created for the man, and (5) the man named the woman (Gender Roles and the Bible, 80-99). The decisive point, though, is the New Testament commentary on all this (1 Cor. 11:8-9 and 1 Tim. 2:13), which is usually ignored by feminists when they talk about Genesis 1-3 (ibid., 99-102). On the whole issue of the meaning of submission and headship, as I have sufficiently shown in the other book mentioned above, I have never seen a more pathetic lack of scholarship evidenced in a biased and futile attempt to prove the unprovable.

  2. Dear Dr. Cottrell, Your article was interesting, but I have some questions. Is the Holy Spirit promised just to men or to women as well? Which of the spiritual gifts were meant for women and which were meant for men? In China, I’ve read that 7 in 10 house churches are led by women. Is God upset that women are leading or happy that people are being saved? You seem to think that we can only understand God through our intellect and not through our experiences or emotions. Is this correct? Why were we created with emotions and given experiences? Why do you seem to regard women as the enemy in this spiritual battle? Obviously, I’ll struggled with this issue for some time. However, in Biblical accounts, God is more often interested in humility and in having his will accomplished than in who is doing the accomplishing. I have your book, The Faith Once For All, but I don’t think you considered the whole Bible when expressing your opinion on women. Blessings to you.

    • Christine,

      What China does is not the standard, but the word of God is. I have lived in China for 11 years and this issue has been on my heart for about as long as I have been here. Yes, there are a lot of women taking the leadership roles in the house churches and the men are conspicuously absent, maybe only 20 to 25 percent men. Does that sound like a healthy situation? If the church is not teaching that the men should lead, why should we expect them to feel the pressure to do it. When the women take leadership over the men, the men are not all that interested in coming. The truth is that no culture naturally produces Godly men to lead. They must be forged out of discipleship training in the scripture (like Timothy). Instead on grabbing for the steering wheel, women need to give men that pressure. And when godly men lead in the way God desires, I believe the women are happier. This in no way means that women have no place to serve! It just means that God has given qualified men the responsibility to lead.

      • Anders,

        I appreciate your comments. I have left the institutional church but it is sad to see the organic/house church has the same idol of feminism firmly supplanted on its altar. The huge irony in this is that the house church proclaims a more Biblical orientation, especially on 1 Corinthians 14. But the house/organic church seems to think the last verse of 1 Cor 14 is 33.

  3. Just picked up a copy of Feminism and the Bible: An Introduction to Feminism for Christians (used). Can’t wait to read it!

  4. “We need to face reality here. Will women’s experience be our norm, our final authority, or will the Bible?”

    This hits the proverbial “nail on the head.”

    Unfortunately, it is true for most “issues.” What I call “experience (or feeling) justified pragmatism” is the rule of the day and often the rule of the church as well. In “lay terms” pragmatism is defined as “if it works do it.” So in “experience (or feeling) justified pragmatism,” something (or a statement) works, if and only if, it gives me (or someone or a group of people) a good experience (or feeling). This could also be classified as a type of utilitarianism.

    Having “women preachers” makes the advocates feel good. Society accepts them as being “enlightened Christians.” As such, it appears to work. Or, as they say “God is glorified.”

    Because the independent Christian Church advocates of women preaching come from a tradition that has historically affirmed “sola scriptura,” they desperately want to maintain the “authority of the Bible.” So, they do mental gymnastics and eisegesis. In the process, texts are reinterpreted and words are redefined.

    The result is twofold. First a woman can preach without being a preacher. If the act of preaching does not make the person doing the preaching a preacher what does? We can have women preaching without women preachers. To say that someone who teaches at an elementary school is not a teacher is absurd. To say that someone who is preaching at a church is not a preacher is equally absurd. Secondly, the text says something new – something that it has not said for 2,000 years. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” And, for once, Wikipedia gets it right, “Itching ears is a term used in the Bible to describe a person who seeks out messages that please them and fit their lifestyle, as opposed to seeking a truth that might make them uncomfortable.”

    When the experience of comfort is both the goal of life and standard of truth, almost anything can be justified.

  5. I bought and read both of the books you wrote on the subject and I am not surprised they were ignored. I did some teaching from them several years back and while my exegesis wasn’t refuted it was ignored by some. I think there is a good deal of intellectual laziness and even denial on the subject in some churches and colleges. Peter Rasor’s latest blog has taken some punches from some individuals on Facebook who have demonstrated they don’t have the willingness or ability to present good exegesis on the subject. The older I get the more I realize that to provide sound reasoning from the Scriptures on subjects like these to some preachers, elders, and Bible college professors is just a waste of time.

    Keep the faith and write the third book. I have bought your books and given them out as gifts. A third in the series on this subject is still needed.

    Mike

    • It definitely takes work to examine these and other important issues on a level deep enough to do justice to them. I think this is one reason why the will dominates the intellect: we hear an idea (e.g., mutual submission); it sounds good; so we say “I like that; I think it will go over really well”; and we just go with it. We thus save ourselves all the trouble of examining and evaluating the data.

  6. Great job, as usual. Should be required reading for all elders and pre-elders (and ministers). Have you ever read anything by Taleb Nassim? In his book “Antifragile” he also criticizes the “newer truer” idea and suggests that the opposite is more likely the case, i.e. the older an idea is the more likely it is to be true by virtue of the fact of it’s long survival.

    • No, I have not heard of Taleb Nassim. Long ago I taught a course on 20th century theology (fundamentalism, Liberalism, neo-orthodoxy). I found that one of the main traits of the original Liberalism (late 19th, early 20th centuries) was belief in this concept. I gave it the label, “the newer, the truer.” I like the idea that the opposite is more likely to be the case–at least in philosophical thought.

  7. Dr. Cottrell, have you considered letting Google Books scan “Feminism and the Bible: An Introduction to Feminism for Christians” so it can be read online, since it’s out of print?

  8. The feminist movement became stronger as the men became weaker in areas normally expected for them to take leadership. When the men went to war, all jobs and responsibility were left to the woman. Women who weren’t married had to thrive on their own abilities instead of looking for a husband to provide for her. Many women found they liked the independence, earning income, and finding they were capable of doing the job as well as any man. When the men came home,the women found it difficult to give up their jobs. Men also encouraged it as they learned to benefit from both incomes. Men encouraged women to protest for the right to vote because they wanted the votes. Women had become the spiritual leaders to their children. Getting them ready for Sunday service and Sunday school, their own studies and interests in love for God grew. Those that became deeply commited and learned, began to desire the leadership roles. When men were scarse in the church,more women were relied upon doing duties close to priesthood. When they felt strong enough to do as good or better than the priests, they sought priesthood.It becomes a power struggle, not really of equal rights, but more rights and more power over man. The man then learned he was quite capable of doing a woman’s job at home, and some prefered it over working in the office. I hope these factors were a part of your study.

    • What you describe here would be an example of the “women’s experience” that I mentioned in my essay. In Christian circles the issue is this: what shall be our ultimate authority? Will the normative authority for our belief and practice be the Bible, or women’s experience?

      • Kathy, I think you’re right on how this starting coming about after WWII, but I also think this problem goes back even further. It sounds an awful lot like Miriam who “lead the women in song” in Exodus, but still wanted equal status with her brother Moses. It didn’t please God then and doesn’t today.
        I recently taught a workshop on Women’s Role in the Church at our Ladies Retreat in Northern, IN. Only one lady seemed “out of sorts” by the conservative approach. There are still many of us out here who appreciate the Bible and God’s views on women. His plan is wonderful and does not lessen me, my intellect or my abilities. We’ve been in church with good men leading and bad. That doesn’t change what the Bible says either.

        • Just out of curiosity, where in the text does it indicate Miriam desired equal status with Moses or that God was displeased with her? If it’s not mentioned in Ex 15, is it somewhere else (and not by implication of 1 Tim 2)?

          • Numbers 12 contains the account where Miriam and Aaron both wanted to be counted equal to Moses.

  9. Just picked up the books by Grudem/Piper and Kostenberger. Your efforts aren’t in vain. Thanks once again.

  10. Excellent explanation!!

    I praise God for the wisdom and strength He has given to you, and i praise Him for all the hard work that you made to come up with this material.

  11. Well done. As always, it is clear, informative and intellectually stimulating. I am thinking about writing a blog to address issues in the African-American community from a conservative-evangelical perspective. Our community has been hijacked by leftist liberalism. It really breaks my heart. Keep up the good work.

  12. Thank you, Dr. Cottrell, for sharing with us your research and scholarship on this important issue. As with most issues where there is confusion and dissension concerning Scripture, it boils down to either an inability or an unwillingness to rightly divide the Word of God.

    I never had the privilege of learning from you in a formal classroom, but I thank God for opportunity to do so via facebook.

  13. Excellent and timely article. Thank you for recommending Kӧstenberger’s book. Your last two paragraphs emphasize the spiritual war in which we fight! The greater attack is on the authority and value of the Scriptures. It is an outworking of deluded thinking as expsoed in Ps 2:3, “Let us break Their bonds asunder, And cast away Their cords from us.” Looking forward to your next blog. Blessings.

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