TRUTH or TRADITION
Understanding the Difference between Biblical Womanhood and Feminism
by Susan Hyatt, D.MIN., M.A., M.A.
Some parts of the following essay are excerpts from my doctoral dissertation,
Regent University School of Divinity, 2000.
For a copy of the complete work, contact the author.
Recently, my husband was speaking on Africans in the New Testament and Early Christianity in a church on Long Island. But before he spoke, the pastor pulled him aside and nervously informed him that two women had phoned warning him that he should not have Eddie speak because I had written on gender equality.
Eddie assured him that he was not there to teach on that issue but was simply fulfilling the invitation that had been extended. The pastor sighed in relief, saying, "It would be dangerous if some of the assertive women in the Church got hold of that teaching!"
Isn't that sad? Why is the Church so afraid of the truth?
If the biblical truth is taught and received, control and aggression are not problems in either men or women. The Gospel gives neither the right nor the responsibility of one to rule over the other.
The problem is that many women who receive the message of biblical equality merely add it to their theological baggage without letting God show them what it really means and how it is to permeate their entire worldview and their way of thinking about everything.
Like every biblical truth, the component of biblical equality invades our comfort zones and demands new ways of thinking and relating. Jesus' message of biblical equality does not authorize us to control or rule over others. In fact, it is the humbling revelation that, not only are we equals with others at the foot of the Cross; but also, others are our equals! As a good friend says, "That changes the water on the beans!"
The Bible truth is that women are equal with men in terms of substance and value, privilege and responsibility, function and authority.
I distinguish a biblical theology of womanhood from both Conservative Evangelicalism and from Liberal Feminism, and I call it a Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of Biblical Womanhood. I call it this because it is informed by the Bible, highly regarded, and by the activity of the Holy Spirit in revival history.
It is an indisputable fact that, during times of revival history, the Holy Spirit has elevated women toward equality with me to the extent that the culture of the revival people will allow. It is also a fact that Jesus taught the equality of women with men in every respect. So did Paul, accurately understood. And so does Genesis!
So what are we afraid of? Why do we cling to tradition, allowing it to obscure and distort truth?
A Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood shares some common ground with the Conservative Evangelical position. Both hold the Bible in highest esteem as the inspired Word of God, authoritative for every aspect of life. And both agree on crucial doctrinal issues such as the deity of Jesus Christ, the reality and necessity of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and return, and the need to be born again.
Nevertheless, they typically disagree on major pneumatological issues, such as the Baptism of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 1:8; 2:4), divine healing as in the Atonement, and the gifts of the Spirit. Their differences lie in practical aspects of the experience of the Spirit in daily life as well as in divergent historical-theological roots. Consequently, their interpretation of Scripture can be very different, particularly on issues related to the activity of the Holy Spirit. The theology of womanhood is one main area of traditional disagreement. Comments by eminent evangelical scholsr David M. Scholer help to explain one area where this difference is obvious. He writes,
"Generally, persons raised within holiness, pentecostal and certain Baptist traditions experienced women teaching authoritatively in the church long before they were equipped to interpret 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and never found that passage a problem. Conversely, persons raised in many Reformed traditions knew long before they were equipped to interpret 1 Timothy 2:11-12 that women were to be excluded from authoritative teaching in the church. They grew up finding the verses clear support for what they believed." (Ftnt. 1)
A Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood may find common sentiments with Feminists, as well. But liberal feminism does not inform a Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of womanhood. Rather, they find common ground where truth is expressed. And two things are definitely true: 1) women, including God's women, have been written out of history; 2) the Church's traditional theology of womanhood has been poisoned with misogyny.
Highly regarded evangelical theologian, Clark Pinnock, defines feminism as "an advocacy of the right of women based on a theory of the equality of the sexes." (Ftnt. 2) Although feminist theology is multifarious, a factor that definitely differentiates it from a Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of womanhood is the position held on biblical authority. Whereas Secular and Liberal Feminists deny the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the Pentecostal/Charismatic position upholds inspiration and inerrancy in the original manuscripts. In addition, Liberal Feminists would uphold female experience as the legitimate theological starting point and would accept untested, mystical experience.
But the Pentecostal/Charismatic position presented in this paper points to Jesusbona fide Christ as the only legitimate, theological starting point, and bona fide expressions of the Holy Spirit, biblically affirmed, as the only legitimate and acceptable spiritual experiences. (This differs from many in the spiritual formation movement who embrace zen and extra-biblical, mystical experience.)
Conservative Evangelicals and Liberal Feminists, certainly, are poles apart, and the Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of womanhood position proposed by this paper is distinct from both poles. Yet is does share certain elements with each of them.
The theology of womanhood presented in this paper:
· Embraces the historical and personal manifest activity of the Holy Spirit in and through Spirit-baptized believers. Conservative Evangelicals, if they remain true to their historical-theological roots, do not, and Liberal Feminists do not.
· Accepts the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures in their original documents. Conservative Evangelicals agree; Liberal Feminists disagree.
· Realizes the fact that the traditional theology of the institution called "the Church" is misogynous, unbiblical, and unacceptable. Conservative Evangelicals tend to disagree, (Ftnt, 3) while another diligent contingent of Conservative Evangelical scholars is attempting to correct the errors of the past. Liberal Feminists agree that the traditional theology of womanhood is misogynous and unacceptable, but they also see the Bible as hopelessly patriarchal and feel they must "leave Christianity in order to participate in Jesus' discipleship as equal." (Ftnt. 5)
The Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood proposed by this paper can be defined further in terms of Word and Spirit. These elements find precedence in the hermeneutic of the Parhams delineated in Chapter 3 of the dissertation ("Strategic Historical-Theological Elements in the Development of a Pentecostal/Charismatic Theology of Womanhood"), (Ftnt. 6) and in that of George Fox and the early Friends., also delineated in Chapter 3. (Ftnt. 7) This position also accepts the position of credible evangelical scholars who have faithfully clarified by sound research, the original intent of previously troublesome passages. (Ftnt. 8)
This approach to biblical interpretation considers at least the following hermeneutical considerations:
· It holds a high view of Scripture.
· It respects the cultural context of the passage.
· It respects the literary context of the passage.
· It respects the literary genre of the passage.
· It considers the author's purpose and original intent.
· It respects the best scholarly authorities in relation to epistemology of words.
· It seeks biblical paradigms and principles as opposed to hapax or "cut and paste" interpretations.
· It recognizes that the Spirit existed before the Written Word and was the Agent inspiring the Word.
· It recognizes the use of figurative language in Scripture, but rejects any approach to interpretation that employs allegorical methods and eisegesis.
· While respecting the value of consensus, it maintains the high value of the priesthood/ prophet-hood of all believers with respect to the witness and illuminating activity of the Author of the Book, the Holy Spirit, in the believer.
· For reasons explicated in previous chapters, it rserves the right to reject traditional interpretations inspired by Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin.
· It acknowledges the Lordship of the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as the starting point for legitimate theological formulation.
Many good Christians who, no doubt, would die for the Truth refuse to consider this truth. They cling to traditional ideas about womanhood even though those ideas are blatantly unbiblical. Whether they like it or not, the biblical and pneumatological evidence simply does not support the doctrine of authoritarian male headship and female subjugation. As a foremost authority on this issue, David M. Scholer writes,
"I am fully convinced that the Bible does not institute, under gird, or teach male headship and female submission, in either the traditionalist or complementarian forms of evangelical thought, which exclude women from equal participation in authority with men within the body of Christ, whether in ministry or marriage or any other dimension of life." (Ftnt. 9)
When the scriptural strongholds of female subjugation are read in context with historical accuracy, it is clear that these interpretations are inaccurate and self-serving. It is also clear that their originally intended meanings agree with Jesus' teaching in which men and women are regarded as equal in terms of substance and value, privilege and responsibility, function and authority. And, accurately interpreted, these passages confirm the equalizing activity of the Spirit through the centuries.
Based on accurate biblical evidence, it is clear that woman stands before God equal in every respect with man. She is equal in terms of substance and value, function and authority, privilege and responsibility. A Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood, according to the biblical standard, is egalitarian. This agrees with the activity of the Spirit in history, the other component critical to a Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of womanhood. Christians need not be afraid of this truth.
1. David M. Scholer, "I Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church's Ministry," Women, Authority, and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 215.
2. Clark Pinnock, "Biblical Authority and the Issues in Question," Women, Authority, and the Bible, 51.
3. A good example of this position would be the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which articulates its version of the traditional theology in its Danvers Statement. Leading proponent of this position are Wayne Grudem and John Piper.
4. The leading advocacy group holding this position would be Christians for Biblical Equality and such scholars David M. Scholer, Catherine Clark Kroeger, Millard Erickson, and Roger Nicole.
5. Virginia Mollencourt writes, "I am beginning to wonder whether indeed Christianity is patriarchal to its very core. If so, count me out. Some of us may be forced to leave Christianity in order to participate in Jesus' discipleship as equal." Virginia Mollenkott, Christian Century (7 March 1984): 252. See also Rosemary Radford Ruether, "The Task of Feminist Theology," Doing Theology in Today's World, ed, J. D. Woodbridge and T. E. McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 359-376. In addition, see S. Hyatt, In the Spirit We're Equal, 275-290.
6. Chapter 3 of doctoral dissertation, 83-89.
7. S. Hyatt, "Biblical Equality and The Friends," In the Spirit We're Equal, 83-130. See also S. Hyatt, Seeking Equality and Finding an Answer in a Spirit-Led Approach to Biblical Interpretation, Unpublished manuscript, (Dallas: Hyatt Press, 1996).
8. These form the substance of this chapter.
9. Scholer, 51.
(If full footnote data is wanted, please, request it.)