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Feminism

Postmodern Feminism:

The Influence of Postmodernism

Does history hold a bias against women?Members of the radical feminist movement seem to think so. Radical feminism hashad incredibly destructive effects on marriage and the family—and its influencehas also been felt on the church. Evangelical feminism teaches an egalitarianview of marriage and roles in the church, to the point where passages thatclearly teach male headship are reinterpreted, explained away, or ignoredaltogether. As a result, many men are abdicating or being forced out of theirGod-given roles as heads of their households and as leaders in the church. Thenegative effects of this kind of postmodern thinking have led to seriousattacks on the authority of God’s Word.


Introduction

Where does true freedom come from? Isit found in the casting off of God-given roles and responsibilities in pursuitof supposedly higher ideals? That seems to be the conclusion of feminism. Theradical feminist movement has caused incredible damage to marriage and thefamily in our culture. Like other prominent postmodern ideas of our day,feminism professes to be about “liberation.” It looks to liberate women fromthe supposed “shackles” of being wives and mothers. Furthermore, feminism restson the assumption that men have written history and that patriarchal societieshave made choices in such a way as to subordinate and exclude women.

It is important to note that the word feminism inthis series does not include most of what is commonly known as “women’ssuffrage,” or first-wave feminism. That is, this author is not challengingwomen’s right to vote or other opportunities afforded women during the latenineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, second-wave feminism, whichbegan in the 1960s and ran until the 1990s, and third-wave feminism, whichbegan in the 1990s, have both caused incredible damage to the institution ofmarriage, the family, and biblical gender roles.

Two prominent feminists, Sandra M.Gilbert, professor emerita of English at University of California–Davis, andSusan Gubar, professor emerita of English and women’s studies at IndianaUniversity, made what is a common argument from feminists about male authority:

For if the author/father is owner ofhis text and of his reader’s attention, he is also, of course, owner/possessorof the subjects of his text, that is to say of those figures, scenes, andevents—those brain children—he has both incarnated in black and white and“bound” in cloth or leather. Thus, because he is an author, a “man of letters” is simultaneously, like his divinecounterpart, a father, a master or ruler, and an owner: the spiritual type of apatriarch, as we understand that term in Western society.1

Essentially, Gilbert and Gubar, andmany others, argue that because of the masculine roots of even the word author andbecause of the patriarchal structure of many cultures, the voices of women havesuffered or gone unheard. Other well-known feminists have claimed that womenare seen as “Other” in society, as something feared by men. Such a mindset hasdone nothing to strengthen marriage and the family.

More recently, feminist scholars haverealized the error of pitting men against women. But rather than embrace thebiblical guidelines for marriage and leadership, these scholars have advocateda general wiping away of gender distinctions, thus removing the uniquenessinherent in being a woman or a man.

David Noebel, founder of SummitMinistries, sums up well the devastating effects of radical feminism on societyas a whole:

For radical feminists, the ultimategoal became women’s equality with men, which means, among other things, totalsexual freedom. To bring this about, the strategic theory proclaimed children aburden and marriage a form of slavery, counterproductive to a woman’sself-fulfillment. Abortion was declared a political right and women’s onlymeans for sexual equality with men—since men can engage in sexual intercoursewithout the consequences of bearing children, women must have the same freedomand political right.2

The effects of feminism run deep—andthe church has not been immune. While the church has not embraced feministideals as quickly as the rest of the culture, feminism has not been without aninfluence on the Christian community. This ideology has even changed the waymany in the church view Scripture. While many feminists in the secular worldcharacterize the Bible as oppressive to women, many evangelical feminists(i.e., professing Christians who believe feminist ideals are compatible withScripture) claim that the passages on male headship are simply misunderstood.

As the feminist movement and feministtheory have risen in prominence, its influence on the church can be seen moreclearly. The evangelical feminist movement, which will be the subject of this article,has led to confusion and a loss of biblical authority in some areas of thinkingin many churches.

Thanks to evangelical feminism,passages of Scripture on male headship in marriage are reinterpreted, explainedaway, or ignored altogether, and men are abdicating or being forced out oftheir God-given roles as heads of their households. Many churches have chosento relegate Scripture that teaches that it is men who are to reside inleadership over the church to a place of “cultural” relevance—teachings thatare outdated today because society has somehow reached a state ofenlightenment. The negative effects of this kind of postmodern thinking haveled to serious attacks on the authority of Scripture and have weakened therelationships and structures in the church and in Christian families as awhole.

 

Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Authority

As with the other postmodern ideas thisseries has explored, feminist theory operates primarily on assumptions andpersonal agenda. Tremper Longman, professor of biblical studies at WestmontCollege, and Peter Enns, formerly the senior fellow of biblical studies atBioLogos—both of whom do not hold to a literal reading of Genesis—explainfeminist interpretation of Scripture:

By its very nature, feminist interpretationis pluralistic; that is, there are no right or wrong readings. Hence, feministcritics may advocate different and often contradictory readings of the sametext. Further, the starting point of feminist interpretation of the Bible isnot the biblical text in its own right but rather the concerns of feminism.3

Does this sound familiar? The startingpoint is not Scripture, and “there are no right or wrong readings.” In otherwords, what drives feminist criticism is personal agenda. Longman and Ennsoutline what that agenda is:

Recognizing that in the history ofcivilization women have been marginalized and denied access to positions ofauthority and influence, feminist scholars seek to expose the strategies bywhich men have either justified their control over women or encouraged femalecomplicity in their own subordination. In the particular case of the Bible,there is abundant evidence to show that the Bible was produced mainly by menfor men.3

Indeed, many in the feminist campbelieve that history itself is inherently biased against women. Just as theBible was supposedly written “by men for men,” so was history supposedlywritten by men to benefit men.

While there is some truth to the ideathat history as we know it contains a certain amount of bias (after all, no oneis truly without a bias), it does not logically follow that we can know nothingabout history because of a historian’s bias. When reading an American historytextbook, does the author’s bias prevent us from trusting that names, dates,and places are correct? Likely not, unless there is reasonable evidence thatthe author either does not know what he is talking about or is intentionallydistorting facts to push an agenda. Such are the pitfalls of anything writtenby biased, sinful, fallible humans. With the Word of God, we can be sure thatno such pitfalls are there, as the words are the words of God Himself, who is truthand who created maleand female. Nonetheless, the historicalbias idea has filtered into the interpretations of many Christian leaders andBible scholars, manifesting itself in a variety of forms.

One notable example concerns the use ofmasculine pronouns to describe God.4 Paul R. Smith, an openly homosexualpastor, earned his master’s degree in theology from Midwestern BaptistTheological Seminary and now pastors Broadway Church in Kansas City, Missouri.In his book Is It Okay to Call God “Mother”? Smithargues that the predominantly male pronouns used for God in Scripture are notthe result of divine inspiration, but rather the result of “culturalinfluences.” He writes, “If we can recognize cultural influence in the earlychurch practice of addressing one another with a holy kiss, why should we notalso recognize cultural influence in the New Testament practice of addressingGod with almost exclusively masculine imagery?”5 In other words, Scripture’s use ofmasculine pronouns and mostly masculine imagery to describe God can be chalkedup to male authors who wrote what was culturally popular—male descriptions ofGod. This idea is, of course, in direct conflict with 2 Timothy3:16–17, which tells us that all Scriptureis breathed out by God.

Smith and others intentionallyintegrate feminine pronouns and language in reference to God the Father and Godthe Son. A movement began some years ago to replace masculine pronoun use forGod in Scripture with feminine pronouns. Some denominations even embracedreferring to God as “mother.” Randy Stinson, a dean at Southern BaptistTheological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and senior fellow with theCouncil for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, noted that the United MethodistHymnal’s supplement, The Faith We Sing (2000),“includes songs that address God as ‘Strong Mother’ and ‘Mothering God.’ Inthis same hymnal, not only are there songs referring to God as mother, butthere is one song referring to the earth as mother.”6 In other words, not only do the hymnssing of God as mother, but they interchangeably refer to Godand Earthas “mother.”

While it is clear from Scripture thatGod is Spirit (John 4:24)and is therefore beyond the confines of physical gender, what is also clear isthat Scripture intentionally avoids referring to God as “mother” in the sameway that it refers to Him as “father,” “king,” and so on. As Wayne Grudem, aprofessor at Phoenix Seminary and an outspoken critic of evangelical feminism,rightfully notes, “we should not name God with names that the Bible never usesand actually avoids using. God’s name is valued and highly protected inScripture.”7

The trouble with these anti-masculinelanguage arguments is that they rely on the idea that the Bible must remain“culturally relevant.” But this line of thinking not only questions biblicalauthority—it has a tendency to dismiss it altogether. Like the new historicism(see part 4 of this series, The Influence of Postmodernism,Part 4: New Historicism), the above arguments make culture theauthority over Scripture, rather than God.

 

Evangelical Feminism and Power

Like deconstruction andthe new historicism,feminist theory is also concerned with power and how that relates to the binaryoppositions Jacques Derrida (the founder of deconstruction)8 was concerned with. Indeed, theelements of deconstruction and the new historicism are present in feministideology, likely because Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and other prominentpostmodernists who have influenced many academics over the years all heldpost-structuralist viewpoints in their work.

Post-structuralism was a term applied to many of the French philosophers whorose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, including Derrida and Foucault. Their works shared some similar themes, including the ideathat there is no fixed or intrinsic meanings in words and that binaries likemale/female are nothing more than social constructs (i.e., an idea that has developedover time but cannot be ascertained from nature) meant to exercise power overpeople. These ideas are integral not only to feminist theory, but also toqueer theory and gender studies.

Central to the power issue inevangelical feminism is biblical gender roles in marriage. The binaryhusband/wife is key here, because a feminist would see a social constructionpresent in Scripture that makes the husband dominant and the wife oppressed.From the standpoint of a postmodernist, the biblical idea of male headship inthe home is simply a power play.

There are two primary schools ofthought in the debate over biblical gender roles: complementarian andegalitarian. In a basic sense, complementarians are those who agree that whilemen and women are equal before God in matters of salvation and human worth (Galatians 3:28), Godhas given men in the church a special authority to teach and lead, and He hasgiven husbands in the home a special authority and responsibility to lead theirfamilies (Genesis1–2;Ephesians 5:22–33).9

Egalitarians are those who believe thatGod has not necessarily set men apart as leaders, but has rather invited allpeople, men and women, to exercise equal authority in the church and home. Thislatter camp has embraced evangelical feminism in many ways, and the influenceis apparent in how they read Scripture dealing with gender roles in the homeand the church.

One of the most well-known proponentsof the egalitarian view of Scripture is the organization Christians forBiblical Equality (C.B.E.). Theorganization’s president is Mimi Haddad, who earned a Ph.D. in historicaltheology from the University of Durham, England and who now teaches formultiple seminaries. The C.B.E. mission statement makes clear that they rejectwhat the Bible has to say about gender roles:

CBE affirms and promotes the biblicaltruth that all believers—without regard to gender, ethnicity or class—mustexercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility inchurch, home and world.10

Much of what Haddad and C.B.E. arepromoting is not “biblical.” But byequivocating on the phrase biblical equality,C.B.E. creates a situation whereby those who dissent from an egalitarianreading of Scripture cannot voice their disagreement without seeming as thoughthey reject “biblical equality.”This is yet another example of a postmodern language game—C.B.E. has redefinedthe terms so its definition will be more readily accepted by society, eventhough it no longer reflects what the Bible plainly says about equality.

In a move characteristic of manyevangelical feminists, Haddad redefines the phrase male headship,writing that husbands are only given “cultural authority” and that the Apostle Paul’s only mention of authority isin 1 Corinthians 7:3–7, a passage about the sexual relationship of a husband andwife. She concludes, “for Paul, male headship is primarily about love,demonstrated by sacrifice and an abandonment of cultural authority.”11 The initial problem here is Haddad’simplication that authority and love cannot operate together in a marriage, thatit is somehow not “biblical” for a husband to exercise authority in a godlymanner over his family. Furthermore, her statement seems to imply that thosewho hold a complementarian view of marriage lack love and sacrifice, or at thevery least are deficient in those areas because of authority. These are boldclaims to make considering their lack of biblical support.

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, founder ofWillow Creek Community Church and professor emeritus at Wheaton College, alsohas written for C.B.E. Bilezikian argues, “There is not ahint, not even a whisper about anything like a hierarchical order existingbetween man and woman in the creation account of Genesis.”12 This, despite that in the creationaccount, Adam is made first; he is tasked with naming the animals; he names Eve(Genesis 2:23); he isgiven the instructions regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil;and his name is called when both he and Eve sinned. Additionally, God createsEve to be Adam’s “helper” (Genesis 2:20). The pattern of male headship is clearly evident in the“very good” creation prior to the Fall.

Indeed, male headship is also taught inthe New Testament, after the Fall.The Apostle Paul explains how the godly marriage relationship should look inEphesians 5:

Wives, submit to your own husbands,as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head ofthe church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church issubject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gaveHimself for her . . . So husbands ought to love their own wives as their ownbodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:22–2528)

Taken at face value, Paul seems to beteaching that husbands are to lead their wives, just as Christ leads thechurch.

But Bilezikian, like many who have beeninfluenced by evangelical feminist thinking, argues that words such as head or helper inScripture are misunderstood. Bilezikian says of headship, “Head is nevergiven the meaning of authority, boss or leader. It describes the servantfunction of provider of life, growth and development.”13 In one sense, Bilezikian has itright—the husband absolutely should desire to aid his wife and children intheir spiritual growth. In fact, Ephesians 5:28–33 commands husbands to love their wives as they lovethemselves and as Christ loved the church (i.e., to the point of being willingto die for her).

In relation to Genesis and Eve’s roleas Adam’s “helper,” Bilezikian writes, “In the language of the Old Testament, a‘helper’ is one who rescues others in situations of need. This designation isoften attributed to God as our rescuer. The word denotes not domesticity orsubordination but competency and superior strength.”13 While Bilezikian’s claim may soundplausible, the textual evidence simply does not support it. What’s more, he hasnot leveled the field for men and women; he has sent it to a far extreme byimplying that women are defined by “competency and superior strength.” There isno question that women are competent, strong individuals. Every marriage is madeup of a team, a husband and wife who are both competent and strong in their ownareas. That fact, however, does not negate what God’s Word has to say about whois charged with leading the family. Every “team” needs a leader, and Scriptureclearly places the responsibility for leadership on the husband, both beforeand after the Fall.

The main concern in the husband/wiferelationship for evangelical feminists (and feminism in general) is power. Radical feminism has done the work attaching enoughnegative connotations to the word submission that it is readily avoided in most circles, includingChristian ones. But feminism’s view that there is no intrinsic meaning in wordsrenders titles like “husband” and “wife” virtually meaningless, thereby makingthe redistribution of power in the home much easier. The influence of this ideathat words cannot be taken at face value is reflected in the hermeneutic ofscholars like those at C.B.E.

 

Where Does Evangelical Feminism Lead?

Most evangelical feminists wouldprofess to believe in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, setting themapart from many other forms of feminism. However, their method of interpretingand applying Scripture leaves something to be desired. What is at the heart ofa reluctance or even outright refusal to refer to God as “he” and “father”?What drives the redefinition and dismissal of passages of Scripture thatpromote male headship in marriage and leadership in the church? Grudemconcludes, “At the foundation of egalitarianism is a dislike and a rejection ofanything uniquely masculine.”14

The poor state of marriage and thefamily today is an outworking of sin. With the Fall came a marring ofrelationships, and one of the consequences of the Curse in Genesis 3 is thewife’s temptation to usurp her husband’s authority as well as the husband’stemptation to exercise domineering, ungodly authority over his wife or histemptation to abdicate his role altogether. Radical feminism, evangelicalfeminism, and other branches of the theory that deny the authority of God’sWord are all attempts to justify actions that are not God’s ideal for men andwomen.

The world is quickly moving toward acomplete rejection of gender differences, with perhaps the exception ofsuperficial biological differences, in favor of a society of men and women whoare simply sexual “beings” that are not to be distinguished by gender. And certainly one of the defining issues of thisgeneration is the acceptance of homosexual behavior and same-sex “marriage.”(These will be discussed in the final two parts of this series.) As the secularculture accepts these ideas, churches that are not founded on the authority ofGod’s Word will undoubtedly not be far behind.

While evangelical feminists do notnecessarily promote or condone the above views of gender and homosexual conduct(unlike many of their more radical counterparts), their hermeneutic ultimatelyleads to those conclusions. After all, ifmale headship or masculine language in Scripture can be attributed to culturalinfluences, why should prohibitions against homosexual behavior be treated anydifferently? And if there are truly no distinctions between men and women inpassages on headship in the home and leadership in the church, why should therebe gender distinctions in general? What does it mean to be distinctly masculineor distinctly feminine in the church, if the examples in Scripture are eitherreinterpreted or simply are not to be applied to specific genders? Indeed,pro-homosexual Bible scholars are already applying these methods ofinterpretation in an attempt to justify homosexual behavior.

The road to true freedom comes not fromseeking validity through position or power in marriage or the church. Truefreedom comes by obedience to Christ, which means honoring God’s Word in everyarea, including biblical gender roles. Scholars like those at Christians forBiblical Equality, who argue for an egalitarian view of Scripture, may be wellmeaning and gifted individuals who love the Lord. But they are severelymisguided in their teachings. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we have aresponsibility to humbly correct error in the church, “speaking the truth inlove” (Ephesians 4:15).That is what we at Answers in Genesis try to practice, and we urge you to dothe same.

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Footnotes

1.     Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, TheMadwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century LiteraryImagination (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 7. Back

2.     David Noebel, Understanding the Times (Manitou Springs, Colorado: Summit Press, 2006), p. 350. Back

3.     Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns (Downers Grove,Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2008), s.v. “feminist interpretation.” Back (1) Back (2)

4.     Randy L. Stinson offers a thorough critique of the movementto replace masculine references to God with feminine ones in his article, “OurMother Who Art in Heaven: A Brief Overview and Critique of EvangelicalFeminists and the Use of Feminine God-Language,”Journal of Biblical Manhoodand Womanhood 8, no. 2 (2003): 21–31. Back

5.     Paul R. Smith, Is It Okay toCall God “Mother”? Considering the Feminine Face of God(Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1993), p. 49. Back

6.     Randy Stinson, “Our Mother Who Art in Heaven . . . ”: 21–31. Back

7.     “Our Mission and History,” Christians for Biblical Equality, www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/our-mission-and-history. Back

8.     The Influence of Postmodernism,Part 3: Deconstruction Back

9.     Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004), p. 510. Back

10.   For a fuller look at the complementarian position on maleheadship, see Steve Golden, “Feedback: Is Male Headship a“Curse”?” Answers in Genesis,www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2012/08/31/feedback-male-headship-curse. Back

11.   Mimi Haddad, “What is Male Headship?” Christians forBiblical Equality, www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/what-male-headship. Back

12.   Gilbert Bilezikian, “A Challenge for Proponents of FemaleSubmission to Prove Their Case from the Bible,” Christians for BiblicalEquality, www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/challenge-proponents-female-submission-prove-their-case-bible. Back

13.   Gilbert Bilezikian, “I Believe in Male Headship,” Christiansfor Biblical Equality, www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/i-believe-male-headship. Back (1) Back (2)

14.   Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path toLiberalism? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2006), p. 223. Back

 by Steve Golden, AiG–U.S.

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