I brought and read two new books by Dr Wayne Grudem yesterday on ... yes, you guessed it - "Evangelical Feminism". Doesn't that bring the sum total of books on this topic from this author to around five or six? I got "Evangelical Feminism - A New Path to Liberalism?" (part funded by SGM) and "Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key Questions". As I wrote before up until now I would class myself as a complimentarian and would pretty much agree with Dr Grudem on this issue. My background in each church I have been a member of has been that the gender of the teaching elders are men although I certainly wouldn't leave a church if it turned out that a woman would be preaching.
But I must confess that I finished the two books and found myself wondering what Grudem has achieved by writing and publishing the amount of books he has on this topic and whether I understand the topic any better for spending money and time on reading all his books (and they aren't cheap or short). Would we spend our time and money better by focusing on what Jul perceives to be the greatest threat to the church? That of "pharisaical arrogance and legalism"? What I am trying to establish in my mind is what exactly has been accomplished (other than more royalties for Dr Grudem) in the publishing of yet more books on evangelical feminism into what Puritan Thomas Brookes called an already saturated Christian market?
I think some useful things have been achieved (although not resolved by any means).
1. Wayne Grudem Brings the Subject of Homosexuality To the Table of Discussion.
Traditionally evangelicals have avoided this subject like the plague. "The sin which must not be named". I think Mark Heath might be right although perhaps a little over-generous in saying; "Personally I have never come across an evangelical church that does not claim to want to be welcoming or loving to the homosexual" but is indeed accurate in writing; "they will all make clear that they do not believe practising a homosexual lifestyle is compatible with a Christian confession". In my experience most church leaders tend to turn pale and sweaty at best, and will react with homophobic control at worst when confronted with an individual who confesses they are struggling with homosexuality. Surely here is the attractive nature of the Emerging Church who; "are determined not to be homophobic, which they view evangelicals as being".
But what does Wayne Grudem have to say on this issue in his two books?
Unfortunately not much. To be fair it is not his topic of discussion in the main but it most definately plays a part in his thinking for; "The approval of homosexuality is the final step along the path to liberalism." What does trouble me however is how Grudem links the incident of Judy Brown with egalitarianism. For an academic who's logic and brilliant mind is famous, this seems bizarre at best. Grudem wrote;
"What happened to Judy Brown? I expect that she probably had a deep love for God and a strong spiritual gift of Bible teaching. If she had continued to use this gift within the bounds of Scripture and decided she would teach the Bible only to women, she likely would have had a remarkable fruitful ministry with much blessing from God ... But she stepped outside the bounds of appropriate women's ministry as described in Scripture ... and then it appears that God simply withdrew His blessing and withdrew His hand of protection from her life. She tragically lost the ability to make wise judgements and disastrous consequences followed".
Then Grudem seems to realise that the obvious question poses itself - what then of the hundreds of male pastor spiritual casualities? Again his explanation begs examination;
"I agree that many male pastors have also fallen into serious sin ... but in their cases the reason cannot be that the Bible forbids men to become pastors! Surely nobody would argue that".
Erm ... maybe evangelical feminists would?
Grudem does nothing to use his considerable skills in influencing the many churches who admire him to become more adept at dealing with honestly struggling homosexual people within their ranks. He simply presents it as "the end of the road of liberalism". I fear that the attitude to homosexual people will continue to diversify with worsening negative attitudes in complimentarian evangelical churches and more liberal, welcoming attitudes in emerging egalitarian churches. Are there no churches who will truly "love the sinner but hate the sin"?
It is interesting that God asked Rob Rufus why He should pour out blessing upon his church when their attitude was so poor to "the unlovely". The Lord then told Rob and his church to go out and bring in the prostitutes, the drug addicts and the homosexuals and welcome them - then the blessing would come. They did - and It did. Maybe we should consider doing the same for fear we miss whatever "new thing" God may be doing.
2. Wayne Grudem Brings Respectful Debate to the Table of Discussion.
I did appreciate and learn from the fact that Grudem is clearly aware he is waging theological war and yet remains polite throughout. Al Mohler wrote;
"In considering the arguments put forth by evangelical feminists, Grudem is careful to avoid ad hominem attacks on egalitarian scholars and spokespersons. Instead, he considers each of their arguments with considerable scholarly care and attention, drawing the logical conclusions from the methodological assumptions the egalitarian scholars embrace".
While I do wonder what has been achieved by yet two more books on this subject, I do deeply appreciate the desire to "exhaust" theological issues. This was something that I adored in the great Puritan John Owen. John Piper wrote;
"We cannot properly estimate the blessing of soaking our minds in the Bible-saturated thinking of the likes of John Owen. What he was able to see in the Bible and preserve for us in writing is simply magnificent. It is so sad - a traversty I want to say - how many Christian leaders of our day do not strive to penetrate the wisdom of John Owen but instead read books and magazines that are superficial in their grasp of the Bible".
I have little doubt that Wayne Grudem will still be remembered centuries on as a similar Bible-saturated thinker. These men are just men but we surely do not wish to "dishonour God by not gladly receiving and appropriating the gifts He has given us".
3. Finally Wayne Grudem Brings the Question as to What Is and Is Not of Primary Importance to the Table of Discussion.
In "Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism: Biblical Responses to the Key Questions" Grudem makes reference to the issue of water baptism and admitted it is an important issue in Christian life. Yet in the Together for the Gospel statement it is ommitted presumably due to the presence of paedobaptists within their "discussion". Whether it is or whether it is not will never be decided here but it does seem that again and again debates rise and fall around whether it is "central to the gospel".
Grudem leaves us with no doubt whatsoever that he believes the issue of manhood and womanhood is vitally central. At the end of "Evangelical Feminism" he writes persuasively;
"Which will we choose? Will we follow faithfully in the path of life-long obedience to all the teachings of the Word of God, believing that is the only path to true blessing? Or will we turn aside to evangelical feminism and be led step by step down the path to liberalism and to an ever-increasing denial of the authority of the Word of God?".
Once again no middle ground is allowed. Grudem rules out various "moderate complimentarian" positions that I have heard of such as women preaching "under the authority of male pastors" (he asks "Does a pastor's authority trump Scripture?), women preaching at seminars and he rejects modern prophecies that are proclaiming a release of women preaching ministry.
Wayne Grudem - a Bridge-Builder?
I must admit to finishing these two books and not enjoying them particularly. They left me feeling unsettled and worried about the fact that I am not quite as radical a complementarian as Grudem would have us, and concerned about why that is so. Will Grudem's prolific writings on this matter change the minds of egalitarian feminists? I doubt it. Will his writings harden the views of his supporters? Most probably.
Suzanne McCarthy makes two statements that deserve thought; "My purpose is to show that Dr. Grudem makes public statements without any conscience about whether they are true or not. If authority is about being male rather than about telling the truth, I am simply not interested". I am not totally convinced about the first statement but Grudem did write a concerning passage about Aimee Semple McPherson where he seemed to follow the newspaper lines about her life. I have heard Dr Jack Hayford, the President of Foursquare, lecture on Mrs McPherson and he proved to my mind that the rumours against her were false. I would have thought that a scholar of Dr Grudem's stature would not take serious rumours like this without investigating them and certainly not state them in print simply because she was a woman preacher.
Secondly the statement about authority because of gender was an issue that I was affected by in "Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy". Does the Bible give us permission to bestow authority simply because of gender? Gordon Fee argues definately not but rather anointing of the Spirit. These issues have to be discussed partly because Wayne Grudem insists that they be discussed. I'd rather write about revival, the Holy Spirit or worship anyday. I guess we will wait and see what comes of the fall out of the publishing of these two books. I remain "open but cautious" and I never thought I'd say that.