Sunday, March 22, 2009

Defending Egalitarianism

I just recently started a new book entitled “Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say That He Is?” by Margaret E. Kostenberger. In case you don’t know, Margaret is the wife of Dr. Andreas Kostenberger, co-editor of the book I’ve critiqued on the site (“Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15).
Margaret’s sole goal in the book is to expose feminism and show how wrong of a position it is with regards to women in the church. But she does something here that shows a bit of her presupposition: she includes egalitarians among feminists:

“It was at a conference in Chicago in 1973, ‘Evangelicals for Social Action,’ that the Evangelical Women’s Caucus was started. From 1975 to 1983 the movement grew, but so did tensions regarding biblical interpretation and inerrancy. An organizational fracture took place in 1986 when divergent views on the authority of Scripture emerged surrounding the issue of homosexuality. This led to the establishment of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), a leading advocate of BIBLICAL OR EVANGELICAL FEMINISM, ALSO CALLED EGALITARIANISM OWING TO ITS EMPHASIS ON WOMEN’S EQUALITY TO MEN IN ALL SPHERES OF LIFE” (22).

I have one question: why are egalitarians called “feminists”? Why are they labeled “feminists”? Kostenberger seems to have an answer—she calls egalitarians this because they stress the woman’s equality with the man. But does this make an egalitarian a feminist? No, not at all! To see this, let’s read what Kostenberger has to say regarding the feminist and patriarchal hermeneutics.

Kostenberger informs us regarding feminist hermeneutics:

“Feminist hermeneutics, then, positions itself over against patriarchal hermeneutics, which advocates a ‘MALE-ORIENTED, HIERARCHICALLY ESTABLISHED PRESENT CULTURAL POWER SYSTEM.’

This is how she defines patriarchal hermeneutics:

“Patriarchal hermeneutics can be defined as a reading of a text or reconstruction of a history in light of the oppressive structures of patriarchal society. (117).

Sounds like, from what Kostenberger tells us, she has more trouble on her hands than she can handle. Notice that she defines “patriarchal hermeneutics” as a methodology that assumes “oppressive structures.” Who assumes a text this way? If a person automatically assumes oppression, this is what they will BELIEVE the text is telling them—even when it isn’t.

The assumption of “oppressive structures” existed in the days of slavery leading up to the Civil War on April 12, 1861. Various passages were used in the Bible (such as Ethiopia’s enslavement, for example) to “send a message” to blacks that God willed for them to be enslaved, that their lot in life was to work the fields in misery.
This “oppressive structure” is very similar, as well, to what I’ve talked about on the blog in regards to Calvinism—the Calvinist approaches Scripture AUTOMATICALLY ASSUMING that God ELECTS some to salvation. So, what does the Calvinist do when he comes to a verse that says “believe” or “choose”? He says, “Well, in order to believe, you have to be given faith by the Lord (and the Lord only gives faith to those He elects). When he comes to a word like “choose,” he says, “Well, this choice is grounded in the fact that God FIRST CHOOSES a person—and then, they can act upon His choice and choose.” Notice that, in both situations, a Calvinist is going to assume God’s election of some before interpreting the verses. Why? because it’s the only thing that will make his theological system consistent.

Margaret Kostenberger begins her book with labeling egalitarians “Evangelical feminists.” But the problem with this label is that Egalitarians are not feminists. Feminists desire to uproot MALE domination and replace it with FEMALE domination. Egalitarians do not: they simply portray men and women as EQUALLY made in the image of God, and they advocate equality of men and women in leadership positions. They do not advocate a DOMINATION of one gender or the other; instead, they advocate a partnering atmosphere, where both men and women work together for the glory of God.

God told Eve in Genesis 3:16 that Adam would “be lord” over her; but this was in the context of God’s punishment declarations on Adam, Eve, and the serpent. Prior to Genesis 3:16, Adam and Eve were equal partners in life, with there being no domination of either gender. But today, complementarians, as much as feminists, are aiding in this punishment. Both camps are daily reminders that Genesis 3:16 is found in Scripture—one side wants all men, the other side wants all women. What about the egalitarians? Well, they’re stuck in the middle…the only ones trying to create partnership between the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. Another odd this about Mrs. K's book is that she omits any treatment of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's work, yet critiques my views on egalitarianism! Rebecca has written two major books on the subject ("Women Caught in the Conflict" and "Good News for Women") and co-edited another (Discovering Biblical Equality). I have only addressed it briefly in two books and a few articles.

    This is exceedingly odd.

  2. Doug,

    Thanks so much for responding to my post. It's such an honor to hear from someone as accomplished as yourself...I'm utterly speechless (that would be a first!)

    I've read the first five chapters of Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's book "Discovering Biblical Equality," and so far, the one chapter that's made me leap for joy has been Gordon Fee's chapter on "Male and Female in the New Creation." I loved his chapter so much that I'm gonna spend a few posts (maybe more) commenting on what Paul meant by "the new creation." I hope you stay afloat with what's going on hear at the blog in the days to come. The New Creation theology series is sure to be a fresh approach to the complementarian view!!

    It means the world to me to have someone as accomplished as yourself contribute to the blog. Please continue to read and look out for the New Creation Theology series. If you can, please recommend the site to friends of yours (and maybe even Gordon Fee himself!). I hope that I do Rebecca Merrill Groothuis and Gordon Fee justice here at the blog...and I hope that my work here is honoring not only to them, and you, but also the Kingdom and the Lord's Service.

    Hope to hear from you soon, Deidre


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