Feminist Hermeneutic?

Recently I commented on a Facebook post that I disliked the word “feminist/feminism” when used to describe what I would brand an evangelical egalitarian position (that men and women may serve equally in the home, the church, and the world as God has so apportioned and enabled them). Even when adding the adjective “evangelical” in front of “feminism” (as Grudem’s book title does), negative connotations remain. Moreover, “feminist/feminism” is clearly gender-specific having to do with qualities associated with women only and hardly shows a balanced and “equal” treatment. If anything, “feminism” incites heated and rarely fruitful discussion in everyday parlance, at least according to my experiences.

And so, while reading through a few commentaries on 1 Peter 3:1-7, I came across Scot McKnight’s treatment (pp 192-194) where he lays out a spectrum of hermeneutical approaches that I think are helpful with respect to the relevant biblical texts. The table below is derived from his commentary (Note: McKnight admits dependence on A. C. Thiselton’s New Horizons in Hermeneutics. I’ve summarized the main points rather than quoted verbatim.)

Radical
Feminist
  • suspicious of texts, ultimately repudiating the revelatory value because of an ideological agenda that drives the interpreter’s interests
  • chauvinistic world is inherent in texts that are used in manipulating and subjugating women
  • Only value of texts is pointing out the error in the texts
Liberal
Feminist
  • desire to retrieve what is good while rejecting what is unacceptable to modern feminist ideology
  • texts are influenced by a patriarchal world, yet some features can be sustained across time
Evangelical Feminist
  • need to understand the socio-critical aspects of the texts
  • mildly submissive to the texts
  • though heavily dominated by male culture, some reconstruction of the texts is required if modern women are to receive anything from them
  • a living dialectic results between authority of the texts and the modern world
Evangelical
Conservatives 
  • texts are timeless
  • God intends a patriarchal world
  • women are to be submissive
  • men are appointed as heads of authority
  • a minimal amount of text reconstruction may be required

McKnight concludes with some penetrating remarks that call for interpretive consistency, biblical fidelity, and cultural sensitivity. I could not agree more!

I urge that each interpreter look long and hard at his or her own principles and see if consistency is achieved in the process of interpretation. It will simply not do for someone to dismiss slavery as outmoded, or to contend for cividl disobedience to governmental authorities, or to argue for some kind of “Mr. Mom” theory, and then not be consistent in permitting to women the same freedom and change of application. Nor is it fair to argue without substantial reasoning for some things being cultural (like wearing jewelry or fancy clothing) and other things being transcultural. Above all, we must be biblically anchored and culturally reasonable if we are to let the gospel have its way of power today.

4 thoughts on “Feminist Hermeneutic?”

  1. Very helpful post Paul! Thanks for this info. Do you think that the negative connotations with the word feminism are accurate? I’ve found myself embracing the term to describe myself more recently and wondered also about the difficulties with preconceptions about the term.

  2. Hey J.W. I think the term is packed full of problems that hinder rather than help the cause of evangelical egalitarians. Note that Erickson’s Who’s Tampering with the Trinity cautiously and wisely labeled the two camps on the Son’s subordination to the Father as 1) gradational view 2) equivalence view as these expressions better capture the range of authority which is the sticky wicket in Trinitarian discussions (see pp 17-18).

  3. Thank you for considering these issues. For myself, I have found that the term feminist has changed negatively over the years, so that what was initially a desire to consider women equally in all life and spiritual issues, has become less about equality and less spiritual as well.

    Although, I like McKnights writings in general, I don’t see anywhere in McKnight’s list for a deeply spiritual woman of God who sees problems with improper interpretation of Scripture regarding women, and seeks to live out the truths of Scripture for God’s goals.

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