“Feminist” Hermeneutics?

by Paul Adams | August 13, 2014

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 some have done in their publication titles), 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 captured McKnight’s main points ipsissima vox rather than ipsissima verba.)

 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 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 civil 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.

I could not agree more!

I find that the expression “Evangelical Egalitarian” best captures and communicates my position and significantly reduces the heat in discussions. As I read through and understand the mission and history of CBE, I do not find any “feminists” language or leanings but I do find a call for justice and equality across the genders. This is egalitarian!