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Published Date: July 31, 2011

Published Date: July 31, 2011

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Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger

Friends and family mourn their loss

If you were blessed enough to attend one of the many memorial services honoring the life and legacy of Catherine Clark Kroeger (1925–2011), you undoubtedly caught a glimpse of a Christian leader whose prodigious ministries touched the lives of thousands. Family members, foster children, friends, colleagues, and members of the community remembered how Cathie’s faith directed her copious talents and energy. Cathie gave of herself on behalf of others, not only through the ministries she inaugurated, including Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) and Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH), but also through her church, denomination, neighborhoods, and academic societies. At the service I attended in St. Paul, Minnesota, it was abundantly clear that we were commemorating a leader who stands as part of a unique evangelical tradition. Cathie embodied the evangelical belief that God speaks through Scripture, that the cross redeems all of life, and that we are called to live out vigorously our reconciliation with God and others in word and deed. Cathie’s utter devotion to these theological ideals places her beside evangelicals such as Pandita Ramabai, Frances Willard, and Katharine Bushnell.

When CBE decided to dedicate this issue of Priscilla Papers to Cathie’s memory (she often reminded me that her friends call her Cathie), it seemed important to consider Cathie’s life and ministry within a historical context. What follows, then, is a historical assessment of Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger’s contributions as part of a larger and thoroughly evangelical ethos, beginning first with a working definition of the term evangelical. From here, we will observe how females pioneered and enlarged the evangelical movement, though their leadership and initiatives were eventually censured and restricted. Finally, we will observe how Cathie’s theological convictions were parallel to those of the early evangelicals so that she naturally gravitated to the very fields these early evangelicals had planted. With her broad shoulders and strong mind, she lifted the Greek and Hebrew texts over which Katharine Bushnell and Pandita Ramabai had labored for years and resumed their work as an evangelist and activist. Working without much rest, Cathie furthered our understanding of a loving God who speaks on the pages of Scripture to bring healing and restoration to a creation made new through the cross.

An evangelical tradition

What do we mean by evangelical? According to Mark Noll, an American historian of the evangelical movement, from its early usage, the word evangelical referred to the good news of Christ’s completed work on Calvary.1 Derived from the Greek word euangelion, the word was used synonymously by the early church for the gospel.2

During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther seized the term evangelical to contrast the truth and power laden in the cross with the indulgences sold by the church. Inasmuch as Luther represents a return to the good news of Calvary, the Reformation was also an evangelical movement, Noll suggests.3 Here, we use the word evangelical in its most basic and fundamental sense—to connote the good news of the cross.

Repeatedly, the term evangelical was associated with renewal movements, because it meant a return to Calvary. From Philipp Spener’s Pia Desideria and his call for reform and holiness to the revivals that swept the British Isles and the United States during the eighteenth century, these evangelical revivals were, according to Noll, “not only intense periods of unusual response to gospel preaching,”4 but were also linked with unusual efforts at godly living which “marked the origin of a distinctly evangelical history.”5 The evangelical revivals of the 1800s are a prime example. Their leaders were laden with theological convictions which, as Noll notes, directed the lives of adherents.6 To be touched or renewed by these revivals was not merely an intellectual exercise or an assent to theological propositions. It signified that, of course, but it also meant that, by affirming these propositions, you had crossed the sharpest line in life and were therefore expected to become a better person. You were to live out the gospel in word and deed. As William Marsh noted in 1850, an evangelical Christian is one who “will aim, desire, endeavor, by example, by exertion, by influence, and by prayer to promote the great salvation of which [they are the] happy partaker.”7

David Bebbington, a British historian, was the first to identify the core qualities that characterized the early evangelical movement and which constitute an evangelical DNA.8 They are: (1) conversionism, “The belief that lives need to be changed”;9 (2) activism, advancing the gospel through effort; (3) Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible, “that all spiritual truth is to be found on its pages”;10 and (4) crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross—an atonement that reconciles sinners before a holy God.11 Called “Bebbington’s quadrilateral,” these four principles capture the theological concerns of early evangelicals—priorities advanced by both men and women. Their organizations, Bible institutes, hymns, sermons, literature, hospitals, and social activism on behalf of slaves, women, and children were driven by these theological convictions, qualities that represented God’s renewing work in history. These four characteristics represent a degree of spiritual health. When one or more is missing, it not only diminishes the good news to which the term evangelical refers, but may also indicate a degree of spiritual malnutrition—that something vital is missing.

Though their names and achievements are often overlooked, females not only pioneered the theological distinctives of the early evangelicals, they also came to hold astonishing places of leadership and service within prominent evangelical initiatives. While their leadership was contested and restricted after 1930, the contributions of Catherine Kroeger not only exemplified the theological priorities of the early evangelicals, but also extended their biblical scholarship and social activism.

The early evangelicals

Conversionism. The early evangelicals believed that, since conversion marks the deepest change in life, those who are the happy recipients of Christian conversion are themselves called to evangelistic work—to leading others to the victories of Calvary. As Bebbington notes, because the “line between those who had undergone the experience and those who had not was the sharpest in the world,”12 the early evangelicals were pressed to engage all converted souls in the task of evangelism, even if it meant challenging cultural taboos such as giving women and slaves new positions of leadership and freedom. The priority they gave to evangelism loosened the grip of ethnic and gender prejudice within the body of Christ.

Consider William Bell Riley (1861–1947), founder of Northwestern College in Saint Paul and founder and president of the World’s Christian Fundamentalist Association. Riley was also pastor for forty years of Minneapolis’s First Baptist Church—the largest church in the Northern Baptist Convention. Early in his life, Riley heard one of the greatest evangelical leaders in our country speak: Frances Willard (1839–1898). After hearing her describe the desolation suffered by women and children at the hands of alcoholic fathers, Riley said that every speech against it would be justified, no matter who made up their assemblies, and would be approved and applauded by that heavenly assembly of saints and angels when, in defense of all that is true, a suffering woman feels compelled to break the silence and speak against it.13

So assured was Riley of women’s call not only to advance the gospel, but also to address social concerns such as domestic violence, he was ready to release women to public ministries. In 1902, when Riley founded his Minneapolis Bible Institute, the doors were open to women, and women graduates served in important ministries such as the China Inland Mission. Newspaper reporters were fond of documenting the work of female graduates who were pastors over congregations around the country and who, despite many challenges, received the unequaled affection and appreciation of their communities. Riley was prepared to oppose gender bias in order to support their education and ministries.

Activism. Because conversion leads to the clearest change in life, a converted person is one whose newness of life is exhibited in word and deed. As Bebbington notes, “A converted character would work hard, save money and assist [one’s] neighbor.”14 Consider the ministry of Catherine Booth (1829–1890), a powerful preacher and a tenacious inner-city missionary. Together with her husband, William, she worked among the poverty-stricken people of London’s East End. Booth’s evangelical priorities are unmistakable. She could not separate her evangelism—leading the lost to Christ—with her activism to rescue young girls from prostitution. Booth traveled back and forth between prostitutes living in London’s East to the West End, where she lobbied Members of Parliament to raise the age of consent from seven to thirteen years of age.15

Evangelism and activism were also inseparable in the ministry of Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922), a convert of a Salvation Army revival in India. Ramabai spent fifteen years translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Marathi—a prominent Indian dialect. Founder of the Mukti Mission in India, an interdenominational mission, Ramabai served needy women and children and was known as the best example of Christian faith in action. Housing more than 800 abandoned babies, the blind, the handicapped, unwed mothers, and the ill, Ramabai published an account of the desperate plight of women in India:16 the child brides, wife burning, temple prostitutes, lack of education, and more. She could not separate the gospel from serving the oppressed. As with Catherine Booth’s perspective, evangelism and activism were inseparable in the ministry of Pandita Ramabai.

Frances Willard, who had made such an impression on William Riley, was one of the most popular women in the United States in her day, second only to Queen Victoria. When she died, 30,000 gathered to mourn, while flags flew at half mast in Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. A convert of a Methodist revival meeting, Willard was president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), considered the largest women’s organization in the nineteenth century. The WCTU was comprised of an army of females, northern and southern, devoted to evangelism, abolition, temperance, and suffrage.

Willard was also president of Evanston Ladies College, which became Northwestern University. She was prominent for her work against prostitution. She called for laws against rape and domestic violence; she also begged fashion designers to eliminate the thin waistlines that harmed women’s bodies. She encouraged women to wear baggie bloomers and to learn to ride a bicycle. Her passion for conversion and the gospel, for Scripture and Christian activism, were inseparable from her commitment to Christ—ideals that embodied in the mission of the WCTU and evangelicalism as a whole.
Activism, like conversionism, was the responsibility of all those who had crossed that sharp line that marks the deepest change in life. For the early evangelicals, the response to conversion was the pursuit of holiness personally and corporately, keenly noted in the lives of Catherine Booth, Frances Willard, and Pandita Ramabai.

Biblicism. During the evangelical awakening of the 1800s and 1900s, which included successful ministries of women and slaves, Christians began to question the presumed inferiority of these two groups. They did so through a Biblicism that comprised the third ideal precious to evangelicals—for evangelicals love Scripture.

The early evangelicals were Biblicists of the highest order, and it was to Scripture that they appealed when considering the social issues of their day. Scripture guided their faith, their lives, and their social engagement. Their high view of Scripture made the issues of slavery and women’s preaching extremely challenging. For years, evangelicals engaged one another in a debate over Bible words and over methods of interpreting Scripture. Though divisive, this biblical exchange was also enormously productive in developing the first whole-Bible approach that viewed women as fully human and equal to men in being as well as in function or service. Thus, between 1808 and 1930, evangelicals published at least forty-six biblical treatises on gender and service from different branches of the church.17 These documents signify the emergence of the first wave of feminism—a deeply biblical movement and one that drove the evangelical causes that included suffrage and abolition.

Their belief that God speaks to each generation through Scripture led to a whole new assessment of human ontology. They asked: How does our rebirth in Christ, as male, female, slave, and free, impact our service as Christians in the world? As they answered this question biblically, they also developed not only a whole-Bible approach, but also a Christian worldview that extended to women and slaves positions of service and leadership. By expanding their vision, they represent a radical departure from previous generations of Christians whose patriarchal and racist assumptions went unchallenged. The exegetical work of the early evangelicals inaugurated an egalitarian theology that opposed centuries of teaching presuming the inferiority of women and slaves.

The most extensive biblical assessment of gender was put forward by Katharine Bushnell (1856–1946), a prominent evangelical missionary, medical doctor, scholar, and leader in the WCTU. Working with the British evangelical Josephine Butler (1828–1906), Bushnell traveled to India and infiltrated brothels established by the British military. Bushnell and Butler aimed to bring back firsthand accounts to Parliament and so end the sexual slavery of women in India. While their work was successful, Butler eventually realized that, unless Christians come to see that God values women just as much as men, women will continue to be marginalized and abused. On her deathbed, Butler begged Bushnell to provide the world with a biblical understanding of the nature, value, and authority of women. Acquiring Greek and Hebrew, Bushnell studied every passage in Scripture that referred to gender—more than three hundred passages. Publishing her findings in a book entitled God’s Word to Women, completed in 1919, Bushnell notes that the whole of Scripture views both males and females as equal in being and also in service, an observation frequently noted in the early chapters of Genesis. Beginning here, Bushnell concluded that both Adam and Eve were equally created in God’s image,18 and both were equally called to be fruitful and to exercise a shared dominion in Eden.19 Eve was not the source of sin,20 and God does not curse women because of Eve.21 Rather, it was Satan, not God, who inspired the domination of men over women.22 God extends leadership to those who do what is right in God’s sight, regardless of their gender, birth order, nationality, or class.23

In assessing the teachings of Paul, Bushnell determined that the apostle affirmed the authority and leadership of women, provided that their leadership was neither domineering nor abusive (1 Tim 2:12); that those who teach must advance the gospel (1 Tim 2:11–12; Acts 18:26; Rom 16:1–5, 7, 12–13, 15); and that, when women pray and prophesy in public, they must not be disruptive, either by their clothing or through their chatter (1 Cor 11:5, 14:34).24  Ultimately, Bushnell locates her understanding of women’s ontological status not in the fall, but in Christ’s completed work on Calvary. A correct interpretation of Scripture as it relates to “women’s social and spiritual status”25 should be determined in the same manner as “man’s social and spiritual status,” based on the atonement of Jesus. Bushnell said that we “cannot, for women, put the ‘new wine’ of the Gospel into the old wine-skins of ‘condemnation.’”26 For Bushnell, both men and women are renewed by the cross, an empowering that equips both for ministry.

Crucicentrism. A fourth and final distinctive of the early evangelicals was their crucicentrism—a vibrant passion for the cross and all that Christ accomplished on Calvary. The early evangelicals were, as Bebbington observes, some of the most cross-centered Christians in all of history.27 Writing and preaching on Galatians 2:20,28 the early evangelicals more than any other group “aimed at bringing back, and by an aggressive movement, the Cross, and all that the Cross essentially implies.”29 Perhaps the most prominent crucicentrist was the Welsh revivalist Jessie Penn-Lewis (1861–1927). It was her understanding of Calvary that offered women and those marginalized by society the fullest benefits through the cross. For Penn-Lewis, Calvary was a place of blessing and also reconciliation not only between men and women, but also between all ethnic groups and social classes.30 Those who have died with Christ on Calvary are grafted into Christ’s body where hostilities that had formerly separated Christians were overcome by the sanctifying power of the cross. The cross was the source of both salvation and also sanctification.31 Penn-Lewis wrote:

The “old creation,” in its form of “Jew and Gentile,” must die to make way for a new creation “after the image of Him” that created them; where . . . there can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for we are one in Christ Jesus. In the face of these words we cannot wonder that the Cross is a stumbling-block, and its message likened to a sword or knife, for it cuts deep into the very core of the pride of the old creation. God’s cure . . . is not a superficial one. . . . Nothing but the Cross will bring about the unity He desires.32

Penn-Lewis’s cross theology not only captured a pivotal theological distinctive of the early evangelicals—that conversion represents a crossing of the sharpest line in life—but also shows how their soteriology (what they understood about salvation) informed their ecclesiology (what they understood about the church).33 The fruit of Calvary opposes prejudices and self-
centeredness and creates a rebirth, a taking on of God’s perspective now active in people. This was the vision of the early evangelicals: that the cross changes everything.

A contested and restricted leadership

Few today realize the number of women who founded, preached, or taught at the Bible institutes, mission organizations, or pulpits of the early evangelicals, despite the sweeping achievements they accomplished biblically and socially. Just this year, for example, I preached on the history of women at a prominent evangelical university. As is often the case, many students were delighted to learn of the historic women who shaped their own denomination or university, though some consider women’s preaching a rejection of biblical authority. Yet, as I have noted, the early egalitarians were the theological conservatives of their day. Obedient to Scripture, they went “into all the world” and preached “the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). In fact, they were so obedient that they outnumbered men in Bible institutes and on mission fields two to one. Though often single, evangelical women were frequently denied a place of leadership within their mission organizations. As a result, they founded their own mission organizations, funded their own work, and occupied all levels of service and leadership—efforts that led to the largest expansion of faith in all of history. However, by the 1930s, their own successful organizations were absorbed under traditional denominational missionary societies. As their service came under male control, they were frequently denied the positions of leadership they had previous enjoyed. As a result, younger women had fewer role models to emulate.

Removing women from prominent positions of leadership happened concurrently with a modernist and enlightenment challenge to Scripture’s accounts of the miraculous. Fearful of the encroachment of higher critical thought and its secularizing impact on culture and theological education, Bible institutes retrenched on their earlier support of female students.34 After 1930, evangelicals placed less emphasis on an academic pursuit of Scripture. Therefore, fewer evangelicals were inclined to examine passages such as 1 Corinthians 14:33–34 and 1 Timothy 2:11–15 in their historical contexts or in their original languages, relying instead upon the “plain reading of Scripture.” Despite earlier support for women preachers, teachers, and evangelists, C. W. Foley, a professor at the Bible institute founded by William Bell Riley, argued that

The position of teacher or preacher, in the public congregation, in itself implies superiority or authority over those who are taught; and the functions of this office, are, therefore, forbidden a woman, as inconsistent with the subordinate position that God assigned her. . . . [T]his does not bar her from the Sunday School class, daily Vacation Bible School, etc. but certainly closes the door of the public ministry of the church. It is as plain as anything could possibly be, that a woman is not to take the oversight of the church, or publicly teach or preach in the man’s appointed place.35

While work outside the home opened to women during World War II, once men returned from war, women were pressured back to home and hearth. Less familiar now with the leadership of evangelicals such as Pandita Ramabai and Frances Willard, evangelicals were as fearful of women preachers from mainline churches who were influenced by higher criticism as they were of women who pursued professional goals over marriage and family.36 Evangelicals whose feminism grew from Scripture were nearly eclipsed by second-wave feminists, rising out of the same cultural waters, but who placed their feminist ideas above Scripture.37

Today’s egalitarians, like the early evangelicals, are Biblicists of the highest order. Raised in thoroughly evangelical homes, and many now approaching their ninth decade, remember their parents urging them to discover, develop, and exercise their God-given gifts with complete devotion. Once adults, and after their children had grown, they began to notice a distinctly different message coming from evangelical churches. No longer did they hear a call to use one’s gifts vigorously for God’s glory regardless of gender. Now, the message was, if you are female, these are the ministries available to you, and, if you are male, these are the spheres in which you may serve. Where once all hands had been welcomed in the task of evangelism, churches and institutions had become places of gendered service. Concerned with such a truncated view of vocation and gifting, today’s egalitarian pioneers began meeting and discussing how to respond to new gender limitations being set by such a view—none more than Cathie Kroeger.

The vision of Catherine Kroeger: a new organization

The autumn 1987 headline in Priscilla Papers announced, “New Organization Incorporated.” It was initially organized as “Men, Women, and God: Christians for Biblical Equality” because of its early affiliation with Men, Women, and God, International, based at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. The group shortened its name to Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) in 1988, after incorporating as a nonprofit charitable organization.38 One year later, CBE joined the National Association of Evangelicals.

As the 1991 summer issue of Priscilla Papers stated:

The national organization of Christians for Biblical Equality began in the summer of 1987 when Catherine Clark Kroeger called together a group of people to pray and examine the need for evangelicals to be informed about the basic biblical teachings regarding equality of men and women of all races, ages, and economic classes.39

After electing a board of directors, with Cathie serving as president, CBE’s first project was to develop a position statement, entitled “Men, Women and Biblical Equality,” which established a biblical rationale for the shared leadership of men and women in church, home, and society.40 “Men, Women, and Biblical Equality” was published in 1990 on the pages of Christianity Today, Today’s Christian Woman, the Reformed Journal, World Christian, and Faith Today.41 As a result, 1,500 people became members of CBE while 4,000 more were added to CBE’s mailing list. CBE’s academic journal, Priscilla Papers, first published in 1987, had within two years a circulation of 1,540. By 1990, CBE chapters were growing in five locations around the globe, and more than three hundred individuals registered for CBE’s first international conference at Bethel University in 1989.
Cathie Kroeger not only gave leadership to these and other efforts, but her vision rarely strayed from those who are victims of abuse. She believed that the gospel is not the means of oppressing women, but constitutes the path of their liberation. Her commitment to conversionism, Biblicism, and activism permeated Cathie’s work and restored, in significant ways, an evangelical faith that advanced the gospel in word and deed. Let us consider a few examples.

Conversion: The belief that lives need to be changed was as essential to the founders of CBE as it was to the early evangelicals. While meeting in the home of Cathie and Dick Kroeger in 1987, a core group developed CBE’s first mission statement, which not only affirmed Scripture as “the inspired word of God,” but also emphasized the teaching of Scripture—that all persons are sinful. Because of human sin, all people experience “shattered relationships with God, others, and self.” Yet, through Jesus, not only is eternal salvation available, but restored relationships are also “possible through faith in Christ.”42 CBE’s “Statement on Men, Women, and Biblical Equality” explains further that man and woman were “co-participants in the Fall.”43 One consequence of sin was the “rulership of Adam over Eve.” Yet, through Christ, “we all become children of God, one in Christ and heirs of the blessings of salvation. . . .” Declaring that lives are ruptured by sin but also redeemed in Christ was among the first projects under Cathie’s leadership. This deeply held evangelical proposition persisted throughout her writings.

Biblicism. When interviewed by Lola Scobey in 2000, Cathie explored the core values upon which she based her life, the first of which was an “adherence to the Scriptures.”44 Cathie advanced Biblicism as a key priority of CBE and one to which she held throughout her life. CBE’s mission statement and the “Statement on Men, Women and Biblical Equality” give ample space in affirming the authority of Scripture. CBE’s mission statement declares that the Bible “is the inspired word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice,” while the “Statement on Men, Women and Biblical Equality” begins with: “The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself in the totality of Scripture, the authoritative Word of God (Matt 5:18; John 10:35; 2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20–21).”

As with the early evangelicals, Cathie’s publications and ministry initiatives were more closely “aligned with the evangelical activists and women preachers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than with the various non-Christian and liberal forms of feminism that developed in the latter half of the past century.”45 Though prominent liberal feminist scholars cannot proclaim passages they find oppressive to women “as the Word of God,” 46 Cathie believed “that in the Bible God has truly spoken to us. If it appears oppressive, contradictory, and unjust, then there are questions that need to be asked, alternatives which need to be pursued; but it is still the Word of God, still to be heeded as the words of life.”47 Without hesitation or embarrassment, Cathie worked, as Katharine Bushnell did, to harmonize passages of Scripture that appear to subjugate women with those that reveal women’s equal dignity, service, leadership, and authority. Like Bushnell, Cathie’s ease with the ancient languages made this task all the richer, and her publications, like Bushnell’s, have undergone numerous reprintings—a testimony to their usefulness and enduring qualities.

 Activism: Finally, we turn to activism—advancing the gospel through effort—in word and deed. Here, more clearly, Cathie’s connection to the early evangelicals is seen. An indomitable scholar and activist, Cathie could not separate her passion for the gospel with her devotion to rescue the abused. From the early articles published in Priscilla Papers, Cathie continually directed CBE’s attention to women who had been abused. From CBE’s incorporation as a nonprofit organization, Cathie endeavored to understand why so many Christian women have encountered violence and abuse and how we as the church might become agents of healing and reconciliation. As president of CBE, Cathie directed a significant portion of the organization’s energies to this challenge. In 1994, CBE held a conference with the theme “Women, Abuse, and the Bible.” There was an overwhelming response to this conference by women who had experienced abuse in a Christian marriage, family, or church. Within several years of this conference, Cathie had enough material to publish three separate volumes on abuse, gender, and faith.48 Ultimately, when Catherine Kroeger retired as the first president of CBE in 1995, she became founder and president of Peace and Safety in the Christian Home (PASCH), a nonprofit organization devoted to addressing domestic violence and abuse. PASCH provides resources to individuals, churches, and secular groups. More recently, many city- and state-run entities have turned to PASCH for assistance in addressing the rising challenge of gender abuse.

While CBE was established largely by academics to explore the biblical, theological, and historical material on gender, we were inevitably faced with the challenge of addressing abuse as well, simply by the sheer number of individuals who called upon us for help. Cathie knew, as did early evangelicals like Josephine Butler, that the challenge of abuse within the Christian home is often related to matters of biblical interpretation—discerning what is descriptive from that which is prescriptive in the Bible. After years of working to free abused women around the world, Josephine Butler and Katharine Bushnell began to see that the global abuse of women was inseparable from a devaluation of females that led to male dominance and female submission. Writing about her understanding of abuse, Bushnell argued that the abuse of women will not be overcome as long as “the subordination of woman to man was taught within the body of Christians.”49 Butler and Bushnell agreed that

we must have the whole-hearted backing of the Christian church in our [work], and that we would not have it until men came to understand that a woman is of as much value as a man; and they will not believe this until they see it plainly taught in the Bible.

Just so long as men imagine that a system of caste is taught in the Word of God, and that they belong to the upper caste while women are of the lower caste; and just so long as they believe that mere flesh—fate—determines the caste to which one belongs; and just so long as they believe that . . . Genesis 3:16 [teaches] “thy desire shall be for thy husband, and he shall rule over you” . . . the destruction of young women into a prostitute class [will] continue.

But place Christian women where God intends them to stand, on a plane of full equality with men in the church and home, where their faculties, their will, their consciences are controlled only by the God who made man and woman equal by creation . . . then the world will become a much purer [place] than it is today. . . .50

Like Katharine Bushnell, Catherine Kroeger offered an indomitable challenge to the hegemony of male authority which, when coupled with female submission, too often leads to abuse. Like Bushnell, Cathie worked to oppose the subjugation and abuse of women and to teach the biblical basis for the equal value, dignity, and worth of humans, male and female, in her more than ten published volumes and hundreds of articles.


Like the early evangelicals, Catherine Clark Kroeger searched the depths of Scripture to read what appears to restrict women through the more than one hundred passages that teach women’s equal authority and service beside men. Like Ramabai, Bushnell, and Butler, Cathie showed in word, in deed, and through her biblical scholarship that authentic Christian faith truly is good news for women, liberating them from abuse through the message of Christ, to which all of Scripture points. May we stand on the shoulders of the early evangelicals and of Catherine Clark Kroeger, may we respect their service, and may we extend their important ministries for the sake of the whole church, and, indeed, the whole world.


  1. Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 16.
  2. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 16.
  3. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 16–18.
  4. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 18.
  5. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 18.
  6. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 19.
  7. William Marsh, as quoted by David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from 1730s to the 1980s (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 3.
  8. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 3. See also Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 19.
  9. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 19.
  10. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 19.
  11. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, 19.
  12. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 5.
  13. Riley Bell, quoted by Janette Hassey, No Time for Silence (Minneapolis, MN: Christians for Biblical Equality, 1986), 23–24.
  14. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 5.
  15. Roger J. Green, “Catherine Booth, the Salvation Army, and the Purity Crusade of 1885,” Priscilla Papers 22, no. 3 (2008): 9–18.
  16. Pandita Ramabai, The High Caste Hindu Woman (1888, repr. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2007).
  17. Charles O. Knowles, Let Her Be: Right Relationships and the Southern Baptist Conundrum over Women’s Role (Columbia, MO: KnoWell, 2002), 85.
  18. Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women: One Hundred Bible Studies on Women’s Place in the Divine Economy (1919; repr. Minneapolis, MN: Christians for Biblical Equality, 2003), 9ff.
  19. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 10.
  20. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 39ff.
  21. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 39, 48. This observation alone challenges more than fourteen centuries of biblical scholarship.
  22. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 75.
  23. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 68, 75.
  24. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 81–177.
  25. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 169.
  26. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, 169.
  27. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 14ff.
  28. Galatians 2:20 reads, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (NIV).
  29. Gladstone as quoted by Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 14.
  30. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 14.
  31. Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Climax of the Risen Life (Bournemouth, England: The Overcomer Room, circa 1909), 32.
  32. Penn-Lewis, The Climax of the Risen Life, 37.
  33. Gordon Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 59.
  34. William Vance Trollinger, Jr., God’s Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 105ff.
  35. Trollinger, God’s Empire, 105. See also Janette Hassey, “Evangelical Women in Ministry a Century Ago,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005), 56.
  36. Hassey observes how John R. Rice’s popular Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers portrayed women leaders as liberal and as fundamentally opposed to an orthodox reading of Scripture. See Hassey, “Evangelical Women in Ministry a Century Ago,” 55.
  37. For a profound exploration of this topic, see Gretchen Gaebelein Hull’s Equal to Serve: Women and Men Working Together Revealing the Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998).
  38. This material was based on interviews with CBE founders Cathie Kroeger, Alvera Mickelsen, and Gretchen Gaebelein Hull and was compiled by Lola Scobey and published by Sara Robertson in CBE’s Board of Directors Manual.
  39. Susan McCoubrie, “Happy Birthday: Now We Are Four! A Brief History of Christians for Biblical Equality,” Priscilla Papers 5, no. 3 (1991): 14.
  40. “Men, Women and Biblical Equality,” written by Gilbert Bilezikian, W. Ward Gasque, Stanley N. Gundry, Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Catherine Clark Kroeger, Jo Anne Lyon, and Roger Nicole, has been published in twenty-six languages and has shaped gender policies and practices in hundreds of churches and several prominent evangelical organizations and denominations.
  41. McCoubrie, “Happy Birthday,” 15.
  42. For the most recent version of CBE’s mission statement, see
  43. To read CBE’s statement “Men, Women and Biblical Equality,” see .
  44. Lola Scobey, interview with Cathie Kroeger (2000), published in CBE’s Board of Directors Manual, 9–10.
  45. Ronald W. Pierce, “Contemporary Evangelicals for Gender Equality,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, 59.
  46. Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Toward an Egalitarian Hermeneutic of Faith,” Priscilla Papers 12, no 1 (1998): 2.
  47. Kroeger, “Toward an Egalitarian Hermeneutic of Faith,” 2.
  48. For titles dealing with abuse written by Cathie Kroeger and her colleagues, see
  49. Katharine Bushnell, Dr. Katharine Bushnell: A Brief Sketch of her Life Work (Hertford, England: Rose and Sons, n.d.), 13.