An Open Letter to Egalitarians about Liberalism
A personal word from Wayne Grudem to his egalitarian friends who have not walked the path of liberalism. He writes the following in the introduction to Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?
On a more personal level, I want to say that I consider a number of the authors whom I name in this book to be my friends. And I consider a number of the executives at many of the colleges, seminaries, and publishing houses that I name in this book to be my friends as well. I want to say something to you at the outset.
I realize that many of you have not personally moved along the path toward liberalism that I describe in this book. You simply decided (for various reasons) that you thought the Bible does not prohibit women from being pastors or elders today, and you have changed nothing else in your theological system. You haven’t moved to liberalism and you wonder why I wrote this book arguing that evangelical feminism leads to liberalism.
In fact, I agree with your strong desire to see women’s gifts and ministries developed and encouraged in our churches, and I have written elsewhere about the many important ministries that I think should be open to both men and women.
In addition, I realize that most of you do not think you are leading churches and schools toward liberalism at all. After all, you personally love Jesus Christ and love the Bible and teach it effectively. How, you might think, could that contribute to liberalism? And furthermore, you know others who take the same approaches, and they haven’t become liberal, have they?
In fact, I have a number of egalitarian friends who have not moved one inch toward liberalism in the rest of their doctrinal convictions, and who still strongly believe and defend the inerrancy of the Bible. I include among this number strong defenders of biblical inerrancy such as Stan Gundry (senior vice president and editor in chief of the Book Group at Zondervan Publishing Company); Jack Hayford (founding pastor of the Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California); Walter Kaiser (former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary); Roger Nicole (former professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and at Reformed Theological Seminary-Orlando); and Grant Osborne (professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois). These men are respected senior scholars and leaders in the evangelical world. If they can hold to an evangelical feminist or egalitarian position without moving toward liberalism themselves, then how can I argue in this book that evangelical feminism is a new path toward liberalism?
I do so because of the nature of the arguments used by evangelical feminists, arguments that I explain in some detail in the following pages. I realize that a person can adopt one of these arguments and not move any further than that single step down the path to liberalism for the rest of his life. Many of these leaders have done just that. But I think the reason they have not moved further toward liberalism is that they have not followed the implications of the kind of argument they are using and have not taken it into other areas of their convictions. However, others who follow them will do so. Francis Schaeffer warned years ago that the first generation of Christians who lead the church astray doctrinally change only one key point in their doctrinal position and change nothing else, so it can seem for a time that the change is not too harmful. But their followers and disciples in the next generation will take the logic of their arguments much further and will advocate much more extensive kinds of error. I think that is happening in a regular, predictable way in evangelical feminism, and I have sought to document that in this book.
Therefore, to all of my egalitarian friends, I ask you to consider care fully the arguments and the pattern of arguments that I discuss in this book. You may think you are doing nothing wrong, or you may think that if you adopt a doubtful or questionable interpretation here or there, it won’t matter much. But I am asking you to stop and consider what is happening in the evangelical feminist movement as a whole, how the trend is to undermine the authority of Scripture again and again at this verse or in that phrase or this chapter or that context.
You may think your own role in this does not influence the larger debate, but, like the soldier in a battle line who thinks that his place is not that important, if you give way at one point you may provide a huge opening for an enemy to flood in and overrun large sections of the church.
It is easy to pick up a new article or book, skim through the argument, and think, “Well, I can’t agree with his (or her) approach to this verse, or that argument, but at least the book is supporting what I know to be right: the inclusion of women in all aspects of ministry. Maybe this argument or that one is not acceptable, but I can approve the result just the same.” And so, one after another, the egalitarian arguments that I list in this book accumulate and the Christian public accepts them.
But what if the assumptions made, and the interpretative principles used, actually do undermine the authority of Scripture time and again? Does that make any difference to you? If you allow arguments to stand that undermine Scripture again and again, just because you think the author “got the right answer for the wrong reason,” isn’t that eroding the foundation of your church for the future? If Scripture-eroding arguments go unchallenged in your circles, how can you protect your church or your organization in the future? While you personally may not change much else in your beliefs, your students and others who follow your leadership will take the principles you have used much further and will abandon much more than you expect.
Please consider what I say in these pages. I hope you will be persuaded, and will perhaps even change your mind on some of the arguments you have used, or even on the conclusions you have drawn. But even if at the end you are still convinced that an egalitarian position is correct, will you at least decide to challenge publicly some of the evident steps toward liberalism that other egalitarians have supported?
With all of the steps toward liberalism that I detail in these pages, it surprises me to see how few egalitarian leaders publicly object to any of these arguments. I hope I can count on some of you to do so.
It seems to me that one need not agree with every jot and tittle of Grudem’s argument to see the valid points he is raising here.