The following continues a series of posts reading through Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?. If you’re curious why I’m blogging on this, you can start at the first post in the series. Or backtrack your way through the series by jumping to the previous post.
Ch 12.- Tradition Trumps Scripture: Some evangelical feminists put church tradition above the Bible
This was another one of those chapters that leaves one with an intense face-palm impulse. First of all, Grudem moves away from talking about women and instead is discussing Kevin Giles’ book The Trinity and Subordinationism. It is related to the women issue because Grudem claims the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, a position Giles believes to be heresy. However, it’s a little more removed from what we’ve been talking about so far. Of course, Grudem isn’t making his case about the Trinity here, but rather is complaining about how Giles makes his argument: Giles appeals to tradition.
Giles seems to think that Scripture could be used to support either side, but Scripture properly interpreted supports his own non-subordinationist position. He takes his cues about how to interpret Scripture from looking at what the church has believed over time. There is nothing wrong with this, of course—if there’s a complicated issue, it makes sense to consider what Christians have always believed. They are not guaranteed to be right, but we should at least know why we disagree with them where we do. (On the issue of women, for instance, I disagree with many Christians throughout history, a fact with which I’m ok. But I don’t think we should reject tradition without careful study and reasoning.) Sadly, Grudem resorts to an appeal to the anti-Catholic impulses pervading much of contemporary evangelicalism.
How then does Giles think we should determine which view is right? The answer, he says, is found in church history: “In relation to the doctrine of the Trinity my argument is that the tradition of the church should prescribe the correct reading.” For Giles, then, the tradition of the church becomes the surpreme authority. His approach is similar to Roman Catholicism but contradictory to the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and contrary to the beliefs of evangelical Protestants. In fact, I find it somewhat surprising that InterVarsity Press would decide to publish this book. [There he goes picking at IVP again...] I am not suprised at this because of the conclusion Giles holds (egalitarianism) but because of the underlying view of authority on which he bases his argument (the superiority of church tradtion, not Scripture, because Scripture can be read in different ways). (117)
This is one of the chapters that really leaves me with little respect for Grudem. He could make a real argument against Giles’ heremeneutic, but he doesn’t. Instead he appeals to the prejudice of his readers—a rather low road, in my opinion. Additionally, he contradicts himself by complaining about appeals to tradition, because Grudem himself has said more than once, “Oh, but nobody has thought women should be pastors until very recently!” If he is going to appeal to tradition, he shouldn’t castigate others for the same. (He is not even right, by the way, that women have never been in positions of authority in the church. Besides the New Testament examples he dismisses, we can appeal to the case of abbesses who ruled over monks and nuns living in the same community, for instance. Perhaps women in authority have been rare, but they have not been nonexistent.)