THE CHOICE: TRUTH or TRADITION
Understanding the Difference between Biblical Womanhood and Feminism
By Susan Hyatt, d.min., m.a., m.a.
For a short bio of Sue, click
Some parts of the following essay are excerpts from my doctoral dissertation,
Regent University School of Divinity, 2000 which can be seen at
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Recently, my husband was speaking on Africans in the New Testament and Early
Christianity in a church on Long Island. But before he spoke, the pastor
pulled him aside and nervously informed him that two women had phoned warning
him that he should not have Eddie speak because I had written on gender
Eddie assured him that he was not there to teach on that issue but was simply
fulfilling the invitation that had been extended. The pastor sighed in
relief, saying, “It would be dangerous if some of the assertive women in the
Church got hold of that teaching!”
Isn't that sad? Why is the Church so afraid of the truth?
If the biblical truth is taught and received, control and aggression are not
problems in either men or women. The Gospel gives neither the right nor
the responsibility of one to rule over the other.
The problem is that many women who receive the message of biblical equality
merely add it to their theological baggage without letting God show them what it
really means and how it is to permeate their entire worldview and their way of
thinking about everything.
Like every biblical truth, the component of biblical equality invades our
comfort zones and demands new ways of thinking and relating. Jesus'
message of biblical equality does not authorize us to control or rule over
others. In fact, it is the humbling revelation that, not only are we
equals with others at the foot of the Cross; but also, others are our equals! As
a good friend says, “That changes the water on the beans!”
The Bible truth is that women are equal with men in terms of substance and
value, privilege and responsibility, function and authority.
I distinguish a biblical theology of womanhood from both Conservative
Evangelicalism and from Liberal Feminism, and I call it a
Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of Biblical Womanhood. I call it this
because it is informed by the Bible, highly regarded, and by the activity of the
Holy Spirit in revival history.
It is an indisputable fact that, during times of revival history, the Holy
Spirit has elevated women toward equality with men to the extent that the
culture of the revival people will allow. It is also a fact that Jesus
taught the equality of women with men in every respect. So did Paul,
accurately understood. And so does Genesis!
So what are we afraid of? Why do we cling to tradition, allowing it to
obscure and distort truth?
A Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood shares some common ground with
the Conservative Evangelical position. Both hold the Bible in highest
esteem as the inspired Word of God, authoritative for every aspect of life.
And both agree on crucial doctrinal issues such as the deity of Jesus Christ,
the reality and necessity of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and
return, and the need to be born again.
Nevertheless, they typically disagree on major pneumatological issues, such as
the Baptism of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 1:8; 2:4), divine healing as in the
Atonement, and the gifts of the Spirit. Their differences lie in practical
aspects of the experience of the Spirit in daily life as well as in divergent
historical-theological roots. Consequently, their interpretation of
Scripture can be very different, particularly on issues related to the activity
of the Holy Spirit. The theology of womanhood is one main area of
traditional disagreement. Comments by David M. Scholer help to explain one
area where this difference is obvious. He writes,
Generally, persons raised within Holiness, Pentecostal and certain
Baptist traditions experienced women teaching authoritatively in the church
long before they were equipped to interpret 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and never
found that passage a problem. Conversely, persons raised in many
Reformed traditions knew long before they were equipped to interpret 1
Timothy 2:11-12 that women were to be excluded from authoritative teaching
in the church. They grew up finding the verses clear support for what
A Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood may find common sentiments
with Feminists, as well. But liberal feminism does not inform a
Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of womanhood. Rather, they find common
ground where truth is expressed. And two things are definitely true: 1)
women, including God’s women, have been written out of history; 2) the Church’s
traditional theology of womanhood has been poisoned with misogyny.
Highly regarded evangelical theologian, Clark Pinnock, defines feminism as “an
advocacy of the right of women based on a theory of the equality of the
sexes.” Although feminist theology is multifarious, a factor that definitely
differentiates it from a Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of womanhood is the
position held on biblical authority. Whereas Secular and Liberal Feminists
deny the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the Pentecostal/Charismatic
position upholds inspiration and inerrancy in the original manuscripts. In
addition, Liberal Feminists would uphold female experience as the legitimate
theological starting point and would accept untested, mystical experience.
But the Pentecostal/Charismatic position presented in this paper points to Jesus
as the only legitimate, theological starting point and bona fide expressions of
the Holy Spirit, biblically affirmed, as the only legitimate and acceptable
spiritual experiences. (This differs from many in the spiritual formation
movement who embrace zen and extra-biblical experience.)
Conservative Evangelicals and Liberal Feminists, certainly, are poles apart, and
the Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of womanhood position proposed by this
paper is distinct from both poles. Yet is does share certain elements with
each of them.
The theology of womanhood presented in this paper:
- Embraces the historical and personal manifest activity of the Holy
Spirit in and through Spirit-baptized believers. Conservative
Evangelicals, if they remain true to their historical-theological roots, do
not, and Liberal Feminists do not.
- Accepts the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures in their
original documents. Conservative Evangelicals agree; Liberal Feminists
- Realizes the fact that the traditional theology of the institution
called “the Church” is misogynous, unbiblical, and unacceptable. Many
Conservative Evangelicals tend to disagree, while another diligent
contingent of Conservative Evangelical scholars is attempting to correct the
errors of the past.[ Liberal Feminists agree that the traditional
theology of womanhood is misogynous and unacceptable, but they also see the
Bible as hopelessly patriarchal and feel they must “leave Christianity in
order to participate in Jesus’ discipleship as equal.”[
The Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood proposed by this paper can
be defined further in terms of Word and Spirit. These elements find
precedence in the hermeneutic of the Parhams delineated in Chapter 3 of my
doctoral dissertation, and in that of George Fox and the early Friends.
This position also accepts the position of credible evangelical scholars who
have faithfully clarified by sound research, the original intent of previously
This approach to biblical interpretation considers at least the following
- It holds a high view of Scripture.
- It respects the cultural context of the passage.
- It respects the literary context of the passage.
- It respects the literary genre of the passage.
- It considers the author’s purpose and original intent.
- It respects the best scholarly authorities in relation to epistemology
- It seeks biblical paradigms and principles as opposed to hapax or “cut
and paste” interpretations.
- It recognizes that the Spirit existed before the Written Word and was
the Agent inspiring the Word.
- It recognizes the use of figurative language in Scripture, but rejects
any approach to interpretation that employs allegorical methods and
- While respecting the value of consensus, it maintains the high value of
the priesthood/ prophet-hood of all believers with respect to the witness
and illuminating activity of the Author of the Book, the Holy Spirit, in the
- For reasons explicated in the dissertations, it questions and often
rejects interpretations inspired by Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and
- It acknowledges the Lordship of the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as the
starting point for legitimate theological formulation.
Many good Christians who, no doubt, would die for the Truth refuse to
consider this truth. They cling to traditional ideas about womanhood even
though those ideas are blatantly unbiblical. Whether they like it or not,
the biblical and pneumatological evidence simply does not support the doctrine
of authoritarian male headship and female subjugation. As a foremost
authority on this issue, David M. Scholer writes,
I am fully convinced that the Bible does not institute, under gird, or
teach male headship and female submission, in either the traditionalist or
complementarian forms of evangelical thought, which exclude women from equal
participation in authority with men within the body of Christ, whether in
ministry or marriage or any other dimension of life.[ix]
When the scriptural strongholds of female subjugation are read in context
with historical accuracy, it is clear that these interpretations are inaccurate
and self-serving. It is also clear that their originally intended meanings
agree with Jesus' teaching in which men and women are regarded as equal in terms
of substance and value, privilege and responsibility, function and authority.
And, accurately interpreted, these passages confirm the equalizing activity of
the Spirit through the centuries.
Based on accurate biblical evidence, it is clear that woman stands before God
equal in every respect with man. She is equal in terms of substance and
value, function and authority, privilege and responsibility. A
Pentecostal/Charismatic theology of womanhood, according to the biblical
standard, is egalitarian. This agrees with the activity of the Spirit in
history, the other component critical to a Pentecostal-Charismatic theology of
womanhood. Christians need not be afraid of this truth.
David M. Scholer, “I Timothy 2:9-15 and the Place of Women in the Church’s
Ministry,” Women, Authority, and the Bible, ed. Alvera Mickelsen (Grand
Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 215.
Clark Pinnock, “Biblical Authority and the Issues in Question,” Women,
Authority, and the Bible, 51.
A good example of this position would be the Council for Biblical Manhood and
Womanhood which articulates its version of the traditional theology in its
Danvers Statement. Leading proponent of this position are Wayne Grudem and
The leading advocacy group holding this position would be Christians for
Biblical Equality and such scholars David M. Scholer, Catherine Clark Kroeger,
Millard Erickson, and Roger Nicole.
Virginia Mollencourt writes, “I am beginning to wonder whether indeed
Christianity is patriarchal to its very core. If so, count me out.
Some of us may be forced to leave Christianity in order to participate in Jesus’
discipleship as equal.” Virginia Mollenkott, Christian Century (7 March
1984): 252. See also Rosemary Radford Ruether, “The Task of Feminist
Theology,” Doing Theology in Today’s World, ed, J. D. Woodbridge and T.
E. McComiskey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 359-376. In addition, see
S. Hyatt, In the Spirit We’re Equal, 275-290.
Chapter 3 of doctoral dissertation, 83-89.
S. Hyatt, “Biblical Equality and The Friends,” In the Spirit We’re Equal,
83-130. See also S. Hyatt, Seeking Equality and Finding an Answer in a
Spirit-Led Approach to Biblical Interpretation, Unpublished manuscript,
(Dallas: Hyatt Press, 1996).
These form the substance of this chapter.