Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism

By Wayne Grudem and John Piper, eds
Westchester, IL : Crossway (1991). 576 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Richard Mayhue
2.1 (Spring 1991) : 107-109

One of the key goals for the church of the 90's will be to reaffirm women as a special part of God's creation and readdress the biblical role of women in the home and the local church. A significant contribution toward this goal is Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a collection of essays by scholars representing the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). CBMW is decidedly conservative, taking a historical view of Scripture that is undergirded by solid exegesis and cogent reasoning.

The position of CBMW has been challenged recently by the newly formed Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), an organization of "evangelical feminists." Throughout the book, frequent references to literature from the CBE viewpoint permit the reader to trace the recent writings that follow the feminist persuasion.

The editors, John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, and Wayne Grudem, Associate Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, have assembled contributors who are united in their belief that biblical manhood and womanhood views men as heads of their homes and pastors/elders in local churches. Contributors to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood teach at such schools as King's College, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, Western Baptist College, Bethel College, and Knox Theological Seminary. In addition, legal, medical, and scientific professionals contribute as do several well-known women including Elisabeth Elliot, Dee Jepsen, and Dorothy Patterson.

The book has two purposes: first, to lead to a constructive resolving of the controversy over the role of women in the church, and second, to respond to evangelical feminists' writings proposing that gender equality mandates role equality. In their discussions, the authors interact with "evangelical feminists" who support the Bible's authority and truthfulness, but then resort frequently to recent biblical interpretations that differ significantly from generally accepted meanings.

Of particular note are words in the preface that capture the thrust of the book:

If one word must be used to describe our position, we prefer the term complimentarian, since it suggests both equality and beneficial differences between men and women. We are uncomfortable with the term `traditionalist' because it implies an unwillingness to let scripture challenge traditional patterns of behavior and we certainly reject the term `heirarchicalist' because it overemphasizes structured authority while giving no suggestion to equality or the beauty of mutual interdependence.

The book is in five sections. In Section 1, "Vision and Overview," Piper and Grudem lay out the course of the volume with definitions of manhood and womanhood. They also respond to "feminist objections" to the traditional biblical position espoused by the editors.

Section 2, "Exegetical and Theological Studies," has in-depth studies of such passages as Genesis 1-3, 1 Cor 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14, Gal 3:28, Eph 5:21-33, 1 Tim 2:11-15, and 1 Pet 3:1-7. It also examines our Lord's response to women in the gospels.

Section 3 notes the contributions of church history, biology, psychology, sociology, and law to the subject at hand. Section 4 considers appropriate implications and applications.

Section 5, "Conclusion and Prospect," co-written by Piper and Grudem, interacts with the declaration, "Men, Women on Biblical Equality," published by CBE. Their material is a point-by-point commentary on "Men, Women on Biblical Equality." This is followed by irenic biblical responses.

The work has two appendices. The first by Grudem summarizes recent research on kefal/h (kephal~e , "head"). The second is the "Danver's Statement," the 1987 position paper issued by the CBMW.

As with any anthology, the research level, thinking, and expression varies, but the editors have done a commendable job in gathering an exceptional collection of essays that demonstrate great unity in their conclusions. The essays are well researched, as evidenced by over eighty pages of detailed documentation. For one unfamiliar with the range of literature on the subject, these literary references alone are worth the price of the volume.

In the foreword, Piper recognizes the singles community by noting that much of the volume deals with relationships between husbands and wives and by acknowledging the importance of singles in the body of Christ. He then admits that he is married and thus is not the best person to write the foreword. To compensate for this deficiency, he frequently uses the writings of mature, single Christians as resources.

One may cringe here and there over a point of exegesis, but this volume represents the traditional interpretation of major biblical passages about the roles of men and women. The most controversial part of the book among those sympathetic toward CBMW is the treatment of the gift of prophecy by Grudem and Piper (Chap. 2). It is important to note that this view is not essential to a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood. It does not represent the thinking of all the authors or of everyone associated with CBMW.

An understanding of the biblical role of women is of crucial importance and must be transmitted to those in the pew. Because of its depth and length, many will look at this volume and conclude it is only for scholars, but anyone can comprehend it by taking just one chapter at a time. Though it is certainly a "heavyweight," it is worth the effort, both for the sake of the home and the church, to understand the issues and their implications. No other book on the subject is as thorough and comprehensive. Because it is written with a sensitive and gracious spirit, it deserves to be read even by those who do not agree with CBMW. This volume should be the standard on the subject for years to come. This reviewer heartily endorses Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as "must" reading for every Christian in understanding God's view of women and His design for their fulfilling role in the home and in the church.