Suggested Reading -- By: Frances F. Hiebert
PP 10:4 Fall 1996) p. 12
Women Caught In The Conflict By Rebecca Merrill Groothuis Baker Books, 1994 Reviewed by Frances F. Hiebert, International Student Coordinator at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
This book deals in depth with the rocky relationship between evangelicalism and feminism. The author believes it is no less than part of the “culture war” that replicates on a smaller scale what is going on in secular society.
Groothuis clearly defines and describes Evangelical Feminism in contrast to other forms of feminism and in distinction from “traditionalism.” Two other areas treated in the book make significant contributions from my point of view. One is the historical evidence that the church has accepted its view of the role of women from the culture, rather than constructing a truly biblical view. The second is the role that Satan plays in restricting women’s use of their Spirit-given gifts in ministry to the church and to the world.
The very first statement in Groothuis’ book throws out a ringing challenge to the idea that the church always has taken its understanding of the role of women in church and society from the Bible. Not so, she declares. Rather, for nearly two millennia, the Christian church usually has sanctioned the role for women current in mainstream secular culture by decreeing the cultural role to be the “biblical” role for women. Thus if the role of women changed in society, it would change in the church as well.
There are two major exceptions. One was in the early New Testament church, where the role of women was drawn from Jesus1 teaching and example. The second is now, when the church is resisting giving women the equality and opportunities given to them in the secular world. In the centuries between these two periods Groothuis finds significant evidence to show that her original thesis is accurate.
It may come as a surprise to some, but the “traditionalist” role for women is not very old at all: It arose after the Industrial Revolution, as a result of the splitting apart of work for men and women, and flourished during the 19th century Victorian era. The simple historical fact is that full-time motherhood as the only acceptable role for women was a cultural invention of the nineteenth century. This view was laid aside briefly during the first part of this century, but revived after World War II. The great wars had so shaken American confidence that many persons reached back for what seemed familiar roles and “hurried home to the suburbs for safety and security” (16). America’s unparalleled economic prosperity allowed these “new Victorians” of the nine teen-fifties and sixties to turn women into full-time homemaker...
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