Grudem’s Logical Errors

Grudem’s Logical Errors May 8, 2013

David Cramer, in “Assessing Hierarchist Logic: Is Egalitarianism Really on a Slippery Slope,” in Priscilla Papers 27.2 (2013) 5-9, takes the author of Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? to task at the logical level. Cramer chose in uncanny fashion not to mention Grudem’s name in the text in order to keep attention on the arguments and not the person. Priscilla Papers is a fine publication of the Christians for Biblical Equality. Link to article now available.

Before I begin we observe that Cramer describes the position as “hiearachist” instead of its preferred “complementarian.” This deserves some consideration. In general I prefer that a person be described the way that person wants, and since most of this view call themselves “complementarian” it is wise to give them that label. Having said that, however, I want to support what Cramer does here: time has convinced me that the focus of the complementarian is not how “roles” are complementary but that instead the focus is male leadership. Therefore, the complementarian view is essentially — by consensus of their approaches and emphases — a species of hierachicalism. I therefore find Cramer’s term appropriate and accurate. Those who want to focus on male-female complementarity in roles should be called complementarian; but if the focus is male leadership and female submission then the term hiearchicalism is the better term.

He finds three crucial and book-diminishing logical mistakes in the book. There are others, such as guilt by association, but Cramer’s focus is on these three:

First, there is the fallacy of hasty generalization or selective evidence. This happens when supporting evidence is emphasized and counter evidence is ignored or minimized. [I found the same logical fallacy in Grudem’s approach to the warning passages in Hebrews.] Or when a universal claim is made on partial evidence. The problem here is that Grudem connects egalitarianism to liberalism; the former leads to the latter. Only there are so many contra indicators, esp the number of Wesleyan and Holiness women in ministry that vastly outweigh the number of “liberal” women in ministry (3 or 4 to 1), that the author is guilty of a hasty generalization. The correlation, then, is only possible. Cramer concludes that Grudem’s argument is ultimately a tautology.

Second, the fallacy of equating correlation with causation. This one is simple: that some liberals are egalitarians, or even if all were, there is no necessary causation between being egalitarian and becoming liberal. It is far more likely, something Grudem does not explore adequately, that other factors are at work, and not all of them the same between the two groups. Cramer suggests Grudem should have abandoned this logic and argued that egalitarianism or evangelical feminism could be called the new forms of liberalism. Grudem gives no logical reason “to worry that evangelical egalitarianism is a cause of liberalism” (7).

Third, there is the fallacy of the slippery slope argument, which the author criticizes in the case of the “trajectory hermeneutic” and which the author could have applied equally to his own arguments. This argument only works if there is a logical necessity between egalitarianism/Christian feminism and liberalism; there is none. Cramer: “there is simply no logically necessary relationship between these positions” (8). Cramer sees too many psychological issues at work here.

For those with a mind to listen, this will be a landmark article demolishing the logic of one man’s attempt to right the ship.

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  • gingoro

    “Those who want to focus on male-female complementarity in roles should be called complementarian.” Thank you Scot! Although I am quite happily in a denomination with females in the same church roles as males, never the less I do see that often male and female are complementary and not, even in principle, absolutely identical even aside from child bearing.

  • mhelbert

    I’m not sure that egalitarianism equates to being ‘absolutely identical.’

  • I’m mildly surprised that (apparently) Grudem’s premise of “liberal = bad” is accepted without comment, even while the fallacies related to that assumption are clearly pointed out.

    I’m not trying to suggest that “liberalism = good,” per se. Rather, that there are aspects within what is short-handed as “liberalism” that are. Can it really be doubted, for example, that the drive to allow women greater freedom to explore ministerial roles wouldn’t exist without some measure of “liberalism”? One certainly needn’t go all the way toward acceptance of other “liberal” viewpoints (for example, sexual promiscuity, lower acceptance of biblical reliability, diminished acceptance of bodily resurrection… I could go on), but to suggest that “liberalism” has a universally accepted single meaning without getting into what topics one is talking about strikes me as its own fallacy.

  • This is a fair point, Mark. Sometimes, when providing an internal or immanent critique of another, though, it is best to accept as many of their premises as possible. That said, I made the same point you make here in a footnote (p. 9, n. 32), although those kinds of nuances cannot be highlighted in the summary offered above.

  • Ben Hammond

    I agree. I’ve also heard Scot use the word “mutuality” in place of “egalitarian” before.

  • Matt Benzing

    I’m not aware of too many liberals that encourage ” sexual promiscuity”. They may not hold to the conservative idea of women as either virgins or whores (or the biblical edict that a man can have his wife stoned if he doesn’t see enough proof of her virginity on their wedding night), but the idea that you either support patriarchal sexual concepts or you are an out and out libertine is false.

  • John W. Frye

    The use of fear to espouse a view or to keep people within a view seems to be the basest form of manipulation. With his logical fallacy arguments is Grudem admitting the skimpy, biblical basis for his views?

  • gingoro

    When the normal designation for the male only church leadership is complementatian then the implication, at least to me, is that the egalatarian position (ie the opposite) does not include any complementarin aspects, which to me is improper.
    By the way I consider the male only leadership/teaching model to verge of racism as it really only applies to caucasian men not being taught by women. It is quite acceptable to send many more female missionaries to foreign countries than we send men. The ratio is or at least used to be about 3 or 4 women to each man sent. So poor African males can be taught by women!.

  • Robert Griffing

    Grudem writes poor theology in more ways than one. He proof-texts the Bible, church fathers, and his opponents. I was quite frustrated by his lack of citations in more than one book, and by the lack of serious exegesis before many of his self-authorized pronouncements.

  • mhelbert

    Yeah, and I know a lot of people who use his Systematic Theology as the bible. Scary.

  • Denny Burk

    Do you think it’s okay, then, to refer to egalitarians as “feminists” or as “a species of feminism”?

  • Hi, Denny. This is precisely what Grudem does throughout the book. My personal view is that, so long as one makes clear what kind of “species” of feminism we are talking about (i.e., evangelical as opposed to radical secularist), then there isn’t really an issue. However, just as some egalitarians/feminists use the terms “patriarchalist/hierarchalist” derisively, I imagine some complementarian/hierarchalists use “feminist” as a bogey word as well. In the case of my article (the complete text of which Scot just provided a link to above, by the way), the word “hierarch(al)ist” is used as a technical term denoting the view that roles are not only differentiated but differentiated, well, hierarchically (leadership and submission). I believe you have conceded that the use of the terms patriarchal/hierarchal is appropriate to describe that view, haven’t you? Grudem has certainly adopted the term in his discussion of the Trinity, if not gender.

  • B_J

    Can someone please provide some examples of ‘conservative’ egalitarian women?

    Would not many (most?) egalitarians self-identify as liberal?

  • Hi BJ, I suppose it depends on your definition of “conservative” and “liberal.” From my perspective, the group Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) is well within the conservative-evangelical stream (see their statement of faith, for example), while actively promoting egalitarian interpretations of Scripture. If you are interested, they have a directory of (mostly evangelical) egalitarian churches and could direct you to one in your area, I’m sure.

  • scotmcknight

    Cherith Fee Nordling. Karen Walker Freeburg … colleagues of mine at Northern. There are churches full of them. No, most egalitarians would not self-identify as liberal.

  • Thankyou! I have long been frustrated with Wayne Grudem’s arguments, but haven’t had the tools to explain why they are wrong. Now I do! The sad situation we are facing here in Australia is that Wayne Grudem amongst others, is one of the guiding authors whose opinions are being used by my denomination to hold back the ordination of women…when most other majors are ordaining women now!!

  • And where do egalitarians who are NOT feminists like me fit Mr Grudem?

  • jim

    I fail to see any reason to call egalitarians feminists. Why would you propose this? Feminism is typically used in reference to a secular political movement while egalitarianism is typically used in theological/ministry contexts.

  • jim


    If on a scale of 1-10 1=most liberal and 10 = most conservative, a person who is 9 would likely be called “liberal” by the person who is a 10. I would identify as a 6 or so on this scale. Does that make me liberal? I don’t think so. I don’t identify myself as a liberal. I’m egalitarian. But I’m sure those 9 and 10s in the crowd would call me liberal.

  • A fair criticism. I was speaking more to conservative impressions of liberals at that point, but it does indeed fall short of my own usual preference to speak of a person’s position as they themselves would recognize it.

  • Tim Krueger
  • zKatherine

    With all due respect, why is it so important to fit people into certain labels or groups? Do labels help bind us together in Christian unity or separate us into bunches of squabbling groups of which we are forced to take sides?

  • Take a look at the works of Linda Belleville. Thoroughly evangelical and dedicated to egalitarian principles.

  • Amanda B.

    I think egalitarianism and feminism–but especially feminism–are a bit too broad to really neatly fit the one within the other.

    If we were to accept one popular definition of feminism: “The radical notion that women are people”–then I’d expect every Christian is therefore a feminist. (Which is why I don’t like that definition.)

    If we are to say that feminism means that men and women should have full and equal opportunities to exercise their God-given talents in whatever sphere they find themselves, then I would say most, (but perhaps not all) egalitarians would agree with that. Example: There are egalitarians who are biblically convinced that women may teach and lead without restriction, who nevertheless think women should not be allowed combat positions in the military.

    If we are to take “feminism” as the most commonly recognized respected mainstream feminist thought today, a great many egalitarians *won’t* fit into it. Particularly as it regards issues like LGBT rights and abortion–both of which secular feminists are almost universally in favor of–many Christian egalitarians disagree on moral grounds. Many Christian egalitarians don’t know about, or disagree with, basic feminist tenets such as rape culture, intersectionality of privilege, gendered language, and so forth. In other words, plenty of egalitarians would be disqualified as being “really feminist” by most mainstream feminists, and plenty of egalitarians do not consider themselves to be feminists.

    Then there are some egalitarians who happily call themselves feminists, even if they disagree with some of its points, because they think the overall point is worth the stigma and messiness of the label.

    If feminism means “Men and women are exactly the same”, I have yet to meet an egalitarian that claims such to be true.

    While secular feminism may say, “Women should be able to be pastors”, it would say so out of principles of perceived human fairness and equality. Sincere Christian egalitarians–especially evangelical ones–will say so out of a conviction about what the Bible says. “Everyone should get their fair share of the pie” is not the point–“I think God really does endorse this” is what matters.

    This, to me, means that egalitarianism cannot automatically be considered a species of feminism, just like someone who opposed the war in Iraq cannot automatically be considered a species of Democrat. Even though the two overlap in certain points, the issues are too numerous and complex to consider them the same. I am an egalitarian who actually thinks feminism raises an awful lot of good points, but I wouldn’t call myself a feminist because of certain concerns I have with the overall school of thought.

  • It’s interesting how these kinds of arguments come out in other discussions as well. One big one is the discussion around a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis and creationary evolution. For example, if one doesn’t accept a literal reading of Genesis 1-3, then it is argued this will lead to denial of our sin problem and, even more, the necessary work of Christ.

    However, as Cramer & McKnight point out, the same could be argued against complementarianism. If one is complementarian, then it will lead to extreme fundamentalist beliefs about gender roles and perhaps even towards spousal and/or leadership abuse. This would be just as silly for egalitarians to argue.

    It’s time to lay aside argument such as the slippery slope and guilt by association – for both sides.

  • Matt

    Rebecca Groothius.
    My wife, but she is not well known but she is more politically conservative than I am but keeps the focus on smaller government with less of our money because as she says, the smaller it is, the less havoc it can micromanage your life.
    Can we define “conservative”?

  • Matt

    Amen, John. I know quite a few mutualists who never say a word because they dread being called liberals when they are far from it either politically or doctrinally. The immediate response by so many is to marginalize them so they cannot influence others. Sadly, I think that is what Burke was doing above. You know, if Denny’s mom or wife voted in an election she could classify as a “feminist”. So he needs to define the term for us.

  • Try the former world leader of the Salvation Army General Eva Burrows. There’s a conservative institution which seems to work on “gifting” not gender for it’s leadership. I think they have recently appointed another woman to the role.

  • Julie Anne

    Matt: I asked Denny to define “feminism” in a recent article of his. He responded here:

  • CoffeeHoundPress

    Julie Anne,
    I wasn’t satisfied with Denny Burk’s answer, were you? If he wants to discuss feminism, he needs to give a concise definition to use as a starting point.

  • Julie Anne

    I really was not, CHP. A lot of that might be tainted by the fact that his response was so long in coming. I felt like I was begging for a response to something that should have been forthcoming – especially since it was a key part of understanding his article.