The Most Competent Theologian You’ve Never Heard Of


Katharine Bushnell, who lived and wrote from the middle of the 19th ‘til the middle of the 20th century – the time I really think I should’ve been born in, the height of this country’s greatest Christian-led social reform movements, was a brilliant theologian.  But, writing as a woman in the waning years of the 1800s, when women’s voices were more readily heard outside of the Church, and during the evangelical Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy toward the end of her life, when her egalitarian convictions were deemed suspect, her work never reached the prominence of a Wesley, Finney, or Moody.
And that’s a pity.  Fluent in Biblical Hebrew and Greek, she undertook her magnum opus, God’s Word To Women, as a response to the degradation of women that masculinist theology and sexist culture wrought.  God’s Word To Women is a series of one hundred lessons, divided into hundreds of exegetical paragraphs, that comments on the entirety of the Scriptures’ testimony of womankind’s equality of worth and position with man’s.  She was an unabashed egalitarian because of her familiarity with the Word of God in its original languages, and beginning with the creation account of Eve’s derivation from the man Adam, she charges out of the gate with the pointed observation that male scholars have overlooked God’s clear intent for women and men and deliberately obscured, in the service of patriarchy, the Almighty’s promise of full equality and access to the riches of the Atonement for women.
Which, I think, is why you’ve never heard of her; the male-dominated world of evangelical theology has been and continues to be protective of its position of privilege, often under the guise of being “protective” of women.  But her defense of the truth and promises of Scripture endures – not because she’s “right,” but because the Scriptures themselves endure in their faithfulness.  Bushnell had little patience for theological liberalism, and her writing – sharp, decisive, and occasionally acerbic – reveals her as anything other than a sentimentalist carried along by winds of progressive social reform.  She wasn’t content to accept the word of more prominent theologians in their exegesis of the Word; she undertook an exhaustive study of the Bible in its original languages to uncover the unfortunate, sometimes deliberate, twisting of the text to protect the masculinist status quo.  Her efforts were rewarded with derision then and undeserved obscurity now – just when the Body of Christ most needs her message. 
I’ll be peppering Prevailing Winds with notes and quotes from God’s Word To Women, and I’ll make you an offer:  I’ll buy a copy for the first three readers who contact me at siyocreo@live.com.  If you’re comfortable with the idea that the most common exegetical conclusions are obviously the most correct, if you’re reassured by the Wilson/Piper/Grudem/Driscoll approach to defense of patriarchal privilege, you likely won’t take me up on my offer.  You should.  And if you’re a Bible-believing Christian uncomfortable with the doctrine of an Atonement that extends fully its benefits to men but still binds women from full exclusion in the Church, home, and society, you’ll find comfort in the conclusions Bushnell arrives at.  Not because they confirm your beliefs, but because they confirm God’s. 
As my husband once put it, the Church is guilty of adhering to and practicing a two-thirds approach to Galatians 3:28.  We would never dream of using the Bible to defend the exclusion of, say, Asian or Black people, or poor people, from full ecclesiastical participation and service – the full and unfettered exercise of their Spirit-given gifts – in the Body of Christ.  But poor exegesis, bad theology, and the comfort of unearned, false privilege has enabled us to accept with ease the denial of full participation in the Body to Christ’s female children.  We’ve read into Genesis a “creation order” that isn’t there, and we’ve taken a small handful of verses from the New Testament and used them to override the full message of Jesus Christ and His Word.  So we’ve stripped Galatians 3:28 of any semblance of actual meaning and in doing so made the Gospel abhorrent to a society still struggling to free itself from the odious grip of patriarchy. 
The Body of Christ desperately needs more Katharine Bushnells and more voices, male and female, to condemn from the Scriptures the certainty of the insecure and deceived – men like Douglas Wilson, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Marc Driscoll, and all of the others who, having stormed the evangelical stage, command our attention even as their errors surround them.  There can never be a tailoring of the Word of God to satisfy human beings or support the mood of the audience it seeks to reach.  The Gospel of sinful human beings’ redemption through the life, message, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is an offense to the unregenerated.  
The false masculinist  Gospel is an offense to the unregenerated, the Body of Christ, and the Lord Jesus Himself, in whose humanity and not masculinity all humankind may be redeemed.   The message of Katharine Bushnell is the message of Scripture.  Those who revere the Word and seek truth in studying it will avail themselves of her and others’ scholarship. 
Those who jealously guard their privileged positions as men, and those women who shirk from their God-given mandate to serve the Lord with their whole hearts and minds, won’t.  It really is that simple.

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