It received its major impetus from the French author Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949; English translation 1952).15 In the United States, women such as Betty Friedan, author of The Feminist Mystique (1964) and first president of the National Organization of Women (NOW) founded in 1966, and Gloria Steinem, who launched Ms. magazine in 1971, which she edited until 1987, also had a large impact on the general culture as they sought to promote women’s emancipation in the larger society, the workplace, and the home.16

Soon, however, Christian feminists took up the task of providing an interpretation of Scripture that sought to give special consideration to women’s concerns and interests, especially in the ecclesiastical realm, and this had a marked impact on Christian theology.

Developing feminist theologies within existing cultural and social contexts included the African American “womanist” and the Hispanic mujerista theology in America, as well as emerging feminist theologies from European, Latin American, Asian, and African origins.17 Feminist theology, in its diverse manifestations, confronted the issue of authority, challenging traditional understandings and seeking to address the patriarchal and sexist domination and marginalization of women in all sectors of society—political, social, and religious.

The term theology, coined by Canadian Naomi Goldenberg, called for reflection on the divine feminine and on coinage of feminist terms. Hence, a major task of feminist theology was the rethinking of traditional male symbols and concepts in an effort to eliminate patriarchy and legitimize female power.

It was at a conference in Chicago in 1973, “Evangelicals for Social Action,” that the Evangelical Women’s Caucus was started. From 1975 to 1983 the movement grew, but so did tensions regarding biblical interpretation and inerrancy. An organizational fracture took place in 1986 when divergent views on the authority of Scripture emerged surrounding the issue of homosexuality. This led to the establishment of Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), a leading advocate of biblical or evangelical feminism, also called egalitarianism owing to its emphasis on women’s equality to men in all spheres of life.18

Over time, three general groups of feminists emerged: (1) radical feminists, (2) reformist feminists, and (3) biblical or evangelical feminists or egalitarians.19 In simple terms, radical feminism rejected the Bible and Christianity as unusable because of their male patriarchal bias. Radical feminism focused on feminine religious experience as a key to interpretation. Reformist feminism essentially rejected Christian tradition about women and used the Bible as a means to reconstruct a “proper” positive theology. However, the Bible itself was not seen as inerrant or authoritative. The third movement, evangelical feminism, rejected a critical stance toward Scripture. Evangelical feminists said that nothing in the Bible should be rejected, and Scripture was seen as teaching complete male-female equality.20

The 1980s witnessed the first conservative responses to evangelical feminism, including works by Susan Foh and James Hurley.21 In addition, further works advocating the egalitarian viewpoint, such as those by Mary Evans and Mary Hayter, appeared.22 Two North American organizations were established during this period. One, which promoted egalitarianism, was the above-mentioned group Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE), and the other group, rooted in complementarianism, was The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).23 Subsequently, the hermeneutical and exegetical dimension of this debate was explored with increasing sophistication.24 Gender wars over men’s and women’s roles in the home, the church, and society were raging.