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Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World

Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World

by Carolyn McCulley

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Biblical womanhood is not for the weak. In an age that seeks to obliterate God and His authority, modeling biblical womanhood involves spiritual warfare. RadicalWomanhood seeks to equip new believers and long-time Christians alike, exposing the anti-God agenda of the three waves of feminism to date and presenting the pro-woman truth of the Scriptures.


Biblical womanhood is not for the weak. In an age that seeks to obliterate God and His authority, modeling biblical womanhood involves spiritual warfare. RadicalWomanhood seeks to equip new believers and long-time Christians alike, exposing the anti-God agenda of the three waves of feminism to date and presenting the pro-woman truth of the Scriptures. Illustrated with numerous personal testimonies, this book will dig deep into the Word and show how it can be lived out today. The foundation and core message of Radical Womanhood is consistent with the traditional complementarian teaching on biblical womanhood. However, the target audience, tone, and style are radically different. Most books on this subject take a heavily didactic tone that assumes an awareness of Christian lingo and a high degree of spiritual maturity. Radical Womanhood has the narrative approach appreciated by postmodern readers, but still incorporates solid, biblically-based teaching for personal application and growth.

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Radical Womanhood

Feminine Faith in a Feminist World

By Carolyn McCulley, Dana Wilkerson

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2008 Carolyn McCulley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57567-414-8



The first time you hear a boy say it, it can sting.

"You throw like a girl!"

"He screamed just like a girl!"

"Ewwww ... that's gross. It's pink. That's girl stuff."

The content of these insults usually lacks any serious substance, but the implication is clear: girls are different. As in, worse. Inferior. If a boy is lacking skill, strength, or speed, he is no better than a ... girl.

From deep within the feminine heart, a primordial protest erupts: That's not fair!

I don't know when this concept dawned on me, but it must have been during grade school. I have memories of competing in field day races and wanting to make sure the all-girl teams did well against the all-boy teams. At one point, the boys were given a few freedoms at recess that the girls didn't get—perhaps to play some contact sport. So we girls bunched up around the teacher on recess duty and sarcastically played childish kindergarten games to make our point.

By high school, the gender divide became more threatening—and, bizarrely, more alluring. Every girl wanted the attention traditionally paid to cheerleaders or prom queens, but there was always the risk of locker-room gossip. Girls in high school were no longer accused of having cooties or just being "gross." By this stage, masculine insults contained a threatening, disrespectful edge, often laced with sexual slander. Yet, some guys were just plain cute. We wanted their compliments and time. We just didn't know if we could trust them. And sometimes we couldn't.

This roughly summarizes my understanding of "sexual politics" until college—nothing traumatic or really even mildly dramatic. My family was intact and stable. My father was loving and active in my life, as was my mother. I was involved in lots of school activities. My parents came to every concert, marching band performance, school play, and parent-teacher conference. I floated on the fringes of the popular crowd—not part of the inner sanctum of cheerleaders and football players but close enough to be invited to the occasional party.

None of that really explains why I ended up in that first women's studies class at college. It's likely I thought it would be an easier elective than political science or economics. But the reason I took the next women's studies class was much more purposeful: through feminism, I had been handed a worldview that addressed the covert sexism I had suspected all these years. Things were beginning to click. The problem was ... men! "Patriarchy" and its oppression of women were the true culprits. (Um, make that womyn.) As a journalism major, I needed some topic to specialize in, a cause to champion. I found mine in feminism. I made it my life's mission then to splash the cause of feminism across magazines and airwaves wherever I worked.

There were little skirmishes along the way. Sometime in college, as I recall, my growing feminism ruined Thanksgiving. During dinner, my uncle, a no-nonsense Naval Academy graduate, made some comment—now long forgotten and probably more benign than I recognized—to which I took great offense. I began a tirade about rape, patriarchy, the oppression of "womyn," and the suffocating roles of wives and mothers. (None of which, with the exception of patriarchy, had I personally experienced.) Any refutation of my sweeping condemnations was met with increased volume and passion on my part. I had lived a mere two decades, but in my opinion I possessed the wisdom of the ages.

Then there was the time I stunned my father with the announcement that if I were ever to marry, I wasn't going to change my last name. At the time, I thought it was a repressive and unnecessary tradition, and I didn't see any reason to change my identity just because I would obtain a husband. I honestly thought my father would champion my idea because he was the father of three daughters and if we all changed our names, the family name would die with him. But he didn't seem pleased, which genuinely surprised me. In hindsight I honestly don't know if it was the information or my attitude that provoked his reaction.

I learned a lot of theory in women's studies classes, but surprisingly, I didn't learn a lot of actual history. We learned about the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but not anything earlier. I don't recall studying anything written prior to Betty Friedan's influential book from the 1960s, The Feminine Mystique ..., which is to say, nothing earlier than my own lifetime. It would be years before I learned about the suffrage movement that preceded modern feminism, the differing impacts of the Reformation and Enlightenment on gender roles, and, finally, what the Bible says about men and women.

Feminism taught me that men were the problem, but in the end feminist politics left me yawning. While I had no problem agreeing that men in general were the problem, individual and specific men seemed far more agreeable and even attractive to me. After awhile, the strident victimhood of feminism lost its appeal. Though one of my fellow graduates went to work for feminist political action groups—the National Organization for Women (NOW) and then the Feminist Majority—I took my journalism diploma and my women's studies certificate and pursued a career in media.

It wasn't long before my definition and practice of feminism became as generic as that of the next woman clutching Cosmopolitan magazine. Social constructs and gender theories were dim memories. I was left with androgynous "dress for success" fashion, a hyperperception of sexual harassment and discrimination on the job, and a caricature of masculine sexuality as a model of freedom for both sexes. Aggression at work and on dinner dates was the legacy of my education.

When I was twenty-nine, I surveyed my life and perceived the emptiness of it. A relentless self-focus hadn't produced much happiness.

The Fractured Feminine Psyche

During this time, a friend of mine lent me a book, telling me how helpful it was for "reclaiming a whole feminine psyche." The book's premise was that women could be restored by studying the weaknesses and strengths of the goddesses from Greek mythology and by seeking to reconcile these archetypes into one complete woman.

I took the test in the book and found out that I tested very high as Athena, the warrior goddess who sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus. This is the section of the summary that I noted in my journal at the time:

It's easy to spot Athena in the modern world. She's out there in every sense of the word. Editing magazines, running women's studies departments in colleges, hosting talk shows, making fact-finding tours to Nicaragua, producing films, challenging the local legislature.

The Athena woman is very visible because she is an extravert, she's practical, and she's intelligent. Men are often a little intimidated by her at first because she doesn't respond to the usual sexual gambits and she will push them to the wall in any intellectual argument. When they have won her respect, she can be the most loyal of companions, a lifelong friend, and a generous fund of inspiration....

Despite her strength, brilliance, and independence, there is a paradox contained in the traditional image of a maid clad in armor. It seems to us that the more energy the Athena woman puts into developing her successful, worldly, armored self, the more she hides her maidenly vulnerability. So, with her androgyny, Athena conceals a conflict, an unresolved tension between her tough outer self and her hidden, unexpressed self that can be a source of great insecurity with regard to her finding an integral feminine identity. We call it Athena's wound....

She will spar with [her mate], compete with him, and often despise him because he is not as tough as she is.

That was a fairly accurate portrait of my life then. I really didn't know what to do with my feminine identity, but I certainly knew how to spar with men. Now, in quoting that book, I'm not endorsing it in any way. But I do look back and marvel at how creative God is when He begins to work in our hearts. Because I was nowhere near a Bible at the time, God used that book and its faulty psychological premise to jump-start my thinking. That quote was the last thing I wrote in my journal before boarding a flight to South Africa. I left for that vacation thinking that I needed to do something to address my fractured feminine psyche. I saw the problem—or at least part of it—but I wasn't sure how to resolve it.

It was during my travels in South Africa that God revealed to me more about this dilemma and offered His priceless solution. I was going to visit my sister and brother-in-law, who were living there on a temporary basis to study at a Bible college. My plan was to enjoy an exotic holiday and nothing more. But on Easter Sunday, in a church pushing for racial reconciliation in a nation scarred by apartheid, I heard the greatest message of redemption and forgiveness that would ever reach human ears.

There, sitting among people who had once despised each other for the color of their skin, I learned that hope for change was found in the life and death of Jesus Christ. After explaining the historical evidence for the veracity of Jesus' life, the pastor told us the significance of His death. He started with the problem of sin—our rebellion against God's laws and holy standards. In a place like South Africa, wreaked by prejudice and bloodshed, sin is clearly evident. But even if we've never discriminated against anyone nor murdered anyone, we are not innocent. From the moment we screamed, "No!!" as a toddler to the times we have cheated, lied, and stolen as adults, to the innumerable hours we spend consumed about our self-image and self-assessment at the expense of others, we have accumulated a weight of guilt and sin that crushes us before a holy God.

The pastor explained to us that the Bible says that death is the consequence of sin. We each face death because of our individual sins, but we also live in a broken world because of our collective sinfulness. But God offers us a shocking solution. To break the cycle of sin and death, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our substitute—to live the perfect life that we cannot live in order to pay the punishment for our sins that we cannot pay. Jesus died on the cross so that we could live. His resurrection three days later was proof that His sacrifice was sufficient to break the curse of sin and death. God does not ignore sin or tolerate injustice. He poured all the righteous anger for our sins on His Son so that we could receive forgiveness. Sin does not go unpunished, but in the cross of Christ mercy triumphs over judgment. This is the gospel—or the good news—of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

That Easter Sunday, I finally heard and understood the gravity of this message. I saw the anger, the harsh judgment of others, and the selfishness in my life for what it was: sin against God and against others. And I broke down in tears as the good news of Jesus' saving sacrifice was revealed and offered to me.

For the first time, I had real hope for change. But change was a process. I still straddled the fence in some areas, cynical about the evangelical subculture, televangelism scandals, faked miracles, and denominational division. Throughout the trip, I asked my sister and brother-in-law many tough questions. They responded graciously with the words of Scripture but did not try to sell me on their views. I marveled at their restraint and pondered their words as the dusty red roads of South Africa passed under our wheels.

On the third Sunday in South Africa, we visited a church in Cape Town to hear my brother-in-law's former pastor. An American by the name of C. J. Mahaney preached a message about the honesty and range of human emotions recorded in the Psalms. C. J. alleviated my concerns about turning into a fake smiley-face button for Jesus. The Bible did not shrink back from the reality of our fluctuating feelings. It also did not leave us wallowing in them. Our emotions were designed by God to propel us toward truth and faith—a progression modeled for us in nearly every psalm.

Submission Impossible

When I returned home, I knew God had done something in my life. Real faith was budding in my life, but I didn't know what this meant for me. I was different—but I still needed personal mentoring and instruction. I knew I needed to quit some obvious sin patterns, go to church, and read my Bible, but I wasn't convinced that a whole lot else needed to change. Little did I know that the Holy Spirit was in the process of turning me upside down and shaking loose all my prior beliefs and ideas like so much pocket change.

Point by point, the Holy Spirit used the Bible and the church to renew my mind. I conceded nearly every aspect until I reached one passage in Ephesians: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (5:22–24 NIV).

Submission?! Surely that was one ancient concept that no one practiced anymore! There was no way on God's green earth that I would ever concede that women are inferior and must live as second-class to men. That passage was just wrong, wrong, wrong. All my feminist offenses roused themselves in objection.

But I kept going to church.

That's when I began to hear my pastor and other people talking about another foreign concept: servant-leadership. The awkward phrasing of this concept demanded an explanation. Once again, I was pointed to Ephesians, chapter 5. This time, I read the rest of the offending passage. Though the first part was for wives, the verses that followed for husbands were far more challenging and provided a definition of leadership that was not for self-glory but for the benefit of another.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." (5:25–31 NIV)

This was not autocratic, self-glorifying leadership. This was leadership to serve God's purposes for the benefit of others.

Submission. Servant-leadership. Until that point in my life, these were foreign concepts to me. But before that Easter Sunday in South Africa, so was the third concept: sin. Though I was familiar with the word, it was one I applied to other people. Until I heard the gospel, I didn't see sin very clearly in myself. If I saw weaknesses, shortcomings, or failures in myself, I was good at blaming other people for them or minimizing them in me. I was blind to the sins of envy, anger, self-righteousness, judgment, greed, and pride that coursed through my daily actions.

The word I did know how to apply to myself was "self." I was all about myself and maximizing my own comfort, opportunity, and pleasure.

God's Wisdom for Women

Slowly it began to dawn on me that the Bible was not presenting just a new set of rules for successful relationships or a peaceful life. It was presenting an entirely new game —with radically different goals for victory. Winning was living a life that glorified God. Winning was growing in humility. Winning was trusting God and serving others. Winning was cultivating the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Winning was growing in Christlikeness.

All my previous feminist philosophies resulted in merely kicking at the darkness, expecting it would bleed daylight. But Scripture says that it is by God's light that we see light (Psalm 36:9). The light of God's Word showed me truth. What I thought was right and true didn't hold up to Scripture. Human observation and psychology could only point out the problem—proud women spar with men they deem to be weaker and not worthy of respect—but offered no credible solution to the tension between the sexes.

I didn't need to reconcile my pantheon of inner goddesses. I needed to repent of my sin.

As do men.


Excerpted from Radical Womanhood by Carolyn McCulley, Dana Wilkerson. Copyright © 2008 Carolyn McCulley. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Like an intravenous drug coursing through the vein of an unconscious patent, feminist thought has thoroughly permeated our culture.  In this insightful, engaging, and relevant book, Carolyn McCulley encourages us to wake up and become radical - to live as biblically savvy women in the modern world.  It's an excellent read and a stirring challenge!  
-Mary A. Kassian, Distinguished Professor of Women's Studies, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, author of The Feminist Mistake

Few voices are speaking the truth contained in these pages - but so many need to hear it.  Amidst our culture's radical confusion about womanhood, Carolyn teaches the radical truth of God's wise and gracious design for women...Women young or old, married or single, will be instructed and inspired by this book.
- C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, Sovereign Grace ministries, authors of The Cross-Centered Life and Feminine Appeal

As a young woman, Carolyn McCulley eagerly embraced many of the tenets of our "feminist world."  A personal encounter with Christ radically changed her life and led her to pursue what it means to live as a redeemed woman.  This book is the fruit f her journey.
- Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Host, Revive Our Hearts radio program, author of Lies Women Believe

Meet the Author

CAROLYN McCULLEY is the author of Radical Womanhood and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? She is also a contributor to the book, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ from John Piper, and to Focus on the Family's Boundless webzine. For ten years, she served as the media specialist for Sovereign Grace Ministries in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Currently, she is a blogger (Radical Womanhood), a frequent women's ministry speaker, and a filmmaker with the documentary company, Citygate Films. She lives in Maryland, where she is a member of Covenant Life Church.

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