Feminist Theology Examined, Part 1

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” [Matthew 16:13]*

 

A child who has been taught to pray to a Mother in heaven would have a religious life radically different from that of a Christian child. (C.S. Lewis, cited by Kassian, 1992:143)

 

With the rise of the feminist movement in secular society in the late 1960s – early 1970s, there also arose a parallel movement within the Church. The movement has been far more than merely a position of advocacy for the dignity and fair treatment of women, it has now become a force for radical revision of all areas of theology, including Christology.

It is my contention that the Christology devised and embraced by feminist theologians is not derived from commonly accepted and recognized practices which would result from attempting to approach the Biblical texts as objectively as possible [allowing the text to speak for itself], then using the principles of sound exegesis to develop a hermeneutic, and from that determining a Christology. Instead, those who call themselves feminist Christian theologians have determined to let the principles of a hermeneutic of suspicion determine how the text is to be read and interpreted. Consequently, they have created a Christ in their own image which has nothing in common with or resembling the Christ of Scripture. Following this, the feminists have radically redefined other areas of theology as well, such as hamartology [the doctrine of sin], soteriology [the doctrine of salvation], and theology proper [the doctrine of God]. As a consequence, their views do not conform to God’s will as revealed in Scripture, and should be regarded as heretical in nature.

A Brief History of Feminist Theology

Virtually all feminist theologians place the beginnings of feminism at a suffrage movement meeting in the mid-1800s at which Sojourner Truth assumed the podium and made the statement, “If one woman was able to turn the world upside down through sin, all the women in the world, working together, should be able to put it right.” (cited by Schüssler-Fiorenza, 1994:59)

Another early force in the movement towards a feminist theology was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who edited The Women’s Bible, an anthology of commentary written by women for women.

After Stanton, the primary sphere of the feminist movement was the politico-economic sphere. This changed in 1968, when the first edition of The Church and the Second Sex by Mary Daly was published.

The publication of this work sounded a battle cry in theology, charging the Roman Catholic church from which Daly had come with androcentric misogyny. In her wake followed such other theologians as Jacquelyn Grant, Julie Hopkins, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Letty Russell, Luis Schottroff, Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, and Pamela Dickey Young. All of them affirm these premises as the basis for their theology:

 

1: Christianity is androcentric and misogynistic.

2: The influence of women in shaping Christianity has been ignored or demeaned.

3: Women in the present are oppressed by a patriarchal structure and bias within the Church.

4: In order for this patriarchal structure to be overthrown and for women to become liberated, they must develop a new theological paradigm.

5: Only the new theological paradigm has validity.

 

Erickson devotes a significant amount of space to evaluating the perspective and impact of Mary Daly in theology, especially as he believes her teachings to impact Christology. (Erickson, 1991:194-196) I believe, however, that analyzing what Daly has written represents a digression. Daly’s impact in current feminist attempts at theology is minimal. Daly has not considered herself to be a Christian for some time. (Daly, XI-XXX) In fact, her androphobia has led her to classify all male clergy [whether Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic] as “pimps, pornographers, woman-batterers, and child molesters.” (Daly, XVI) More crucial to the analysis of feminist theology in general, and feminist Christology in particular, are the writings of Reuther and Schüssler-Fiorenza, who merit such study on the basis of their prolific writings, their widespread reputations, and their expressed intent to write from a perspective which purports to being within the framework of Christianity [albeit a version of Christianity as they deem it to be rather than what it is].

Searching the Scriptures Through Feminist Lenses:

There is no exegetical practice among feminist theologians which follows accepted exegetical methodology. The standard response from the feminists to this charge is that the exegetical process is an invention of androcentric theologians whose primary concern is the maintenance of the status quo. (Schüssler-Fiorenza, 1994, 1-14)

Perhaps the best [meaning available and accessible, not in terms of having any enduring quality] examples of feminist exegesis are to be found in the pages of Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary, edited by Schüssler-Fiorenza. This work compiles the writings of thirty-seven women and one man. It should be noted the most of this volume is not devoted to the canonical books, but instead examines some of the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical works.

This means that, instead of examining specific texts to determine how feminist theologians are viewing the text and then comparing their work with how other theologians treat the text, it is more instructive to examine how feminist theologians approach the corpus of Scripture, their a priori beliefs, and their conclusions. As an undergraduate student in psychology, I was taught that one’s presuppositions determine his methodology, and his methodology would determine the outcome/results of his research. This was pointed out to us at the beginning of our research in order to show us the dangers of approaching research with presuppositions, and why it was considered more valid to approach research with the intent of identifying the presuppositions and disproving them [testing for the null hypothesis]. Otherwise, all we are left with is circular logic, which assumes something as true which has yet to be proven.

This means the starting point for any analysis of feminist Christology is identifying their presuppositions or biases concerning the Bibe—specifically, examining what the feminists have to say concerning such issues as inspiration, canonicity, and authority. Only after identifying these presuppositions can one then identify a feminist methodology.

It appears to be a tenet of faith for feminists that they hold to a low view of Scripture. Lynn Japinga has presented the most succinct statement of feminist belief: “The Bible is not the word of God, but human words, or, more precisely, male words.” (1999:38) Japinga is not an isolated voice for radicalism. Rather, her words seem to be typical of feminist theologians. Another writer has stated, “What counts as word of God, then, is only that which liberates women, and so not all of Scripture is word of God.” (Dickey-Young, 1990:29)

There might be a temptation to dismiss these statements simply because they do not come from the pens of those who have become more widely known. Such a dismissal misses the point. The statements are fully consistent with feminist theology. This becomes obvious when the words of those who are more widely known are read.

The dismissal of the doctrine of divine inspiration on the part of the feminists is replaced with an insistence that many parts of Scripture, especially the gospels, were formulated, developed, and promulgated by and for women. Schüssler-Fiorenza is particularly insistent upon this point, even though her belief lacks any foundation or evidence, either in the textual record itself, or in the historical accounts which come from that time:

 

If one cannot show definitely that women were not members of this group [the community which she claims produced the hypothetical “Q” document], one needs to [must? should?] give the benefit of the doubt to the textual traces that suggest they were. (1994:29)

 

Nowhere in her writings has Schüssler-Fiorenza produced even a trace of evidence which supports her assertion. The so-called “Q” document has never been proven to exist in fact, only in the fancy of proponents of New Testament form criticism. Schüssler-Fiorenza does not even elaborate on what these so-called “textual traces” of feminine authorship are. Instead she pounds the one-note melody over and over again:

 

I have argued that students of early Christianity—or of any other cultural-religious group—must begin their investigations with the assumption that women actively shaped cultural traditions in general and the early Christian traditions in particular, unless scholars can prove otherwise. (1994:122, emphasis added)

 

Does anyone see what is being proposed here? In case the point is missed, Schüssler-Fiorenza is insisting that all historical documents concerning the early Church be ignored and her unfounded assumptions be accepted as the truth, irrespective of any actual proof of their validity. She and her feminist cohorts are not engaging in honest scholarship. They are engaged in propaganda for the sake of promoting an agenda. Because they believe that Scripture did not originate in the mind of God, it follows that those who have espoused feminist theology reject the canon of accepted Scripture. This rejection is not overt, but is instead couched in the language of equivocation. This equivocation may be expressed through subtle reinterpretation, as in the writings of Pamela Dickey-Young, who wrote, “This book maintains that any theology claiming to be both feminist and Christian should draw its norms both from the Christian tradition of which it sees itself a part and from the long overlooked experience of women.” (p. 20)

On the other hand, such reinterpretation may be more obvious, as stated by Margaret Farley:

 

. . .deep convictions, when they are brought to the interpretation of scripture or any other source of faith, for theology, for ethics, serve precisely as a negative limit. Whatever contradicts those convictions cannot be accepted as having the authority of an authentic revelation of truth. (1985:49, emphasis added)

 

Consequently, what is left in the final analysis is a complete rejection of the authority of Scripture. In one form, this has been expressed as a rejection of the norm for reformation theology: “I do not embrace the traditional sola Scriptura of Protestantism. . . .” (Young, 21)

This means, having rejected Scripture as a basis for authority, feminist theology must find a replacement in order to provide structure and meaning. This structure is found in the perceptions and feelings of women. This means they have no real norm or standard for determining truth, faith or practice–they have only their delusions and imaginations to guide them.  Isasi-Diaz is even more pointed in her assessment than Farley:

 

Hispanic women’s experience and our struggle for survival, not the Bible, are the source of our theology and the starting point for how we should interpret, appropriate, and use the Bible. The Bible is authoritative only insofar as it contributes to Hispanic women’s struggle for liberation. (1998:87)

 

Having demonstrated that the feminist theologians have subjugated Scripture to their own whims, perceptions, and feelings and unsubstantiated assumptions and fantasies, we must consider how they then view the person and work of Christ.

*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Daly, Mary. The Church and the Second Sex. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968, 1975, 1985.

Dickey-Young, Pamela. Feminist Theology/Christian Theology: In Search of Method. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology, Revised and Expanded. Chicago: Moody Press, 2008.

Erickson, Millard. The Word Became Flesh: A Contemporary Incarnational Christology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1991.

Farley, Margaret A. “Feminist Consciousness and the Interpretation of Scripture.” Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Ed. Letty M. Russell. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985.

Grudem, Wayne A., and Piper, John. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.

Isasi-Diaz, Ada Maria. “The Word of God in Us.” Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary. Ed. Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1998.

Japinga, Lynn. Feminism and Christianity: An Essential Guide. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

Kassian, Mary. The Feminist Gospel: The Movement to Unite Feminism with the Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1992.

Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology. New York: Continuum, 1994.

________. “Transgressing Canonical Boundaries.” Searching the Scriptures: A Feminist Commentary. Ed. Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1998.

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About davestheology

I found a book that was kind of worn, But to my surprise, not a page was torn; It had a title, that I could not read, "Red Letter Edition" was all I could see.
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