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?”
So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 16:13-17]*
Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. [1 Corinthians 12:3]
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming and is now already in the world. [1 John 4:1-3]
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot, loves Him who is begotten of him. [1 John 5:1]
“Who Do Women Say that He Is?”
Given the methodology of feminist theology, which is to reject Scripture in favor of subjective, individual feelings, perceptions and biases, one must determine the outcome of their highly defective bibliology for other areas of theology. In terms of Christological concerns, one must look at more than what the feminists are saying about the person of Jesus Christ, he must also look at what they are saying about hamartology [the doctrine of sin] and soteriology [the doctrine of salvation].
It is clear from the literature that feminist theology places itself firmly in the camp with other liberationist theologies, as is demonstrated by the quote in the previous blog from Isasi-Diaz. (1998:87)1 Other writers who place feminist theology in the broader context of liberation theology include Dickey-Young, who writes, “What feminists need to do is to teach and foster a new use of Scripture, so it can and will be used only in the service of liberation for women and others who are oppressed. . . .” (1990:29, emphasis added)
What does this do with Christ? In the first place, feminists do not view Jesus Christ as being God Incarnate. While Japinga uses orthodox language in reference to the incarnation (Japinga, 1999:102), it is evident from her remarks elsewhere that, while using the vocabulary of orthodoxy, she is not using the same dictionary. Snyder is more obvious, stating tersely: “Jesus is not the supreme revelation of God.” (1988:105) The orthodox view of Jesus Christ, as expressed by the ecumenical councils and creeds is denounced in feminist literature. Schüssler-Fiorenza, in Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, continually refers to such views with what is obviously intended as a pejorative term: “malestream.” Even more pointed is her comment that all “classical christologies are rooted in an imperial kyriarchal theology.” (19)
What is Jesus Christ to the feminist theologians then? To begin with, he is merely a man, an archetype, or, as Ruether notes, “a paradigm for liberated humanity.” (Snyder, 722) More telling of the feminist rejection of the Deity of Christ is Julie Hopkins, who identifies herself as an evangelical Christian feminist, yet writes, “My point here is that it is not necessary to hold to the doctrine that Jesus of Nazareth was a (semi) divine being in order to believe that God was present in the mode of suffering at Calvary.” (1994:58)
It is also important to point out that, in line with gnostic dualism and Barthian neo-orthodoxy, feminist christology makes a distinction between the human Jesus and the Divine Christ:
Christians do not have a relationship with the historical Jesus, but with the Christ of faith. . . . (Hopkins, 24)
Jesus is not the only Christ. (Snyder, 106)
To choose to believe in the messianic efficacy of our spiritual ancestors does not depend upon a doctrine of Christ as the unique revelation of God. (Hopkins, 75)
Such statements fall right in line with the New Age worldview that there are or have been many Christs. Dickey-Young is clear on this point, “To call him [Jesus] the Messiah as Christians came to do does not necessarily mean that there are no other messiahs, nor does it mean that everyone else must accept him as such at their peril.” (89) The prevailing view of feminist christologies is that Jesus made no claim to being the Messiah. (Hopkins, 29)
With this downgrading of Jesus’ identity as Messiah and God Incarnate, comes an attendant downgrading of His identity as a male. “The choice of male gender, however, was not necessary because God was male or to make salvation effective. . . .” (Japinga, 102)
This distinction or, more accurately, duality imposed between Jesus and the Christ by feminist theologians also means that in their christology, it must be determined when their Jesus attained or realized his identity as the anointed. Most feminist theologies do not answer this question. Schüssler-Fiorenza, however, maintains that this anointing and naming of Jesus as the Christ occurred during the last week of his earthly ministry—when he was anointed by the woman according to Mark 14:3-9. (Jesus: Miriam’s Child. . . ., 95)
This gives rise to the question, if he was not anointed as messiah until the last week of his ministry, what was his purpose for coming? In feminist christology, the primary purpose for Jesus’ coming was to be a prophet. Schüssler-Fiorenza has observed, “By naming Jesus as the child of Miriam and the prophet of Divine Sophia, I seek to create a ‘women’-defined feminist theoretical space that makes it possible to dislodge christological discourses from their malestream frame of reference.” (Jesus: Miriam’s Child. . . ., 3) Dickey-Young, in commenting on a prophetic ministry for Jesus, notes, “Jesus is not the one who sets rules but the one who summons his hearers to respond to the imminent reign of God, to respond to the grace of God, to respond to the demand of God placed before us in the neighbor. . . .” (87) In short, “Feminist christology elevates wisdom over the cross.” (Schottroff, 1998:218)
This brings into focus [if the reader will pardon the pun] the crux of the matter. What do feminists do with the cross? How do they account for it in their christology? There is no ambiguity here: feminist theology sees no need for the cross. Japinga has stated that “the death of Jesus was not required by God as a payment for sin, but was a sinful act of violence perpetrated by human beings.” (121)
Schüssler-Fiorenza is more emphatic, categorizing those who accept orthodox atonement theology with those who commit acts of child abuse and spousal abuse:
If one extols the silent and freely chosen suffering of Christ, who was “obedient to death” (Philippians 2:8), as an example to be imitated by all those victimized by patriarchal oppression, particularly by those suffering from domestic and sexual abuse, one not only legitimates but also enables acts of violence against women and children. (in Jesus: Miriam’s Child…., 106)
According to Delores S. Williams, as cited by Schaberg [who does not provide the source for this citation], redemption comes, “not through Jesus’ death, but through his ministerial vision of righting relationships, his life of resistance.” (1994:84) “The cross,” writes Japinga, “was not God’s will or God’s punishment for sin.” (124)
Of course the cross is unnecessary for feminists because their theology is not theocentric, but gynocentric. Schüssler-Fiorenza has stated, “the Sophia-God of Jesus does not need atonement or sacrifices. Jesus’ death was not willed by God, but is the result of his all-inclusive praxis as Sophia’s prophet.” (Jesus: Miriam’s Child…., 104)
*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.
1 See also Schüssler-Fiorenza, Jesus: Miriam’s Child…., p. 12, where she writes: “In short, critical feminist christological discourses of liberation must remain rooted in the diverse radical democratic feminist struggles as the political-religious site from which we speak.”
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.
Grudem, Wayne A., and Piper, John. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
Hopkins, Julie M. Towards a Feminist Christology: Jesus of Nazareth, European Women, and the Christological Crisis. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1994.
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.
Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.
Schaberg, Jane. “New Testament: The Case of Mary Magdalene.” Feminist Approaches to the Bible. Ed. Hershel Shanks. Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1995.
Schottroff, Luis. “The Feminist Adoption and Critique of New Testament Theology.” Feminist Interpretation: The Bible in Women’s Perspective. Trans. Martin Rumscheidt and Barbara Rumscheidt. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998.
Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology. New York: Continuum, 1994.
Snyder, Mary Hembrow. The Christology of Rosemary Radford Ruether: A Critical Introduction. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1988.