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]
Who is a liar, but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ. He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. [1 John 2:22]
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]
The Empress’ New Clothes
Any critique of feminist theology must begin by disarming its presuppositions. It is crucial to note that those presuppositions are not informed by a Christian worldview, or even a deistic worldview. Rather, those presuppositions have been shaped in the crucible of a humanistic, Marxist agenda. No feminist theologian is more vocal on this point than Schüssler-Fiorenza. She sets forth her position quite clearly:
Feminist biblical interpretation must therefore challenge the scriptural authority of patriarchal texts and explore how the Bible is used as a weapon against women in our struggles for liberation. It must also explore whether or how the Bible can become a resource [weapon?] in this struggle. A feminist biblical interpretation is thus first of all a political task. (1985:129)
Later, Schüssler-Fiorenza developed this theme in a manner which shows that she is not an egalitarian, but is instead seeking retribution and domination over the male gender:
Whether feminist theological discourses will change Christian belief systems and practices depends to a large extent on whether feminist scholars are able to develop a new theory of feminist subject and replace the kyriarchal [male] space of ther feminine with a political counter-hegemonic [domination] space where critical practice for change can become operative. (1994:24)
The first step in the political process of feminist theology has been the denigration of the Bible. It is significant that none of the feminist theologians appear to have done any study in the area of textual transmission or criticism. None of them have become peer-recognized in the field of language studies. Many of their statements and conclusions about the nature of the gospel accounts and the person and work of Jesus appear to have been plagiarized wholesale from the Jesus Seminar. This is especially evident when one notes the privileging of Mark’s gospel over the others and their almost cultic devotion to the chimeric “Q document.” But even then, they fail to appreciate the irony. For all their protestations about the “need” to establish a gyno-centric hermeneutic, they are dependent upon a cabal of men to do their research and thinking when it comes to evaluating the Biblical text.
But is this privileging valid? There has been demonstrated within feminist theology a demand that their presuppositions and conclusions be accepted as valid and absolute assumptions without having to demonstrate any epistemological warrant. Instead, they petulantly demand that the burden of proof should be placed on the belief structures they seek to replace, without having to provide any proof or evidence to establish the veracity of their own views.
Their standard line that the Bible is not the Word of God, but only the words of men, has not been proven or even supported by any marshaling of evidence. Instead, it is supported with the propaganda technique proven over and over by Hitler and Goebbels: If you repeat a lie often enough, long enough, and loudly enough, eventually people will believe the lie. In other words, the feminists’ dismissal of the Bible is nothing more than a mantra—an incantation by which they seek to dispel any proposition in Scripture they find objectionable because it offends their sensibilities.
There is a double standard at work here as well, informed by an ethic of pragmatism. The Bible is the word of God, only insofar as it can be made to suit their purposes and goals. To paraphrase Schüssler-Fiorenza, “If you use the Bible as a standard by which to evaluate my teachings and shortcomings, it’s not the word of God and it’s wrong; but if I wish to use it in the same way to evaluate the teachings of a man and his shortcomings, it is the word of God and it is acceptable for me to wield it in such fashion.” (1985:129)
Erickson has rightly noted that, “One cannot maintain a subjectivist position and at the same time argue against a particular interpretation on seemingly objective grounds, that is, by appealing to evidences which everyone can examine.” (357) To express the thought more colloquially, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
There are several points at which it can be demonstrated that feminist theologians are not only mishandling the text, but twisting and distorting it to advance their agenda. They have not demonstrated in any inductive or objectively verifiable manner that the New Testament did not originate in the mind of God, nor have they demonstrated that everything it teaches about Jesus of Nazareth concerning His words and deeds is not historically accurate or precise. They can scream it all they like, but contrary to the beliefs of people such as Schüssler-Fiorenza, Hitler, and Goebbels, no matter how many times a lie is told, how loudly it is told, or how many people eventually succumb to it, it will still remain a lie. Repetition is not proof of veracity. The accepted method of exegesis is that the benefit of the doubt rests with the documents under review, unless the documents can be disqualified by known factual inconsistencies or contradictions. (McDowell, 1999:45) There is no presumption of infallibility or benefit of the doubt in favor of the critic. And, more than 10 years after this critique was originally written, the feminist theologians have yet to produce a persuasive, fact-based, logical argument which supports granting such a concession to them.
Keeping in mind that flawed presuppositions leads to a flawed methodology, one can easily predict flawed conclusions. When one allows the text to speak for itself according to the ordinary rules of language interpretation, one sees a radically different Jesus than the emasculated, effeminate wimpy Jesus of feminist theology.
Where feminist theology insists that Jesus eschewed the Messianic title, the text proclaims that He acknowledged it in no uncertain terms. When He asked Peter and the other eleven apostles who they confessed Him to be, Peter responded, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) Jesus did not deny the appellation. To the contrary, His response is one of acceptance and approbation, for He says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
When Jesus stood before the high priest, the question was asked, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61) What was Jesus’ response? “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62) He also asserted His Messianic identity to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, an incident in His life which feminists ignore. (John 4:25-26)
Feminist christology also maintains a gnostic dualism, separating Jesus from the Christ—a practice which cannot be maintained from Scripture. Scripture plainly teaches that “Jesus is the Christ,” (Matthew 16:161) not “Jesus has the Christ-spirit,” or “Jesus showed the Christ-spirit.”
Another issue in which feminist theology misses the mark with regard to the Person and work of Jesus Christ, is that of when Christ was anointed for His work. As noted earlier, Schüssler-Fiorenza maintains that this occurred when Mary Magdelene anointed him at Simon’s house in Bethany during the Passion Week. This view assumes His anointing/authority was from men. An examination of Scripture indicates that His authority existed in eternity past since He is eternally the second Person of the Trinity. (Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-5) His anointing, the public testimony of His identity, authority, and enduement of power, must therefore be of Divine origin. The only event which meets this criterion, according to the gospels, occurred upon His coming up from the waters of the Jordan River following His baptism by John. (Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22)
A theology which is theocentric and grounded in Scripture must also reject the feminist notion that there are or have been other christs. In the Olivet discourse, Jesus warned against others who would come claiming to be Christ. He instructed His followers not to follow such pretenders. (Matthew 24:4-5, 23-24; Mark 13:5-6, 21-22; Luke 21:8)
Any critique of feminist christology would be remiss if it failed or neglected to address the disparity between the feminist view of the cross and the Biblical view. As noted before, feminist theologians view Jesus’ death on the cross as an unfortunate interference by men against the purposes of God. More than this, feminists find the cross offensive. Japinga has noted that “it is this continual emphasis on the cross [that is] a dangerous and troubling symbol for women.” (22)
One cannot help but wonder what sort of impotent god(dess) the feminists worship, if her purposes could be thwarted so easily and decisively and for such a long period of time. The Bible, on the other hand, asserts that the cross was central to God’s plan. Far from thwarting His plan, the cross was the full and complete implementation of His plan for the redemption of the created order. (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 15:3-4; Galatians 1:3-4)
Of course, the cross is not necessary in the feminist view because of their view of sin. The orthodox view of sin is that it is something which is an affront to God, resulting in a separation between man [in the generic sense of all humans] and God [theological], man and creation [ecological], man and other men [sociological], and man and himself [psychological].2 The feminist view of sin, in keeping with their liberationist presuppositions, is that sin is that which disrupts or is an affront to community. In keeping with this theme, the cure or solution for sin is found in that which promotes community. Dickey-Young writes:
This is why the cross is so offensive to feminist and other liberation theologies, not because of its violence or degradation of the sinless One, but because it is an affront to their pride.4 The cross is the eternal reminder that no matter what, men [and women] are utterly, totally, and completely powerless to do anything to merit salvation on their own terms.
It therefore follows in feminist theology that sin does not have to be approached in terms of it having created a theological separation between humanity and God. Why? Because the feminist view of god is either pantheistic [god IS all things] or panentheistic [god IS IN all things]. Hopkins, the “evangelical Christian” feminist, has stated, “I no longer believe that God is absolutely transcendant [sic], the God I worship is present in the universe, close by, indeed within me. . . .” (58) She then adds, “Such a God, who in a certain sense is immanent and embodied in the universe of time and space, energy, and matter, cannot be a static or abstract principle.” (58, emphasis added) Snyder echoes this sentiment, stating, “Method must critique humanocentrism in regards to the creation.” (99)
This god[dess] of feminism is identified by Schüssler-Fiorenza as Sophia, or Wisdom.5 While Schüssler-Fiorenza does not overtly dismiss the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, several elements make her departure from orthodox meaning evident. Firstly, she does not accept the complete and full Deity of Jesus Christ. He was merely a human prophet of Sophia. She claims that Sophia [Wisdom] was fully revealed as a Divine being in Proverbs and that Jesus’ primary mission was to restore humanity to the tradition of wisdom. Sophia is, according to Schüssler-Fiorenza, the female person within the godhead. (1994:135-136) At first, Schüssler-Fiorenza almost makes the godhead quadrilateral, instead of triune, but then to retain a certain appearance of orthodoxy, she identifies Sophia as being the Holy Spirit. (1994:141-142)
The basic problem with Schüssler-Fiorenza’s theology, as is usually the case with liberation theologies, is that their theologies are based on eisegesis rather than exegesis and this is a clear-cut example of that eisegesis. Wisdom, as identified in Proverbs, is not a “real” person. Rather, Wisdom is the personification of an attribute of yhwh for the purpose of greater impact. According to Scripture, the only true embodiment of wisdom is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). He is not wisdom’s prophet, He is wisdom incarnate.
Moreover, in equating Sophia with the Holy Spirit, and relegating Jesus to the status of merely being a human prophet of Sophia, the feminist view of the godhead turns the view of the Trinity and their relationships with other on their heads. The Bible teaches that rather than being a prophet to/for the Holy Spirit, the role and work of the Holy Spirit after Calvary is to teach/mentor believers as their advocate [John 15:26-27; 16:13]. The role/work of the Holy Spirit toward unbelievers is to show them how utterly bankrupt they are of any innate goodness [John 16:8-10]. And in all things the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son [John 16:14]–not the other way around as the feminists would have us believe.
Feminist Theology: Machiavellianism in Drag
In feminist theology one looks in vain for something to recommend it as something beneficial and desirable for Christians. No such beneficial or desirable traits exist. Jesus Christ warned believers against false teachers, telling us that we would know them by the fruit they produce. (Matthew 7:15-20)
Some feminist theologians display a rather audacious duplicity in citing others to advance their agenda. Hopkins has done this with the work of Howard Kee. (37ff) Her appeal to Kee is to imply that his hermeneutical approach yields a view of Jesus which accords with the view held by feminist theologians—a mere man who held no messianic pretensions. Hopkins provides no citations or references for her appeal to Kee, yet the reader is expected to accept her assessment as valid on the face of it. Yet when one studies lengthy citations of Kee in McDowell for example, (135) one notices that Kee’s views accord with historic orthodoxy concerning the Person of Christ. This type of duplicity on the part of feminist theologians has been noted in other contexts as well. (Grudem, 2001:25-65) This is not to say that all feminist theologians play fast and loose with the truth, but one cannot help but wonder if their hermeneutic of suspicion has been misdirected.
Accusations of dishonesty are of secondary importance to feminist theologians, if at all. For them, the end to be achieved justifies any means taken to get there. Schüssler-Fiorenza has gone on record as stating that she is not interested at all in exegetical considerations, because such would hinder her in her pursuit of a new society which is not egalitarian, but matriarchal. (1994:108) At the beginning of her work Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, she writes:
We [feminist theologians] must do so [claim the sole privilege to determine and define theology] in order to undermine the tendencies of androcentric world views and theological languages that have relegated us to the margins, the periphery, and the boundaries for much too long. (1994:11)
One also cannot help but wonder about the amount of oppression actually suffered by feminist theologians, since they are so obvious in playing the victim card. “Oppression” has as its primary meaning the “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition. While one must accept that some women have been treated cruelly and abused by men throughout history, it is a leap that defies logic and reality to say that such is universally true for every woman who has ever lived. The assertions to victimhood made by the feminist theologians must be universally true for all women everywhere throughout all of time in order to be valid. The duplicity here is that it certainly isn’t true for feminist theologians. A survey of the internet in 2000, when this was originally written, reveals the following occupations for the feminist theologians:
Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza: Krister Stendahl Professor of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School;
Jacquelyn Grant: Professor of Religious Studies, Harvard University, visiting professor, Christian Theological Seminary;
Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz: Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics, Drew University;
Lynn Japinga: Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Hope College (Holland, MI);
Rosemary Radford Ruether: Professor of Theology, Garrett Evangelical Seminary;
Luise Schottroff: Retired Professor of New Testament, University of Kassel (Germany), visiting professor, Pacific School of Religion;
Mary Hembrow Snyder: Department Director and Professor of Religious Studies, Mercyhurst College;
Pamela Dickey-Young: Department Head of Religious Studies, Professor of Systematic Theology, Religion, and Culture, Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
It does not appear that any of these so-called “victims of oppression” have suffered unduly because of their gender. Given Schüssler-Fiorenza’s position on the faculty at Harvard Divinity School, I fail to see any marginalization. These theologians have attained the highest academic degrees possible in their fields. They are all academicians. With the exception of Jacquelyn Grant, they are all white. They are all upper middle class women engaged in easy, soft labor. It stretches credulity therefore, for them to expect people to believe that they are all somehow victims of oppression.
A third major indication of the duplicity inherent in feminist theology is found in their identification of sin as being that which disrupts community. Feminist theology is, by its very nature and tone confrontational, divisive, and thereby destructive/disruptive of community. It is itself demeaning towards people who do not accept its tenets and positions. Hopkins implies that women who do not accept feminism do so from an inability to think. (9) The idea that people may have logically valid reasons to dismiss the presuppositions and methodology of feminism seems to have eluded her.
Christians should agree with feminist theologians that women, just as much as men, are created in the imago Dei. As such, women are due as much honor, respect, and sense of worth or value as men. However, Christians must deny any agreement beyond what is contained in Scripture as the normative basis for all true theology. While women have as much value in the sight of God as men, it must also be confessed that they are just as depraved by the Fall, and partake of the Adamic nature. Therefore they are just as much in need of God’s grace as any man.
Therefore, in the final analysis, feminist theology is not Christian, but represents a counterfeit spirituality motivated by pride and a thirst for vengeance for perceived wrongs.
The Imagery Matters
As noted earlier, feminist theology demonstrates a connection with gnosticism, not only in its privileging the Nag Hammadi texts over the historically accepted canon of Scripture, but in its very worldview and view of humanity. Thomas Howard, writing almost 36 years ago when feminist theology was still in its infancy, observed this trend. Feminism [and thereby its theology] creates a disjuncture between the thing itself [personhood] and the image of the thing [its body], and denies that any such connection exists. (Howard, 1976:12)
This same disjuncture has been postulated toward the Godhead by the feminist theologians—rejecting the image of God as Father and substituting in its stead the androgynous non-sexual “parent,” in the belief that somehow this magical changing of terminology will somehow resolve and cure the emotional scars for women who have suffered at the hands of an abusive human father. But this creates another issue: what comfort is there in the feminine mother-goddess image for the male child who has suffered physical or mental abuse at the hand of his mother, or the child who has been abused and/or abandoned by both parents? Rather than resolving any issue, the feminists have simply shifted the problem away from themselves onto another portion of society and created a new form of oppression.
As a survivor of child abuse suffered at the hands of both parents, both physical and emotional, I find the image of God the Father is far from alienating, but speaks to what the highest standards of a parent can and should be to the deepest needs of humanity: a Father who is always there, who will never abandon His children under any circumstances, and who will provide for all of their needs, including the eschatological hope of complete and total healing and regeneration of the soul, spirit, and body—the God who is there and is not silent.
*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.
2 Genesis 3 demonstrates this. Subsequent to the Fall, man hides from God [theological separation] in shame, blames his wife [sociological separation] and is cursed to earn his keep by the sweat of his own labor from an environment which is now hostile to him [ecological separation]. Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Jeremiah 17:9 demonstrate that the separation or effect of man’s depravity extends to his innermost being, separating him from himself as God intended him to be [psychological separation].
4 Those who espouse feminist and other forms of liberation theology are hypocritical in this sense. They decry the alleged violence supposedly symbolized by the cross, but have no qualms against inciting violence to suit their own ends.
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. “The Meaning of kefalh> (“Head”): An Evaluation of New Evidence, Real and Alleged.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001):25-65.
Hopkins, Julie M. Toward a Feminist Christology. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Howard, Thomas. “God Before Birth: The Imagery Matters.” Christianity Today 17 December 1976, 10-13.
Japinga, Lynn. Feminism and Christianity: An Essential Guide. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.
McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999.
Schaberg, Jane. “New Testament: The Case of Mary Magdelene.” Feminist Approaches to the Bible. Ed. Hershel Shanks. Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 1995.
Schüssler-Fiorenza, Elisabeth. “The Will to Choose or Reject: Continuing Our Critical Work.” Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Ed. Letty M. Russell. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985.
________. Jesus: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet: Critical Issues in Feminist Christology. New York: Continuum, 1994.
Sire, James W. Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1980.
Snyder, Mary Hembrow. The Christology of Rosemary Radford Ruether: A Critical Introduction. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1988.