• Christine Sequenzia Titus

Feminist Christology: A Debate of Worth According to Christ

Updated: Dec 18, 2019


Final Paper

HT501 - The Church's Understanding of God and Christ in its Theological Reflection

Fuller Theological Seminary

Feminist Christology:

A Debate of Worth According to Christ

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus. | Galatians 3:28

Women pursuing ministry in 2018 face unique challenges. Just one month ago, respected theologian, John Piper, released a statement condemning the role of women in ministry, theological education, and as pastors or leaders in the church.[1] While Dr. Piper’s comment does not contribute a new representation of the perceived role of women in the church, it does call attention to the continued patristic form of theology. In her chapter entitled Feminist Christologies, Schumacher says,

These new feminists likewise point to the Fathers as looking upon woman ‘as the inferior sex by nature’, of associating her body ‘with sense and matter’, and of likewise condemning her to intellectual and moral inferiority with respect to men, due to the limitations of her physical sex; and this moral inferiority accounts for the ‘more likely a priori that women personified in Eve would be the cause of Original Sin.[2]

The above quote represents the extremities of Christology and how the church has addressed the issue of the involvement of women historically as well as in present times. Illuminating cases could be presented both highlighting the role of women in theology as well as those limiting the impact of women in the body of Christ. However, in an effort to form a more cohesive view of feminist Christology and gender roles according to scripture, one must first be aware of the scope of theological commentary surrounding women and their role, study scripture in a holistic fashion as it relates to the design of women and God’s intention for their contribution to God’s work, and contemplate the church’s potential actions going forward in light of these learnings.

Scope of Theological Commentary Surrounding Women

Feminist Christology could be defined as the way in which women view Christian theology as it relates to the person, nature, and role of Christ. As one begins to uncover the complexities associated with such a vision, the traditional rhetoric surrounding women must also be examined. Historically, the nature of Christ has been debated as a part of the many ecumenical councils beginning with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.[3] Following this, several councils proceeded until finally the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 AD, determined the nature of Christ to be fully human and fully God.[4] This effort is widely accepted by the Christian faith today. However, many issues have arisen as both men and women have sought to upstretch their voice in favor of equal gender roles in ministry and the equality of genders according to scripture. Ironically, Dr. Piper’s comment harkens to oppressive views of women found in the holy books of faiths other than those who follow Christ. Kecia Ali quotes Mudawwana (Moroccan Family law based on Islamic Sunni jurisprudence) in her text entitled Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam and extrapolates the following, “the terminology of ‘milk’ saturates jurists’ writings. Phrases such as ‘milk amriha’ (control of her affair) appear in the contracting of marriage…elsewhere, ‘milk’ denotes ownership…a man exercises ownership (and control) over both his wife and his slave.”

Christian men and women of today have raised issues with this sort of control or ownership language within the church and have largely made great strides. Soskice discusses the plight of early feminists as they elevated critical issues such as the doctrine of the Trinity in favor of challenging the divine Fatherhood associated with Christianity.[5] She says,

In pastoral circumstances, Trinitarian formulae, especially the baptismal formula ‘In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’, were points of pain but often addressed by means of ad hoc strategies – that is, simply finding different threefold ascriptions and hoping the problem would be put to rest. (However, this) did little.[6]

While this beginning to feminist Christology is discouraging, Dr. Mari Clements, Provost of Fuller Theological Seminary, recently publically opposed opinions propagated by Dr. Piper. In her article, she raises her unrest in having to address gender issues at all in this post-modern era, then moves on to warn Christians against accepting a single narrative. [7] Clements cites, Junia (a prominent woman amongst the apostles) and the ministry of Pricilla in three separate epistles.[8] Further, she states, Paul not only introduces and commends Phoebe as a deaconess, but calls the church to help her however they can, just as she has helped him.[9] As implied, while top seminaries like Fuller have paved the path for women to become prominent in ministry, scholars of the faith, leaders of schools of theology, and champions on the mission field, there is much still to be done in the way of feminist Theology and feminist Christology.

Carolyn Osiek offers a brief criticism of a post-modern American society that might need to evolve before true equality can be reached for women in ministry. She says, “Hence, women in socialist societies find themselves under the double burden of making a full contribution in the work force while continuing to be the major source of domestic labor.”[10] Osiek has verbalized one of the many dilemmas presented as women fight for their rightful place according to scripture. Albeit, some critiques have moved beyond equality to strange analogy or extraneous request. In week 9, Dr. Peacore referenced the feminist critique of atonement[11] found in Joanne Carlson Brown’s Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse. In this text, Brown says, “Christianity is an abusive theology that glorifies suffering.”[12] In other words, Brown wishes to mold the story of the crucifixion of Christ into a more palatable theology that aims at equal gender roles. While there does seem to be merit in the ideal of God sacrificing his son or offering suffering on his behalf as something to be lauded, the facts of the crucifixion cannot be adapted due to the desires of a group facing suffering. In their plight to bring to light a Christology favorable to women, feminist theologians would benefit from honing in on key issues and raising concerns like subsequent suffering of women due to patriarchal theology as a consequence of inappropriate scriptural interpretation rather than making claims against crucial scriptural accounts, like the sacrifice of Isaac and crucifixion of Christ.

Role of Women in Scripture

To further the study of feminist Christology, one must review scripture in a holistic fashion to uncover divine language as it relates to gender roles and the freedoms offered to women through the divine word. In addition to the truths expressed in Dr. Clements article, Elizabeth Johnson, a respected Catholic scholar and nun, sheds light on two main issues that deserve to be recognized. She begins by addressing the misogyny associated with a male figure of God by saying, “The mystery of God is properly understood as neither male nor female but transcends both in an unimaginable way. But insofar as God creates both male and female in the divine image and is the source of the perfections of both, either can equally well be used as metaphor to point to divine mystery.”[13] In this, Johnson is referencing Genesis 1:27 in which the creation of humanity is discussed. Referencing several versions of scripture can aid in one’s illumination of this particular scripture. One must remain aware of the patriarchal lens through which many translations of scripture were interpreted. With this in mind, reading several version including the KJV and ESV, translate the pronoun as “him” or “man.” Yet, updated versions, like the NLT, CEB and NIV use terminology like humankind, mankind and human beings to describe those made in the likeness of God. Turning to the original Hebrew language brings to light the intended verbiage. According to the HALOT lexicon, the written word is a common, absolute, singular, noun, meaning mankind or people.[14] However, the noun can also mean individual man.[15] Hence, it is plausible, depending on how one interprets the noun, that scripture reads, God created man in his image and also made women. For the purposes of this assignment, the assumption will be in favor of the former.

In addition, Johnson raises the identity of Sophia in scripture. Sophia is the personification of wisdom in Christian theology. According to Johnson’s work, Jesus Christ is wisdom (Sophia) incarnate, a deduction she makes after reading Augustine’s De Trinitae. Johnson goes on to say,

Not only does the gender symbolism cast Jesus into an inclusive framework with regard to his relationships with human beings and with God, removing the male emphasis that so quickly turns to androcentrism. But, the symbol giving rise to thought, it also evokes Sophia’s characteristic gracious goodness, life-giving creativity, and passion for justice…”[16]

In other words, scripture refers to lady wisdom (Sophia) whom reveals herself on earth as Jesus Christ, demonstrating gender equality and justice. Scripture represents this theory clearly in 1 Corinthians 2:7 which says, “wise and hidden purpose from the very beginning to bring us to our destined glory.” Christ is shown as the wisdom of God in which our acceptance of Christ’s crucifixion on our behalf brings about our salvation. Taking the feminine imagery present in scripture into account lends to female wisdom, Christlikeness present in the female race as well as their equal salvation.

While theologians like Andreas Kostenberger hold opinions similar to Piper’s[17], others such as Kevin Giles say this about the interpretation of scripture, “I do not deny that there are texts that subordinate women to men but I see these simply as practical advice to women living in a patriarchal culture: texts of exactly the same nature as those once read to endorse slavery.”[18] Clearly, scripture can seem contradicting if not read in context. Taken on their own, individual scriptures can work toward the patriarchal structures the church has been accustomed to for centuries. Thankfully, scholars like those cited, are willing to entertain the conversation in spite of its difficulty.

Further, it is important to remember the value of Christ’s role in scriptural interpretation. As stated at the outset of this section, a holistic interpretation of scripture indefinitely provides the most honorable elucidation of deity inspired text. Heger’s research on the Qumran literature (Dead Sea Scrolls) works toward a father’s authority and responsibility for his female offspring, which if taken apart from the entirety of biblical literature, make daughters out to be no more than slaves being sold and controlled as property.[19] He specifically points to Exodus 21:7-11, Numbers 30 and Deuteronomy 22:16.[20] Osiek offers a possible explanation and response to this sort of exegesis,

By building a carefully constructed argument step by step, totally based on thorough and sound exegesis of actual passages, this approach can demonstrate to the mind that is a priori open to expanding roles of women, but unyielding on the precise definition of biblical authority and revelation, that contrary to conclusions reached by a superficial reading of the texts, the Bible may not at all be condemning women to an inferior position.[21]

Affirmative Steps Going Forward

Above all, the most Christlike action women of this post-modern era can do to advance their worth according to scripture is to remain humble and assertive. While Christian womanists of today may feel anger, unrest, and a general sense of limited place, they must primarily remain consistent with the New Testament teachings according to Christ. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 44-45) In this Christ, expressed the equality of all humankind under God. While believers are called to love and pray for those who persecute them, Christ reminded his followers that all human beings were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and continue to have the right to follow the Lord until the end of their days, should they choose to repent. Persecuted women in the church first have a priority to live out this command and remember their honor to serve as not only salt but also light for Christ, so that others might come to understand similar equality and love found in the community of believers. (Matthew 5: 13-16)

Still, one might ask how then to adequately sprinkle salt where it is clearly lacking. Stackhouse, in his text Humble Apologetics expresses offers this,

I ought not to be engaging in apologetic conversation out of some need of my own, whether a need to save face or show up an enemy, or congratulate myself on my favor. Apologetics again, is a form of Christian speech, and as such it is always and only to offer a gift to the recipient – not aggrandize the speaker.” [22]

As advocates, those who wish to express a more balanced and holistic approach to scriptural views of gender roles, benefit from a faithful understanding of their own faith which renders one’s ultimate reward in heaven rather than on earth. However, these advocates are also called to bring all believers into the fold of gender impartiality as called for in scripture. This fine tightrope of humility verses advocating in favor liberation theology can be a difficult one. Bons-Storm says this,

“Feminist thinkers took Liberation Theology further by mentioning explicitly gender-aspect of poverty and oppression. Hungry children, homeless children, forced prostitution, and economy that makes particular groups of people – among them always many women – poorer and poorer are situations that cry for liberation by the Divine and the true humanization of all men and women. … the Mothers of Plaza del Mayo embody liberation praxis in their struggle against powerlessness. They refuse the final triumph of death.”[23]

Yet, scripture calls for the vision of sponsors of feminist Christology to embody a scriptural understanding of their own mortality. Albeit, this is exactly the sort of praxis presented by Joanne Carlson Brown in that it glorifies earthy suffering as an ideal to be lauded.

Combating this obvious adversity lies in remaining humble yet assertive. Mary Fisher, an early 17th century Quaker missionary, embodied this action well. While gender roles were still present, she chose to surpass them hence proving by default a feminist Christology and the worth of women according to scripture. Brown states, “… behaved as if this sort of levelling justice were already a reality in the world, as if the eschatological appearance of the divine Judge who does not unjustly distinguish between persons was happening now, present in an almost performative sense in their words and actions.[24] The home can prove a powerful place for the beginnings of this type of affirmative action. In her peer-reviewed article, Dreyer notes changes made during the 18th century period of enlightenment which worked toward the liberation of women in marriage by viewing it as an intimate relationship rather than a sacrament to God. As an outcome, Reformers established prenuptial contracts, no-fault divorces, and the right to privacy concerning sexual matters.[25]

Institutions of higher learning are also a great breeding ground for such schools of thought and the projection of positive views of feminist theology. Fuller Theological Seminary professor David M. Scholer, nearly 35 years ago, wrote these words which act as a basis for theological training and thought coming out of one of the top-tier seminary,

“In conclusion, it is my deepest conviction that the full evidence of Scripture and an understanding of balance and consistency in interpretation mean that we must rethink some of our traditions and reaffirm with clarity and conviction the biblical basis for the full participation of women in the ministries of the church. The underlying biblical theology of a “new creation in Christ” in which there is “neither male and female” is a powerful affirmation of the commitment to equality in the gospel, the Church, and all of its ministries.”

Public statements, such as the aforementioned, not only work toward the all-encompassing goals of the Christian savior Jesus Christ but also help to acknowledge his human efforts on earth as well as those of his divine self which was given authority under God to make equal the creations of the divine, in other words his Christology.

While the journey to liberation for the Christian woman and a balanced Feminist Christology might yet seem a daunting task, for those who to continue to embrace the struggle, it is increasingly important to remember the successful actions of previous champions as well as the victories thus far. T.J. Gracey in 1898, published the compiled biographies of “prominent women who have been leaders or creators of missionary sentiment …missionary societies, (and) women (who) have been able to conduct on the field – educational, evangelistic, literary, medical or eleemosynary.”[26] These women along with the biblical missionary Pricilla, the deaconess Phoebe, and the the prominent apostle Junia serve as clear victors in the campaign toward the worth of women according to Christ. As some choose to continue to perpetuate patriarchal interpretations of scripture, enlightened women of the faith must take solice in the freedom found in scripture and humbly assert those truths.

Live wisely … and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. | Colossians 4:5-6

Bibliography

Ali, Kecia. Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 2010.

Bons-Storm, Riet. “A Challenge to Change Developments in Feminist Theology and Feminist Christology.” Hts Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 61 (1/2): 45–63. doi:10.4102/hts.v61i1/2.431. 2005.

Brown, Joanne Carlson, and Carole R Bohn. 1989. Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse : A Feminist Critique. New York, N.Y.: Pilgrim Press.

Brown, Sylvia Monica. Women, Gender, and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, V. 129. Leiden: Brill. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004163065.i-325. 2007.

Clements, Mari. She Teaches: Resisting the Danger of a Single Narrative. News. Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary. 2018.

Dreyer, Yolanda. “Women’s Spirituality and Feminist Theology: A Hermeneutic of Suspicion Applied to ‘Patriarchal Marriage.” Hts Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 67 (3): 5. doi:10.4102/hts.v67i3.1104. 2011.

Gracey, J. T. Eminent Missionary Women. Missionary Campaign Library, No. 2. New York: Eaton & Mains. 1898.

Héger, Paul. Women in the Bible, Qumran, and Early Rabbinic Literature : Their Status and Roles. Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, Volume 110. Leiden: Brill. 2014.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. 10th Anniversary ed. Crossroad Pub. Co., 2002.

Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.0. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Köstenberger Andreas J, and Thomas R Schreiner, eds. 2016. Women in the Church : An

Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Third edition. Wheaton, Illinois:

Crossway.

Osiek, Carolyn. “The Feminist and the Bible: Hermeneutical Alternatives.” Hts Teologiese

Studies/Theological Studies 53 (4): 956–68. doi:10.4102/hts.v53i4.1753. 1997.

Peacore, Dr. Linda. HT501 Week 9 Lecture, Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary. 2018.

Piper, John. Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary? Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God. 2018.

Plantinga, Richard J., Thomas R. Thompson, Matthew D. Lundberg. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Scholer, David M. “A Biblical Basis for Equal Partnership: Women and Men in the Ministry of the Church.” The Covenant Companion. Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary. 1984.

Schumacher, Michele. “Feminist Christologies.” The Oxford Handbook of Christology. Sept DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199641901.013.24. 2015.

Soskice, Janet Martin. “Trinity and Feminism.” The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed March 6, 2018).

Stackhouse, John G. Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today. Oxford, 2002.

[1] John Piper, Is There a Place for Female Professors at Seminary? (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God) 2018.

[2] Michele Schumacher, “Feminist Christologies,” (The Oxford Handbook of Christology. Sept DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199641901.013.24, 2015).

[3] Richard J. Plantinga, Thomas R. Thompson, Matthew D. Lundberg. An Introduction to Christian Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2010) 236.

[4] Plantinga, 237-241.

[5] Janet Martin Soskice,“Trinity and Feminism,” The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002) 136.

[6] Soskice, 137.

[7] Mari Clements, She Teaches: Resisting the Danger of a Single Narrative (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary. 2018).

[8] IBID.

[9] IBID.

[10] Carolyn Osiek, “The Feminist and the Bible: Hermeneutical Alternatives” (Hts Teologiese

Studies/Theological Studies 53 (4): 956–68. doi:10.4102/hts.v53i4.1753) 1997.

[11] Dr. Linda Peacore. HT501 Week 9 Lecture (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 2018) Slide 2.

[12] Joanne Carlson Brown, and Carole R Bohn, Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse : A Feminist Critique (New York, N.Y.: Pilgrim Press, 1989).

[13] Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, 10th Anniversary ed. (Crossroad Pub. Co., 2002) 55.

[14] Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardon, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Accordance electronic ed., version 3.0. Leiden: Brill, 2000) lemma 139.

[15] IBID.

[16] Johnson, 55.

[17] Andreas J. Köstenberger and Thomas R Schreiner, eds., Women in the Church : An

Interpretation and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Third edition, Wheaton, Illinois:

Crossway, 2016).

[18] Kostenberger, 244.

[19] Paul Héger, Women in the Bible, Qumran, and Early Rabbinic Literature : Their Status and Roles, Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, Volume 110 (Leiden: Brill. 2014) 113-130.

[20] IBID.

[21] Osiek, 962.

[22] John G. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today, (Oxford, 2002) 141.

[23] Riet Bons-Storm, “A Challenge to Change Developments in Feminist Theology and Feminist Christology.” (Hts Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 61 (1/2): 45–63. doi:10.4102/hts.v61i1/2.431. 2005) 60.

[24] Sylvia Monica Brown, Women, Gender, and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe. Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions, V. 129 (Leiden: Brill. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004163065.i-325, 2007) 39.

[25] Yolanda Dreyer, “Women’s Spirituality and Feminist Theology: A Hermeneutic of Suspicion Applied to ‘Patriarchal Marriage” (Hts Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 67 (3): 5. doi:10.4102/hts.v67i3.1104, 2011).

[26] J.T. Gracey, Eminent Missionary Women. Missionary Campaign Library, No. 2. (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1898) v.

#feminist #Christology #christinesequenziatitus #Christians #church #womenofFuller #women #femalepreachers #genderequality

© 2019 by CHRISTINE SEQUENZIA TITUS

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