Monday, November 3, 2008

Jesus and the Feminists: Who Do They Say He Is?

I can't say that I've ever had a big interest in Feminist theology but I found this book fascinating, easy to read and extremely helpful. Kostenberger provides a survey of various feminist theologians ranging from the radical feminists to evangelical feminism. Radical feminists are those who feel no obligation to be guided in their theology by the Bible or Jesus. Included in this category would be Mary Daly, Virginia Mollenkott and Daphne Hampson. "Reformist Feminism" are those who selectively use the Bible to reconstruct a "positive theology" for women. Included in this category would be Letty Russell, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In the "Evangelical Feminist" camp Kostenberger includes Aida Spencer, Ruth Tucker and Linda Belleville. These authors are those who believe the Bible "rightly interpreted, teaches complete gender equality."
This book is primarily a survey although Kostenberger does provide critiques along the way. Those looking for hearty critiques may sometimes be disappointed but she does provide further resources in numerous footnotes. As the title suggests the book focuses on Jesus and therefore most of the discussions are on the Gospels. A number of times I had to remind myself of this as I kept wondering why she wasn't dealing with this or that passage from Paul. Furthermore, I sometimes wished for more interaction with certain authors like William Webb. However, because Webb does not work much with the Gospels she concludes the "Gospel evidence does not feature prominently in [his] hermeneutical scheme." (169) She does interact with other prominent evangelicals such as Grant Osborne, Douglas Groothuis, Ben Witherington, and R. T. France.
An important issue for Kostenberger is Jesus' selection of twelve men as apostles. She asserts "Despite advancing various explanations, feminists have not been able to account satisfactorily for the fact that Jesus appointed twelve men as apostles." (213) Egalitarians will counter that Kostenberger is overstating her case and simply dismissing their responses as wrong without sufficient argument. Kostenberger devotes one chapter to various passages from the Gospels of Jesus and women. Here she persuasively demonstrates how difficult it is to portray that Jesus was in any meaningful sense a feminist by 21st century standards (radical, reformed or evangelical). It appears that if a strong case is going to be made for feminism then it can't be found on the basis of anything Jesus said or did. The case must be made elsewhere and this is precisely how so many today are arguing. Most prominent have been those who follow along the lines of Webb in his redemptive hermeneutic. See for example Scot McKnight's most recent book The Blue Parakeet.
Because the feminist debate so frequently ends up centered around Pauline texts (at least in evangelical circles) this is a refreshing volume to remind us that the Gospel evidence must not be neglected. For those interested in the spectrum of ideas represented in Feminist Theology this is an excellent introduction.


Anonymous said...

That sounds really interesting. Thanks for writing this review, I'll be sure to take a look at the book next time I'm in the store.

Did Kostenberger give a history of evangelical feminism? I just read a book called "Woman be Free" by Patricia Gundry who I believe was at the beginning of that movement. I'm curious if she's mentioned or not.

Louis said...

Kostenberger does give a brief history of Evangelical Feminism. She divides the movement in three segments: The Early Years (1966-1986), The Maturing Movement (1987-2999) and Recent Contributions: Creativity and Consolidation. Patricia Gundry is not treated and this may be a dissapointment for some who will look for their author and not find them treated. While I can't speak for Kostenberger it appears to me she tried to find adequate representatives for each perspective since to try to cover all of them would have easily doubled the size of the book. Still others will find the author found and say, "That's it? That's all she says in response." Clearly, this is where the reader must realize that this book is more of a survey than a full-blown response to Feminism in any of its various forms. As I said in my review those looking for more of a critique will have to pursue her recommended resources in the footnotes.