This is part of our series on Male Feminist Theology.
First, I have to say up front: this has been the hardest post of this series (so far). Today we’ll talk about the theology of the Bible, in the next post we’ll talk about the actual content of the Bible. But first, let’s get the big picture again (because it’s been a while).
There’s no such thing as a “neutral” theology. All articulations of theology are more sensitive to certain assumptions and concerns than others. What we historically conceive of as “regular ol’ theology” is, historically speaking, White Western Male Theology.
This series is an attempt to sketch a theology attuned to the heart of God towards our sisters all over the world who suffer more than any other single group. Women are (and always have been) by far the most abused, oppressed, poverty-stricken, and marginalized people globally. Therefore, I think there is a need for theology that speaks to this and frankly, our classical Western theology has come up short.
That’s why in this series on “Male Feminist Theology” I have begun with a view of God which I think can actually speak to the reality of women in this world. Our God is not first and foremost a triumphalist God or patriarchal “other”. Our God is, in his very nature, a Suffering-Unto-Shalom God. Suffering-Unto-Liberation is woven into the very nature and character of God, and each of the Persons of the Trinity. I’ve shown how this is true for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now it’s time to talk about the Bible. Typically, Systematic Theology starts by talking about God and his (or her) unknowability, and then moves to his revealing acts in Creation, Scripture, and Jesus. But for a Male Feminist, I think we should start with the redeeming suffering of the Trinity, and then our view of the Bible should flow out of our view of The Holy Spirit specifically.
As I mentioned in our last post, not only are all the Scriptural words for the Holy Spirit grammatically feminine, but the Spirit’s functions are decidedly Feminine (Giver of Life, Breath, Wind, Comforter, Presence, Woman in Child-Birth, Life Principle, etc.)
Too often, in Evangelicalism, those functions are (at least in practice) treated as functions of Scripture, and not the Holy Spirit. Too many Christians treat the Bible as the primary thing that gives life, comforts, brings God’s presence, and is the primary means by which God creates. But it’s not. The Spirit is. Theologian Letty Russell says:
Divine inspiration means that God’s Spirit has the power to make the story speak to us from faith to faith. The Bible is accepted as the Word of God when communities of faith understand God [by the Spirit] to be speaking to them and through its message.
Okay, so why do I start off with all this?
Ironically, when we make the Bible into a pseudo-deity, we actually “disembody” the way God is revealed in the world. The Bible should be a beautiful witness to the nitty-gritty and messy way God works in the world through cultures and stories and poetry and history. To put it very simply (as Sandra Schneiders does): “The Bible is literally the word of human beings about their experience of God”.
But no. We tend to abstract the Bible as if it exists in a plane above real human life. This over-emphasizes an abstract, “other-worldly” view of how God is known, over and above the embodied, grounded ways God speaks.
This primary emphasis on Scripture’s “otherness” and “divinity” keeps theology—and other sources of Divine revelation and authority—disconnected from both Creation and women. This is where it all comes together.
In her incredible little booklet, Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit, Elizabeth Johnson demonstrates how the created, material world has always been associated and conceived in feminine concepts, whereas the rational soul, and human spirit has been associated with the masculine. She shows how history, philosophy, theology, Scripture, and culture have not only divided the world into these two spheres, but have forced them into a hierarchical dualism that demeans, subjugates, and minimizes the (feminine) material and exalts the (masculine) “rational”. (Read it at Google Books.)
Therefore, if our theology of the Bible is to speak to women (and remember: right now, we’re only talking about theology, not the actual patriarchal content of the Bible; we’ll get there next time), then our view of Scripture must be material, earthly, and born of the real experiences of real embodied humanity. In other words, it must be a bottom-up doctrine of Scripture, rather than top-down.
Male feminist theologians must treat Divine revelation as part of our Holy Spirit theology in order to emphasize the “breathedness” of Scripture, and how humans (and their experiences) were the primary agents in writing the Bible. We do this to focus in on the active role the Spirit plays in using Scripture to reveal God by emerging through the words of people responding to the Divine in real life and community.
God never arrived in the world in her full “God-ness”. Revelation is always mediated through material means, and the Spirit is God’s breath within Divine revelation. Clothed in cultural forms, the Spirit uses Scripture in various communities in various ways to show God differently:
Our religious identities are not sui generis and unaffected by other dimensions of who we are; rather, our very understanding of the religious dimension of our identity is informed by the diverse features of our location and experience. There is no “Christian” identity, only Christian identities impacted by race, gender, class, ethnicity, profession, and so on.
This divorces the Bible from philosophical ideas that have historically been used to diminish the voice of women. Theology and Scripture have been seen as the realm of rational, reasonable men; while the mundane, material aspects of life have been treated as the domain of women. This turns that upside-down. It treats the mundane, material parts of life precisely as the place from which Scripture was borne as the primary place we meet God.
Inspiration is the Spirit breathing through Scripture within communities that are closest to the suffering and groaning of the earth–namely, women.
Taking this articulation of the (feminine) Spirit and Scripture as a guide, the male feminist sees the oppression of women as an imperative for Spirit-filled biblical interpretation, creative action, and comforting solidarity with our sisters in the world.
UP NEXT: A Male Feminist Wrestles with the Bible
[image credit: photo by nakrnsm on flickr]