Feeling the Force of Feminism

18 06 2008

At present I’m making incursions into enemy territory as I research my MTh thesis, handling the claims and criticisms of academic theology, seeking to keep my head amidst a maelstrom of anti-inspiration invective. The latest area of conflict that I’m billeted in is that of feminist theology, and its proving to be a hard station.

Perhaps before I make any other statements on this, a qualifier is needed. I’m not dealing here with the issue of women in ministry, nor am I speaking of those women who are making an argument for a greater degree of respect to be paid to femininity within the church. I have my own views on each of these issues, but they are not my concern here. Rather, by feminist theology I am speaking of radical feminism, with its virulent antagonism against all things male in Scripture.

I am researching ‘Father language’ in John’s Gospel, with the high incidence of Jesus’ describing God as His Father (with all of the intimacy that such a term suggests) as my focus. By divine providence I am covering this issue at a time when I am preparing for fatherhood myself, and it is proving a rich seam of thought, academically and personally.

The sad thing is that feminism seems to hate fatherhood – particularly that of God. I could multiply a whole host of quotes to support the above statement, but one from Karen Bloomquist will more than illustrate:

“A crucial theological agenda in the conversion from patriarchy is the transformation of God-language and imagery. Exclusively male imagery and language for God continues to legitimize patriarchy and the paradigm of male ‘control over’ that undergirds the violence-laden situation we find ourselves in today. It is not that male God-language is in itself generative of violence, but that it comes to function that way within the central power-over dictates of patriarchy…Changing God-language and imagery is not an elitist exercise but a key step in the conversion from patriarchy”. [Quoted in Thompson: The Promise of the Father]

Such statements (and believe me I could fill an entire blog with examples of them) betray something deep at the heart of academic feminist theology – that of the supremacy of the modern reader over the text. Bloomquist is able to assert her own position with frank authority, without any sense of caveat or proviso. Her word is truth, and God’s Word is negotiable. It is fascinating to read from the works of those who feel that the text can be converted by them rather than vice versa, and that they can make demands of God’s Word rather than God’s Word making demands on them.

It is doubtful that any other ideological presumption could carry the sense of self assured authority and absolutism that feminism does. Were I, for instance, to state my views as a conservative evangelical with the same force within theological discourse, my approach would be ruled out of reason as being presuppositional and laden with bias. Feministic approaches seem to feel vindicated in steam rollering the text with little qualification.

This is not to mention the tragic view of fatherhood which such an approach embodies. There is no doubt that abuses by fathers in the past provide rich soil for criticism of fatherhood generally, but this is by no means the norm. Instead, God’s depiction as Father within Scripture is one of compassion, dignity, grace, and justice – a far cry from the ‘violence-laden situation’ which feminism describes. One wonders how far such a denigrating view of fatherhood has filtered down from feminism within the academy to family life in reality. As men we are given a pretty low bar to live down to, and it is little wonder that many have failed to see the fundamental dignity of godly masculinity, and fatherhood which follows the example of the Father.




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