I did not know that feminist theology existed until I came to seminary. After years of being fiery about equality and trying to reconcile that with what I had internalized about Christian rhetoric, all of a sudden here was a whole school of thought that had been asking the same questions that I had been posing. I came by this knowledge when I was given an assignment in my hermeneutics class. We were to look at a text of Scripture and make sure that we engaged at least one commentary that was not in our "normal" wheelhouse. We were given a bibliography that not only included feminist theology, but also numerous perspectives from other cultures and people groups from around the world.
Turns out, white men do not have the only say on biblical scholarship and interpretation. Who knew?
Learning about feminist theology not only helped me to grow as a feminist myself, but it also opened me up to a whole new world of perspectives. What I had always considered the norm was not the only set of voices that existed and it was that awakening, the absolute gift, which has helped to shape me as a theologian, writer, reader, and Christian. In life and in our walks of faith, different perspectives matter and, if we want to be robust believers and thinkers, we must engage with them.
(A caveat: not all interpretations are created equal. There is a distinct difference between two people bringing different perspectives to the Bible and interpretations that are blatantly not biblical. For example, there is not a world in which we can truthfully say that God does not care for the foreigner, orphan, widow, and others who are downcast. If a reading of the Bible says otherwise, it is wrong. Use discernment and don't be afraid to call out dangerous theology when you hear it.)
I was reminded of this seminary experience recently on three separate occasions:
First, I am currently reading The Mosaic of Atonement: An Integrated Approach to Christ’s Work by Joshua M. McNall and it is an absolutely wonderful book in which he breaks down all of the different ways that people have interpreted the cross of Christ before arguing for an approach which finds space for pieces of each model. Here I am learning that, not only is there more to the atonement conversation than I was ever led to believe, but there is also so much power in acknowledging nuance and not dying on any one hill of interpretation. It is the integrative piece of McNall's work that makes it so powerful.
Second, after having it recommended to me on more occasions than I can count, I finally listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk entitled “The Danger of a Single Story”. I have long been a fan of her writing (you can check out a book review I wrote here), and in this grounded and prophetic speech, she highlights the fact that hearing only one perspective, one story, can cause more harm than we realize. She speaks at length about the caricatures that people often sketch about her home in Africa, but her principles apply to reading the Bible, too. When we only hear one viewpoint, it becomes "true", whether it is the only story or not. Because I had not heard feminist voices talking about Scripture, I assumed those voices did not exist or were not valid. Only having one story was a detriment to my faith.
Third, I am currently reading through the book of Joshua. I remember the last time I did a full read through, I had just given my life fully over to Jesus in college and I was on fire with a sort of conquering mentality. "Yes!" I thought, "Go and take over in the power of God!" There is a place for that conversation, and I don't want to shame the younger, passionate version of me, but this read through has caused me to wrestle more with the people that were run out so that God's people might move in. This is not the moment to break down those nuances, but the relevant point is that, at one point in my life, my perspective on Scripture looked different than another point. Both are valid, but those differing perspectives matter and both work to inform my larger view of my Lord and my Holy Book.
So, I've shared why these thoughts are at the front of my brain, but what do we do with this? The answer: be willing.
Be willing to bring your own perspective
I want to start by affirming that what we think about the Bible, how we view God, and the ways in which we interpret faith matters. There is not a single one of us that has it all figured out, and Christians have the blessing of the Holy Spirit to guide us, so bring your thoughts to the table. If you are seeking to interpret Scripture faithfully and wisely, do not let anyone or anything cause you to shy away from sharing. Your perspective is part of the mosaic of interpretations that can lead to richness of faith for all of us.
Be willing to listen to others
Just as the perspective you bring to the table is valid, so are the perspectives of others. As stated earlier, no one has it all figured out. There is a reason why the Kingdom of God is open to all; we need each other to try to wade through this world as followers of Jesus. Sometimes reading different perspectives will make you want to scream out a hallelujah, such as when I finally got some feminist material in front of me. And sometimes, reading different perspectives will make you want to throw the book across the room, never to be picked up again. The point is not to always agree, the point is to engage. I promise you’ll be better for it. Speaking of…
Be willing to learn and grow
The whole point of bringing in different perspectives is so that we might be both affirmed and challenged by one another. If we only ever work with material that is comfortable to us, we will remain exactly where we are. However, if we are in an environment that never sounds off with other voices that might resonate with us better, our souls will feel the weight and we might turn from the single-faceted God that is presented to us. Even further, we change and can bring different perspectives to ourselves throughout our lives, as seen with my example of the book of Joshua. My friends, God is multifaceted. God is wide and mysterious and more glorious than we will ever conceive. God wants to be known and part of knowing the Lord is learning about Him through one another. If we ask the Spirit to open us up, if we are purposeful in encountering a lot of different voices and practice coherently articulating why we agree or disagree, I can absolutely promise that we will be kinder, deeper, more authentic Christians because of it.
My challenge to you this week is to read one article, watch one video, pick up one book, or have one conversation in which you engage a perspective that is foreign to you. You do not have to agree, and you can certainly (lovingly) share your thoughts as well, but the goal is to be open to growth and to the truth that there is still much more to learn. Our God is big, friends, and leaning into one another can only help us know Him better. Let’s get started.
Cross-posted from "Reflections on Faith, Words, and The Holiness of Today"
I really appreciated your post and your thoughts on this topic. I felt they extended well past our faith journeys, and were good advice to our polarized and divided nation. If all of us would take the time to engage with differing voices and hear their perspectives, this would make us better people and better Christians. Thanks for the thoughts.
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