Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

If I were an Aristotelian, girl,
you would be my telos.
And if I were a Neo-Platonist,
you would be the One.

If I were a rationalist,
you would be my ergo and I
would be your subject.
If I were an idealist, well,
you’re already phenomenal.

If I were a Marxist,
you would be my utopia.
Life’s dialectic; let’s
work it out.

If I were an existentialist, girl,
you would be my nausea, my sickness
unto death. My negation would be willed
by you and I would despair you, affirm you, and die

And if I were a feminist, well,
clearly that’s necessary.

Yet I am but a poor Gentile idolater and we
are dust.


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If you don’t know about inerrancy you should read the Chicago Statement from 1978, which, for a text of its size has had quite a disproportionate effect on American evangelicalism, ripples of which I have definitely encountered here in New Zealand! Anyway, although it’s a little decontextualised without reading the whole statement, I’m just going to cite this clause here as the meat of it: “Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.”

I will say straight up that I have a lot of problems with the (whole) statement, not least this specific which I’m sure has had an adverse effect on the evangelicals and evolution discussion: “We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.” The statement not only presents a general principle for inerrancy but gives quite a specific example of what this might mean, unfortunately cutting off much-needed dialogue with disciplines outside the church.

A qualified inerrantist might note that this approach is problematic for a number of reasons such as introducing an a priori understanding of truth to Scripture or treating Scripture as a set of propositions rather than narrative or whatever genre. Anyway a qualified inerrantist who would want to hold onto the idea that the Bible is without error yet put more weight on understanding the nature of the text might say that when we understand what the authors were saying then we can say that they were inerrant according to the criteria of their socio-historico-literario-etceteral standpoint. So the writers of the Creation accounts in Genesis, although providing an unscientific account of Creation in today’s terms were true to the scientific knowledge of their time as well as inerrant in their representation of who God is. Or we might say that the gospel writers wrote historically though with a different set of conventions and expectations so, for example, they weren’t expected to write chronological accounts and they had freedom to shape the gist of Jesus’ message to speak to the audiences for which they wrote, so that if we understand the means they used to represent truth then we can say that they wrote truthfully.

But the problem I have with such a qualified inerrancy is that if taken to its logical end then there is no inerrancy at all. So the writers of the historical books had ideological commitments in portraying Judah in a favourable light against the other tribes of Israel. If this is true, (warning! liberal!) which is where I lean, then a qualified inerrancy would have to say that it is inerrant according to the requirements of writing propaganda. A text is true because that text does what that text does. It is self-validating, fulfilling its own criteria for truth according to its genre, purpose, etc.

This is not in any way a smackdown on inerrancy. There is obvious room for a mediating position that posits the terms of truth neither completely external nor internal to the text but terms that arise out of dialogue between interpreter and text. The reason I write this though is to reinforce how trying to understand biblical texts as inerrant can discourage critical dialogue with biblical texts, which should be increasingly important, though not without difficulty in incorporating it into popular evangelicalism. A critical approach would help us ask questions, for example, and as I’m sure many have asked before, why even if we read Paul correctly and realise his letters do not bar women from church leadership (the majority view in evangelical biblical scholarship), his writing is still peppered with understandings of gender which have contributed to marginalisation of women throughout church history. Or we might ask why there are some pretty awful laws in the Torah, without first seeking to justify them by saying they were progressive for their time or necessary according to the milieu.

God did not give us an exhaustive guide to life and everything in it but a collection of texts which arose between the Holy Spirit and broken humanity, pointing to Jesus as our co-sufferer and Savior. As Paul writes, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12).

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There’s no way I can even hope to cover at least some of these, though one might be possible. Nonetheless you might elect to indulge on my part! (They’re all theology related).



10. Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, Daniel P. Umbel, with foreword by Stanley Hauerwas (Baker Academic: October 1, 2013)This book re-examines the popular thesis that Bonhoeffer attempted to assassinate Hitler, reviewing this in light of his writings, as well as exploring his ethics on pacifism. Check out the detailed and informed review from Roger Olson. Remember to read the comments section and this response to the review from one of the authors.


evan theol

9. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction by Michael Bird (Zondervan: October 30, 2013). Michael Bird is an Australian New Testament scholar who has spent his time among Baptists, Reformed, Presbyterians, and Anglicans: “I would describe myself as an ex-Baptist postPresbyterian Anglican.” Because he’s writing from Australia, he doesn’t need to be too careful about what he says either! Some reviewers on Amazon are not too sure about his biblical studies background and think that more experience with systematic theology would do Bird well. I’m often of the opinion that more experience in biblical studies would do systematic theologians well! He’s also a bit hilarious. One reviewer cites his comments on penal substitution: “I do not wish to disparage Jesus’ death as an atoning, vicarious, substitutionary, and penal sacrifice for sin. May I be anathematized — or even worse, may I be tied to a chair, have my eyelids taped open, and be forced to watch Rob Bell Nooma clips — should I ever downplay the cruciality of Jesus’ sacrifice for sinners” (he goes on to qualify this; it’s just too long to include). Laidlaw, the Bible College I went to this year, is probably going to be adopting this 912 page introduction as the textbook for all theology courses from now on. It would be handy to have around as a reference!



8. The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context by Myron Penner (Baker Academic: June 15, 2013). Not that I’ve looked into the basis for apologetics, but taking a leaf out of Kierkegaard’s book I suppose I’ve been quite ambivalent to it. It would be interesting to see how Penner attempts to reappropriate this sometimes controversial Christian inheritance.



7. The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction by Roger Olson (IVP Academic: October 31, 2013). Olson, an establised and learned teacher of modern theology, traces the major developments over the last 300 (?) years, looking at the epistemological soup from which it emerged, Scleiermacher and liberalism, American evangelicalism, all those amazing 20th century Germans, and postmodern and postliberal theologies, plus more. At 720 pages, this probably more for reference than light reading, though the latter will most probably do you a lot of good!



6. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy edited by J. Merrick, Stephen M. Garrett, and Stanley N. Gundry, with contributions from R. Albert Mohler Jr. (classical inerrancy), Peter Enns (historical-critical), Michael Bird (??), Kevin Vanhoozer (Augustinian inerrancy/something to do with theological interpretation of Scripture?), and John R. Franke (??) (Zondervan: December 10, 2013). Dear reader, during the course of writing this I bought this book on Kindle and somehow did not realise I would not have it for another couple of weeks! Anyway, Peter Enns is my homeboy. When I became a Christian I underwent a significant amount of confusion as to the role of Scripture in faith. It’s important to be aware of the different approaches out there and the strengths and weaknesses of each. Here’s a short introduction:


spirit power

5. Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism edited by Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant, and Richard Flory  (Oxford University Press: July 24, 2013). A collection of essays on global pentecostalism, including why it’s growing, pentecostalism and politics, gender, and an appendix with figures. How can you not be excited!? I’m not 100% but pretty sure it’s not the Blue Like Jazz guy.



4. The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less . . . Now with 68% More Humor! by Jana Riess (self-published (?): October 26, 2013). What a project! Apparently it’s both funny and does not shy away from the controversy which the Bible itself presents. Psalm 17: “Shortest Ps. ALL nations have to praise G b/c of what he did for Israel. We’re talking to you, Egypt & Syria. PTL, already.” 2 Chronicles book introduction: “Like 2 Kings, but with northern kings and history removed. This is SOUTHERN history, y’all.” Genesis 9: “They’ve de-arked. G sends a rainbow to promise he’ll never again murder us by flood. Keeps earthquakes, tsunamis & hurricans in reserve.”



3. The Holy Spirit: In Biblical Teaching, through the Centuries, and Today by Anthony Thiselton (Eerdmans: June 1, 2013). Thiselton has written extensively on hermeneutics, as well as penning a large and impressive Greek commentary on 1 Corinthians. He is in (mostly suspicious) dialogue with postmodernism and explores Christian responses to this. He’s in his seventies and still going strong! Again, this is another sort of reference book (579 pages), briefly laying out biblical understandings of the Holy Spirit and then tracing these through history to contemporary approaches in theology.



2. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, with foreword from Rachel Held Evans (Howard Books: November 5, 2013). Gender is one of the most important issues that evangelicalism needs to grapple with at the moment! Jesus and Paul, among other voices in the Bible, have been variously praised and criticised/critiqued for their approaches to gender. Sarah Bessey sees that there is at least some positive potential there. It will be interesting to see where she takes it!



1. Paul and the Faithfulness of God by N. T. Wright (Fortress: October 17, 2013). What else did you expect? N. T. Wright is possibly the most prolific contemporary Pauline scholar. At 1700 pages (1519 of reading material), this is a force to be reckoned with. Love him or dislike him, this is required reading for anyone who wants to seriously engage with the New Testament.



Bonus: The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books: No date… but quite recent!). I’m not all theology nerd! Forsyth is an etymologist, that is someone who looks at how words came about. In his new book he introduces his readers to the ancient discipline of rhetoric, that is, how to speak well.

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Benh Zeitlin’s recently released, acclaimed and excellent Beasts of the southern wild. The film follows the life of Hushpuppy, a six year-old girl, in The Bathtub, a fictional island based in Louisiana and subject to seasonal flooding.  Here’s the trailer:

Since having recently watched again Taika Waititi’s Boy (2010), focussing on the life of an eleven year-old in east coast New Zealand in the eighties and unexpected the return of his dad, I was struck yesterday with the many similarities the two films shared. (Before I continue, note that this post will necessarily discuss important plot points, for which reason you may want to leave until you have seen both the films, but you could probably read it without having seen the films too). Here’s the trailer for Boy if you haven’t managed to get around to seeing it yet, which you most definitely unequivocally should:

Both films blend a generally realist approach with elements of childhood fantasy/perspective; both films contrast the failures of not-wholly-incompetent fathers and other men in the community with socially strong female characters; and both Boy and Hushpuppy more or less attempt to fill the parental role of responsibility and independence in society under the shadow of  their fathers’ failures and mothers’ absences. In Boy we learn that Boy’s mother died in childbirth. Boy’s younger brother feels some responsibility for this, and the two go often to visit her in the cementary. The absence of Hushpuppy’s mother in Beasts is treated with a little more ambiguity. Hushpuppy’s father, Wink, tells her that her mother left their home some time ago.

Though in both films the mother is absent physically, an ideal form of her is present in the minds of her children and partners. Hushpuppy draws pictures of her mother and symbolises her with a basketball top from whom she receives motherly affirmations in conversation. Both Alamein (Boy’s father) and Wink recall their love for and the beauty of the mothers. Here the theme can be extended: The mother is absent, yet not only in relation to her children, but to her partner, as a companion.

Boy’s absence of mother and, to an extent, father is counteracted through his relation to his aunty (whom he sees as a kind of hero in driving the school bus, acting as postwoman for the town, and running a shop) and loving grandmother (on his father’s side) who takes care of Boy, his brother and some other children in the community. His aunty steps in to protect him when his father returns angry. A similar figure to the aunty in Beasts is Miss Bathsheba, a hardened island dweller who acts as a teacher for the children and demonstrates the seriousness of their situation, checking up on a neglected Wink, providing her medicine for her sick father, and independently confronting three men in the community for actions that could mean the end of them all. Contrast these figures with Alamein, who ostensibly returns to Boy and Rocky after so many years, but is actually in need of money, the two other members of his gang, Crazy horses, who can only be understood comically, along with the brief run-in with some angry pot dealers. In Beasts, Wink spends his time drinking, disappears for days at a time, directs bursts of anger toward his daughter and doesn’t allow her to cry.

Wink rouses his daughter to a show of strength

A further contrast exists between the incompetency of male adults and the promise of male children. In Boy, though women effectively run the community, it is boys and young men that Alamein wants to recruit to his gang. They are seen as the ones with leadership potential, the ones who hold promise, but somehow something gets lost on the way there. In Beasts, Wink dresses his daughter as boys would be dressed in the community; uses words like ‘girl’, ‘sissy’ and ‘pussy’ pejoratively to steer her away from what the community understands as feminine; and enjoins her to arm wrestling, breaking crabs with her hands and refraining from crying. Masculinity holds promise in its childhood form but when males come of age in the communities, they flee from their roles and their female counterparts pick up the pieces.

The absent mother in these two films is an important theme in a society coming to terms with its patriarchal foundations and lack of gender equality. This is in no way an attempt at some ultra-conservative polemic against or undermining of an increasingly feminist society. But what if this is feminism inverted? The struggle is not opposed to feminism, but is in the same boat as an important gender issue. Masculinity has too become weakness. For example, consider the likes of male suicide rates (380 in 2010 against 142 female) and boys struggling in school (also). Yet go further. Is it taboo to say there is a masculine struggle not just in disproportionate suicides and education performance but in cases where men are the cause of other struggles? The men in the films tend towards neglect, alcohol and drug abuse, and inconsistent emotional responses to their children. Surely something is not right if a large number of young men are ending their lives? Something is also not right then if men are neglecting their responsibilities to family. It remains important to consider the needs of the primary victims. However, in a sense, these fathers have also become victims, of the pressures of life and their own failures.

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