Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Female Theologian

One of the challenges that women's ministry has created for women in the church is that it's painted this very narrow picture not just of what it means to be a woman of God, but of what it means to be a woman in theology. Women's ministries are filled with high-energy, intractably positive and upbeat, "you have to get excited about your life" speakers who flourish a little curtsy at the end of even what should be their most heartbreaking stories. It's like the whole thing has been whitewashed with optimism because for some reason, we think that being a woman of God means life just isn't hard - or shouldn't be - and that our beauty (which is, you know by now, so important) is somehow diminished if we are dynamic individuals with a whole range of emotions and understanding.

And this is why we don't see female theologians breaking into the mainstream. It's why whenever a woman speaks up at all, no matter her voice, she is immediately boxed into a women's ministry. It's why when a woman has a theological thought, she's directed toward other women who might need to hear it, but never toward men.

Recently, I was interacting with a major publisher of Bibles after they announced yet another project featuring a prominent male theologian who already has, I don't know, a few dozen Bible projects published. I mentioned how lovely it would be to see a Bible project centered on a female theologian, and although some men in Christian leadership showed support for the idea, there were not a lot of names readily available to recommend. Just a few. And then, within a day or so, a new project was announced featuring a Bible "by women for women."

Because when I suggested a female theologian, it was assumed that I was suggesting a women's project. When, actually, the Bible company fully expects women to pick up their new project featuring the male theologian. It will most likely, as all of the other projects before it, be marketed as a "Bible for everyone," everyone who is looking for the specific type of theology or inspiration that they are emphasizing in the project. They just don't expect men to pick up a "women's" Bible.

You can't really blame them. Men in this world have long not known the broad array of women's interests and understandings. There's still this pervasive myth that when women get together, we just sit around talking about periods and afterbirths and drinking wine while we pretend to have a book club. The media has not helped in dismantling this stereotype. Now, add into that the overall culture of women's ministry and the few clips of such that most men in the church have probably seen from time to time, and you can't blame them for not wanting to be a part of 'women's ministry' culture. It just doesn't appeal to them.

But you want to know a secret, men? It just doesn't appeal to a lot of us, either.

If you look at a women's ministry speaker and think the whole thing is just a little too upbeat, too detached from the complex reality of actually being human in this world, more than a little shallow as to the real needs of the human heart, and far too "cheerleader-y"...we agree with you. If you don't like your Bibles with little hearts under the exclamation points, it may surprise you to know....we don't, either. If something inside you cringes when you turn the page and find a full-size graphic with flowers all around and hand-lettering that has pulled some nice-sounding verse completely out of context...we're cringing, too.

We would love to get into the messier side of faith. There are some of us who are invested in the real work of theology, of understanding God's word as He's given it to us instead of trying to put it in a beautiful little box full of dainty things. We have a lot to say about who God is, how we discover Him in the world, what it means to our broken, wounded hearts ...

...and that's another thing. When you do hear about brokenness from women's ministry speakers, you often hear about the sins of others that have broken us. All the things we've had to endure at the hands of others. Abuse, abandonment, adultery, whatever. That's women's ministry. We're not responsible for our ugly things.

But a female theologian? A female theologian has a deep understanding of human brokenness that includes the things we do to ourselves. It embraces the narrative that we all, including women, have fallen short of the glory of God and desperately need Jesus. It doesn't pass the buck and blame everyone else for our fallenness. We are, after all, the ones who plucked the fig to begin with. A real female theologian isn't afraid of our story and doesn't spend her ministry trying to pretty it up or pass it off. We are ready to dive deep into God's grace and let it wash over our wanderlust, getting real about who we are so that we can be real about who He is.

A female theologian has a lot to say, not just to women of God, but to men of God, too. And it's not all flowers and frills and rah-rah optimism; it's real, raw, gritty, and messy with a humble heart and a powerful vision and a solid understanding of both the written Word and the Word as Flesh. A female theologian discussing the love and grace of God or the brokenness and sin of humanity is not a theologian for women; she's a theologian for the church.

And it's time we let her out of her box to share her wisdom, insight, and understanding with all of us.

(More tomorrow on why we should all be listening.) 

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