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Feminist Theory and Christian Theology (Guides to Theological Inquiry) Paperback – July 1, 2000
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Unlike most feminist theoreticians and theologians, Jones has an acknowledged influence from John Calvin, who most people would agree is certainly no feminist.
Jones talks about the confusion of the idea of feminist theory in terms of her own experience of trying to explain it to interested but non-academic people. While it is certainly true that there is a fair share of ivory-tower-type elements in feminist theory, on the whole feminist theory has far reaching and more practical applications that anyone can utilise. Ultimately feminist theory strives toward the identification of oppressive structures and attitudes and works to overcome these in society.
Jones in this section explores what is meant by Christian theology and what is meant by feminist theology.
`Like many terms used in this book, `feminist theology' means different things to different communities. For some people, it immediately calls up negative images of angry women destroying the church with pagan rituals. For others, it evokes more positive images, such as a round banquet table where feminist theology `happens' as women gather, from all corners of the world, to celebrate creation and to praise the God of life and liberation.'
These are by no means the only distinctions that can be made. Jones' own tradition comes out of the Reformation; Luther and Calvin are constant companions in the development of her theological thought, as are the doctrines of basic Reformation Protestantism. She concentrates on this work particularly on three topics - faith, sin and community.
Cartographies of Grace
As this topic, the subtitle of the entire volume, indicates, Jones is looking toward a mapping technique to show metaphorically the various relationships highlighted in the text. Remapping different discussions which include the way women are traditionally viewed, countered with a new vision of women's place in creation; the liberation and freedom inherent in the gospel message not just for women but for all people in creation reflected in our faith and worship practices; the place of sanctification and justification in current theological thought.
Jones develops an interesting idea called strategic essentialism, which goes beyond the essentialist versus constructivist ideas of gender and sexuality. Drawing on the work of Irigaray and Cixous. Strategic essentialism acknowledges an interplay of universals layered with constructed elements.
`A strategic essentialist supports the practical importance of essentialism by reflecting on the fact that `universals' about human nature abound in the most common tasks.'
However, the interpretation is subject to change, and each generation must redefine the parameters of the strategic essentials again for itself. Jones argues that the proper defining principles are those which lead to the greatest freedom, empowerment and self-embodiment of women.
Sanctification and Justification
Jones reverses the tradition Reformed order of justification and sanctification, arguing that for some, those who are oppressed or likely to be marginalised by the church or society, sanctification needs to be elevated first. It is too easy for those who are oppressed to take the messages of justification as part and parcel of the old oppressive regime. In remapping the cartography of these concepts, Jones shows the potential for a lived grace, in which sanctification and justification are ongoing processes. This is where Calvin plays a significant influence.
`Developed more fully by Calvin than by Luther, this doctrine [of sanctification] describes a lifelong process in which the justified sinner is empowered by the Holy Spirit for service to neighbour and faithful obedience to God. From the Latin sanctifactio, sanctification literally means `the process of becoming a saint' or `becoming holy', which for Calvin is the ongoing aim of Christian life - a struggle ever upward toward Christian perfection.'
By putting sanctification first, the first word that a person will hear, particularly important for women or others who have experienced oppression, will be constructive and supportive, and from that standpoint one may be empowered to strive toward justification
Oppression and Community
Jones describes in the final chapters the forms of oppression that have been present in history and how those continue to play out in the present for women. Oppression exists in potential or reality in several guises: exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Each of these can be seen in the worst aspects of patriarchal societies. Sin is quite often defined in terms of resistance to such oppressive forces. In remapping the idea of sin, Jones again is heavily influenced by Calvin and seeks an understanding where sin is awaiting redemption.
`Knowing sin and living in the bounded openness of grace thus becomes a cause for rejoicing as much as a call to work for a future in which women (and all people) flourish.'
Seeking out remapping in terms of liberation, the community becomes all important, and particularly the church, as a graced community. Many theories of church community provide a framework: Luther's idea of church as a community of saints, Calvin's idea of the church as mother, and Jones' own identification of strategically essential elements in church community lead her to the concept of a bounded openness in which the church community can find organisation and structure but still be permitted room for action and growth.
This is an intensely personal book for Jones. She incorporates her own church experiences, academic career, and personal small-group work throughout the text, highlighting the principles she discusses to show that they are not merely theoretical and academic enterprises, but have direct bearing in the life and witness of the people in Jones' life, be they students, congregation members, colleagues, or even strangers.