Book Review: Jesus and the Feminists
In Jesus and the Feminists, Margaret Köstenberger delivers an illuminating survey of feminist interpretation of Jesus’ interactions with women in the Gospels. She provides a survey and analysis of several feminist interpretations ranging from radical feminism to egalitarianism before presenting a non-feminist view of Jesus and his interactions with women. As a complementarian female thinker, Köstenberger poignantly notes that the emergence of feminist scholarship on Jesus “is not one version of the true Jesus but many different accounts of who feminists perceive Jesus to be” (p. 16). Reminiscent of Mark 8:27, she seeks to answer the important question, “Who do they say that He is?”
The drum on which Köstenberger beats in her introductory chapters and the sound that can be heard throughout her work is, “What’s at stake? It’s Hermeneutics!” In part one, she lays a foundation for the analysis of the feminist interpretations she will supply her readers with. In the first chapter, she begins with a survey of the rise of feminism, briefly discussing how all three waves of feminism progressively and steadily made their way into the church, challenging “the long-held conservative interpretation of Scripture regarding women” (p. 18). In chapter two, readers begin to hear the sound of the drum: she discusses how important issues such as epistemology, role of the reader versus authorial intent, canonicity, and patricentrism directly relate to proper hermeneutics.
The next three sections of this work delve into three varying forms of feminism. In part two Kostenberger discusses radical feminism, the form of feminism in which biblical, historical Christianity is abandoned “to search for alternate paradigms” (p. 37). She spends chapters three through five examining the contributions of radical feminist scholars such as Mary Daly, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, and Daphne Hampson. In part three, she discusses reformist feminism, a form of feminism that does not“consider Scripture to be inerrant or authoritative, though they do use it in their theological formulation and reflection” (p. 61). Köstenberger spends chapters six through ten examining the work of reformist scholars Letty Russell, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Kathleen Corley and others.
In part four she discusses evangelical feminism, more popularly known as egalitarianism, a movement that “places emphasis on the full equality of men and women while professing commitment to scriptural inspiration and authority” (p. 129). Whereas in the previous two parts Köstenberger spends a chapter examining each feminist scholars’ contributions, in part four she spends two chapters examining the three developing phases of egalitarianism. Köstenberger’s perspective is demonstrative of the vast need for a robust apologetic on biblical womanhood. Click To Tweet
In chapter eleven, she examines the early years of the movement. She points to influential thinkers such as Krister Stendhal and Dorothy Pape, among many others. In chapter twelve, she looks to egalitarianism as the movement was maturing. She examines voices like Grant Osborne, who claims that Luke stressed gender equality in his gospel. Chapter thirteen includes the third and final period of evangelical feminism, the period from 2000 to the present. The final chapter of this work includes an evangelical non-feminist interpretation of Jesus’ interactions with women in the gospels. Here she offers an interpretation that favors the Bible’s teaching of male headship and female submission. Additionally, Köstenberger provides a hermeneutical framework for studying Scripture before surveying nearly thirty interactions between Jesus and women in all four of the Gospels.
At least three strengths prove to make Jesus and the Feminists a significant resource for laymen and women tasked with serving, loving, and leading the local church. First, Köstenberger is thoroughly hermeneutical in her approach. Interwoven with this is the charitability in which she presents this work. She urges readers to have proper hermeneutics in place, that theymay discern the authorial intent of the biblical texts, rather than letting their presuppositions control the text.
Second, her delivery of feminist interpretation is potent and articulate. The content is presented in short, yet punchy chapters that make the information digestible while also challenging church workers to think about the vast influence of feminism in the church. As the culture becomes increasingly hostile to male headship and female submission, the church must arm herself with the inerrant and authoritative Scriptures while at the same time knowing the secular voices who are speaking into their flock.
Third, it is an immense strength that a conservative female thinker is contributing work to this field. While there is much written on Jesus’ interactions with women within liberal academia, a conservative treatment and survey of biblical womanhood has been long neglected. Köstenberger’s perspective is demonstrative of the vast need for a robust apologetic on biblical womanhood.
I highly recommend this work. Not only does Köstenberger make a valuable contribution to examining feminist interpretations of Jesus, she also shows the beauty of gender distinctions as designed by the unsearchable wisdom of God. Jesus and the Feminists is captivating, not only because of Köstenberger’s ability to seamlessly show the necessity of healthy hermeneutics, but because of the riveting answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).