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Introducing Feminist Theology

By Anne M. Clifford
Orbis. 2001. 287 pp. Pb. $21. ISBN 1-57075-238-9

— reviewed by by Isabel Rogers, Richmond, Va.

The goal of Christian theology, says Anne M. Clifford, "is to bring faith to understanding for a Christian community" (p. 179). That is what she aims to do in this book -- to help the Christian community understand its faith, especially in light of the experience of women.

She makes it clear at the start that her thinking is “at once feminist and Christian” (p. 1). She is a committed feminist — a “third wave” feminist. That means in part that she moves beyond the “second wave” feminism of the 1970s to deal not just with human relationships but with the whole creation around us. It means also to emphasize the difference that race and class make to feminist identity and vision — she includes insights from a diversity of ethnic groups. At the same time she writes from a clearly Christian stance, not being among those who seek the Creator in “goddess” religions. She understands how traditional patriarchal attitudes in the church drive many women to look outside of Christianity for the divine, but she speaks to their concerns from within the Christian tradition.

Two very fine chapters stand out. In “Feminist Perspectives on the Bible,” Clifford uses the interpretive principles (or hermeneutics) proposed by Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza. This strategy relies on both a “hermeneutics of suspicion” (alert to the impact of patriarchal culture on biblical texts) and a “hermeneutics of remembrance” (identifying with biblical folk who struggled for human dignity). This “suspicion/remembrance” pattern pervades all that Clifford says here, and it is tremendously helpful.

The other excellent chapter is “Feminist Perspectives on Ecology.” Here she tackles those critics who contend that our Hebrew-Christian tradition has divorced God from intimate relationship with the creation and thus has destroyed Earth’s sacredness, giving humans license to exploit nature as they please. In response, Clifford argues for a “sacramental vision” of the natural world, recognizing that God is known not only through Christ and other human beings, but also through the whole created order. If we could see the divine in nature (as the Bible does), our attitudes and behavior toward it would radically change.

Clifford aims her book at undergraduate and graduate-level students, providing study questions and discussion guides along the way. But all of us who have some knowledge of the church and of theology could profit from this helpful discussion of new dimensions in feminist theology.