Tag Archives: Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza

Race-ing Towards Nicea part 1: The Incarnation

*Editors Note*: This is a Re-Post of my contribution to our Preaching Chalcedon Tri-Blog event. I am turning this into a series

THE IMPURITY CODE:How Liberal & Evangelical Christians Both Can Affirm the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition

First, I would like to take the time to commend Amanda Mac for this intriguing conversation that has stirred up a lot of interest apparently. Optymystic Chad deserves commendation as well for his brave stance, for not many Christians are willing to challenge tradition, and in such a provocative manner, no less.

Honestly, I come to this conversation without a dog in this fight. As a young pup growing up, I was Baptist, and the only creed we recognized was the Lord’s Prayer.  Like many folks, I did not encounter the Nicene-Chalcedonian formulas until graduate school. Honestly, for some reason, there is something magical about the ancient Creeds. As a children’s pastor at a church I once worked for, after they recited the Apostle’s Creed, I felt more alive and ready to give my children’s sermon, without a moment’s hesitation.  Perhaps it was a reminder that I am part of something larger than myself, that there is a cloud of witnesses that transcends any community I partake in. So as a matter of transparency, I come from a non-creedal tradition, and this is my defense (sorta) of the Chalcedonian Formula. On to the questions!

Homoousios As Hegemony

He asks,

“Further, the language of Christ’s two natures, while taken for granted by Chalcedon, is a Greco-Roman construct. Homoousios vs. Homoiousios is not Biblical language. It is simply one culture’s way of framing the earlier Hebraic faith. I oppose Chalcedon because it gives the appearance of divine approval to an outsourcing of theology to a 4th and 5th century Greco-Roman group of people who admitted no agenda, but clearly had one.While claiming to affirm a certain level of mystery, Chalcedon only does so after it has already said more than it should have. ”

Then Chad also inquires,

“Further, why does Christ have to be both Divine and Human? Or more to the point, if scripture only approaches this teaching narratively, why do we insist on understanding it mathematically? Economically? Through a Roman lens? Is it not enough to understand Jesus as being fully human, yet paradoxically doing and saying things only God could say and do? Why not let many theories abound?”

Chad is not the first to make these charges against the Chalcedonian Council. Neither do his pre-cautions go unwarranted. For instance, in her work, The Black Christ, Christian theologian and womanist Kelly Brown Douglas, who herself affirms the Nicene-Chalcedonian tradition as an Episcopalian, says, “Black Christians tend not to consider it relevant to their own beliefs about Jesus” (p 112). She adds, “By ignoring Jesus’s ministry and focusing on his “being,” He is seen as someone to be worshipped, believed in, but not followed or imitated” (112-113). Seeing the face of Christ in the oppressed, specifically, black women is part of Brown Douglas’s Christology, but no where (at least from her viewpoint) can one see that in the N-C tradition.

The hegemonic nature of the Chalcedonian Promulgation also stands as a barrier for Christian bible scholar and feminist Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. She, too, finds it way too problematic that Graeco-Roman terms were used as a fixed formula for attributing imperial economic labels onto Christ’s life. She says,

“This Christological doctrine thereby inscribes into Christian orthodox self-understanding and identity the “mysterious economy” of kyriarchal relations and imperial domination. By associating fatherhood/masculinity with divinity and eternity and by firmly placing motherhood/femininity in the temporal realm of humanity, it introduces not only gender dualism, but also the dualism between church and world, religion and nature, heaven and earth.” (Jesus, Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, page 22).

The Essential(isms) of The Faith

It would be impossible for Kelly Brown Douglas to speak for all persons of African descent at all times, and I doubt that she was doing that, but without qualifications, one finds themselves into Essentialism Land, that magical place where everyone knows who you are ‘cuz of what you look like. Brown Douglas forgot to mention that there is a significant population of Black Catholics who, like M. Shawn Copeland, who could attest to their black Christianity emphasizing the importance of the creeds. By the same measure, my apologies, Chad, but there is no such thing as THE Hebraic faith. Come on, friend, you know that Second Temple Judaisms thing? I would not say that one Jew is more “Hebraic” than another, for who am I, as a Gentile, to say such a thing. Is Philo somehow less Jewish because he wrote in Greek? Yes, the whole “Homoousios vs. Homoiousios” controversy is extra-biblical, but I don’t affirm that strict version of Sola Scriptura, and I doubt that you do either. Furthermore, to understand the Covenant Pentecostally, a believer has little choice but to affirm multi-lingualism. J. Kameron Carter understand Irenaeus’s writing to be pointing in this direction. In his Race: A Theological Account, Carter argues, ” In Christ, then, language is liberated from the fiction of purity and thus from every structure of dominance and slavery [.]” (30)  The notion of a pure biblical language, a pure race, a purely feminine/ masculine person comes unraveled in the covenantal Jewish flesh of Yeshua. There is no dualism or monism in Christ, but there is Reconciliation.

In order to understand Carter’s logic, one must go back to look at his theology of Israel, a theology that is anti-racist and anti-supercessionist. One cannot speak simply of Christ as purely human because Jesus’ humanity “constitutes a new intrahumanity.”  Christ’s existence is unique in that the Logos and Spirit are en-fleshed and in communion with the Father.  For Carter, “Christ’s flesh is mulatto flesh. […] The covenantal people of Israel witnesses to creation its own fruitful ‘contamination’  before YHWH as its life-giving limit” (30).  As Carter articulates so very well  Yeshua’s intrahuman fleshly existence , which supercedes space and time to receive the worship of Jews and Gentiles alike, is forever bound to impurity, therefore, the ethnic lines and classes set up by white supremacists and Social Darwinians alike are exposed for what they are: PURE FICTION.  Christ Yeshua is what it means for creation to exist in the presence of the Triune Creator, and no language can fully encapsulate that very miracle, but at the same time, every language and culture articulate it in their own unique way.

Goodbye, Every True Scotsman!!!


An Impure Orthopraxis

Amanda asks:

Should we preach Chalcedon today?  Is Chalcedon useful today?

I would answer, without a shadow of a doubt, yes, and more yes, but with a few qualifications.  As I alluded to in my response to Chad, one must understand Yeshua in light of what the formula says,

“but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ;
even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us”

I would argue that the Chalcedonian Formula is more of a Code, yes a Code. A Code is, for the most part according to Dictionary.com, a system of rules and regulations. It is an Impurity Code because it recognizes that the reconciling mission of the Savior is programmed into his very being: “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” Once one understands the Chalcedonian Impurity Code in this manner, minus the anathema threats, it becomes a weapon against closed societies that regulate humanity according to “gender” and “race.”

I suggest that we listen to the wisdom of J. Kameron Carter in his theology of participation, where “Chalcedon is to be conceived as witnessing to a theology of covenantal participation in which the life of YHWH is throughly implicated in and suffuses the life of Israel. […] It is precisely this participatory transcendence, this ecstasy, by which God is God for us, that makes creation transcendent within itself in its ecstasy back to its Creator” (191).  In other words, Christ’s intrahumanity in reconciling creation to its Creator, makes all of creation more than just material. Corporeality is the reality in which God has been revealed, for the Transfiguration, as testified to by Moses and Elijah, reveals that all creatures have been placed under a new social rubric.  The mathematics of Chalcedon is quite simple, really: Christ + All=1/ All – Christ= 0.  Bodies, therefore, become the very vehicles by which God is magnified.  Just as Moses and Elijah stand witness to that blinding light on Mount Tabor representing the legal and prophetic word, so must one recognize that Christ is the hermeneutical key to our open creation.  Becoming involved in the logoi of the prophets is to become involved in the life of God.  Contrary to Kelly Brown Douglas’s claims, Yeshua is not a person to be followed, for we do not live in the 1st century, nor do I wish to “imitate” Yeshua the Messiah because the scriptural witness informs me that his death ends all sacrifices and what good does it do the oppressed to live a life ordained with suffering? Is not that the reason womanist theology had to distinguish itself from J. Deotis Roberts’ and James Cone’s Christology?   If Christianity is just another story like Harry Potter where the hero gives his life for others, I want a new religion.  Thus, it is important to realize that the early churches speculated that it was possible that Christ is the door to life in God, and therefore our agency is not our own, but Christ’s.  Yeshua the Messiah, as what Latin American Liberationists call The God-Poor, existing in solidarity with the oppressed empowers humanity to join in God’s redemptive love for the cosmos.

Do our congregations, which are steeped in a largely biblically-illiterate culture, just “know” that Christ is fully divine and fully human when we preach?

Ummm. Depends on who you talk to.  Sometimes there are congregation members who do their homework and read, and there are others that do not.

What would happen if we dropped the “shorthand” and began using the full sentence in our preaching?

I think people will start to walk out and leave. Long sermons are never popular, well, unless you grow up in the Black Baptist tradition. Sigh.

How do we guard against the tendency towards either Docetism or Nestorianism in our churches?


Should evangelical churches, that are largely creedless, begin to re-examine and find ways to adopt these ancient statements in a post-modern context?

I would say this is the very last thing that evangelicals need to do if they want to reach out to a post-modern context.  So, no. They should first re-discover their own history before trying to explore historical Christianity.

To conclude, I will end with a passage from Scripture that is a short version of the Nicene-Chalcedonian Tradition:

“Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature” (2nd Peter 1:4)



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Spilling Coffee: Thoughts on Christianity and Feminism

Sojourner Truth, albumen silver print, circa 1870

A Response to Roger Olson‘s Some Thoughts About Christian Feminism

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet several theologians, including Rosemary Ruether, at a small gathering of liberation theologians. One of the most awkward moments at the event while I was there was when I accidently bumped into Ruether in line for breakfast, and her coffee spilled on her shoes. To say the least, a lot of fears were running through my mind, “Would she think that I did it on purpose because I am male? Will I be called a sexist?” It was an extremely awkward moment, and I just didn’t know what to think, fumbling and mumbling in the presence of a great thinker. Fortunately, she said nothing, we gather some napkins, and cleaned up my mess. Recently, on the blogosphere, I have read some rather awkward posts on gender, particularly from egalitarians and their hang ups with feminism.

First of all, I appreciate Roger Olson’s honest and open thoughts on Christianity and feminism. However, that being said, I disagree with the portrayal of Christian feminist theologians, especially Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rosemary Ruether, and Elizabeth Johnson, S.J. Olson does not deny the existence of sexism and its power in society, just the way that these theologians approach it. While Olson has personally interacted with “Ruether, [the late Letty] Russell and/or [Susan] Thistlethwaite and […]Johnson, he has qualms about their “gender feminist perspective” as it pertains to “with regard to language about God, the nature of the Bible and Christian tradition (i.e., basic orthodoxy), and contemporary worship.”

Notice something that Olson leaves out; the tradition that Ruether and Johnson come from is Catholicism. What is deemed orthodox from Olson’s perspective is going to differ from what Ruether’s and Johnson’s religious peers are going to say is orthodox. Take for example, Olson’s critique of feminist theology:

“First, it is not clear to me at all that there original revelation (e.g., scripture) is normative. It seems to me that something called “women’s experience” and “feminist consciousness” is elevated to that level. The result is that “anything goes” so long as it is liberating and culturally relevant (i.e., speaks to and promotes the feminist political agenda). ”

If I am not mistaken, is not Sola Scriptura a Protestant doctrine? So why should we expect feminist theologians who are professing Catholics, to accept this view? It seems to be something that Olson has overlooked. I am not a Catholic myself, I am just trying to state the obvious differences in the starting points for theology of evangelicalism and Catholicism. At no point in the U.S. Bishops Report on Elizabeth Johnson’s work, Quest for the Living God, did they question her for not being biblical enough. It was a debate about whether Johnson’s text was consistent with Catholic tradition.

Olson goes on to accuse feminist Christian theologians of denying divine power in the Death of Christ; Feminists “do not think his crucifixion was a divine act. Instead it was a martyrdom that unmasks the evil of patriarchy. The cross and redemption theology in general tends to take a back seat (if not in the trunk!) to creation and re-creation theology. In this I find it often less distinctively Christian than pagan.”

Any serious reader of Christian feminist theology would not make this accusation, at least of mainstream feminist theology. God’s divinity is not found in forcing HIS SON to die a gory and bloody death; God, rather, manifests God’s power in suffering love, identifying with the victims of history, and then in turn, rebuking all forms of violence in the Resurrection.

Unfortunately, Roger Olson does go on to commit a “Hitlerum Ad Reductio”; painting feminists as Nazis, which is so easy to do on the Interwebs. And I quote:

“Revising imagery of God to suit our own needs (one feminist theologian said she needs a “God who looks like” her) seems dangerous to me. Pretty soon we leave biblical imagery of God behind and use imagery we have invented for our own purposes. As Donald Bloesch used to point out, this is exactly what the so-called “German Christians” did in the 1930s. (I am NOT comparing feminism with Naziism! I am pointing out a danger in moving away from biblical imagery in favor of culturally preferred “relevant” imagery. Where does it stop? What limits it?)”

Why bring up Nazi Germany in the first place but to push the old old label of Feminazis? This was a rather unfortunate occurrence, and I do hope Olson resists using this fallacy.

Olson’s case against inclusive language sounds more like men who play victim since they accuse feminists of being aggressors. This post, reflects, I fear, what Hugo Schwyzer rightly diagnosed about much of men’s anti-feminism:

“All of this behavior reflects two things: men’s genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive, wrathful, “man-bashers.” The painful thing about all this, of course, is that no man is in any real physical danger on the internet— or even in real life — from feminists. Women are regularly beaten and raped — even on college campuses — but I know of no instance where a man found himself a victim of violence for making a sexist remark in a feminist setting! “Male-bashing” doesn’t literally happen, in other words, at least not as a result of arguments over feminism. But that doesn’t stop men from using (in jest or no) their own exaggerated fear of physical violence to make a subtle point about feminists.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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What I am giving up for Lent: Kyriarchy

Lisa Simpson

Image via Wikipedia


So last week, I announced that I was giving up KYRIARCHY for LENT.

I guess I did not announce it yesterday and that makes me a bad person. But yeah, I am giving up KYRIARCHY. If you notice, my blog posts have been a tad bit angrier and more detailed, because a small group of people going unnamed until later keep infuriating me with their smugness. So, I have responded with theological critiques of their world view, with my primary sources being that of feminists and womanists, what many would consider “The Other.”

For those not familiar with Kyriarchy, I apologize for making assumptions, so kyriarchy defined is:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.
Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms.  The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).
– Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books   New York 2001


Thank you, Lisa.

It is a term that has superseded “PATRIARCHY” as such.

So, I will continue doing so for the remainder of the Lent season.  It’s not that I have never read or written on  feminist or womanist theology before, I did take two courses on Womanist theologies, but their words remained important yet truly never at the center of my work.  As a Black, heterosexual, (some would say traditional on social issues) male, I felt disturbed by the recent trend on biblio-blogs and theo-blogs with the lack of recognition for women.  Already I feel that my theology is shifting a bit, and re-reading Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza last week has renewed my hermeneutic of suspicion.  I feel guilty for not going to an Ash Wednesday service, but to make up for it, please enjoy this piece on the lives of women, from Women IN Theology, An Ash Wednesday Reflection.

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