Book Review: Why We’re Equal: Introducing Feminist Theology -- By: Joseph B. Modica
Why We’re Equal: Introducing Feminist Theology
By Val Webb, Chalice Press, 1999, 155 pp.; $14.95 (paper)
Reviewed by Joseph B. Modica, chaplain and assistant professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern College, St. Davids, PA.
Val Webb, adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota and author of four books, including In Defense of Doubt, has written an engaging, readable, and mostly historical approach to feminist theology. Her thesis is straightforward and often restated: “The goal of this book is to look at the diversity of the feminist movement and show how limited and inaccurate negative stereotyping is” (p. 3; also see pp. 9, 12, 47). Webb purports that there is not a feminist theology, but rather feminist theologies, so a casual observer cannot make sweeping assumptions of what it means to be a Christian feminist. Her nine chapters walk the reader through Christian history to observe how gender roles between women and men were decided. There are a number of historical and exegetical nuggets, such as her discussion of Onan (Gen. 38:4-10, Deut. 25:1-10), who is often used as an argument against contemporary contraception. “The offense for which Onan was killed was neither masturbation (onanism) nor birth control—sex without the risk of pregnancy. The offense was refusing to fulfill his legal and family obligations to his brother’s wife, hardly an issue in our society!” (p. 37). Webb also weaves into this journey snippets of her own spiritual pilgrimage as well as a critique of her Roman Catholic faith tradition (e.g., her discussion of Onan above).
Webb has written an accessible book that places feminist theology in historical context and describes some of the content for each of the movements. As the Roman statesman Cicero once said, “To be ignorant of history is to remain a child.” Webb has a knack for showing the reader that many of the issues that women grappled with—even in earliest centuries—are not new, but rather historical redux.
As with any inquiry, one will not always agree with the author’s assertions or evaluations. There are two reservations. First, Webb waffles on the authority of Scripture when she relegates the Creation story (Gen. 1-2) to myth (nonhistorical) so as to avoid the “fall of humanity”—what Webb calls “Reclaiming Eve”—and the infamous “let women be silent” passage (1 Tim. 2:12) as a second-century, non-Pauline writing (thus nonauthoritative since it is not from Paul’s pen). One wonders if Webb overly sympathizes with E. S. Fiorenza (In Memory of Her) who blatantly excises patriarchal texts of Scripture and deems...
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