Incarnational Friendship: A Feminist- And Womanist-Inspired Revision Of Luther’s “Happy Exchange” Theory Of Atonement -- By: Joseph Morgan-Smith

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 31:1 (Winter 2017)
Article: Incarnational Friendship: A Feminist- And Womanist-Inspired Revision Of Luther’s “Happy Exchange” Theory Of Atonement
Author: Joseph Morgan-Smith


Incarnational Friendship: A Feminist- And Womanist-Inspired Revision Of Luther’s “Happy Exchange” Theory Of Atonement

Joseph Morgan-Smith

Joseph Morgan-Smith is a PhD student in systematic theology and a teaching fellow in the department of theology at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He holds a BA in theology from Eastern University and an MA in systematic and philosophical theology from The University of Nottingham in England. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and three children.

St. Luke tells us that the women who followed Jesus to the cross “were beating their breasts and wailing for him” (Luke 23:27 NRSV). Some feminist and womanist1 theologians still wail at the sight of the cross—they reject traditional theories of atonement that regard the torture and death of an innocent man as a good intended by God. Many feminists and womanists find God’s saving activity hidden beneath this senseless and tragic brutality. Our goal in the present article is to analyze what feminist and womanist theologians have to say about the cross of Jesus, and from this, to examine our understanding of God’s saving activity in light of their helpful critique.

To begin, we will listen to feminist and womanist theologians who preclude any salvific efficacy of the cross whatsoever. Their voices are not necessarily representative of feminist and womanist theology as a whole; other feminist and womanist theologians embrace the cross as redemptive. But it is worth hearing critiques of atonement in their most radical form. When feminists and womanists do develop theologies of the cross, they do so in various ways, of course, but around consistent themes, which we will consider in the second part of the essay. Then finally, we will re-examine Martin Luther’s “happy exchange”2 theory of atonement to see whether it can address both the feminist and womanist critiques and account for the gravity of sin and the salvific efficacy of the cross. That is, we will ask whether Luther can provide a resource for feminist and womanist theology, only after allowing feminist and womanist concerns to apply Luther’s doctrine in ways Luther himself would never have considered.3

Rejecting Atonement

In their now famous essay, “For God So Loved the World?,” Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker contend that connecting the crucifixion of Jesus in any way with human salvation makes God “a divine sadist and a divine child abuser,” whose “abuse is paraded as salvific and the child who suffers ‘without even raisi...

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