Redeeming Gender

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Adrian Thatcher
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , September
     288 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


It is unfortunate that this book is needed, however, the current reality warrants critical conversation around gender discrimination and sexism, especially within the church. In Redeeming Gender, author Adrian Thatcher identifies theology as a lacuna in the conversation around the one-sex/two-sex theory posited by Thomas Laqueur, and seeks to mine Christian theology for its utility in a transformation of human relations; hence, the bold claim in the title “redeeming gender.” Thatcher’s proposal is not based on text, rather on “faith in Christ as the ... instigator of a new model of humanness” (153). Building on Laqueur’s Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Harvard University Press, 1992)Thatcher argues that sexism within the church is sorely overlooked and is the direct result of faulty theology, passed down uncritically over generations, and ultimately demonstrates that the Christian faith insists on valuing the entirety of the gender spectrum. His primary thesis is that the one-sex theory explains much of the bias against women in Christendom (2), and that this is redeemed by a “full incorporation into the new humanity” of Christ (162). 

Drawing upon a wealth of both primary and secondary sources—from classical Grecian philosophers to contemporary progressive thinkers—Redeeming Gender is divided into two distinct parts: Part 1 explains the one-sex and two-sex theories, with the aim of identifying each theories’ presence in early Christian thought and the social history which led to our modern belief in two sexes; while Part 2 holds the substance of Thatcher’s argument, exposing biblical proof-texts and more recent language as the basis of the church’s beliefs around sex and gender—instead of theology and Christology—and addresses how theology can “envision the redemption of human relationships” where women and men share in a joyful equity (7). 

Part 1 opens with chapters 1 and 2 in which Thatcher recapitulates the history of Laqueur’s one-sex theory where women are inferior versions of men, providing a foundation for theological application citing “no theory of sex can be derived solely from alleged facts about bodies” (11). Thatcher transitions to the cultural understandings of the sexes that proved fertile ground for an emerging two-sex theory, incorporating clear resonances of hierarchy inherent in the one-sex theory, and its impact on early Christian theologians. Chapter 3 explores the myriad social, historical, and theological changes in the Enlightenment era that give rise to the two-sex theory, which is further categorized into two (and only two) unequal sexes, and two (and only two) equal sexes. Thatcher demonstrates how the church maintains the one-sex theory while simultaneously co-opting the two-sex theory for its assistance in “upholding marriage and stable families” (80). Chapter 4 concludes the first section, mounting a devastating critique of the unstable foundation of the church’s teachings around sex and gender, indicating that the church ambivalently espouses both one-sex and two-sex theories to the degrees that they uphold patriarchal rule and oppress women and sexed/gendered minorities. This confusing mix of sex and gender pedagogy has been to the detriment of the church, and Thatcher suggests that the solution can be found through theology and Christology. 

Part 2 begins with a suspension of assumptions regarding gender and sex, inviting a new theology (perhaps the purer form of existing theology) in chapter 5. Using Jesus in the Gospels as his main example, Thatcher examines Jesus’ relationships with women for transformation, and shows Jesus as antidote to “hegemonic masculinity” (116). Chapter 6 features life in Christ as the doctrinal faith that can resolve the complexities of the gender theories, as “maleness is accorded no priority either in the Christian doctrine of God or of Christ” (137). Thatcher denounces the traditional use of a gendered reading of Genesis 1 and 2 as imago dei, enjoining the use of Christ instead. Chapter 7 argues for sexual similarity against the assumed backdrop of categorical difference. Instead of faulty female and male “essences,” the true essence of humankind is Christ (161). The compelling argument of this chapter is Thatcher’s grounding of full equity amongst the sexes in the perichoresis; in other words, equality for gender is exemplified theologically in the Trinity. In the final chapter, Thatcher argues that the Christian mission imperative is more than just producing other Christians. It should also espouse the Christian antiphon “where charity and love are, God is there” (201), thereby acknowledging everyone who works towards gender nondiscrimination—regardless of faith. Thatcher calls for a reckoning of the church’s “unfinished business” (190) regarding gender-biased ordination and gender-based violence within the home and in pastoral training–citing research findings that state micro-violence leads to macro-violence–and he calls for Christians globally to address “three critical areas for action” (199).

One concern missing from this thorough and well-supported argument is that of a woman theologian. Thatcher includes many female voices and cites feminist scholarship throughout the work, but he also takes an oppositional stance to some well-regarded feminist theologians. Thatcher, critiquing feminist theologians for “invent[ing]” feminine forms of God (155), tries to find liberation and equality within the tradition by “rereading” (155) extant doctrine, theology, and texts. While Thatcher does support this argument, I wonder if collaboration with a woman theologian, especially on matters as multifarious as gender and sex, may have galvanized the conversation between his “interior” approach and a feminist “exterior” approach. 

Redeeming Gender is a highly original piece of theological scholarship. The book is timely, creative, and important to the ongoing fight against patriarchy, androcentrism, and sexism in the church and the world. This book is highly recommended, particularly for scholars, graduate students, and even avid readers of theology and feminist theology, and may prove to be a worthwhile read for those in religious studies, and gender and sexuality studies. Thatcher closes the book by relaying his own measure of success: if the book “contributes to the ‘rethinking of theologies,’ then it will have been worth the effort the task demanded” (203). It is clear to me that his endeavor was not in vain.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ashley Starr-Morris is a doctoral candidate in Women & Religion at Claremont Graduate University.

Date of Review: 
January 5, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter. He was formerly Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Exeter (2004-2011), and Professor of Applied Theology at the University of St. Mark and John, Plymouth (1995-2004). His publications include Making Sense of Sex (SPCK, 2012), God, Sex, and Gender (Wiley Blackwell, 2011), and The Savage Text: The Uses and Abuses of the Bible (Wiley Blackwell, 2008). He is also the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender (2014).


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