Editorial by Steven Shakespeare
from Modern Believing Vol 59:1 - January 2018

I am delighted that this issue hosts a robust theological debate. Given the nature of scholarly publishing, such debates are often strung out in time and across a variety of, often inaccessible, outlets. So it is especially pleasing to have at least a significant snapshot of such an exchange contained in one place.

The stimulus is provided by Adrian Thatcher, whose interventions in the field of gender, sexuality and theology have been so important in recent years. He argues that much that passes for an understanding of Christ in liberal theology is inadequate. For Thatcher, liberal Christology tends to separate the language about Jesus’ humanity from that about his divinity, treating the latter as a set of value-judgements made by us rather than as constrained by an objective and supernatural reality. The result, he claims, is that liberal theology has been too quick to give up claims to truth and to abandon a relativistic pluralism. Most strikingly, he also claims that the liberal approach deprives the church of significant resources in the struggle to address and overcome gender injustice.

Why is this? Thatcher argues that a return to the orthodox, Chalcedonian Christology – properly understood – is the answer. This tradition not only engages with the terrain of metaphysics and truth too easily abandoned by liberal theology, it also dispels notions that the maleness of Jesus should underpin gender hierarchies. The Word becomes human, not simply male; maleness is simply the particular gender associated with some instances of human nature; it is not definitive of human nature as such.

Allied to this, Thatcher encourages us to take seriously the traditional affirmation that God is beyond sex and gender: ‘It therefore follows that to think of God as exclusively masculine is to raise masculine language about God to the level of idolatry.’ It also follows that the divinity of Christ should not be defined in terms of Jesus’ physical maleness; and that the Church as the body of Christ should be ‘polymorphic’, a transfigured body which is not defined by, or subordinate to any gender expression.

Thatcher thus makes a provocative case: that some of the key liberal goals in the church and wider society are best achieved through a rediscovered orthodox Christology (and Trinitarianism).
Responding to Thatcher are Keith Ward and Lisa Isherwood. The influence of each of these voices on contemporary theology is considerable and enduring. Ward has for many years explored the Christian faith with a sharply perceptive philosophical eye, but with an approach that is seriously engaged with the insights of other religious traditions. His is a liberal approach which is prepared to be revisionist about accepted understandings of orthodoxy, but always in a rigorously argued way which takes metaphysical issues seriously.

Isherwood is a pioneering figure of feminist theology, whose work has deepened our understanding of how imperatives of liberation and embodied flourishing are central to evaluating theological positions. She has not only been a key voice in exploring questions of gender, she has also been at the forefront of questioning gender binaries, and calling for a queerer, more fluid Christian community.

Ward and Isherwood are therefore ideal respondents. Without anticipating too much of what they say, I want briefly to pick out some points from each contribution.

Ward is critical of Thatcher’s claim that Jesus, although fully human, was not technically a human person. For Ward, this is the Achilles’ heel of many traditional approaches: that they fail to do justice to the humanity of Jesus, turning him into some kind of oddity or alien. One allied problem with this is that it ‘fails to accept the existence of real creativity, complexity, and responsiveness in the divine nature.’ The result is an unreal Jesus, revealing to us a static and unrelated God. For Ward, a more promising approach is that the divine Word is united to a fully human person, and that this can be extended beyond Jesus to those of many different contexts and identities (including, of course, genders and sexual orientations).

For her part, Isherwood questions what she sees as the fundamentally static and hierarchical nature of orthodox understandings of God. The incarnation is reified by such theologies, limited to Jesus and divorced from the materiality and temporality of human existence. Drawing on Carter Heyward, but also looking back into Christian tradition to the writings of female mystics like Margery Kempe, Isherwood sets out the case for understanding Christology in terms of a process of becoming divine, one that is open to all. Rather than being passive recipients of a supernaturally engineered salvation, she argues, this sees us as empowered to realise our own divinity. Many feminist theologians have long argued that models of divine power over the world reflect and reinforce structures of patriarchal domination within the world; and that transcendence should therefore be looked for in embodied, liberating, evolving relationships in this world, rather than sought in a world above.

Thatcher replies in turn to Ward and Isherwood, which gives you the chance to make an informed critical evaluation of whether you think their critiques hit the mark. I hope that your appetite is whetted so that you follow the debate through in detail for yourself. I hope also that this dialogue will show how crucially relevant seemingly abstract issues of theological definition prove to be: much is at stake here about the nature of Christ, God and Christian truth; but also about the nature of our humanity, power, embodiment, gender and sexuality.

This is confirmed by the article which rounds off this issue. Robert Slocum, whose in-depth analysis of neglected theologian Studdert-Kennedy appeared in the journal last year, returns with an account of William Stringfellow. A key figure supporting the Vietnam war protests of the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, Stringfellow articulated Christian faith in terms of an opposition and alternative to the idolatry of death he saw at work in his country’s support for war.

Such concrete instances of radicalism and resistance inspire us still as we seek to enflesh Christ’s refusal of sacred power, and do justice to the liberating empowerment of a living theology.

by Adrian Thatcher
from Modern Believing Vol 59:1 - January 2018


First, I outline the core of liberal Christology and suggest some inadequacies. Second, I show how four different elements of the classical doctrine of Christ have their surprising and illuminating place in the urgent task of fashioning a contemporary theology of gender. Third, I conclude that the classical Christology, suitably recast or ‘re-visioned’, is more useful to liberal Christianity than the reductionist Christology it often assumes.



You can read the full article on the Liverpool University Press website (subscription required) or join Modern Church and receive your own copy of our journal quarterly.

by Robert Boak Slocum
from Modern Believing Vol 59:1 - January 2018


William Stringfellow perceived the power of death at work in the social wrongs of his era and throughout a fallen creation. He resisted death’s false idols and demands by living a biblical politics and an unrelenting faith. Stringfellow was a prophet whose life and theology were sacramental in their way, outward signs of Christ’s victory of life over death. Stringfellow’s life is a parable of hope. He offers death-defying reminders of salvation in God, despite all that would diminish us.



You can read the full article on the Liverpool University Press website (subscription required) or join Modern Church and receive your own copy of our journal quarterly.

from Modern Believing Vol 59:1 • previous edition • next edition

The Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality, and Gender
A. P. A. Thatcher, ed.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 719. Hb.
ISBN 978-0-19-966415-3.

Review by Duncan Dormor, United Society Partners in the Gospel, London

Redeeming Gender
A. P. A. Thatcher
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 225. Hb. £25.
ISBN 978-0-19-874475-7.

Review by Elaine Graham, University of Chester

Thinking Again about Marriage: Key Theological Questions.
J. P. Bradbury and S. Cornwall, eds.
London: SCM Press, 2016. Pp. x, 220. Pb.
ISBN 978-0-334-05369-9.

Revew by Adrian Thatcher, University of Exeter

An Honest Life: Faithful and Gay
G. M. Hooper
Alresford: Christian Alternative Books, 2015. Pp. x, 147. Pb. £9.99.
ISBN 978-1-78279-921-4.

Review by Savitri Hensman, East London

Intimate Jesus: The Sexuality of God Incarnate
A. R. Angel
London: SPCK, 2017. Pp. xvi, 176. Pb.
ISBN 978-0-281-07240-8.

Review by Lisa Isherwood, University of Winchester

Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul
S. J. Gathercole
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. Pp. 128. Pb. £11.99.
ISBN 978-0-8010-4977-4.

Review by Andrew Angel, Burgess Hill

The Day the Revolution Began
N. T. Wright
London: SPCK, 2016. Pp. viii, 440. Hb. £16.99.
ISBN 978-0-281-06145-7.

Review by Doug Chaplin, Diocese of Worcester

The Ashgate Research Companion to Theological Anthropology
J. R. Farris and C. C. Taliaferro, eds.
Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2015. Pp. xx, 384. Hb. £90.
ISBN 978-1-4724-1093-1.

Review by Michele Saracino, Manhattan College, New York

Reason and Wonder: Why Science and Faith Need Each Other
E. R. Priest, ed.
London: SPCK, 2016. Pp. xx, 211. Pb. £12.99.
ISBN 978-0-281-07524-9.

Review by Michael Fuller, University of Edinburgh

Citizens of the Broken Compass: Ethical and Religious Disorientation in the Age of Technology.
J. E. Brush,
Alresford: iff Books, 2015. Pp. vi, 124. Pb. £9.99.
ISBN 978-1-78279-954-2.

Review by Ben Humphris, Hodge Hill College, Birmingham

Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really, They’re Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology
S. W. King
Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2016. Pp. viii, 184. Pb. £15.
ISBN 978-0-7188-9448-1.

Review by Jennifer Brown, Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford, and Ian Ramsey Centre, University of Oxford.

The Spirit of Peace: Pentecost and Affliction in the Middle East
M. C. Grey
Durham: Sacristy Press, 2015. Pp. viii, 146. Pb.
ISBN 978-1-908381-20-0.

Review by Samuel McBratney, Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham

Religious Pluralism and Interreligious Theology: The Gifford Lectures – An Extended Edition
P. Schmidt-Leukel
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017. Pp. xii, 291. Pb. £29.99.
ISBN 978-1-62698-230-7.

Review by Paul Hedges, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx
D. F. Erdozain
New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xvi, 320. Hb. £22.99.
ISBN 978-0-19-984461-6.

Review by Guy Collins, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA

Christ, Church and World: New Studies in Bonhoeffer’s Theology and Ethics.
M. G. Mawson and P. G. Ziegler, eds.
London and New York: Bloomsbury T. and T. Clark, 2016. Pp. x, 201. Hb. £65.
ISBN 978-0-567-66591-1.

Review by Ann Nickson, Mortlake, London

Theology after Lacan: The Passion for the Real
C. C. Davis, M. J. P. Pound and C. S. Crockett, eds.
Cambridge: James Clarke and Co., 2015. Pp. viii, 286. Pb. £22.50.
ISBN 978-0-227-17470-8.

Review by John Reader, Ironstone Benefice, William Temple Foundation and University of Worcester

Practical Theology and Pierre-André Liégé: Radical Dominican and Vatican II Pioneer.
J. N. A. Bradbury
Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2015. Pp. xvi, 249. Hb. £65.
ISBN 978-1-4724-1870-8.

Review by Derrick Witherington, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium

Academic Vocation in the Church and Academy Today: ‘And with All of Your Mind’
S. C. Henson and M. J. Lakey, eds.
Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2016. Pp. xii, 235. Hb. £95.
ISBN 978-1-4724-5454-6.
For God’s Sake: Re-Imagining Priesthood and Prayer in a Changing Church
J. H. Martin and S. A. Coakley, eds.
London: Canterbury Press Norwich, 2016. Pp. xx, 183. Pb.
ISBN 978-1-84825-814-3.

Reviews by Michael Brierley, Worcester Cathedral

Liturgy in the Twenty-First Century: Contemporary Issues and Perspectives
A. Reid, ed.
London and New York: Bloomsbury T. and T. Clark, 2016. Pp. xxvi, 367. Pb. £17.99.
ISBN 978-0-567-66809-7.

Bridget Nichols, Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin

from Modern Believing Vol 59:2 • previous edition

The Oxford Handbook of Anglican Studies
M. D. Chapman, S. Clarke and M. W. Percy, eds.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 657. Hb.
ISBN 978-0-19-921856-1.

Review by Paul Hedges, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

The Anglican Imagination: Portraits and Sketches of Modern Anglican Theologians
R. B. Slocum
Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2015. Pp. xvi, 177. Hb. £60.
ISBN 978-1-4724-4735-7.

Review by Andrew Chandler, University of Chichester

Anglican Cathedrals in Modern Life: The Science of Cathedral Studies
L. J. Francis, ed.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Pp. xiv, 267. Hb.
ISBN 978-1-137-55301-0.

Reveiw by Stephen Platten, Ludgate, London

Holy Ground: Cathedrals in the Twenty-First Century
S. G. Platten, ed.
Durham: Sacristy Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 181. Pb.
ISBN 978-1-910519-73-8.

Review by Judith Muskett, York St John University

A Voice to Be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living Out Their Faith
R. A. Higginson and K. P. N. Robertshaw
London: Inter-Varsity Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 212. Pb. £9.99.
ISBN 978-1-78359-565-5

Review by Edward Carter, Chelmsford Cathedral

The Liquidation of the Church
C. N. de Groot
Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2018. Pp. x, 191. Hb. £105.
ISBN 978-1-472-47786-6.

Review by Martyn Percy, University of Oxford

International Perspectives on Pilgrimage Studies: Itineraries, Gaps and Obstacles
D. Albera and P. J. K. Eade, eds.
New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2015. Pp. xii, 213. Hb. £85.
ISBN 978-1-138-84035-5.

Review by Marion Bowman, Open University, Milton Keynes

Liturgy and Power, Annual Publication of the College Theology Society 62
B. P. Flanagan and J. M. Vento, eds.
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017. Pp. xvi, 208. Pb. £31.99.
ISBN 978-1-62698-217-8.

Review by Bridget Nichols, Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin

Poetry and the Religious Imagination: The Power of the Word
F. Bugliani Knox and D. Lonsdale, eds.
Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2015. Pp. xii, 268. Hb. £60.
ISBN 978-1-4724-2624-6.
Poetry and Prayer: The Power of the Word II
F. Bugliani Knox and J. F. Took, eds.
Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2015. Pp. xii, 249. Hb. £65.
ISBN 978-1-4724-2621-5.

Reviews by Mark Pryce, Diocese of Birmingham

The Splash of Words: Believing in Poetry
M. D. Oakley
London: Canterbury Press Norwich, 2016. Pp. xxxvi, 216. Pb.
ISBN 978-1-84825-468-8.

Review by Nicola Slee, Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham

In the Beauty of Holiness: Art and the Bible in Western Culture
D. L. Jeffrey
Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017. Pp. xxiv, 424. Hb. £40.99.
ISBN 978-0-8028-7470-2.

Review by Richard Harries, Barnes, London

Introducing the New Testament
J. H. Wansbrough
London and New York: Bloomsbury T. and T. Clark, 2015. Pp. xii, 406. Pb.
ISBN 978-0-567-65668-1.

Review by Andrew Angel, Burgess Hill

The Paul Debate: Critical Questions for Understanding the Apostle.
N. T. Wright
London: SPCK, 2016. Pp. x, 110. Pb. £19.99.
ISBN 978-0-281-07411-2.

Review by Doug Chaplin, Diocese of Worcester

Returning to Reality: Christian Platonism for Our Times
P. G. Tyson
Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2015. Pp. x, 218. Pb. £17.50.
ISBN 978-0-7188-9385-9.

Review by David Leech, University of Bristol

Modern Orthodox Thinkers: From the Philokalia to the Present
A. Louth
London: SPCK, 2015. Pp. xvi, 382. Pb. £25.
ISBN 978-0-281-07127-2.

Review by Gregory Platten, Friern Barnet, London

Reading Barth with Charity: A Hermeneutical Proposal
G. Hunsinger
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. Pp. xvi, 186. Pb. £14.99.
ISBN 978-0-8010-9531-3.

Review by Matthias Grebe, University of Bonn

The Only Mind Worth Having: Thomas Merton and the Child Mind
F. Gardner
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015. Pp. xiv, 228. Pb.
ISBN 978-1-4982-3022-3.

Review by Anne Richards, Church of England Mission and Public Affairs Division, London

Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Religion
L. Powell-Jones and F. L. Shults, eds.
London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. viii, 194. Hb. £85.
ISBN 978-1-4742-6689-5.

Review by John Reader, Ironstone Benefice, William Temple Foundation and University of Worcester

Grounded: Finding God in the World: A Spiritual Revolution
D. Butler Bass
New York: HarperOne, 2015. Pp. xii, 323. Hb. £14.99.
ISBN 978-0-06-232854-0.

Review by Michael Brierley, Worcester Cathedral

Earth Ethics: A Case Method Approach
J. B. Martin-Schramm, D. T. Spencer and L. A. Stivers
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015. Pp. xxii, 314. Pb. £25.99.
ISBN 978-1-62698-156-0.

Review by Frances Ward, Mirfield

Religion, Violence, and the Secular State
J. C. Caiazza
New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 2018. Pp. xvi, 140. Pb. £40.99.
ISBN 978-1-138-10692-5.

Review by Esther Reed, University of Exeter

Muslim Identity in a Turbulent Age: Islamic Extremism and Western Islamophobia
M. C. Hardy, F. Mughal and S. Markiewicz, eds.
London and Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017. Pp. xiv, 258. Pb. £14.99.
ISBN 978-1-78592-152-0.

Review by Richard Sudworth, Sparkbrook, Birmingham

Can War Be Just in the 21st Century? Ethicists Engage the Tradition
T. L. Winright and L. E. Johnston, eds.
Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015. Pp. xxviii, 201. Pb. £23.99.
ISBN 978-1-62698-158-4.

Review by Rosemary Durward, East Horsley, Surrey

Encountering ETI: Aliens in Avatar and the Americas
J. W. Hart
Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2015. Pp. x, 296. Pb. £21.
ISBN 978-0-7188-9397-2.

Review by Douglas Cowan, Renison University College, Waterloo, ON