6 Books on Gender and Theology

Gender is a crucially important topic for theologians to understand and for pastors to offer guidance to their congregants. However, it is such a wide and complex literature that it might be difficult to know where to start. Here are my top suggestions, in no particular order. (Nota bene: These are recommendations on books about gender, or books that seek to shed light on what it means to say that we are women and men. They do not necessarily address questions about same-sex attraction, trans*, ordination, and so on. For that, other lists would be more appropriate!)

1. Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016)

My impression of books written about gender and the Bible is that they are typically restricted, treating only a handful of texts (i.e., 1 Tim. 2:12) with a view to answering only a handful of questions. While Westfall’s book does give an answer to the most pressing exegetical questions, the unique value of her book lies in the fact that she provides a broader framework for Paul’s approach to gender, both women and men. She has a masterful treatment of stereotypes, and her read of 1 Cor. 11 is worth the price alone. I return to it regularly.

2. Elaine Storkey, Origins of Difference: The Gender Debate Revisited (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001)

One of the difficulties in approaching the question of gender theologically is that one must also have a grasp on the state of the question in other disciplines, including gender studies. That is a remarkably arduous task and is often prohibited by the technical jargon surrounding it. Storkey’s book is a marvelously accessible introduction to the main questions in both secular and theological domains, and it is a brilliant call for theologians to carve out a better way forward.

3. Beth Felker Jones, Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Read anything Jones writes. Seriously. If you want an example of a theologian engaging the thorny issue of gender while remaining both theologically recognizable and committed to the seriousness and complexity of the topic, she is the one to look at. My favorite contributions from this book is her claim that human nature, including gender, must be indexed to the narrative of the gospel, along sensitive readings of both Augustine and Calvin.

4. Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

Sarah Coakley is the most important systematic theologian working on gender at the moment, in my opinion. I imagine most readers will not agree with everything in the first volume of her systematics (including myself), but when she’s right, she right. Her crucial insight is that persons are fundamentally identified by their desires, so that if we want to understand gender, we must understand desire. This brings the reader into a rich disquisition into our primary desires for God, who is irreducibly triune.

5. Serene Jones, Feminist Theory and Christian Theology: Cartographies of Grace (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000)

Jones, like Storkey, offers a hugely helpful orientation into the fundamental questions in feminist theory and gender studies. She decomplexifies the central issues in a salutary way. She is also brilliantly insightful theologically. She helps us to see how the doctrines of justification by faith alone and of total depravity, for instance, cast light on our understanding of gender.

6. Janet Soskice, The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Soskice brings together her specialties in historical theology, theories of metaphor and feminist theology to answer central theological questions salient to gender. She tackles the propriety of calling God “Father,” of our conceptions of spiritual practice and the theology of love in Julian of Norwich. This is a must-read for familiarizing oneself with the theological questions raised by gender.

Honorable mentions: Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Feminist Reconstructions of Christian Doctrine; Kristen Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne; Georgia Warnke, Debating Sex and Gender; Elaine Graham, Making the Difference: Gender, Personhood, and Theology.

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