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review: Dating Jesus, by Susan Campbell

Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl

Dating Jesus is very well written. Ms. Campbell is a bit younger than I, from a different part of the country, and of a different gender, but she is a great storyteller and her reminiscences of growing up in church were very engaging.

I don’t think she meant it to be so because she doesn’t dwell on it, but the most piercing memory I took away from the book was when a normally kind Sunday school teacher publically shamed her as a young teen, for asking too many questions about gender limitations within the church. That kind of thing sickens me. It seems not to have affected her as much as it would I.

I wish I could endorse this book completely, but there are some hindrances. The book’s feminist history is not so  interesting, and I skipped the 30 page lesson near the end entirely. There are smatterings of liberal politics (stem cells, Gulf War, etc), with the assumption of their rightness, that I could have done without. And then there are theological excesses.

I’m not completely sure, but if I could encapsulate Ms. Campbell’s beliefs they would be that the Bible is paternalistic therefore untrustworthy. She laments that Paul’s theology has become so important, but then attempts to explain his words in a new light. Apparently his theology is important.

There seems to be quite a bit of Eve guilt – feeling gender guilt for our first mother biting down on the forbidden fruit. But the Bible actually lays the guilt on Adam more than Eve; unlike Eve, Adam knew what he was doing, but chose his wife over God. But ultimately, focusing on Adam only substantiates paternalism, so that’s not much help here. Maybe undue Eve guilt is the cost of elevating Eve’s culpability?

Then at one point later on, Campbell actually exonerates Eve’s sin, saying she doesn’t blame her for wanting wisdom – what’s so bad about that? Campbell asks.

It was here that I felt the train leave the tracks. The problem with any liberation theology, which places a filter based on our own needs and desires above the centrality of God’s purposes in Christ, is that ultimately we will distort the Gospel in order to support our theories. So toward the end I find Ms. Campbell’s reference to God as “her” off-putting, but not entirely surprising.

The irony is that there is plenty of biblical evidence that God does have female characteristics. Even Adam is not identified as a man until after Eve is formed; apparently he originally embodied the characteristics of both genders, and the formation of woman was more a separation/polarization than an addition, with what was taken from his side being much more than a mere rib. And certainly, history has not been, and continues not to be, kind to women.

Yet despite all this, the Bible – and emphatically, Jesus himself (if you insist on being a “red-letter” Christian) – has given us “Father” as the ultimate relational descriptive of God. In my opinion, we should mature in our Gospel insights, but without fundamentally distorting the Gospel itself.

Despite its flaws, this book has value for anyone, of either gender, who has left a church for any valid reason and has bitter memories. The human side is told very well here. I’m giving this book a 7/10 (yeah, Amazon needs to wake up and expand its rating scale). Those people who have been damaged by church and got fed up and left, rather than walking away from Jesus, need to sort through the situation and retain the good. They will find something good to feed on here, but there are concerns as well.

I sometimes think of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Jesus comes to his town, but short-of-stature Zacchaeus can’t get a glimpse because of the crowd following jesus. So, despite being a man of wealth and privilege, Zacchaeus climbs a tree for a better vantage. Jesus then invites himself to dine with Zacchaeus, but the crowd protests, he is a sinner! But Jesus knows the heart. Zacchaeus unloads a lot of his wealth and promises to rectify any past offenses. Against all conventional religious wisdom – “Christian” religious wisdom – Zacchaeus is Saved.

You see the metaphor. The church is indeed imperfect, and in our religiosity we actually hinder the work of Christ. We stumble “these little ones” time and time again, and it is a scandal indeed.

Blessed are those who will not allow the crowd to keep them from Jesus. Find yourself a tree and climb it, see Jesus accurately, do right to all men, and let no man take Christ’s words of salvation away from you. He came to save not to condemn.

But we all – whether fundamentalist or feminist – have to be careful about confusing our own priorities of doctrine and praxis with his. The purpose of climbing the tree is to see Jesus more accurately.

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