About the Author(s)

Kelebogile T. Resane Email symbol
Department of Systematic Theology, Faculty of Theology, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


Resane, K.T., 2021, ‘Moltmann in conversation with feminist theologians: How does his theology correlate and differ with feminist theology?’, Verbum et Ecclesia 42(1), a2319. https://doi.org/10.4102/ve.v42i1.2319

Original Research

Moltmann in conversation with feminist theologians: How does his theology correlate and differ with feminist theology?

Kelebogile T. Resane

Received: 19 June 2021; Accepted: 01 Aug. 2021; Published: 10 Sept. 2021

Copyright: © 2021. The Author(s). Licensee: AOSIS.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This article is divided into two parts. The first part is on feminist theology, explaining its definition, history, scope, patterns, and programmes. In other words, it describes how it theologises. The description of revolutionists and reformists within feminist theology, together with their methods of theologising is given. The four approaches of the metaphorical nature of male image within the reformist feminine theology are discussed. These are metaphorical, God-language, Sophialogical, and Radical Trinitarianism. The second part of the article intends to point out how Moltmann’s trinitarian theology impacts the feminist theology, and how it differs from it. An attempt is made to highlight the tenets of theology where Moltmann may engage feminist theology. The argument will be built on five tenets of Moltmann’s theology, and describes how each tenet speaks to feminist theology. These tenets are panentheism, trinitarianism, Christology, pneumatology, and ecology. The description of each tenet, along with the responses of feminist theologians to them is given. Regardless of the tensions that may arise, there are some values that each theological stream can benefit. Conclusion is drawn based on the fact that although the two theological thoughts may differ, there are some synergies on how to theologise without compromising the biblical metanarratives and traditional approaches.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: Through the extensive analysis and evaluation of Moltmann’s theology, sociology, and psychology, the metaphorical nature of male image within the reformist feminine theology is discussed in this article. Moltmann’s trinitarian theology impacts the feminist theology, noting some differences. An attempt is made to highlight the tenets of theology where Moltmann may engage feminist theology.

Keywords: Moltmann; feminist; theology; trinitarian; doctrine.


Feminist theology is one of the branches of liberation theology, others being African, Black, and Ecotheology. All these form liberation theologies with the aim of emancipating theology from colonialism, western prejudices, sexism, and ecological crises. Together with other liberation theologies, feminist theology has shifted the intellectual playing fields from a top-down, abstract way of thinking about God to an approach that starts from the grassroots and poses the questions about how one lives and experiences faith in context. It seeks to emancipate women from patriarchy, sexism and violence against women. Feminist theology is increasingly becoming an integral part of a wider theological movement whose central concern is the attainment of liberation (Tesfai 1996:148). It draws deeply on women’s experience and makes the connection that is often overlooked in post-Enlightenment theology.

Christian theology has undergone several shifts through and within theological dialogues. Theology is no longer understood as an abstract and ‘objective science’, but has taken adequate account of its ‘subjective’ dimension. There is now an emphasis by contemporary theology upon context and the role of communal experience in theological reflections. For the past six decades, there has been some realisation that no single community could definitively claim the superior right towards addressing the theological task. This was because of theological undertakings dominated by the white middle class male. Doing theology now takes place where people live, taking into consideration the issues arising from their lived experiences. That is why there emerged a challenge of liberation theology, which considers the perspectives of theological practitioners a well as looking more closely at the life and experience of the marginalised and oppressed people.

The main objectives of liberation theologians require some methodologies of implementing justice through theology and through the life of the church. It automatically gave rise to the demands of and by the feminist theologians. They argued that something else was missing from the agenda of theology – theology had overlooked the existence and the lives of women. In addition, they made clear many of the ways that this sacred discipline had been used as an instrument to silence and oppress women. Not only was women’s experience denigrated or excluded as a source of theological reflection, but women were also forced to assume a ‘male’ perspective if they wanted to be involved in the task of doing theology.

Definition of feminist theology

When reading through Natalie Watson’s (2003) book, Feminist Theology, one can summarise the definition of feminist theology as the critical, contextual, constructive, and creative re-reading and re-writing of Christian theology. It regards women and their bodies, perspectives, and experiences as relevant to the agenda of Christian theologians and advocates them as subjects of theological discourses and as full citizens of the church. Feminist theology is not confined or restricted to Christian faith only. It is a movement found in several religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and so on. It is the study of how women relate to the divine and the world around them as equal creations in the image of God. It is a big conversation involving women and men from across Christian denominations sharing their thoughts in everything from scholarly dissertations to blogs and popular books. Even though the conversation contains many diverse viewpoints, there are also a few key beliefs that most feminist theologians would share. Feminist theologians endeavour to reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptural texts, including theologies of those religions from a feminist perspective. In other words, as a discipline, it examines the meaning and implications of Christian faith from the perspective of a commitment to justice for women. Like all other disciplines within theological field, it seeks to acquire some intellectual development towards profound spiritual, psychological, and political implications. It is faith seeking understanding. Its goal is to address the imbalances of the past where theology was sexist and racist. It seeks to overcome the obstacles of patriarchy and androcentrism where men are regarded as theologically privileged than women. It takes the experiences of women seriously whilst conducting the tasks of theological reflections. The role, space, and contribution of women in ecclesial life define feminist theologians’ methodologies of theologising.

Feminist theology: Its wide-ranging scope

Feminist theology emerged in the United States during the 1960s when the second wave of feminism was impacting the academic spaces, and socio-political structures. In the last 40 years, feminist theology has become a global movement representing a wide range of cultural, political, and religious perspectives. The Ecumenical Association of Third-World Theologians (EATWOT) has provided a significant forum for the development of feminist theologies in engagement with a wide range of women’s concerns and experiences from all five continents.

The movement is growing exponentially in Africa, and organises itself in and through a movement known as the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (Circle), which was inaugurated in 1989 under the leadership of the Ghanaian theologian, Mercy Amba Oduyoye. The group consists of hundreds of female and male theologians from several African countries and with different denominational backgrounds.

The leading figures of the Circle include Oduyoye (Ghana), Musimbi Kanyoro (Kenya), Isabel Phiri (Malawi), Fulata Moyo (Malawi), and Musa Dube (Botswana) who is its current leader. Here in South Africa, names such as Madipoane Masenya, Nontando Hadebe, Christina Landman, Denise Ackerman, and many others come to mind. These feminist theologians ‘identify themselves as being ecumenical and interfaith in composition’ (Stinton 2004:35). African Christian women like these took their stances when racial and gender discriminations were concealed in the generalised rhetoric of men occupying the highest ecclesiastical positions of power and authority. They appear to be more concerned about the blatant unfairness evidenced in the issues of equal rights in church leadership (Paris 1985:80). Realising that ‘when Christianity came to Africa, it came as male dominated’ (Phiri 1997:43), these women, out of the male dominated postcolonial and postapartheid church, not only have a strong belief in God but also have strong opinions on the issues of their day. Their belief occasionally places them at odds with their male colleagues and their denominational affiliations (Benson 2005:183). But they remain assertive that exploring African culture by interacting with various church-based women’s groups is key to African women’s theologising (Haddad 2013:51). These women are fighters for their spaces and their identities.

Feminist theology: Theological patterns

Examining the historical development of feminist theology, one notices its two splits between the revolutionaries and the reformists. Revolutionists tend to leave the religious circle, in some cases, leaving religious beliefs completely. This is always after many attempts to address the issue of patriarchy to no avail. They resort to challenging the status quo from outside by embracing the goddess tradition of ancient cultures. This alternative is aggressively embraced because of the following reasons (Peters 2000):

Goddess religions affirm women bodies and sexuality, emphasize relationality, and affirm humanity’s interdependence with the natural world. These feminists hope that by retrieving the goddess tradition they can weaken the oppressive stranglehold that patriarchal religions have had on religions and cultures. (p. 118)

This disassociation with the established church structure was enhanced by Mary Daly’s call for a walk-out from patriarchal religion in 1971. She was a guest speaker at Harvard Memorial Church, and as the sermon moved to an end, Daly (1993) concluded:

We cannot belong to institutional religion as it exists…The women’s movement is an exodus community. Its basis is not merely in the promise given to our fathers thousands of years ago. Rather its source is in the unfulfilled promise of our mothers’ lives, whose history was never recorded. Its sources are in the promise of our sisters whose voices have been robbed from them, and our own promise, our latent creativity. We can affirm now our promise and our exodus as we walk into a future that will be our own future…Our time has come. We will take our own place in the sun. We will leave behind the centuries of silence and darkness. Let us affirm our faith in ourselves and our will to transcendence by rising and walking out together. (p. 138)

Daly (1993:139) referred to this ‘exodus’ from the church as a historic ‘moment of breakthrough and recalling’, a ‘metaphoric event’, a manifestation of the ‘courage to leave’ and the ‘departure from all patriarchal religions’.

These feminist theologians advocate a radically new reading of Christian theology outside of its metanarratives. This new reading understands women’s experiences and the full humanity of women as the criterion by which all theology must be judged. Some texts within the Christian tradition are regarded as usable, whilst others are not. Therefore, the search for such ‘usable texts’ must be extended beyond the boundaries of Christianity itself. The most prominent writers of this second group are Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Fiorenza, for example, argues that the Bible can no longer be understood as the authoritative source for women, as an archetype of Christian belief, but must rather be a resource for women’s struggle for liberation. In other words, as a text the Bible portrays a movement of equality, justice, and liberation that be a prototype and inspiration for women today.

The reformists seek to affirm the tenets of the Christian faith by affirming the symbolisation of this faith at its most compact level, which is the scriptural level. They accept that worshipping God through the symbol of the Father is inescapable because the divine Father symbolisation has historically led to the oppression of women, whilst at the same time seeking to liberate women. So, it is ideal to keep and to decentralise divine Father symbolisation. These feminist theologians are in constant dialogue with the Christian tradition. This dialogue can take a variety of different forms. Some feminist theologians try to reconcile Christianity and feminism by arguing that Christianity, read in the right way, advocates equality and justice in the same way that feminism does. The Christian tradition becomes a resource for feminists who find the values they advocate – the full humanity of women and their equality with men – inherent within the Christian tradition, but also distorted through patriarchal thinking. Feminist theology and the Christian tradition are therefore the means of a mutual critique, enabling a more holistic form of doing theology for both women and men. The changes this group seeks are relatively modest and do not require the reworking or overthrowing of the current church structures (Veeneman 2018:148).

Based on these two theological camps, it is also important for one to notice the four approaches of the metaphorical nature of God-language within the reformist feminine theology. The first approach is a metaphorical one propounded by McFague through her book, Metaphorical Theology (1982). In this book, she decries the literalism ‘rampant in our time’. She vehemently objects that ‘if the Bible says that God is “father” then God is literally, really, “father”’ (McFague 1982:5). For her, literalism is problematic because ‘no finite thought, product, or creature can be identified with God’ (McFague 1982:19). McFague addresses this problem by appealing to apophatic principle by which the bond between symbol and referent is loosened so that when Christians pronounce ‘God is Father’ they may simultaneously whisper ‘he is not’ This is where by metaphor, she means to emphasise the dissimilarity between the word ‘Father’ and the ineffable reality of God. McFague continues to say that divine Father symbolisation is idolatrous because it is taken literally; as a result, it so dominates Christian language that no other symbols can compete with. To address this McFague’s (1982:6) strategy is to dilute the strength of divine Father symbolism by adding other symbols. She continues advocating the idea of ‘piling up’ by insisting that ‘the root metaphor of Christianity is not God the father but the kingdom or rule of God’ (McFague 1982:146). In her consequent book, Models of God (McFague 1987) she challenges Christians’ usual speech about God as a kind of monarch. She probes instead three other possible metaphors for God – mother, lover, and friend. Peters (2000:120) says she starts over again by deliteralising, and therefore, deidolatrising the heavenly Father symbol thereby finally liberating women socially.

A second approach to the problem of patriarchal God-language is presented by Rosemary R. Ruether. Her methodology of theologising is that of historical retrieval combined with a rejection of gender dualisms. Peters (2000:120) rightly names ‘Beyond Male and Female’. Through her book, Sexism and God-Talk (Ruether 1983), she brings strong statements regarding her critique of key Christian symbols and content, the patriarchal hegemonic rhetoric that suppresses women’s role within the theological authoritarian discourse, yet she offers a liberating potential side in Christianity. She begins her discussion of God-language with a critique of idolatry. ‘If taking a particular human image literally is idolatry, then male language for the divine must lose its privileged place’ (Ruether 1983:68–69). For her, to decentre male God-language is to embrace sources for the Goddess within the biblical tradition. These sources are of the Prophetic God (Ruether 1983:61), Liberating Sovereign (Ruether 1983:64), Proscription of Idolatry (Ruether 1983:66), and finally equivalent images for God as Male and Female (Ruether 1983:67). For her, language for God should be liberating for all persons. Her theology is open to criticism that needs another paper to unfold and critique.

Ruether identifies five areas of ‘usable traditions’. These include Scripture, marginalised or ‘heretical’ traditions within Christianity, the primary theological themes within the mainstream of Christian theology, non-Christian Near-Eastern and Greco-Roman religion and philosophy, and critical post-Christian worldviews such as liberalism, romanticism, or Marxism. The ultimate criterion by which any tradition or text is to be judged is whether it manages to promote the full humanity of women and thereby advocates women’s struggle for liberation from the male oppression. We can here distinguish between feminist theologies that advocate equality between women and men, and those that focus specifically on women. Representatives of the latter group ask: ‘Who are the women about whom feminist theology speaks?’

The third approach is a sophialogical trinitarian approach propounded by Elizabeth A. Johnson (1992) through her book She Who Is. Like other feminist theologians, she decries that male God-language has been used to systematically oppress women. She asks a question that the male chauvinists would find uncomfortable to hear or respond to: ‘If it is not meant that god is male when masculine imagery is used, why the objection when female images are introduced?’ (Johnson 1992:34). Her objective is the recovery and reintroduction of feminine divine images to the Christian tradition. Her three sources are women’s experiences, the Bible, and the classical theological tradition. She dwells on the images of God as Spirit-Sophia, Jesus-Sophia, and Mother-Sophia. She lifts up SHE WHO IS who has called women to recognise the mutuality, relationality, and love that characterise the divine ad intra and ad extra. Johnson very clearly identifies her location in the task of theologising from within the liberation stream of Catholic Christian feminist theology. But she also notes that her intended goal of feminist religious discourse envisions the fullness around the flourishing of poor women of colour in violent situations. As Women’s interpreted experience, which is a core factor in this new task of reconfiguring speech about God, is as diverse as the social locations of women themselves, she concedes that the ecumenical, interracial, and international spectrum of women’s theological voices in speaking about God will be many. However, according to Johnson, in a general sense, Christian feminist emancipatory discourse should aim at simultaneously freeing both women and men from their debilitating social roles and models and help realise new forms of saving relationship to all creation. In attempting such a critical discourse about God, Johnson contends that the Christian feminist liberation theology’s reflection on religious mystery commences from an a priori option for the human flourishing of women. She is holding this human flourishing of women in its consequent relations to all men and creature as the central notion that defines all other conceptualising. Theology done from this perspective will present a strong critique against traditional speech about God that was humanly oppressive (sexist, androcentric language about God) and religiously idolatrous (male-dominant language as the only, supremely fitting way of speaking about God) in order to realise this human flourishing.

The fourth approach is the one by LaCugna (1991) known as a radical trinitarianism. Her feminist theology is encased in her book, God for Us. Her problematic argument is that much of the trinitarian tradition has been dominated by concepts of being, substance, origin, generation, and maleness (Peters 2000:125). She highlights:

The rudimentary problem with traditional Christian theism… does not lie with the doctrine of the Trinity, not even with the ‘monarchy’ of the Father. The fault lies with the fact that the Christian doctrine of God became functionally nontrinitarian. (p. 395)

The doctrine of the Trinity is a way of contemplating the mystery of God and of ourselves, a heuristic framework for correct thought about God and ourselves in relation to God (LaCugna 1991:379). It is from here that LaCugna expands a doctrine of perichoresis, that it must no longer refer only to the relations ad extra. Instead, ‘The one perichoresis, the one mystery of communion includes God and humanity as beloved partners in the dance’ (LaCugna 1991:274). True trinitarian theology can only exist if we return to the economy of salvation, where discrimination of any form does not exist.

The divine archē, the divine origin and rule, is of great concern for LaCugna, who insists that the ‘monarchy’ of God refers to the trinity rather than simply to the Father alone. God’s monarchy is ‘relational, personal and shared’, a rule of ‘personhood, love and communion’ (LaCugna 1991:390–391). LaCugna resists the substantialist ontologies that have often characterised Christian reflection on the being of God. God is not a divine ‘substance’, but three persons. She argues that the Cappadocians understood the trinity such that ‘hypostasis (person) was predicated as prior to and constitutive of ousia (nature)’ (LaCugna 1991:389). This establishes the ontological priority of personhood over nature, and so provides the ontological ground of relation and communion. Fundamentally, trinitarian perichoresis corrects the male biased perception of God by reinforcing ‘the importance of relationality, communion, and interrelatedness that has been rediscovered in all of life, and that may help us better hear women’s voices as well’ (Kärkkäinen 2017:148).

Feminist theologians programme

Feminist theologians analyse the situation of women in church and society, appealing to theological texts that deal explicitly with women or those written by women. This may be done either by speaking explicitly about women, or by denying the existence of women and the relevance of women’s lives for doing theology. They maintain that uncritical participation in oppressive structures leads to a perpetuation of those structures. In keeping with this perspective, they have given up fighting for the ordination of women. They view women being ordained to the priesthood in a patriarchal church as driving a division amongst women by sustaining the existing patriarchal structures rather than transforming the church into a liberated cohumanity. They also develop new ways of interpreting the history of the church and all theological texts from the perspective of women. In feminist theology, women assume their place as both readers and authors of theology. Through these endeavours, feminist theologians re-frame the theological debate by expanding the range of areas that theologians study. For them, reflections are not limited to academic texts, but include women’s lives and experiences, as well as different types of women’s spiritualities, both traditional and new.

As a theological discipline, feminist theology is not merely the inclusion of some feminist ideas into otherwise unchanged structures, or the admission of women theologians to the arenas in which theology is done. Feminist theology does not seek to be one more voice represented at the table of patriarchy. Neither does it advocate the complete separation of women from men. It aims at the transformation of theological concepts, methods, language, and imagery into a more holistic theology as a means and an expression of the struggle for liberation. As observed about reformist feminist theologians above, this involves an awareness of the ambivalence that many of the symbols and texts within the Christian tradition create for women. It implies the ability to respond to this ambivalence, not by discarding the key symbols of Christianity altogether, but by identifying dis-empowering interpretations of them and by constructing and proposing new interpretations that advocate the full humanity of women.

It is important to remember that feminist theologians do not necessarily have to be women. In fact, there are a few male theologians who have taken on board feminist concerns, for example, the British hymn writer and theologian Brian Wren and the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, who is the subject of this article. Moreover, not all female theologians are feminist theologians; some of them use methods of patriarchal scholarship uncritically. As the black feminist Lorde (1984) has argued, ‘the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house’.

Moltmann and feminists in conversation

The argument will be built on five tenets of Moltmann’s theology, and how each tenant speaks to feminist theology. These tenets are panentheism, trinitarianism, Christology, pneumatology, and ecology. Theology cannot emanate or emerge out of the vacuum. Jürgen Moltmann is an especially poignant example of how one’s theology is shaped by personal experience. Born on April 08, 1926 in Hamburg, Germany, Moltmann grew up in a politically liberal, socialist-minded household which he describes as being ‘joyous, and intentionally void of religious belief and practice’ (Moltmann 2008:5). In this environment, Moltmann grew up idolising Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, and Louis de Broglie and wanted to study physics and mathematics (Moltmann 2000:9). If he was an African, I would say he was theologically cooked in different pots, meaning that there is a convergence of different people who influenced his theological thinking. Whilst studying theology at Göttingen, he was strongly influenced by Karl Barth’s dialectical theology. His eschatological perspective of the church’s universal mission which culminates in God’s Kingdom of Glory comes from the influence of Otto Weber, A. A. van Ruler, and J. C. Hoekendijk. Through studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Ernst Wolf he developed an interest in the church’s role in the development of social ethics. Through the influence of Hans Joachim Iwand, Moltmann applied a Hegelian dialectic to his understanding of Christ’s cross and resurrection. Finally, Gerhard von Rad and Ernst Käsemann grounded Moltmann’s early work in the context of biblical theology (Bauckham 1995:2). To understand Moltmann’s theology, one must know of its beginnings in his exposure to war and human suffering (Anizor 2018:35).

Moltmann’s theological method follows an ecumenical collaboration. He dialogues with theologians of different traditions, including those of the East and West orthodoxy, that is, Catholics and Orthodox, including the Jews, as an attempt to reach a greater understanding of Christian theology which he believes should be developed inter-ecumenically. He dialogues and researches beyond Judeo-Christian circles by engaging with the philosophers and theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Newton, and so on. The references to these scholars are not only for illustrative purposes but are the contributions to theological discussions of the times past. This is a trinitarian approach that cuts across denominational, national, theological and philosophical boundaries. It is for this reason that Olson’s (2013) evaluation of Moltmann makes him to conclude that:

It seems that Moltmann has wanted the best of several theological worlds: process theology, classical trinitarian theism, Hegel’s dynamic panentheism, Luther’s theology of the cross. Whether he unifies the best of them coherently or throws elements of them together eclectically is debatable. (pp. 473–474)

This approach is akin to feminist theology, which is a movement found in several religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and New Thought. Its aim is to reconsider the traditions, practices, scriptures, and theologies of those religions from a feminist perspective. This correlates with Moltmann’s eclectic approach to the studies and findings of Christian theology, whose truth and validity is not trapped or confined within its holy text or dogmas. Feminist theologians are widely representative and broadly engaging to find solutions that may contribute towards women emancipation. As mentioned above, there are feminist theologians called revolutionaries who leave the traditional church to seek wisdom from other sources like ancient philosophies, myths, and religions, whilst the reformists from different church traditions, remain in the church to continue the struggle for women liberation. The methods of the two patterns settle well with Moltmann who seek wisdom from within and from without. Olson (2013:455) correctly points out that ‘There is almost no religious or ideological group he has not engaged with in conversation’. This eclectic approach of seeking truth from different sources is panentheism commonly used by Moltmann and feminist theologians, the fact that is supported by Veeneman (2018) that:

While feminist theology can be done from any number of religious perspectives, feminist Christian theology seeks to address the experiences of women and the relationship between these experiences, the biblical text, and Christian tradition. (pp. 141–142)

Some scholars call this approach collaborative sensibility, which is the belief that it is fruitful to engage in conversations about relatively common topics with people who employ different disciplinary frameworks (Ottai in Lovin & Mauldin 2017:133). Theologians who are open enough to allow interdisciplinary inquiry find it is enriching their convictions and conclusions. Gustafson (1981) in his work, Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective, Volume 1, Theology and Ethics maintains that theological statements must be in some way congruent with well-attested scientific findings, and this criterion shapes important aspects of his understanding of God and our place in the cosmos (Ottai in Lovin & Mauldin 2017:148). There are many examples of how sanity and soundness were reached through philosophies, sciences, and theologies emerging as a result of collaboration.

Several feminist theologies work with a method of correlation similar to Moltmann’s, bringing together the questions and issues of their contemporary cultural situation and responses from the Christian message. Whilst Moltmann uses the method in his trinitarian theology as more panentheistic, pulling out universal qualities of reason and reality from all sorts of sources, feminist theology follows the same, but focuses on local, political, and cultural issues (Baard 2009:277–279; Stenger 2004:146–147). There is some correlation how Moltmann and feminists understand the role of experience in developing theology.

The second tenet of the interest of this study is trinitarianism. Moltmann conceives of God’s presence in the world trinitarianly. It can be observed that Moltmann’s theology is an eschatological Trinitarian panentheism (Olson 2013:464), and this is autobiographically attested by Moltmann himself that he intends his theology to be ‘biblically founded, eschatologically oriented, and politically responsible’ (Moltmann in Conyers 1988:222). He appropriated the term, trinitarian panentheism for his doctrine of the Trinity, and claimed that it preserves and deepens the truth in both classical theism and process theology whilst avoiding their weaknesses (Moltmann 1985:98–103). For Moltmann, God allows the history of the world to determine the relationships amongst the persons of the Trinity. He elaborates this that (Moltmann 1993):

The New Testament talks about God by proclaiming in narrative the relationships of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, which are relationships of fellowship and are open to the world. (p. 64)

God is the loving community of the three persons and does not rule from heaven as a monarch. There is a perichoretic relationship between God and the world, including humanity. It is a relationship of fellowship, mutual need and mutual interpenetration (Moltmann 1985:258).

The historical and theological tradition has never assigned a sex to God per se and has consistently indicated that even trinitarian concepts of God are based on relation and not essence (Hardy 1954:3.171). The overwhelming preponderance of imagery for God, in Unity and Trinity, is drawn from the male experience. Without exception, such conceptual imbalance, considered to be deceptive and destructive of the well-being of woman and of all creation, provides the impetus for feminist theological criticism (Schaab 2001:347). Feminist theology’s reactions and concerns are that the Christian tradition has, for ages, been constantly tempted to align ‘masculinity’ with God and ‘femininity’ with the world (and so to subordinate women to men, whilst tacitly undermining their status as fully redeemed). More recently, some feminist theology has attempted, in reaction, to model gender on the former difference – straightforwardly to emulate a trinitarian ‘equality-in-difference’ (Coakley 2012). Feminist theologians struggle with the God-male language used in reference to the Trinity. They challenge the Father-God who reflects an image of an all-powerful Roman paterfamilias or feudal lord and master, more concerned with exacting tribute and punishing offences than with sharing the fullness of life, power, creativity and love. The trinitarian God has been male-fied so much that feminists feel detached from him. To feminists like Daly (1978), the Triune God is an act of eternal self-absorption and self-love and states that:

The ‘Processions of Divine Persons’ is the most sensational one-act play of the centuries, the original Love Story, performed by the Supreme All Male Cast…the epitome of male bonding…It is ‘sublime’ (and therefore disguised) erotic male homosexual mythos, the perfect all-male marriage, the ideal all-male family, the best boys’ club. (p. 38)

This mythic paradigm of the Trinity is what Daly (1978:38) calls the product of Christian culture and is expressive of a patriarchal society.

McFague (1987), in Models of God runs boldly against Moltmann, who does not want to take sides regarding the ‘gender’ of God, by taking up the recognition of the mother quality in understanding God as the ground of being but develops it into a more specifically feminist metaphor of God as Mother, the counterpoint to God the Father. She discusses other elements of Moltmann’s thought, including hope, suffering, and Spirit, and notes his influence on her ideas. But her work moves in directions quite different from his, especially with her understanding of the world as God’s body. However, like many feminist theologians, McFague seems to be understanding Moltmann’s power of the participative community through perichoresis, which is the interrelationship of God and the world. Feminist theologians have developed two major points about a trinitarian understanding of God, vis a vis the understanding which prevails in modern monotheism, which they see as integral to an inclusive theology. Firstly, they note that modern monotheism has characteristically understood the One God in male terms, whereas trinitarian theology has been more gender inclusive (Wilson-Kastner 1990:123). Historically, theologically and logically, there is something inherent in a trinitarian understanding of God which favors an inclusive form of Christian life and thought. The feminists’ second point attempts to uncover this inherent feature. Drawing on a suggestion of Jürgen Moltmann, they argue that the modern monotheistic understanding of God is the theological expression of an unbiblical hierarchical monistic understanding of reality, that is, monarchism (Moltmann 1993:191–202). They then conclude that, because of its inherent individualism and elitism, this monarchical understanding of reality is a significant contributing factor to modern exclusive and oppressive social structures. By contrast, it is argued that the trinitarian understanding of God is rooted in a biblical relational understanding of reality. Within a trinitarian framework interrelatedness and mutuality are essential to the nature of God. By corollary, interrelatedness and mutuality are also seen as central to the created order and to the relationship between God and the created order (Wilson-Kastner 1990:125). Obviously, such an understanding would be more amenable to an egalitarian and inclusive understanding of Christian life and thought.

What is most important about belief in a triune God is not that we see God in three ways, but that we understand God as dynamic community. Within the triune God, there is a special energy which expresses the love of God experienced in Jesus Christ (Moltmann 1993). Faith in a triune God suggests that there is an inner relational energy within Godself which spills over into the Christian life. The unity of the Trinity is not static substance, or even familial relationship. It exists as open and loving community. Perichoresis describes what is going on within Godself. Perichoresis comes from the same root as the word choreography which suggests that there is a circulatory character within the eternal divine life (Moltmann 1993:173–174). Worshipping a triune God is celebrating the love which flows in God’s eternal dance of togetherness, where Jesus Christ is Lord of the dance. It is the demonstration of what it means to be created in God’s image.

In one sense, the community of God is the church – those called out of the world to be about God’s work in the world. This is a unique way of incarnational witness by the corporate church whose membership is inclusive of all genders, experiences, cultures, and convictions.

In another sense, the community of God is the Trinity – a uniquely Christian way of confessing faith about the very nature of Godself and the ramifications of that confession for discipleship. Women’s experience invites all theologians to take the doctrine of the Trinity more seriously.

Christology is the third tenet of Moltmann’s theology that may be correlated with feminist theology. Moltmann’s (1989) Christology is expounded in his work, The Way of Jesus Christ. His other works have significant Christological content. His Christology does not follow the contours of biblical theology by plotting the New Testament development; and it does not engage seriously with historical theology. He does not even appeal to the historical creeds such as Chalcedon. He is more concerned with eschatological journey of Jesus Christ, which is not a solitary journey, but a trinitarian one where the story of Jesus deals with the Father and the Spirit together, redeeming and renewing creation.

The panoramic view of The Way of Jesus Christ is in three stages: the messianic fulfilment in the Advent, the Apocalyptic sufferings of Messiah at Calvary, and the Messianic consummation in the final renewal of the cosmos. The messianic advent is obviously pivotal to Moltmann’s Christology. Christology and messiahship are inseparable. For Moltmann, the coming and the ministry of Christ revolves around Israel’s messianic hope (Moltmann 1997:119). Messianic means christological, and for Moltmann, the christological foundation points towards the eschaton (Moltmann 1977:13).

Moltmann is dismissive of the anthropological Christology commonly found in German liberalism and marked with admiring ‘Rabbi Jesus’. He is not comfortable either with the British Modernism lenient towards equating the human with the divine, that is, Christ the very God and the very man. He is more ambivalent towards patristic Christology (Macleod 1999:38). For Moltmann, Nicene Creed presents static Christology focused on metaphysical concepts such as nature and substance. The Creed is silent on the ‘Way of Jesus’ so silent on his earthly life and ministry and on his prophetic and social teaching. He therefore seeks to replace an orthodox two-nature understanding of Christology as put forth by the councils of Chalcedon and Nicaea, with a Christology of process and sociality that fits into his larger theology of eschatological hope. The eschatological convictions bear enormous impact on Moltmann’s Christology. According to Moltmann, Christ is still becoming or is working towards being a Messiah. He is on the way towards completion of his task, and it is in his Parousia that he will offer humanity the new creation which is central to messianic hope.

Moltmann’s Christology also revolves around the divine suffering in the life of Christ especially on the cross. This features prominently in The Crucified God and The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, and of course The Way of Jesus Christ. Somewhere else he declared: ‘For me theology springs from a divine passion – it is the open wound of God in one’s own life and in the tormented men, women, and children of this world’ (Moltmann, Wolterstorff & Charry 1998:2).

In response, the feminist theologians struggle to connect with the Redeemer (Christ) whose soteriological functions are understood more in terms of his maleness than through his humanness and whose radical identification with the poor, with women, with those considered unimportant and expendable by the powers of his world has been domesticated into harmless generalities. For many feminist theologians, the doctrine of Jesus as it stands, confirms the existence of the sexist hierarchy because the Christian faith does not accept that Jesus was a limited human being. If women want liberation, they will have to reject Christological formulas as idolatry. As God becomes limited in women’s consciousness, the more they will be able to stop thinking about Jesus as the ‘second person of the Trinity’ who was historically assumed to have had a human nature in a ‘unique hypostatic union’ (Daly 1985:69). The uniqueness and super-eminence of Jesus will become meaningless when liberated women reject the God who became incarnated as a unique male. Daly (1985) states:

I am proposing that Christian idolatry concerning the person of Jesus is not likely to be overcome except through the revolution that is going on in women’s consciousness. It will, I think, become increasingly evident that exclusively masculine symbols for the ideal of ‘incarnation’ or for the ideal of the human search for the fulfilment will not do. As a uniquely masculine image and language for divinity loses credibility, so also the idea of a single divine incarnation in a human being of the male sex may give way in the religious consciousness to an increased awareness of the power of Being in all persons. (p. 71)

Women cannot accept the idea of a redemptive incarnation in the unique form of a male saviour. They also cannot accept that ‘a patriarchal divinity or his son is in a position to save them from the horrors they experience in a patriarchal world’ (Wood 2015:147). The reason for rejection of this worldview is that it defines women by patriarchal social structures that view women as minorities to be denied human rights and appropriate living spaces (Moltmann & Moltmann-Wendel 2003:51).

Pneumatology is also a major tenet of Moltmann. He wants to rehabilitate the biblical view of the Spirit as the Spirit of life, the divine energy of life, which according to the Old Testament interpenetrates all living things (Kärkkäinen 2002:133). He links the concept ‘the community of the Holy Spirit’ with his ecclesiology. The Spirit gives gifts for service to the world and wherever the Spirit is, there is life (Moltmann 1992:225–226). The church is a creation of the Spirit, therefore, a Charismatic fellowship of equal persons. There is no division between the clergy and the laity. Where there is a Spirit-manifestation, that is where the church is. Every believer is a member of messianic community and is charismatically equipped to serve (Moltmann 1992):

If charismata are not given to us so that we can flee from this world into a world of religious dreams, but if they are intended to witness to the liberating lordship of Christ in this world’s conflicts, then the Charismatic movement must not become a non-political religion, let alone a de-politicized one. (p. 186)

Feminist theologians wrestle with the ‘maleness’ of the Christian God. Whilst the genders of the ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ of the Christian trinity are clearly defined, the ‘Holy Spirit’s’ gender seems rather more ambiguous. Consequently, some feminists have attempted to feminise it in an attempt to add a female dimension to the Trinity. Brock (in Soskice 1990:82) examines the use of the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit in Syriac, and how this purely grammatical feature might have affected its role. He outlines the history of different translations and notes how the feminine usage changed.

From the fifth century onwards, a revulsion against the idea of the Holy Spirit as mother must have set in. This may partly have been because of the misuse of the imagery by some heretical groups, although another factor should be kept in mind. In the Syriac speaking areas of the Eastern Roman Empire, the large scale influx of new converts to Christianity will have included many people whose background lay in the pagan cults in which a divine triad of father, Mother and Son was prominent.

Brock concludes that the Syriac writers were following Old Testament writers who frequently used female imagery for God. Such imagery was also used by western authors, notably Dame Julian of Norwich, St. Bernard, and St. Anselm. Brock’s article raises as many questions as it answers. He does not relate it to the position of women in the Syriac church nor does he justify why an influx of converts with a background of paganism should have resulted in the removal of feminine imagery (the reverse might have occurred).

The final tenet of Moltmann’s theology to be addressed in the context of feminist theology is ecology. Moltmann’s book, God in Creation (1985) is his magna carta of his doctrine of ecology. The book is concerned with the totality of the relationship between God and the created order, and it is a stimulus to the reflection on a theology of the environment and a theology of the church. The book itself is a compilation of lectures delivered in 1984–85 at Gifford, which tend to deal with science and religion and is placed both within Moltmann’s wisdom and in his intellectual oeuvre. Moltmann elaborates his creation doctrine with a special view to the environmental crisis. The whole Chapter II of God in Creation is addressing this environmental or ecological crisis. Theologians see this as panentheism, meaning all things are in God, and God is in all things. That is to say that he proposes that God permeates creation and extends beyond it (Floyd 2019:101). This proposal flows from Moltmann’s rejection of classical theism, deism, pantheism, atheism, and process panentheism as viable descriptions of God’s nature (Arnold 2016:17). One can observe that Moltmann’s social doctrine of the Trinity (perichoresis) has provided eco-theologians with a prominent, early paradigm for ‘greening’ God’s relationship to the world (Koster 2012:387). This is a theological argument of Moltmann, commencing with it or situating it as the foundation of his argument in Chapter I. Moltmann’s ecological doctrine is balanced by his panentheistic trinitarianism, responsible anthropology including environmental ethics.

Feminists like Daly, in their early theological journey used to write and speak anthropologically, but later moved on to write and speak ‘gynomorphically’. This she does because God represents the necrophilia of patriarchy whilst the Goddess affirms the life-loving being of women and nature (Daly 1978:xi).

Feminist theologians are insistent that the struggle for the liberation of women is intertwined with the struggle for an ecologically sensitive relationship to the created order. They argue that both cases of exploitation are consequences of the same ‘male’ hierarchical and dualistic worldviews. This is especially propounded by Ruether (1975 in C. P. Christ & J. Plaskow 1979). Many Christian feminist theologians see a close connection between their work and the various movements termed ‘ecofeminist’. These movements link demands for the empowerment of women and the overthrow of patriarchy with a concern for the protection of the natural environment and an end to its unsustainable exploitation. Feminist theologians, notably Ruether in New Woman/New Earth (1975), were amongst the first to theorise the connections between the oppression of women and the degradation of nature. ‘Spiritual ecofeminism’ has sought and devised rituals, myths, and images for the ecofeminist movement, to express and engender the sense of connection between women and the earth that shapes their political activity. In general, those describing themselves as ‘spiritual ecofeminists’ have looked, not to the Christian tradition – regarded as irredeemably patriarchal and anti-nature – but to the religious traditions of indigenous peoples for inspiration in shaping such rituals (Muers in Ford & Muers 2005:438–439). The primary goal of Christian feminist reflection on the nature of the created order has been to expose and overcome the residual elements of such hierarchical and dualistic thinking in the traditional Christian worldview.

In cosmic terms, feminists argue that traditional theology has tended to adopt a God-World dualism which emphasises God’s transcendence from and dominance over the world at the expense of God’s intimate relationship to the World (Ruether 1979:43). Inherent in this charge is the desire to reaffirm the created order as a valued expression of God, rather than an antithetical counterpart to God. Such a desire is consonant with much of contemporary theology. However, the feminist proposals for a worldview that would sustain such concerns raise significant theological questions. The feminist theologians tend to find the biblical metaphors and the theistic model of the God-World relationship inherently dualistic. Their argument is that these one-sided, alienated models should be counterbalanced by the more ‘primal’ imagery of the Earth Goddess (Ruether 1979:52). The resulting worldview construes God and World as ‘the inside and outside of the same thing’ (Ruether 1983:86–87). One can easily see that this is clearly a type of panentheism, if not pantheism. However, such a view raises as many problems as it solves. For example, do patriarchalism and other evils then become a necessary expression of the One? If so, why resist them? All in all, one is left wondering if there is not a more adequate way to address the feminists’ legitimate concern.


There are obviously some tensions between the feminist perspective and traditional convictions and assumptions of mainstream theology. Every major Christian tradition will find points of challenge in the feminist critique. For example, Calvinists will struggle with the feminists’ questioning of divine omnipotence and predestination whilst the Roman Catholic tradition will find more problem with their critique of hierarchy in the Church, of which Moltmann will find some support from the feminists as he promotes ecclesiology and the Trinity, whereby the church is a free society of the equals, the open fellowship of friends. Kärkkäinen (2002:128) speaks of Moltmann’s ecclesiology as mirroring the egalitarian relationship between the trinitarian persons, the church as the communion of the equals. Here the feminists are in synchrony with Moltmann’s ecclesiology and trinitarian doctrine. Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity, as Moltmann and the feminist theologians will agree, erodes the monarchical and patriarchal power of monotheism.

For Moltmann, experience is an important medium of theology and a key element in the truth of religious symbols, a view incorporated in the approaches of many feminist theologians, including womanist and mujerista thinkers. Of course, both Moltmann and many feminist theologians distinguished between experience as a medium for theology and sources of theology. For Moltmann, sources include the Bible, experience, tradition, history, philosophy of religions, and science, with their connection to the eschatological event of Jesus’ kingdom and its fulfilment. Moltmann spoke ontologically and existentially about experience whereas feminist theologians focus more particularly on their concrete experiences. For example, Delores Williams (1993) emphasises black women’s struggles, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz (1996) privileges Latina voices, and Kwok Pui Lan (2005) Asian voices (Stenger 2004:150–152). As this type of particularity increased in feminist theological work, Moltmann’s ontological theology received much less attention.

Feminist theology contributes enormously to the evolutionary apocalypse of theological research. It is a minefield still to be explored as it is been eschatologically revealed, and the mainstream theology should accept it, not as a challenge but as a comrade in arms towards discovering more of the unknown life in God. The church in South Africa is called upon to robustly address the liberation of women as a priority item on the agenda of its political and ecumenical mission (Ackermann 1990).


Competing interests

The author declares that he has no financial or personal relationships that may have inappropriately influenced him in writing this article.

Author’s contributions

K.T.R. is the sole author of this article.

Ethical considerations

This article followed all ethical standards for research without direct contact with human or animal subjects.

Funding information

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

Data availability

Data sharing is not applicable to this article as no new data were created or analysed in this study.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any affiliated agency of the author.


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