Patrick S. Cheng provides an accessible, well-organized, yet provocative introduction to queer theology. Cheng, the Assistant Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, locates queer theology in the traditional loci of systematic theology in order to illustrate how that theology works and also to provide a wealth of resources for further reading. This work is an extremely readable introduction to how, as Cheng describes, being queer is also at the heart of being Christian.
Cheng’s basic thesis (supported by Scripture, church history and modern philosophy) is that Christian theology is organized around radical love, “a love so extreme that it dissolves our existing boundaries…Radical love lies at the heart of both Christian theology and queer theory.” (x) Cheng first defines queer as an umbrella term for all LGBTIQA (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-intersex-queer-allies) persons; transgressive action; and the erasure of boundaries. Queer theology, then, is queer people talking about God; talking about God in a self-consciously transgressive manner, and talk about God that “that challenges and deconstructs the natural binary categories of sexual and gender identity.” (9) He also traces the evolution of queer theology from apology through liberation theology to queer theology proper.
The final three chapters then examine the traditional areas of theology through queer eyes of radical love. God is radical love itself expressed in the antihierarchical community of the Trinity, with revelation as God’s “coming out” to creation, and creation as the outpouring of that radical love. Jesus Christ is the recovery of radical love, overcoming the sin of division and judgment through his embodiment of radical love and his rejection of scapegoating. Finally, the Holy Spirit helps us return to radical love in our everyday lives through the church – the community of radical love embodied – and the sacraments and saints that demonstrate that love, all pointing toward an eschatological moment when no identity will be more important than another, but everyone will be a part of the radical love of God.
Clearly, Cheng’s book is not for anyone who de facto rejects the idea that queer people can be Christians – either from the queer or Christian camps. Such readers will probably have their minds made up before engaging Cheng’s arguments. Cheng also provides examples of radical queer theology, particularly in the “transgressive action” understanding, that will make sympathetic but more traditional readers uncomfortable (although Cheng would argue that’s part of the point). Nevertheless, those who truly seek to understand how queerness and Christian theology intersect, as well as those seeking alternative theological understandings of traditional theology, will benefit from Cheng’s clarity and winsome forthrightness in laying out theology from his particular sociological location. I plan to use Cheng’s fifth chapter in my seminary course in pneumatology, and encourage others to use the book similarly. Recommended for graduate students, pastors, and instructors in systematic theology from contextual perspectives.