The Mouth of the Dragon

The Mouth of the Dragon by Susan Adams and John Salmon (Women's Resource Centre, 1996, Box 11-903, Ellerslie, Auckland. $29.95)

This review by Owen Lewis first appeared in the New Zealand newsletter

This comprehensive book arises from an exploration of contemporary questions of theology by an Auckland group in 1994.

The core material from these sessions has been expanded and enlarged and related to current thinking. The writers have consulted a wide variety of sources in modern theology, and have appended a generous bibliography which would serve as a good starting point for any SOFN group.

The book explores the history of our ideas of God and the nature of reality. The method used is first to deconstruct accepted ideas, to strip away the accretions of time and an authoritarian church, and the confusions of metaphor and reality. This is then followed by a thorough attempt at reconstruction, building up again the vital elements of a socially responsible position tenable by anyone, male or female, Maori or pakeha, who wants to think out a theology relevant for today.

The "dragon" of the title refers to those things we may have cause to fear, and those that are life-giving and liberating. This represents the position many Christians find themselves in, poised between the traditional world of the Church and a feeling that they are missing something vital. The exposition is clear and orderly and the terms carefully explained.

While some of this material will be familiar to SOFNers, there is much here that will be valuable. The authors are at their best in the discussion of the way language shapes our understanding and action. They challenge the assumptions that see truth as defined by what is divinely revealed.

"Revelation is neither necessary nor desirable. It is not necessary because the constructionist approach we are taking builds theology on human experience, language and imagination. It is not desirable: it is a dominating concept by virtue of being closed to any investigation."

A feminist insight particularly informs the chapters on Jesus and the Church. This enables the authors to show how women's creativity and emphasis on relationship have not been well served by images of dominance and hierarchy. New ways of thought are clearly needed.

Since the authors have started from a defined position within the existing church, it is understandable that they have allowed their church mindset to define the questions to be pursued, e.g.: the significance of the Trinity; the nature of ministry; the future of the Church. These may be helpful topics for some to consider; those on the creative fringe may well have a more informal agenda.