Desire and love have always been important themes in Christianity, but there is no self-evident meaning for either of these concepts. This chapter examines some important contributions in the history of theology to the understanding of each, and offers some steps towards a constructive theology that regards desire as an integrative part of love. If the problem with the dominant tradition during antiquity and the Middle Ages was that it separated eros from a legitimate sexuality, the problem of modern Christianity is that it has reduced desire to sexuality. It is not helpful to separate agape from eros, as this implies a theology for which important aspects of human longing fall outside its frame. An account of love that avoids narcissism and an economy of the same includes desire; a love without desire lacks the motor that moves us forward towards the other.
This chapter traces the academic development of postmodern theology and gender studies, from the feminist theologies of the 1960s–1980s through the ‘linguistic turn’ to the emergence of the concept of ‘intersectionality’. Beattie argues that gender theory restores to theology the forgotten wisdom of its own tradition with regard to language and the interpretation of scripture. However, she cautions against the Manichaean seductions of postmodernism, arguing that the theology of gender must be rooted in the goodness of creation, including the human created male and female in the image of God. Analysing differences between Protestant and Catholic theologies in terms of grace and sacramentality, and with reference to Christian mysticism, she argues for a contemplative, sacramental theology of gender that is open to the divine mystery, animated by desire while remaining attentive to the distorting effects of sin on desire, and actively expressed in love of neighbour and of creation.
This article explores the key methodological approaches evident in theologies of sexuality since theological reflection upon sexuality emerged as a distinctive discipline in the latter part of the twentieth century. It charts the movement from a radical valorization of sexuality by conservative, liberal, and gay and lesbian theologians to a fundamental questioning and rejection of the very notion of sexuality. It argues that there is a need for Christian theologians to stop focusing on sexuality as such and turn their attention to right ordering of desire as part of the project of Christian discipleship.