Last week Owen Strachan, prominent complementarian leader and President of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, called Rachel Held Evans‘ teaching “heresy” because she used a female pronoun to describe God in one of her posts. Oh, and he did it over Twitter, so naturally a series of Twitter conversations ensued.
I personally love Twitter, so I scrolled down and read the various responses to Strachan’s #proclamation. The majority seemed to be in favor of using both female and male language in describing God, recognizing that God transcends gender. But a good number of tweets were written by people who were incredibly offended at any use of female language to describe God.
I was shocked. When did Christians get so caught up in God being male?
I mean, it took both male and female to represent the image of God in creation, God is described in both masculine and feminine ways in scripture, and the only name God seems to prefer above another is “I AM” – a name completely void of gender.
How have we come to this place where we will adamantly fight against any mention of the feminine side of God? Have we so elevated the masculine that Christian leaders cry heresy at any mention of the feminine?
But Strachan didn’t stop at Twitter.
On Monday, he posted a blog on Patheos delving deeper into this idea that God should be addressed as male and calling out Rachel Held Evans once again for even thinking that using a female pronoun for God would be acceptable – but not before he disabled the comments on his post and blocked those who disagreed with him on Twitter.
I read through Strachan’s blog post. He is a smart man and he is my brother in Christ, but I adamantly disagree with him. His attitude toward women breaks my heart and his insistence on God being male makes me want to cry out:
Stop making God in your image!
The weird part is, I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul dealt with a similar issue in one of the churches of his day. In fact, he wrote a letter to his good friend Timothy who was residing at that particular church.
You see, the church at Ephesus was elevating the feminine above the masculine. They were so influenced by their culture that Ephesian goddess worship and female hierarchy had trickled into Christian teaching. A group of women were teaching that from creation Eve was given a special position above Adam. Their focus on the feminine aspects of Christian teaching were overriding any masculine aspects, to the point of inaccuracy. And it was affecting their teaching and the life of their church and, I bet, the dignity of their men also.
And that sounds all too familiar to me.
Many groups in the Church today are elevating the masculine above the feminine. Some have been so influenced by our patriarchal culture that the idea of male superiority has trickled into Christian teaching. Complementarian teaching says that from creation Adam was given a special authority over Eve. This teaching almost exclusively clings to the masculine aspects of Christian thought and it has overridden any feminine aspects, to the point of inaccuracy. And it is affecting our teaching and the life of the church and, I know from experience, the dignity of women also.
Yup, we as a Church have seen this problem before – a Christian group elevating one gender over another, and claiming it is God who made it that way. In 1 Timothy, Paul called that group out and restricted their teaching. Which makes me wonder…
If Paul was alive today, what would he say to those like Owen Strachan and CBMW who are teaching this masculine Christianity? I wonder if it would be similar to what he said to that particular group of women in the Ephesian church. Perhaps it would sound something like this:
“Let a man learn in silence, with full submission. I am not currently permitting a man to teach or have authority over a woman; he is to keep quiet.”
Elevating one group of people above another in the name of God should never be accepted in the Church, and making God in our image, whether exclusively male or female, shouldn’t be accepted either.
Let us be free to speak of God as scripture speaks of God – in both masculine and feminine ways. Let us not lose sight of the diverse and unified community we were created for. Let us remember that we need each other.
And let us refuse to make God in our image.
“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.” – Deuteronomy 4:15-18
“In the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God.” –1 Corinthians 11:11-12
**IMAGE CREDIT: I want to say a great big THANK YOU to the talented David Hayward at nakedpastor.com for collaborating with me on this post by creating the amazing comic above! Check out his commentary to this comic HERE.
Update (5/22 10am) – two phrases in this post have been updated to more accurately address the claims made by Strachan on Twitter and on Patheos. It is our wish at The Junia Project to address arguments honestly. For this reason, “heretic” has been changed to “heresy” and “God should be seen as male” has been changed to “God should be addressed as male”.
It’s too bad English doesn’t have an equivalent to 祂 – which is an ambiguous pronoun in Mandarin used for God. He, she, it and 祂 – the spirit pronoun are all pronounced the same, just written slightly differently. Ta.
Very interesting, Joy! Thanks for sharing!
Perhaps it would help if we could speak of God in some other language. First, God is only called or compared to an earthly “father” 15 times in the Hebrew Bible. It wasn’t God’s name in Hebrew. God’s name is YHWH, and this was translated into French as L’Eternel. So Calvin and all French Calvinists called God L’Eternel and they still do. In English God’s name is written as LORD. It’s a placeholder, not a name. It makes God sound more masculine.
Next, the Hebrew word Elohim is a little ambiguous for gender. However, the masculine pronoun was used for God, just as the neuter pronoun is sometimes used for the Holy Spirit and for Jesus as a child. Jesus was male as a child, but pronouns don’t represent sex, they only represent grammatical gender. So, as a “child” Jesus was referred to by a neuter pronoun in Greek.
About the word for God in Greek, it was ho or he theos, that is, theos was a word of common gender. Theos was grammatically masculine in Greek, but, once again, that doesn’t tell us much.
Thanks for that lovely explanation Suzanne! Wow, what wonderful insight!
It’s expectable and predictable really, but very frustrating that Strachan has no ability to contextualise who God is and who the Body of Christ is. His lack of understanding is helping perpetuate the subjugation of half of the Church, to its detriment and the detriment of those we are called to serve.
There are a few posts here that suggest God has both a feminine and masculine nature, and feminine and masculine traits. But of course, He doesn’t. God is Spirit – we as humans reflect Him, not the other way around!
Sexuality belongs to the creation – male and female are created categories – for the purpose of reproduction (which God said was a ‘very good’ thing). This sexual dimorphism has an impact on our psychology and social identity – yet we can’t untangle nature from nurture.
Unfortunately, complementarians inflate the differences into restrictive stereotypes and prescriptive roles. As a consequence, I think that we egalitarians are sometimes a little oversensitive about admitting the differences – because we are afraid of being squashed into those little pink and blue boxes (should I say BIG blue boxes?)
By way of analogy, God is compared to a protective mother bear and lion in Hosea 13 v.8 – but no-one is saying that he is a bear or has bear-like traits! Humans share sexuality with the animals (think : the Ark!) and also the command to be fruitful and multiply. So the image of God in humanity lies in the inner being.
Oh, love the cartoon – very funny!
There definitely are differences between male and female, but one must not forget that there’s exceptions to those rules, especially since people are more than merely male or female. In terms of the mistake you said complementarians make, what I’d add to that is they mistakenly believe that the differences mean one (males in this case) should have authority over the other. In reality, we see in scripture that humanity functions best and reflects God’s image the most when both are equal. When both are equal, the balance needed between the two is achieved.
I agree with all your points, Evan. I just wanted to emphasize God in his transcendence.
If only we could all find that balance you mention…
So, beyond biology, what are those “differences” or “rules,” if there are any (a question for the board from a curious asexual 😉 )?
Hello. As you sign yourself ‘asexual’ I’m not sure I can answer the way you’d like.
Some men are very sensitive beings and cry easily – and some women are as tough as nails. Just one example of how stereotypes simply don’t apply.
Gifts like an abilities for maths or art aren’t linked to gender.
But beyond biology, all humans are created in God’s image.
Like maybe by using phrases like “by emphasizing God’s unique transcendence” rather than “God in his transcendence”?
Yeah. I probably should have in this instance. But I’m not worried about calling God ‘Father’ as Jesus taught. I’d rather stick to that. But last Sunday I taught on God being ‘like’ a father, ‘like’ a mother and also ‘like’ a fierce mother bear (in a children’s service). I think we should teach that God is not male or female.
I’ve just God back from a pastoral meeting where I tried to discuss this issue and mentioned how some people were suggesting we call God ‘mother’. I wanted to talk about why this was so. But I hadn’t finished my sentence before the pastor sitting opposite me began a rant about this being ‘diabolical’. And he is a nice man! Honestly…
Vicky, you have just been accused of being of the devil in your comment by that pastor-not on I think! Where was his godly attitude to a sister in Christ? What gave him leave to rant at you? That is verbal abuse. Diabolical would apply far more to the way arrogance has become the new humility in some sections of the church. Creating God in a male image is so silly it’s embarrassing, referring to Him as a He seems fine if we use all His varying Names and remember I AM is all. I use Loving Lord as my prayer address to our Creator, warm, and respectful all at once I think, for me at least. You go girl, and don’t let their bitterness hurt you, our very femaleness allows us to see some of the angst and fear some men seem to be exhibiting. Hallelujah for the men who are apart from this sad turn in the church. 🙂
Hello Ruth. Thanks for your concern! I’m in a European country, in a traditional denomination with no female pastors and the conversation about women in ministry is still ‘new’ here. Really, I put it down to ‘lack of education’ – I have to be gracious in order to survive here. The irony is, this man is one of the most progressive in terms of women in ministry. Yes, he should have known better – and he should have let me finish explaining. Especially as he himself has been hurt by strong language – a major figure in our movement recently said (not openly) that he and my husband had ‘raped’ the movement by allowing their wives to preach. A comment which hurt me a LOT more.
Anyway, over lunch, we were talking literature and I suggested he read ‘The Shack’!
Re calling God ‘Father’ – in my case ‘Heavenly Father’ / ‘Father God’ in order to make the distinction from a human father – the picture I get from the surprisingly few references in the AT is one of love, compassion and tenderness rather than authoritarian. For me to learn to call God Father – I couldn’t at first – was a healing process from the verbal abuse my mother, sister and I endured from my earthly father when I was a child. God as Father now communicates to me a feeling of safety and valued-ness that I never got from my Dad till later on his his life.
I wonder what you all make of the way Paul calls us all ‘sons’ in Galatians 3, rather than simply children? I really enjoy it, because I see him using the terminology in a theological way to elevate the status of women.
Our understanding of scripture, how we relate and value others, always comes down to the filter of us. Our experiences, views, and biases are always in the way and must be considered and, more importantly, recognized as we try to understand and apply the messages of faith,
Great post Kate. It is indeed very dangerous when there’s an imbalance between the masculinity and femininity of God. Throughout history a lot of violence has been committed in the name of Jesus, and I can bet a huge reason is because patriarchy coming into the church has caused the church to create a hyper testosterone God. The results have been nothing short of tragic, and that’s a huge reason why groups like this and CBE are essential. Keep up the great work!
The use of feminine language for God is by no means new. 15th century hermitess known as Julian of Norwich writes of nursing at the breasts of Christ our mother. And the figure of Wisdom is always presented as a woman in the Old Testament and Apocrypha. She even is listed as God’s consort in an inscription at Elephantine in Egypt.
BTW, the ref cited as Ephesians in the blog is really from 1 Corinthians.
Great point about Julian of Norwich! It’s a good reminder that this female imagery isn’t new.
Which reference cited as Ephesians in the post are you referring to? I’d love to fix it if I’ve gotten something wrong.
Excellent post, Kate. Love you!
Thanks Sarah 🙂 Love you too!
Owen said: “But having made this rather obvious caveat that countless evangelical theologians have made, we note that God’s name is his identity. In the Bible, his name is unswervingly masculine. So, while God is not literally male, the Bible only directs us to address him in masculine terminology.”
But, not only are there feminine images of God in scripture, God’s own introduction to Moses is intricately connected to the idea of God as compassionate, full of mercy, like a mother toward a child in her womb. God proclaims his/her identity in strikingly feminine language.
If one looks at Exodus 34:5-6, Moses sees God face to face and God identifies who God is.
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,
If you look closely at verse 6, the Hebrew word translated as compassionate, the very first identifier of character God gives to Moses, is “rachuwm” (Strong’s H7349) and is from the root “racham” (Strong’s H7355) which is often used of God and translated as mercy or compassion, and is in close context in Exodus 33:19:
19 And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
These words are also related to “raham” (Strong’s H7356) which means “womb” and “compassion” which has the same root “racham” (Strong’s H7355) is also the word used in Genesis 49:25 of God where God is shaddai (almighty) which means many breasted one.
25 because of your father’s God, who helps you,
because of the Almighty (shaddai), who blesses you
with blessings of the skies above,
blessings of the deep springs below,
blessings of the breast and womb (raham).
God introduces who he/she is to Moses, passing all his/her goodness before him, proclaiming who he/she is to Moses, and self-identifies primarily as mercy and compassion in the sense of “racham”. This is God Almighty and the image is quite feminine.
According to Skip Moen (excellent Hebrew word study at skipmoen.com):
The Hebrew picture of compassion is graphically portrayed by the image of the unborn child in the womb. Let that sink in! The child is totally dependent, absolutely helpless, willfully innocent and completely at the mercy of the mother. That is what God wants you to understand about compassion. Compassion is never about reciprocity. It is never calculated in terms of what I can expect to get back. Compassion is the active decision to foster, nurture and protect the life of another without any regard to self.
God, in God’s own words, provides an identity in a face to face encounter with Moses with a strikingly feminine image.
Does that make God a female. No.
But it does contradict Owen’s statement that “the Bible only directs us to address him in masculine terminology.”
I love the image of compassion as the mothering and nurturing of a completely dependent, unborn child! It ties the concepts of womb and compassion together so well.
I don’t presume to be a biblical scholar, but doesn’t the Bible refer to the Holy Spirit as feminine?
Yes, the Holy Spirit is typically feminine in Hebrew and Aramaic and neuter in Greek, though it is occasionally masculine in Greek (like when identified as a comforter – paraclete – in John 14).
But that is grammatical gender, with no meaning in proving someone or something is female. If the word “table” is feminine in a particular language, it doesn’t mean the table needs to be dressed in a frilly pink tablecloth with sequins.
Yes, I just mean the words are feminine, masculine, neuter.
Too often people confuse grammatical gender with biological gender. Just a thought.
If I am honest, I think the issue most people have with this topic does not come from theology. It comes from an association of women with lowliness. Women are marginalized, and, whether people profess this as truth or not, they do not like associating God with a marginalized group. People want their god to be powerful and privileged, so it is an affront to their sensibilities when we associate God with women, or any other subjected group.
Here is an old quote I found through APU’s journal database. Unfortunately, I’ve lost access to the full journal, so I don’t have the title or the author’s name:
“Re-imagining the male image of God as female is to challenge the hegemony of male power as domination or power over—power that is exercised over women, men, and other beings in the web of life. To create alternatives to the image of male power as domination is a deeply political issue—one that is relevant to all women of every colour and of every culture—and to men and to all living things. The image of God as a
dominant male other, functions to make male domination seem to be the most natural form of power. Thus it is not surprising that feminist images of Goddess and God-She provoke resistance within every community where they are introduced. To question God-He is to remove the veil that shrouds the mystification of male power as domination. For most people, both women and men, rich and poor, this will be deeply threatening.”
Referring to I AM as a woman upsets that system. On one hand, it makes I AM’s nature cheap. Calling I AM a she makes I AM lowly, and that is why people don’t like it. Think about it, when a male is gay or “effeminate” we call him a girl, a nancy, a skirt, a pussy. All things that cast woman as lesser than. Now, when there is a lesbian or “masculine” girl, we call her a bitch. We dehumanize her. What is lower than a man? A woman. What is lower than a woman? A dog.
Though I am no longer a Christian, my understanding of Christian Theology is that I AM is both the Model and Form for all of humanity. That is, male, female, and everything in between is based on the more complete nature of the Divine. Therefore, if it is accurate to refer to the Divine’s sex as male and its gender as boy, it is also accurate to refer to the Divine’s sex as female and its gender as girl.
Ironically, I’d argue that, in accordance with Christian theology (as posited during the first ecumenical council, at Nicaea in 325), Jesus could even be referred to as female. In 325, the Trinity was declared to be Homoousios. That is, “of the same stuff”. So if I AM is the Model and Form for all humanity (male, female, everyone in between), so is Jesus. He is of the same stuff.
Your response is so raw and honest. Thank you for your great intellectual input. It is always appreciated!
I agree that at least part of the problem in this conversation is that “God as female is a challenge to the hegemony of male power” as the article stated it. It definitely “upsets the system” as you put it. That is such great insight.
I am sad to hear that you are no longer a Christian. I hope you know that you are always welcome here at The Junia Project, and I hope you continue to bring your wisdom to this forum.
Of course I know I’m welcomed 🙂
Blessings to you all — Kate, Dave and Rachel, especially, among those commenting — for being willing to keep getting on this horse and trying to correct the course. It is so oppressive for me, in my personal life, that I find it very difficult to engage for the past five years or so. This is, of course, one of the great things of being a tiny, invisible blogger — none of the big guns ever come looking to call me out in the street at High Noon! LOL! 😉
I am sorry these things are so painful. I think we all go in seasons on that front. I appreciate you sharing anyway 🙂 We are all in this together!
Oh, this makes me so happy. Not the fighting, or our Sister RHE getting abused (yes, I chose that word purposefully Brother Owen), but the fact that there is such a level of “fed-upped-ness” over allowing worldly constructs, such as Patriarchy, Socioeconomics, “Free” Market Capitalism, Gay discrimination, Patriotism (as central part of religion-morphing its way into full separate religion) to invade the Church. The Church, the body of believers, the humans that are brothers and sisters who confess that the world is created by a God who is loving, and that God is best represented in human experience by the Cross, is not for sale. The Church is in the world, not of it. The world limits what a woman can be, who she can be, who her body belongs to, what her sexual responsibilities are, and where her voice can be heard-if at all, but in the Church, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no MALE or FEMALE, for we are all ONE in Christ Jesus.” Men don’t own women, women don’t own men. But we are all owned, by Christ. How arrogant then to allow a world-created system of abusive patriarchy to genderize God. How dare we say He is the only part of God that exists. How dare we stand to let Sisters be devalued? How dare we stand to let God be devalued? This was a great piece of writing, Kate, especially moving was the part about “I do not permit a man to have authority over a women!” Suddenly we can see the cultural, very limited nature of Paul’s words. Not that women never should be heard in Church, but rather those women at that time and place were devaluing both half of God’s creation, as well as the nature of God. I hope that my daughter knows (she will, 😉 ) that she is just as marvelous to reveling who God is as my sons are. That if I really want to know God better, I had better be looking at the “other,” with all it’s beautiful, mysterious, and even dangerous attributes. Great writing, Sister Kate.
Thank you so much for your comment! I love what you said about your daughter! She is lucky to have a father like you!
If theology were conducted over social media. Or, why we need to stop using Twitter to argue…
Hahaha you are too funny Rachel! “What if Martin Luther had pinned his 95 Theses to Pinterest? Who would have re-pinned it?” haha
Oh thank you for that link, I love it.
I find the correlation between feminine imagery and “gay rights” issues to be highly offensive. One is an ontological distinction whereas the other is a behavioral choice one makes in regards to their sexuality. If one believes that homosexuality is a sin then the correlation automatically infers that there is something degenerate and sinful about being a woman. Without going on a rant I will simply say, that hurts.
Exactly, Deborah. And every time someone brings up “gay rights” in the same breath as “equality of being”, they are playing into the male supremacists’ hands, their slippery slope argument. Sin is sin, and being female is not a sin. Equality has nothing to do with sexual practices.
While I certainly understand the thoughts being expressed in the above two comments by Deborah and boatrocker (what a great screen name!), I recommend reading Torn, by Justin Lee, an evangelical, gay Christian man, as a way to have more empathy in your languaging about your pain in being identified as a woman and having it associated with gay identity. Justin’s story is powerful and balanced.
Stephanie (thanks for the screen name compliment!),
The point I was trying to get across is that to connect homosexuality with being female is comparing apples to oranges. Certainly other groups of people have suffered injustice and could use more empathy; it is not unique to either gays or women.
Wonderfully written article! Thank you for saying it so easy to understand, so that I can share it with anyone. You put it precisely and eloquently. Blessings to you as you continue to strive on to create a better world for all to be who they are called and gifted to be! (((hugs))) Also…I love the cartoon.
Thank you for reading Karla! Thank you for your very kind words! Blessings!
Seriously, Kate. Your clarity and compelling style pulls us into every word. Thanks for thought-provoking post!
There is no biblical evidence that God is ontologically male. If God *was* ontologically male it would have been impossible for woman to be created in God’s image. That God is ontologically male is a logical fallacy IF one believes what the bible explicitly says about woman.
Good point Robyn!
I heard a great devotion this morning regarding the Galatian church and how they had become enamored with teaching that added things/rules to the gospel besides Christ and Christ crucified. It reminded me of the whole focus of CBMW- that gender roles are part of “the gospel” (TM). “You foolish Galatians…” came to mind. Thank you for the work of The Junia Project- it has helped me so much!
That is great insight! I often struggle with the language used by CBMW and other complementarians for the same reason you stated – it seems to add to the Gospel. The whole message of “biblical manhood and biblical womanhood” seems to add rules where scripture is silent, and to favor certain people above others. Thanks for your comment!
I think one of the most crucial observations relevant here is that 1 Timothy is (clearly) pseudepigraphical. If we found something in pseudepigrapha that seems at odds with the “rest of scripture” (if it truly is at odds), we shouldn’t be surprised at all. Forging writings in the name of a revered figure was a perfect strategy for a group with a particular view to give this view a greater authority, making it appear that a revered figure endorsed this (or for example _revoked_ an earlier teaching of theirs, as they laid in in other [authentic] writings).
Unfortunately, Christians can’t readily accept the idea of pseudepigrapha in the NT itself. For example, Augustine said that if anything like this manipulation was found in Scripture, we shouldn’t (couldn’t) trust _any_ of it. Oops.
The strategy for liberal Christians for dealing with these issues are so transparent (and, if you ask me, _cowardly_). They can’t possibly stomach the idea that we have a problem that’s basically unsolvable unless we start chopping out bits of canon. Unfortunately, if we have contradictory teachings (in the NT or elsewhere), we can’t easily just chop out one or the other…but we have to do away with _both_. But nooo, liberal Christians prefer to reinterpret things so that the more inclusive/feel-good interpretation stays, and the other one goes.
In this sense, liberal Christians aren’t battling conservatives at all; rather, they’re actually battling non-Christians/atheists.
Liberals have done infinitely more for
apologetics than conservatives ever have. But they pretend like _they’re_ the progressive ones.
Very interesting stuff here Stewart. Thanks for the input.
Thank you for the interaction. I appreciate that you wrote with what seems to be a fair and calm tone.
I have a few thoughts on your post. You said that I said that “God should be seen as male” (your words). But this is precisely what I took pains not to say:
“God, of course, is not a man or a woman. He is spirit (John 4:24). There is no room for Great White American Jesus in our theology. But having made this rather obvious caveat that countless evangelical theologians have made, we note that God’s name is his identity. In the Bible, his name is unswervingly masculine. So, while God is not literally male, the Bible only directs us to address him in masculine terminology.”
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2014/05/is-rachel-held-evanss-use-of-god-herself-biblically-faithful/#ixzz32SIswLWn
Would you be so kind as to correct the record in your post? I’m aware that folks will disagree, perhaps strongly, with my theology. In fact, I recognize that as part of the bargain. When you get into theological leadership, folks are going to disagree with you. If you take strong stances, there may be strong pushback. This is true for all of us.
Secondly, I didn’t call Rachel a “heretic,” either on Twitter on in my post. Again, I was at pains not to say this. Here is what I said:
“But as numerous theologians and the broader Christian tradition have recognized, there is a massive gap between the kind of metaphorical language referenced in Isaiah 66:13 and Hosea 11:3-4 and Matthew 23:37 on the one hand and identifying God as a woman on the other. The gap, in fact, is the difference between fidelity and falsehood, truth and heresy.”
The difference between saying someone is teaching a “heresy,” as Rachel clearly is in her use of “God as woman” language, and saying that they are a “heretic” is vast. That’s why I purposefully I did not use the latter term. Per popular academic usage, a heretic would be someone who persists in their false, “gospel-negating” teaching (see the bottom of my post). It remains to be seen what course Rachel will travel. I wrote my post in the hopes that it might deter her from continuing to use “God as woman” language, affirming “gay rights,” and approving of transgender identity. All these are profoundly unbiblical teachings.
It may be of interest to note that I have spent a good bit of time around egalitarians. I count a number of them as friends and colleagues dating back to my days doing a PhD at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. None of them used “God as woman” language. None of them affirmed “gay rights.” In fact, several prominent egalitarians in my circles moved away from denominations that did so. There certainly was no one I knew who approved of “transgender” identity.
It will be of note to me and many others to see where egalitarians go from here. Are they going to follow Rachel’s suggested course, and affirm a radically new sexual ethic, one unaffirmed by previous generations of evangelical egalitarians? Or will they hold fast to biblical sexual ethics? Matthew Vines–endorsed in the strongest of terms by Evans–attacks not only sexual complementarity but anatomical complementarity. I’m fascinated to see the egalitarian movement reckon with this argument. It goes well beyond what many egalitarians I know hold, as they at least recognize the innateness of manhood and womanhood, and the corresponding need of children for a father and mother. None of them that I have known would deny these things; in fact, they’d likely be horrified by these suggestions, which owe more to queer theory than biblical doctrine.
Appreciate the engagement, Kate. All my best to you.
Thanks for clarifying some of your points, Owen.
One quibble though: asking if egalitarians are now going to “affirm a radically new sexual ethic” is like asking complementarians if they are going to affirm fringe patriarchal theologies that seem to be gaining currency among you.
Rachel has not gone off some deep end because of a single years-old blog post. She has raised issues we need to think about when it comes to the nature of God, just as you have.
Owen, you take great pains to distinguish between God being male and God being masculine. Though I disagree that God is exclusively masculine, I appreciate the distinction you are making. However, it seems inconsistent that you request that Kate amend her post to reflect your intent, while you simultaneously charge Rachel with using “God as woman” language. If you have not used “God as male” language in your insistence on exclusively masculine references to God, then Rachel has certainly not used “God as woman” language in her use of both masculine and feminine pronouns to refer to God. You may still disagree with the usage, but you should be at least as careful in your treatment of the words of others as you wish them to be with your own.
Great point Aletheianna!
Owen, once again:
1) On Twitter you referred to my work as “heresy.” So you effectively called me a heretic. That’s been pretty well established. https://twitter.com/ostrachan/status/467378592347729920
2) To say that I teach “God as woman” is grossly misleading and unfair. I have never said that God is a woman. And I re-articulated my view that God is not a woman after your heresy charge. In fact, I typically use masculine pronouns and “Father” to describe God, which is why your characterization of my work is so frustrating.
Owen, to say that God is *not* a man is not the same as saying God is a woman! It is saying that God transcends gender categories. I think, ultimately, we may actually agree on this. So if you have a problem with Kate characterizing your position as God-as-Male, then you should also refrain from characterizing my position as God-as-Female.
The point Kate is making here is that the notion of an exclusively masculine God is so taken for granted within certain religious circles than challenging that notion will get a person slapped with the heresy label. Which is exactly what happened here.
Given those assumptions, it’s important to discuss whether Scripture really teaches that God is exclusively masculine and that only men are created in God’s image, which is why I think Kate and David are on point here.
3) If this is about Matthew’s book, then let’s talk about Matthew’s book and the actual arguments he makes in it.
Instead of engaging Matthew’s work, you have chosen to dig up an old post of mine from 2012 to mischaracterize me as a goddess-worshipper in an effort to discredit Matthew because I endorsed his book. That seems a little desperate. Once again, the conversation has devolved into name-calling and heresy hunting when we could be discussing the biblical texts in question, which seems to be a conversation you are avoiding.
Obviously, not all egalitarians share my views on welcoming gay and lesbian people into the church, (just as not all complementarians share your views that men who share homemaking responsibilities are “man fails.”) If you want to talk about that, let’s talk about that – not a post I wrote in 2012 that you’ve twisted to characterize me as a goddess-worshipper.
I’ve tried multiple times to contact you directly so we could sort out these hard feelings one-on-one, but you seem intent on having this conversation publicly, so here we are.
Welcome to The Junia Project. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I appreciate the clarifications you brought up and that you have taken the time to respond. I hope the following responses help to clarify my own thoughts.
1.) In regard to your first thought about my saying “God should be seen as male,” I recognize that you never claimed that God is a man, but I believe your wording strongly suggests that God is male. Saying God’s “name is unswervingly masculine” and that “God’s name is his identity” (your words) is to say that his identity is masculine. “Masculine” is an adjective meaning, “of or relating to men; male”.
So, while you do say “God is not literally male,” you do indeed teach that God is in fact male, and you give instruction to address God as such. And that is what I am taking issue with.
It becomes tricky when fatherly imagery is confused with God’s name. As I wrote in my post, the name God claims in scripture is “I AM”, one that transcends gender. It is true that Jesus gives fatherly imagery when he instructs his disciples how to pray, but there is no indication that this is in fact God’s name.
So, if I use your own argument here, God’s name (I AM) transcends gender, and God’s name is God’s identity, therefore God transcends gender.
However, I sincerely do want to be sensitive to the concern you brought up, so I am very willing to change “God should be seen as male” to “God should be addressed as male” in that sentence.
2.) In regard to your second thought – I recognize your distinction between calling someone a heretic and saying they are teaching heresy, although I think the difference may have gotten lost in translation. By bringing in all the other parts of Rachel’s teaching that you disagree with, your post comes across more as disapproving of her as a person, and not just of the particular aspect of her wording when referring to God.
With that said, we obviously disagree on what should be called heresy, and I would rather discuss that difference than claim you said something you didn’t. I appreciate you pointing out my wording and I am happy to make that correction in the post.
I do however take issue with the idea that using feminine pronouns to describe or address God is the same as claiming “God as woman” (your words). Many egalitarians who use feminine language to describe or address God also use masculine language to address and describe God. It isn’t to say that God is a man or a woman, but that within this triune and communal God there are both male and female traits. God encompasses both the masculine and the feminine, which is why it took both male and female to represent God’s image in creation.
I take no offense at the feminine side of God, just as I take no offense at the masculine.
I truly appreciate the engagement Owen. I hope to converse with you more in the future, and I pray blessings on you.
Owen, I appreciate the clarification of your comments. The center from where you comments originate is a place which I can see so easily because it is a place I was in just a few years ago. In seminary, we practiced baptism and the female minister-in-training who baptized me did so “in the name of the Father-Mother, Jesus, and Sister Spirit.” I remember coming up choking because I was trying to ask “Whose name was I just baptized in?”
I appreciate your affirmation of the genderlessness of God. So to call out a comment like the one you have attacked seems to be misinformed at best. Calling out a post from two years ago smacks of searching for something to discredit. Whether or not this was your motive, you will need to examine yourself.
To declare God to be male would be for the male to make God in his own image (an idolatrous act). I think you would agree with this. Your own words describe a belief that this is simply our descriptive language for a God which is incomprehensible and indescribable. I think Rachel would agree that to declare God to be female would likewise be for the female to make God in her own image (likewise, an idolatrous act).
Yes, the Bible uses only the masculine pronoun when referring to God. But, I ask, what would the other option be? If we used some gender-neutral pronoun (effectively “it”), perhaps that would have been better to the Biblical witness. Yet, to use “it” or any other form of it turns God from a person to a thing. Things can be controlled, manipulated, and used (yet another idolatrous act). It is for this reason that I believe the Bible uses a personal pronoun that reflects a person. God is never an “it”, a thing to be controlled.
What pains me in this entire saga is that I do not think that you (Owen), Rachel, and Kate are a hair’s-breadth apart from each other. And the term “heresy” has been cast across a very narrow gap. You (all) have affirmed that God is genderless. You (all) have affirmed that our language is limiting. You (all) have affirmed that God is a person, one that is beyond our comprehension and description. You (all) have affirmed a desire to best live out our own understandings of who God is.
Owen, you wrote “There is no room for Great White American Jesus in our theology.” I appreciate this very much. The Great White American Jesus is a limiting human-made construction of who God is. Yet, as we continue to display the stereotypical portrait of the Great White American Jesus in our church, we implicitly affirm the theological background of it. And as we continue to solely affirm the male pronoun for God, we implicitly affirm the idolatrous theological background of that as well.
When I preach and teach, I do not use the female pronoun for God because I know that there are those in my pews who are like you, Owen, who cannot hear that and not be distracted from who God really is without being distracted by the terminology. I know that because even recently, I could affirm the genderlessness of God and still not be able to hear the female pronoun without getting distracted. Alternatively, I try not to use the male pronoun either, but old habits die hard, and I am still working on it. Instead I use male and female imagery for God, which is consistently Biblical and can be received without an engendered pronoun.
I still hope. I hope because there is opportunity ripe here for reconciliation even without theological resolution. As I have written elsewhere, if nothing else, this discussion has fostered serious discussion and reflection about who God is apart from what we have always assumed without thought or reflection. I hope that you (all) can recognize the desire of each to authentically live out our common understanding of who God is. And Owen, I hope that you realize that what you are discrediting is a way of living out an understanding of God, an understanding with which you already agree. We can differ on how to live out that understanding, but we share the same understanding of who God is. This is not heresy. Heresy is an explicit falsehood of the nature of who God is. I would posit that to say God is male would be heresy, and likewise to posit that God is female would be heresy. Living out the same understanding differently is not, and I hope that you would see that, agree that it is not heresy, and retract the word “heresy”, even if you disagree with the manner in living the same understanding of God.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make the Lord’s own face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up the Lord’s own countenance upon you, and give you peace.
This is simply beautiful Kevin! Thank you for pointing out our similarities and articulating our shared community in Christ. I greatly appreciate your graciousness and wisdom. I am blessed by your words.
“Yes, the Bible uses only the masculine pronoun when referring to God”
I would push back against that, even:
The God who “gave you birth” (Deut. 32:18), the God who longed to “gather the children of Jerusalem together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37), who says, “as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13)
Grammatically, those personal pronouns are referring back to “hen” and “mother”, not God. If I say “The man held the vase carefully as a mother holds her newborn”, the “her” is not implying the man was female.
In discussion and debate, it is important that we recognize a point when the evidence warrants it. If not, how do we ever expect someone else the change their mind when our evidence does the same?
Thank you for the constructive, even gracious, response. I’m unused to having the opportunity to be heard here and to have a person in your position be willing to correct the record. I genuinely thank you.
I will say this again, as I have now twice: God is not male. But when Jesus refers to God as “our Father” in the model prayer (Matthew 6:9), that tells us something, right? Does Jesus ever pray to God as “Mother”? Does anyone in Scripture pray to God and address him as a woman? No one does.
By the way, in terms of Matthew 6:9, I’m a bit confused by what you say when you write, “there’s no indication that this in fact God’s name.” Perhaps I’m missing something (I often am!), but doesn’t Jesus address God as Father over and over again (John 11:25–“I praise you, Father…”)? Father is actually a name, title, and identity, all in one.
The blog post I wrote has a number of references from theologians who by no means would agree with me on my doctrinal system in totality, but who emphatically recognize that God’s name in exactly this way. Consider the following:
“On the lips of Jesus,” Wolfhart Pannenberg states, “‘Father’ became a proper name for God. It thus ceased to be simply one designation among others” (204; Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:262).
Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2014/05/is-rachel-held-evanss-use-of-god-herself-biblically-faithful/#ixzz32TGnghJS
Pannenberg is no fundamentalist. Yet look at his language: “Father became a proper name for God.” This one quote does not settle the issue (the Bible settles it, after all), but it does show that theologians from across the spectrum recognize that “Father” is surely both a name and a statement of identity.
To your second point (nicely stated, and again, gracious in tone), you suggest that “using feminine pronouns to describe or address God is the same as claiming “God as woman” (your words).” Numerous folks have made this claim on Twitter, too. I think the best way to respond might be like this: If I say “Kate himself,” am I identifying you in male terms? I think I probably am, right?
In the same way, the language of “God Herself” is female. This is strengthened, by the way, when one considers that Rachel was discussing none other than motherhood in her blog.
So here’s the point: just like Scriptures addresses God in male terms, so I address you, a woman, in female terms. It is wrong to say “Kate himself” if speaking of you; it is wrong to call the figure “Our Mother” Jesus addresses as “Our Father.”
This is not incidental. This is huge. If I get your identity wrong–ie “Kate himself”–I’ve got you wrong. I’ve made a fundamental error. How much more so the living God who has revealed himself in Scripture as our Father, never our Mother?
Appreciate the engagement, and if you can correct the record above, I would be thankful.
Dear Kate: thank you kindly for the note above. I appreciate it.
All my best to you,
“If get your identity wrong–ie “Kate himself”–I’ve got you wrong. I’ve made a fundamental error.”
Right. So applying this analogy to the present debate, then you are in fact arguing that God is male, that his identity is exclusively masculine.
You cannot say on the one hand that your use of a masculine pronoun does not render God exclusively male, and then turn around and say that my use of a feminine pronoun renders God exclusively feminine. You can’t have it both ways.
The reality is that all language is ultimately metaphorical – even our pronouns! So my calling God She does not make God a woman anymore than your calling God He makes God a man.
I didn’t think of that. Great point Rachel!
Thanks for your response. I am not arguing that God is male, a point I’ve now said multiple times. But God’s name, Father, is male. This is the name God takes for himself in Scripture. He never takes a female name for himself.
God chooses to be called “Father.” He is only called “Father.” As Pannenberg, Bloesch, Kimel, Cooper, and numerous other scholars who by no means are rock-ribbed doctrinaires have noted, this is not simply an identifier, but his given name, and thus his given identity. He is not male, but he is Father. Did you read my post? See what Pannenberg specifically says:
“On the lips of Jesus,” Wolfhart Pannenberg states, “‘Father’ became a proper name for God. It thus ceased to be simply one designation among others” (204; Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1:262).
God isn’t male. But he is Father, and only Father, in Scripture. He never takes the name or pronoun of a woman.
The broader context of your remarks is important, too. You’re endorsing “gay rights,” transgender identity, and “gay Christianity.” In doing so, you’re outpacing many egalitarians, including egalitarians I’m friends with. Your theological trajectory is following that of past feminist theologians and writers. It’s a dangerous, unbiblical path. Out of concern for you, I pray you turn back from it.
El Shaddai is a name of God in scripture with a clear feminine identity.
Ezer is a common name of God is scripture, which is closely related to woman since God creates her as an ezer.
Wisdom is an expression of God that is viewed as feminine in the rabbinic tradition and scripture.
Father is not the only name of God in scripture, clearly, there are hundreds of names of God that present a portion of Gods identity, which surpasses the confines of gender.
What do you do with Genesis and male and female being made in the image of God if God can have no identifiable image in scripture as feminine? Doesn’t that scipture alone identify God with the feminine as well as masculine?
I find it difficult to understand why you insist that Father is the only name for God that is allowable, unless you hope to insist that God is masculine, though somehow you say, not male. I find your distinction difficult to understand.
What does this to do the concept of Trinity? May I address Jesus by name, or Holy Spirit and still be addressing God?
You say name equals identity, yet you conveniently reject all names for God other than Father, which would give God only a masculine identity. While insisting at the same time that you are not implying God is masculine or male.
To hold to your position about the name of God requires a rejection of a great deal of scripture and scholarship and theological history.
Owen, with all due respect, I think you are arguing a fundamental mistake about the Trinity of God. “God chooses to be called “Father.” He is ONLY called “Father.” (your words, my emphasis added). God (as seen as Trinity) is not ONLY called Father in Scripture, however. God is called Jesus, God is called The Truth, God is called The Way, God is called The Light, God is called Holy Spirit, God is called Redeemer, God is called Love, God is called Immanuel (God with us), etc. Your position (I read your blog and would have loved to have carried on a friendly discussion there) bases its belief on the idea that “Father” is synonymous with “God,” and it is very much not. For if it was, we would not have God as we describe as the trinity, but only God seen exclusively as “Father.”
Excellent point Jessica! Very well said!
I am glad you feel heard and welcome. Thank you for engaging with the material and in the conversation.
I think Kevin is right when he says that we actually agree on the fact that God is not male or female. I believe where we differ is in acceptable forms of addressing God. To your point that Jesus references God as “Father” many times in scripture – that is true. The way we understand the Immaculate Conception is that God actually is Jesus’ literal Father, just as Mary is his literal mother. I understand that the discussion is not stuck there, however. I also think we are given the imagery of Father and Son to help us understand Jesus’ being and relationship to God, especially in his ushering in the Kingdom and extending to all of us the “inheritance” of eternal life. The imagery bring clarity, but not necessarily identity.
Your statement “Father is actually a name, title, and identity, all in one” (your words) really helps me understand where you are coming from. I do want to push back, though by saying that my mother is my mother, but that is not her name. She has her own name, which has nothing to do with her relationship to me. “Mother” is one of her many titles, and it is part of her identity, but “mother” doesn’t incorporate all of her name, title, and identity in one. In the same way, I think “Father” is an appropriate term for us to call God, but I also believe Redeemer, Help, and Creator are all good titles as well. I don’t believe we need to stick with the gendered terms in order to be accurate or appropriate, even though Jesus said “Father”.
(As a side note, I greatly appreciate that you referenced theologians whom you disagree with on other issues in your response. That is very respectable.)
To your next example of using “Kate himself” – That is a great way to explain your viewpoint. I appreciate that. My response is this: Yes, you are describing me in male terms when you say that and yes, that is an incorrect way to reference me, as I am female. While I do agree that “Kate himself” mistakes my gender, I don’t believe it mistakes my whole “identity” (your wording). My identity is not wholly wrapped up in my gender. So I would say that in saying “Kate himself” you still got my name right, at the very least.
Furthermore, I (Kate) am human and finite. “Female” does indeed describe all of my gendered identity. But God is infinite, and I do not believe God is one gender or the other. As such, I do not believe that “God Herself” or “God Himself” are completely accurate by themselves, as they only describe a specific aspect of God instead of God’s whole gender (because God transcends gender). So as “Kate himself” is incorrect, “God Herself” is correct but incomplete, just as “God as Rescuer” is correct, but doesn’t describe all of who God is.
It’s a failure of our language more than anything else for me (I agree with Kevin again on this one). We don’t have a gender-neutral pronoun to describe a being such as I AM. I am curious, though, since you really don’t believe God has a gender, and a genderless pronoun doesn’t exist, then what pronoun should those in scripture have used for God? Culturally speaking, it make sense to me why they would have used the male pronouns, even if they failed to accurately describe the I AM – Culturally, male pronouns carried the most respect. Those pronouns in scripture don’t prove to me that God should be addressed in the male form, but simply that God was addressed in those terms.
My biggest problem with the line of thinking you have stated is this: If we truly believe God isn’t gendered, but we argue that addressing God in the male form is more accurate than the female form, we are implying that “maleness” better describes God than “femaleness”. By saying this, then, we are saying that God is more like the masculine than the feminine, and we are therefore contradicting our basic premise – that God isn’t gendered.
The whole argument is illogical (in the philosophical meaning of that word), because if we believe that God isn’t gendered, then in order for our actions to be consistent with our beliefs, we have to either only address God in gender-neutral terms or be comfortable addressing God in both male and female terms.
Owen, I have greatly appreciated this conversation. Thank you for your willingness to engage. Please feel free to send me an email if you ever want to continue this conversation (or have another one). Be blessed!
I refer to my post above where God does indeed refer to God’s own self in the Hebrew by painting the picture of a mother.
In Exodus when God reveals God’s identity to Moses in a face to face encounter, one could easily argue that based on the Hebrew text, God did indeed identity to Moses as a mother. That would have been the image conveyed to the reader.
This fact doesn’t make God female, but does contradict your statement that Scriptures only address God in male terms.
There are many feminine motifs for God in scripture, even Jesus likens God to a woman searching for a lost coin.
Certainly, throughout the Old Testament, there is no indication that the people were instructed to address God as father or as male. In fact, they are commanded not to make God in any image, male or female.
To extrapolate out from Jesus’ reference to God as Father that it would be wrong to call God anything else is a stretch. Jesus also called God theos and kurios and throughout Scripture there are many names for God including names that can’t be pronounced or fully comprehended, like YHWH and I Am. Certainly these go well beyond any notion of gender identity.
One would have to reject a great deal of Scripture to insist that the bible tells us to address God only in male or masculine terms.
Perhaps Jesus had to use to “our Father” language because he knew nobody of his time would listen to “our Mother” language. Perhaps he knew this would be the understanding of a different time. Just a thought.
Interesting to note that in the Old Testament, from creation to Abraham, God is referred to as Elohim (God); from Abraham to Moses as El Shaddai (God Almighty); and from Moses on as Yahweh (The Lord).
Exodus 6:2: God also spoke to Moses and said to him: I am The Lord (Yahweh). I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty (El Shaddai) but by name “The Lord” (Yahweh) I did not make myself known to them.
Reference: Anderson, Contours of Old Testament Theology, pp 48-49
I think part of the problem here is that the average Christian is not going to make the distinction between teaching a heresy and being a heretic. Whether it was meant differently or not, the reality is that the majority of Christians who read the phrase “this is heresy, straight up” are going to read an implication into it…and I’m not sure there’s an easy way around that :/ Your blog post was a lot more clear on what you meant, but being confined to a brief sound byte on Twitter is going to blur meanings nine times out of ten.
And it’s really hard to engage in civil, thoughtful conversation when it begins with a heresy accusation.
I think this whole debate could have been much more interesting, edifying, and enlightening had it not started with the heresy stuff. That put me, and a lot of other folks, immediately on the defensive. And honestly, I don’t communicate as well when I’m feeling defensive. No one does. 🙂
You are a source of encouragement to many. I hope you know that! I greatly enjoy your writing and appreciate the way you make me think deeper about my faith. I am thankful for you and hurt for you when things like this happen. You are not alone in this!
Oh I know! So many people have expressed that and I’m grateful. I didn’t take this one particularly hard; it’ just made me feel more argumentative and defensive than usual. Starting a conversation with a heresy accusation sorta sets a negative tone. But I did some research on what the Calvinists did to women deemed heretics in Puritan New England and I’ve got it pretty good comparatively. 😉
Thanks for your faithful, wise work on these issues! You know I’m a fan.
Owen, I do wonder about your position. You see, the flagship book of your organization, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” promotes the view that God is in fact a male deity.
(From my book, “When Dogmas Die,” which critiques “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.”)
“John M. Frame affirms that God is not male or female in his essay Men and Women in the Image of God wherefore both the man and the woman are created in the image of God. But because God is described overwhelmingly as male in the Bible, and “lordship in Scripture always connotes authority,” we should think of God as Lord and not use feminine terms. Yet, Frame believes also that the woman images God in her subjection because Christ became a servant, but he denies that God is subject the way the woman is to the man because the woman does not have authority, which God does. Frame does not feel he needs to explain the contradiction of God not being male yet having primarily male qualities, for in his androcentric theology the male human defines God.”
So, which one is it? Does God have primarily male qualities, or not.
Another excerpt, this time from my upcoming book, “Genesis 3:The Origin of Gender Roles”
“But if God is male deity, how can women be in the image of God? And wouldn’t God need a physical body to be a male? “You are gravely mistaken,” says Professor Loki, “for we aren’t male and female only in our bodies.”
– Are you saying also our souls are male and female?
– Of course. A man should be properly masculine, and a woman should be properly feminine.
– But what exactly do we mean when we say “masculine” and “feminine”?
– Masculinity refers to all the things a man should be, and femininity to all the things a woman should be.
– So a man shouldn’t be feminine?
– Of course a man should have some feminine traits as well. The important thing is for a man to be properly masculine. In other words, he must have more masculine traits than feminine traits.
– But how do we know which trait is masculine and which trait is feminine?
– Just look at real men and women, and you’ll find out! chuckles Professor Loki.
– But if both men and women have masculine and feminine traits, how do we determine which trait is masculine and which is feminine without an external source?
– Well, the Bible tells us everything we need to know about the subject.
– But the Bible doesn’t talk about masculinity and femininity.
– What are you saying? Of course it does! Everyone knows God possesses all the masculine traits, retorts a bewildered Professor Loki.
– But since humankind was created in the image of God, doesn’t God have also all the feminine traits?
– Well, of course he does, says Professor Loki testily.
– If God has all the masculine traits and all the feminine traits, how do we know which traits are masculine, and which traits are feminine?
The ancient Greeks were very fond of the concepts of femininity and masculinity. They considered masculinity to be a respectable quality that was reserved to men; women who exhibited masculine traits were not tolerated. However, their goddesses were often profoundly masculine in their behavior, wherefore it appears that masculinity and femininity have more to do with acceptable behavior patterns than who we truly are as men and women. If men and women can be either feminine or masculine, why should men be masculine and women feminine, and who decides what is masculine and what is feminine? Because there is no God-appointed council that decides such matters, it appears that the concept of masculinity allows those who have the power and ability to choose the traits they would like to possess the right to do so. In other words, just as with legal rights, masculine traits ensure that those who have acquired power will also keep their power.”
Since the Bible doesn’t talk about masculine vs. feminine, and since God is beyond his own creation and creation cannot contain God, yet, we as creatures must talk about God in ways that we can understand God, it is equally appropriate to talk about God as a Father or a Mother, for as humans our fathers and mothers image God, reflect who God is. To call God a mother does not make God a woman, just as calling a car a man’s castle doesn’t make it literally a castle. As humans we use words to understand our reality, but those words do not become that reality. That you miss this point, Owen, is your greatest fallacy.
“In the Bible, his name is unswervingly masculine.” Not with the name, El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One. Shad, meaning breast. And then there is all the birthing imagery for God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Our very identity as Christians being “born of God” can in no way be classified as unswervingly masculine.
Very interesting Sara! I’d love to read about that. Any recommendations would be appreciated 🙂
“…we note that God’s name is his identity. In the Bible, his name is unswervingly masculine. So, while God is not literally male, the Bible only directs us to address him in masculine terminology.”
So, you’re saying God isn’t male but God is masculine.
That’s a distinction without a difference if I ever saw one.
I have spent a great deal of time around complementarians, 50 years, and none of them have taught that gender differences, that is “men lead and women follow” will apply to the eternal state in heaven. I haven’t opened a twitter account but if I do, I will want to discuss why CBMW is teaching this heresy, that is, the eternal subordination of women, more and more.
I suspect it has to do with believing that since there is gender in heaven, God must have gender, and that gender is male. I realize you only mean God is spiritually male and women will only be spiritually subordinate to males in heaven but you can perhaps understand where some of this confusion about what CBMW actually believes about God, gender and heaven is coming from.
I agree that both masculine and feminine characteristics derive from God. Actually just published an article about that. http://thoughtcatalog.com/anne-garboczi-evans/2014/05/all-men-are-created-equal-but-what-about-women/
But I see the male pronoun that is used for God throughout the Bible as an anthropomorphism for God’s ompnipotence. Men, since the fall, have always held the power. Thus, for say, Jesus to come to earth in a female body would not properly show God’s omnipotence. I don’t think believing that God isn’t specifically masculine means one needs to use both male and female pronouns for Him. I say go with the pronouns the Bible uses, but just remember that God is also described as having a mother’s love for Israel etc.
What do you think of the omnipotence anthropomorphism?
Thanks for the link. I am excited to read it! I agree that the cultural understanding of gender carries a lot of weight when it comes to authority and omnipotence. This would indeed have made it difficult for Jesus to have come as a woman and for God to have been overly referred to as a woman. I also agree that this is a result of the fall. You bring up very interesting points!
Oh my, just watching ‘The Stepford Wives’! Now I know where these ‘men’ got their totally unbiblical ideas from! Seriously, imperfect man demanding perfect submissive woman, over what God decrees. I didnt think anyone would dare to challenge OUR Creator who is I AM, not I man!
“I AM not I MAN” haha love it Ruth!
I just can’t understand how some men are telling God what He is, rather than looking at what they are before God. They are fallen creation, spouting perfection in masculinity and frailty and sin in women. We all fall short, and won’t they get a nasty surprise in Heaven when they find they are gender less and having to bow their vanity to real perfection!
Good points, Kate. The Deuteronomy passage is especially telling: male imagery is forbidden alongside female imagery. There’s a reason for that, no doubt.
This is excellent, Kate!!….and I love David’s cartoon!!
Great post! And thanks for using my cartoon.
Great cartoon! Thanks friend!
The cartoon is amazingly apt. I was grinning and weeping at the same time.
I love your work, Kate. Another great piece!