According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If Jesus is “Masculine,” the Holy Spirit is “Feminine”

February 6, 2012

Rachel Held Evans has awoken me from my bloggging slumber.

She threw out a gauntlet recently, challenging men to respond to a statement John Piper made at his recent pastors conference devoted to the theme, “masculine Christianity.”

John Piper has caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the blogging world recently with his proclamation at a recent pastors conference that, “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” God, Piper said, revealed Himself in the Bible as king not queen; father not mother.” Furthermore, “the second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man…the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”

Piper concludes that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” I say that Christianity that has given God a masculine feel.

Granted, there are plenty of male-oriented images, allusions, and references in Scripture that are male-oriented. (It doesn’t surprise anyone to learn that the Bible’s authors are mostly — or exclusively — male in mainly patriarchal contexts). “Father” and “Son” are unmistakably male references. The term “masculine,” however, is a highly ambiguous, socially constructed, and culturally dependent term. Further, as Scot McKnight points out, the Greek word for ”masculine” (andreia) never appears in the New Testament (see McKnight for the lone exception, which does not save Piper’s argument).

But I want to focus on another issue. Piper bases much of his argument for a “masculine Christianity” on the idea that God is revealed as male. God (Yahweh) is the eternal “Father”; the eternal “Son of God” becomes incarnate as a human male in Jesus of Nazareth. What do we make of this language? Is “Father” and “Son” supposed to be interpreted literally, or do these terms denote the familiarity and intimacy of the relationship itself? This question flings us headlong into a debate regarding the nature of religious language. Piper’s literalistic hermeneutic involves a univocal view of language, such that “Father” becomes exclusive of anything “feminine” and is used to prioritize the male over the female. It’s a handy move if you want to retain patriarchy. But is God actually gendered as male and therefore exclusively or primarily masculine (whatever that might actually mean?). Any literal ascription of gender to the eternal divine being (think ‘ontological Trinity’) has generally been ruled quite out of bounds in Christian orthodoxy. The notions of divine simplicity, unboundedness, incorporeality, etc., long have prevented theologians from taking gender references to God literally.

Of course, in the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity quite literally becomes in-fleshed in the Jewish, male body of Jesus of Nazareth. Christians rightly take joy and comfort in the particularity of the incarnation for, in Jesus, God was and is reconciling the world. In and through Jesus God heals creation from the inside out. What is not assumed is not healed; therefore God becomes a unique human individual in order to heal all of humanity. The Jewish flesh of Jesus makes sense given that Jesus was to be the Messiah and his mission was to announce and embody the kingdom for Israel and on behalf of the world. But there is nothing really to suggest that the incarnation required incarnation as a male. Perhaps, as some have suggested, the Logos became a man because, to have become incarnate as a woman, and to have sacrificed oneself for the world as a woman, would have been rather unsurprising and unremarkable to first-century observers. That’s just what women do. But when Jesus, this Jewish Rabbi who had come from the right hand of God, willingly set aside his “rights” and his power in order to lay down his life in solidarity with and for the salvation of humanity, he made quite an impression (Phil 2:1-11).

Furthermore, according to orthodox theology, we must be careful when conceptually transferring from the human particularity of Jesus to his divine nature. The Council of Chalcedon asserts the two natures of Jesus are related “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence.” The human nature of Jesus, having the particularity of male humanity, does not imply that the divine nature of Jesus becomes distinctively male – or most certainly — “masculine.” The incarnation, by the logic of the creed, does not imply that “God is male.”

Furthermore, Piper’s focus was on God the Father (Yahweh) and the Son of God. But has he forgotten the Holy Spirit? Irenaeus suggested, quite memorably, that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of God in the world. If the Son causes us to think of God in terms of maleness and “masculinity” (again: a constructed notion), then the Spirit might draw our attention to more “feminine” aspects of God. The Spirit (“ruach” in the OT and “pneuma” in the NT) suggests creative and re-creative (nurturing, sustaining, and life-giving) activities. In Genesis 1, the Spirit hovers over the waters and spirit gives life to human and animals. The Spirit re-creates the earth (Isaiah 44:3), the Spirit comforts (Jn. 14), teaches (Lk 12:12) and heals. Images of the Spirit in the Bible include breath, wind, and wisdom (the latter is often personified in Scripture as female). The prevalence of what could be seen as female allusions in Scripture’s depiction of the Spirit led some early Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit in explicitly female language. The fourth-century Syriac Christian, Aphrahat, wrote, “By baptism we receive the Spirit of Christ, and at that moment when the priests invoke the Spirit, she opens the heavens and descends and hovers over the waters, and those who are baptized put her on” (Demonstration 6:14). Several medieval theologians felt free to play a bit fast-and-loose with gender distinctions in the Godhead, certainly allowing for a female dimension in God. But while some early Christians were happy to speak of the Spirit as “she,” our age is one that has largely forgotten the importance of the Holy Spirit altogether. As Elizabeth Johnson points out in She Who Is (Crossroad Publishing, 2002), the marginalization of the Spirit in the church corresponds to the marginalization of women in the church.

So, if one wants to speak in terms of “masculine” and “feminine” traits in Scripture and in God, one should do so hesitantly. Our talk about God must always take into account the mystery of God and the anthropomorphic and metaphorical nature of theological language–yes, even Scripture’s inspired language. To the degree that the terms “masculine” and “feminine” are helpful distinctions, the “two hands of God” in Jesus and the Spirit ought to cause us to be inclusive in term of how we speak of them in God and with respect to God’s relation to us. We should not make a habit of saying that God is, in any literal sense, either male or female. Granted, Jesus was a male. But his Jewish, male body was resurrected and has ascended. There is no way to know what resurrection and ascension imply for gender particularity.

In any case, if one wants to insist that Jesus was “masculine,” keep in mind that Jesus redefines what it means to be a human, and therefore he redefines what it means to be male and female. We dare not define Jesus’ “masculinity” in the image of our culture’s ideals. Furthermore, if Jesus is ‘masculine,’ the Spirit is “feminine” We (both male and female) are created in (the Trinitarian) God’s image; we don’t create God in our image.

God has not given us a Christianity with a masculine feel. Rather, Christianity has created a God with a masculine feel, to the extent we have forgotten that (1) God is not literally gendered (except in the incarnation) and (2) The Spirit and the Son — the two hands of the Father — suggest a diversity that just might validate the diversity in human creation and thereby give value equally, not just to both sexes, but to all configurations and combinations, in individual persons, of what society has traditionally called “feminine” and “masculine.”



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