Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's Wrong With a Feminine God?: Two Points from Bruce Ware

It has become increasingly popular, particularly among progressive Christians, to de-emphasize (out of embarrassment really) masculine language commonly used to describe and name God. For example, God is spoken of as a Father or as a King throughout the Biblical text in both testaments. The rise of feminism has led many to call into question and even to reject such language. In replace of this patriarchal God unfit for modern times, these progressive Christians have sought to emphasize some of the feminine language used to describe God (for example, Jesus wanting to gather Israel like a hen gathers her chicks). Let us, therefore, speak of the Father/Mother and the Child of God (Jesus). Or, let us be done with masculine names of the Trinity (especially the Father and the Son) and replace it with gender-neutral terms like Creator, Savior, and Sustainer.

But if we are to take Scripture seriously, there are a number of problems with this approach. In his chapter on feminist theology and the Trinity in Wayne Grudem's edited book Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood Dr. Bruce Ware argues against this tendency. The first two points are worth noting here.

First, Dr. Ware notes that the Bible never employs feminine metaphorical language to name God. True, God is sometimes said to be or act in ways like a other (or some other feminine image), but never is God called "Mother" as He is often called "Father."

Secondly,

. . . one might be tempted to dismiss the above "factual" point by appeal to the inherently patriarchal culture in which our biblical language of God was framed. But appeal to culture shows just how odd and even unique it is that Israel chose to use only masculine (and not feminine) language when naming God. The fact is that the most natural route Israel might have taken is to follow the lead of the nations surrounding her, which spoke with regularity and frequency of their deities as feminine. That Israel chose not to do this shows her resistance to follow natural and strong cultural pressures, and it indicates that she conceived of the true God, the God of Israel, as distinct from these false deities. (238)

 These are two important and valid points. Regarding the first, many Emergents and other progressives have revealed a spirit of eisegesis rather than a spirit of exegesis. That is to say that they enter the biblical text with cultural baggage wanting to defend their presuppositions rather than come to the text seeking to understand what the text actually says and means. Yes feminine language is used to describe what God does, but never is God given feminine names.

Regarding the second point, this is one that I had not come across before and it bears emphasis. If we interpret Scripture purely through cultural lens, then perhaps the accusation of patriarchalism might stick. However, Israel stands out for two obvious reasons. First, they were monotheist. Egypt was very polytheistic. Assyria was very polytheistic. Babylon was very polytheistic. Greece and Rome were very polytheistic. And yet through it all, Israel remained worshipers of one, true, and living God. Secondly, Scripture uses strong masculine imagery and names for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Perhaps these early Jews were patriarchal, but the culture around them worshipped mostly goddesses. Israel resisted and avoided this tendency.

More could be said on this issue and Ware in his chapter has much more to say and I would encourage you to buy the book and read it for yourself.


For more:
Ware on the Trinity & Relationships 
Alumni Academy Christology Lectures From Dr. Bruce Ware
"Their God is Too Small": A Review
Reviews in Brief - The Trinity
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