The gender of The Creator?

19 04 2008

This is part of a synchroblog on http://www.emergingafrica.info/

The question is this: What would the Church look like if we were to refer to God exclusively in the feminine? Perhaps we should ask what the local church would look like.
Here are two stories that may help:

1. I heard of a man once who had really caught the principle of asking God for every day guidance. So much so that one morning he asked “What shirt shall I wear today Lord?” Apparently he had an instant word from God which brought him from the brink of silliness: God answered him, “I’m your father, not your mother”.
Now that may or may not have been God speaking, it may just as easily have been his own reason speaking sense to its owner – often, but not always, God and reason say the same thing.
When I heard that story I wondered what God’s response would have been if it was a woman asking the same question. I think His answer would have been very different; a lot more motherly (or perhaps sisterly), but it would not have been any less fatherly I think.
We must be careful not to ascribe human and created qualities onto God, they at best divine metaphors.
Arlyn put it exceptionally well: “I think that whenever something is established as a “base fact of eternal life,” care must be taken that we don’t come to put our faith in those base facts. After all, they’re merely rational constructs, and God is supposed to be ineffable, right? I mean (to sort-of quote a definition of theism) that anything we can think of about God is a limited and linear approximation of the inconceivable transcendence of God. Therefore, our ‘eternal base facts’ are merely the best we can do, but not actually the reality. In other words, when it comes to faith, they’re mirages that ought not to be confused with reality – which, practically speaking – is simply to approach oneness with God. And that’s an extremely mystical undertaking :-)”
In reality male and female will most likely be hopelessly inadequate to describe God when we finally see him. we think rightly of the Warrior Lover King as male, and the Generous Brooding Creator as female, but it is inadequate the other way round.

2. In my efforts to become more like a little child (which is something we are told is a prerequisite for entry into The Kingdom), and to answer this question as pastorally as possible, I asked my 10 year old if we should call God “He” or “She”. He said “God must be a man because the Church is His bride. If He was the bride that would just be funny.” [by funny I think he means either awkward or strange]
“Any other reason?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “the bible says God is a warrior and you don’t see girls going into battle and stabbing other men and chopping their heads off – charge, charge; Shing, Shing.” [the sound of swords clashing with appropriate actions]
Now one has to understand that my son is male, but I do think that you would get a similar response from girls his age – with a little more rolling of the eyes, more focus on the marriage, and a little less “Shing, Shing”.
(Half of me wishes he could stay little. When he was 3 he gave me the most profound understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity I have ever heard. “It’s easy to understand dad,” he said, “they are all just stuck together.” Brilliant.)

The focus of both these stories is on the necessary either/or understanding of God’s gender (which is much less of an issue even in English than in other European languages), and the denial of Him being neuter. I think this is an overriding truth of Christian identity.
The question is doctrinal, it is mystical but it is also sociological in the nuts and bolts if the local church. Imagine for a moment explaining to my son that he’s actually wrong. That God is as much a bride as a husband. Or, as the question demands that She’s not a husband at all, She is only a bride! Imagine explaining to him that She prefers to let us fight the battles because She is merely creative.
Besides trying to make sense of Jesus’ initiative and His hero status, imagine all the myths that we would have to do away with (not to mention the great movies). I cannot think of a child who be thoroughly confused by that kind of conversation with an adult she trusted. I would battle to think that I am not exposing them to some kind of horrid abuse. And we are only starting with Children; there is every age group and level of faith included in the local church.
Imaging explaining to a single mom that God does not actually take the role of her husband/dad being a, but more of a supportive mom.
Imagine explaining to a teen orphan that God is not actually a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) that God is more of a mother to the parentless.
Now we could argue that it is just social conditioning that needs to be rearranged. But then we immediately have moved from theology to psychology, and that is a worthy debate but not the current one. We could also argue that gender injustices of the past must be put right. But then, given that we have made this mistake in one direction, what is in place to stop equal injustices from happening in the other? A purely feminist society is no more just that a male dominant one, it certainly has not been in the past.
Being correct with the ‘bothness’ of God’s gender in our preaching and everyday speech is not even close to the importance of the either/or understanding of God’s gender for Christians. Especially for those who do not have the mental muscle and the robust faith to reach biblical conclusions without damaging their relationship with themselves, others and God. And, that being true, we must refer to God in the male gender, again my reasons are pastoral.

I remember watching puppies being born. The bitch watched, amazed as a dog can be at what she was producing. Her owner kept encouraging her as her offspring made their debut. She kept saying “You are such a clever girl!”
It was a sweet thing to say, and I must admit that I agree that the whole process is astoundingly clever, or more accurately it reveals an astounding cleverness. But the cleverness is not the dog’s. She is merely the vessel of cleverness, and I hate to admit it but humanity has as much claim on this cleverness as the dog does.

There is something gloriously mystical about gender, and as Envoy has pointed out, in doctrine, the mystical must lead, not the theological. I like Lewis’ take on the matter. We don’t deal with gender issues; gender issues deal with us.
From His essay ‘Priestesses in the Church’ (which I highly recommend for this debate):
“With the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.”

That, I believe, is a foundation. The cleverness of the design does not rest with us because we are not the designer. We may become very skilled at using these instruments but we did not make them, and we ought to recognise that.
As brilliant a guitarist as he was it would have been wrong for Jimmy Hendrics to have taken credit for making either his guitars or his fingers. How then could he have insisted on their attributes?
Also foundational is this; that the skill in using gender instruments is a moral skill. Perhaps it would be better to call it a relational skill. One of the greatest evils in God’s Word is using gender skills immorally. Manipulation and Domination are probably the two worst immoral gender extremes.
Installing political correctness in God’s gender status is, I feel tantamount to claiming gender cleverness. I cannot see that it will in any way enhance church. I can only see it pulling the very fiber of church apart.
It was a great evil to use women as David did the Shunammite, and it only resulted in her further abuse by Adonijah (1 Kings 1) and the abuse of the whole society. But it was an equal evil for Solomon to allow himself to be influenced by the religions of his many wives. (Interesting to note that both faults rested with the men. It always takes an Ahab to allow a Jezebel, but it does not necessarily take a Jezebel to make an Ahab).

This is what I get from scripture:

1. I think that male is legitimised by female and vice versa. Neuter needs no legitimising, male and female do – conceptually and practically, physically and spiritually. God is not neuter, and it is our language, our logic, our observation and our future which demands that we think of Him and refer to Him as one or the other, and that our choice be male. At the same time I see no reason to insist theologically that God is male. In fact I see every reason not to insist this. equally I see no reason to insist that God is female.
Psalm 45 is probably the best place to start, it is my favourite wedding Psalm because it is as much male orientated as female. It is, as far as I can see, the only maskil that is also designated as a wedding Psalm (as the disciples were also designated apostles in Mark 3:14). And it makes the gospel message as accessible as Grimms fairy tails for both grannies and kids.

2. Christ is to the church as a husband is to his wife. Not the other way round.
The explanation in Ephesians is pretty clear. “You thought I was speaking about a man and his wife… no no, I’m speaking about The Great Myth – Christ and His Church. Make sure you follow this perfect example.” (paraphrase Ephe 5:31-33).

3. I think it is significant that not one of the 12 was a woman and that it was a woman, not any of the 12, who had the privilege of seeing Jesus first after His resurrection and carrying the happy news and delivering it to the disciples.
She carried the shortest, least painful (perhaps), and most joyous pregnancy ever. Jesus could have easily appeared to John – he got there first (well not really, that title also belongs to a woman), or to Peter – he went in first.
In every way this function had to be carried out by a woman in the same way as the function of the 12 had to be carried out by men.
Maleness is a backdrop for femaleness and vice versa. This is an essential fact woven into the family fabric of Church and to unweave it is to unweave church and the possibility of future salvations.

I don’t think injustices of the past are enough reason to discard references to God in the male gender. Perhaps what would be consequential (maybe unavoidable) to this discussion would be to address male leadership in the local church.

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64 responses

21 04 2008
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21 04 2008
Nic Paton

Aratus – thanks for your contribution. You have gone to lengths in your exploration of the matter.

It’s an interesting POV yours. You seem to be poised between partriachal orthodoxy (“Christ is to the church as a husband is to his wife. Not the other way round”) on the one side and a desire for the mystical and gender fairness on the other (“Maleness is a backdrop for femaleness and vice versa”).

I’d be interested to know whether you see attempts to explore the feminine mask of the Divine as heresy, and what your definition of heresy, in one sentence, might be.

Thanks again, it’s good to be in discussion with you.

22 04 2008
aratus

Hi Nick

I see this issue in the same way that Paul say circumcision. It can certainly be heretical to refer to God in the feminine in the same way as it would have been heretical for the Galatians to have submitted themselves to circumcision. But it was not heretical for Paul to have Timothy circumcised. The argument goes around insistence. If we insist that God must be equally referred to in both genders in order to remain true to the Word then I think we have crossed a line and are in the same danger as the Galatians and we would rightly be called ‘foolish’. And the answer as to who has ‘bewitched us’ would be the secular feminist worldview.

Now for the hard question, a definition of heresy in one sentence. This is it:
Heresy is the attempt, unwittingly or not, to replace the great theme of scripture, God’s redemptive Love and God’s redemptive action, with any other theme.

Yesterday I was amazed to discover (by Eaton’s teaching) that when Jesus spoke to the 2 men on the Emmaus road he did not say to them, “look it’s me, I’m here now…” Instead he hid that fact from them and explained Scripture to them, because it is all messianic. Then when he left them they did not say “Did our hearts not burn within us when we realised it was Him.” They said “Did our hearts not burn within us when He opened the scriptures to us.”

Thanks Nick! Great debate.

22 04 2008
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23 04 2008
Yvonne

I want to comment on this, but don’t want to cause offence. So I hope you will take the following in that spirit.

All of the above is why I am a polymorphist. I feel that the Divine transcends gender, and includes all genders; it is both one and many. There are local manifestations of it, and an epistemologically transcendent aspect. The Trinity is one metaphor for how it is; male and female aspects is another.

There are a couple of assumptions about gender in your account — that the male is naturally in the ascendant, but must benignly lord it over the female (hence the tensions in your account noted by Nic); and that gender transcends individual expressions of it.

23 04 2008
Orthodoxy and heresy « Khanya

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23 04 2008
aratus

Hi Yvonne… No offence at all, and I appreciate your concern! It says a lot of good things about you :^)

I hold the exact same view. But my argument is pastoral which I have explained I think. It’s the same reason, I believe, why God calls Himself “Father”, and almost certainly why Jesus does.
I think you are confusing my doctrine with my life. Believing that God has no real gender, as we define it in terms of reproductive organs, hormones and predispositions, is not the same thing as my need to refer to God in the male gender.

I don’t think that I assume that the male is naturally in the ascendant in my post. I certainly don’t believe that and I’m sorry if it came across, it was not my intent. I am pretty sure that female is at lease genetically ascendant.
There are reasons why men must be the head of their wives (not male ‘lord it over the female’. I do not believe that at all; that is a dreadful thought!). I know that there is teaching that every male is the head of every female. That teaching is neither biblical nor is it pastoral.
The main reason why men must be the head of their wives is that Christ is the head of the Church, His bride. The Gospel is, amongst other things, a great romance; or, on could say, The Great Romance, that every romance is based upon.
Another reason is that someone should have a casting vote in a human party of two.

But we all agree here that we are speaking in picture language that gender is inadequate in describing God. Ultimately it will also prove inadequate to describe humans.

For now I think we would do well to submit ourselves to the process of gender, because it is a thing that must deal with us. This is not a religions necessity or is it a liturgy. If we fail in this submission (male and female alike) we run a very real danger of de-humanising ourselves. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man is a great study on this.

23 04 2008
Tim Victor

Hi Aratus,

I don’t believe that it’s right to insist that we use the male pronoun in reference to Godde alone and that doing otherwise is heresy. Both male and female are the image of Godde – alone and together. Godde transcends gender in that S/He has no body, no sex organs, but is (in my humble opinion at least) fully masculine and fully feminine. This means that is is more than correct to reference Godde in the feminine and even to try and find a way to express that S/He is both male and female.

Perhaps you want to engage me on this at my <a href=”http://timvictor.wordpress.com/2008/04/21/de-gendering-god-en-gendering-godde/”post as well as here.

23 04 2008
aratus

Hi Tim

Yes I will do. we are currently in the process of being grosely overfed by Michael Eaton and RT Kendall, morning, noon and night. So I am just snatching comments here and there. I have read you post, as you suggested (if it is the same one put up before we started the heresy debate). And will engage as soon as I can.

I just wondered what you thought about 2 things:
1. That Jesus was resurrected with His whole body, circumcised penis and all. If the wounds in his hands and side remained then I would be surprised that His circumcision did not!
2. That the acceptable whole burned offering in Leviticus was always to be male.

I think that where you are going wrong (if I may be so bold) is not taking the thought far enough. If we want to be really correct God has no gender… and ultimately, neither will we. Jesus says it quite plainly to the Saducees in Matthew 22:30.

Through this dim looking glass though, divine gender reference is as necessary as human gender. But it is just a picture, a picture that will serve it’s purpose and then be discarded.
As Lewis said, we will most likely get to keep the weapons we used in this earth even if we don’t use them in eternity… Jesus certainly did.

24 04 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

IMO Godde has no sex but is fully male and female in terms of gender, hence the creation of the image of Godde as inclusive of gender and the applicability of masculine and feminine imagery and references to Godde.

Jesus’ reference to the Sadducees is in reference to male and female sex, marriage and procreation.

24 04 2008
Yvonne

The main reason why men must be the head of their wives is that Christ is the head of the Church, His bride.

That is a rather circular argument. It’s only a metaphor. Paul said that Christ was the head of the Church, because he wanted to argue that women must be subservient to their husbands. He also said various other things that I would take issue with, and some that are quite interesting and mystical – he was a fallible human being. (NB – I regard the Bible as a record of some interactions with the Divine, heavily filtered through the cultural milieu and prejudices of its authors and translators.)

But he also said the Church was the body of Christ (so Christ is the head of His body – seems reasonable).

Also, Jesus referred to God as Abwun (in Aramaic) which does not translate directly to the Greek Abba (Father) – apparently it means something rather more gender-neutral, or inclusive of both genders.

Also the idea that in a party of two, someone has to have the casting vote, does not mean that the same person always has to have the casting vote.

24 04 2008
aratus

I think I should have called this post The Creator of The Gender instead of The Gender of the Creator.

Tim – Jesus is speaking to the Sadducees about life after death, not gender specifically; and his teaching is that there will be no marriage in heaven. “They will be like the angels” He says. That implies genderlessness; or, my view, supergender or, more accurately, gender supersedance. Galatians 3:28 says it very bluntly “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul does not say “In the church male and female are equal (true as that is). He says that the distinction is irrelevantly, it has served it’s purpose.
But a resurrected body gets to keep all it’s bits, if it follows Christ’s example. As far as I am aware all they found in the tomb was some linen, everything else went with Him; Yes?

Yvonne – I see now where our difference is, we have a completely different view on what the bible is. We’d have to regard it in the same light before we could meaningfully discuss this issue.
I would love know how it is you came to that view on what the bible is. That is the one view which I don’t see open to us. I can see why it is that some people dispence with the bible completely and I can equally see why others regard it as The Word of God. But I don’t see how it can be “a record of some interactions with the Divine, heavily filtered through the cultural milieu and prejudices of its authors and translators.”
Maybe you could post on it and reply the url to this post?
It may be good to do some of your own research. Look up “Pater” and “Abba” in the Greek, not Aramaic. Aramaic is very limited in the New Testament. Matthew is pretty chock full. But that would only help if you had a very different view of the Bible.

24 04 2008
aratus

In Matthew 14:36 Jesus uses both Abba and Pater together, as an emphasis. I don’t see how either of those two words could be used successfully in the female gender.
Paul expounds on Jesus in Rom 8:15 and again in Gal 4:6.
It could be easily be shown that the concept of ‘sonship by adoption’ that Paul is teaching in both cases included equally men and women. But again in the superseding sense I have described.
Gender has 2 key purposes: marriage explains God’s relationship with mankind to mankind (and vice versa), there is not other picture. They illustrate each other. And secondly sex is the means of population. After that they are fulfilled, in the same way as the law is fulfilled. They are not discarded but they are superseded.

28 04 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

Perhaps you should read my post. You’re responding based on your reading of the texts (related to the Sadducees and Christ’s resurrection) whereas my reading differs.

It is quite valid to reference Godde in the male gender and certainly has its place but it is not always valid; it is valid to reference Godde in the female gender, just as it is valid to find an alternative, like I have with “Godde” and “S/He”, expressing that Godde is simultaneously fully both and neither.

The language usage in Scripture is not a blueprint legislating that we speak of Godde in the masculine only. Our reaction to this suggestion indicates a bias that requires some unpacking.

Yvonne,

I see Christ and Paul and Godde in the OT as continually liberating women, encouraging them to more freedom and rights than they have in the culture and context those texts were written in. Somehow the church today uses those culturally progressive texts in abusive and regressive ways – to put women in their place as secondary or subordinate to men!?

In my opinion (IMO) we ‘ought to’ follow the biblical example and be sensitive to our context. Language progressed from having “male and female” (e.g. Hebrew) to “male and female and neuter” (e.g. Greek), with some things being referenced in the masculine and others in the feminine. Our context calls for a sensitivity to such references, largely from noting how language and female oppression go hand in hand. Hence a conscious reevaluation of our language used to reference Godde.

28 04 2008
aratus

“In my opinion (IMO) we ‘ought to’ follow the biblical example and be sensitive to our context.”

I have read your post Tim, and I think that this comment sums it up well.
I think that our gender view is pretty much the same (except that you have not answered me on Jesus’ full resurrection… genitals and all. And that I think that God is neither male nor female, that those are just pictures. Hence we must refer to Him in the male gender while here, for pastoral reasons I’ve already given). Where we differ is in our value of scripture. My criticism is that it seems to me that you are being sensitive to context more than following biblical intent.
Understandable but I think mistaken. I agree that we should not treat them as equals, my view is that we should be following biblical intent (not biblical example; some biblical examples are bad) more than being sensitive to our context.
I don’t think that any of us should say that we embrace both current context and biblical values equally, that is neither an honest nor a practical statement. No matter how compatible some of their thoughts are, the two are incompatible in their conclusions. And one will have to take the preference in our thinking. Jesus made this fact pretty clear. The best we can do with context is glean.

There has always been a follow on response from Christians for any and every popular philosophy. Augustine tried to Christianise Platonism; and gave us, unwittingly, the dark ages. Schleiermacher tried to apply Kantian philosophy to Christianity. The result was a ‘scientific’ hermeneutics and a kind of religious idealism. A far cry from the intent of scripture. The faith movement was an inevitable follow on from existentialism and Freud’s ‘ego’. The Jesus movement a follow on from the popularising of Hindu culture, and so on… So now we have a Christianised Post-Modernism, with some interesting thoughts and ideas, and a large measure of truth, just like the other movements. But we need to recognise it’s origins and be intentional about our hermeneutics.

Anyway, despite having enjoyed the chat, I don’t think that the emergent forum is one where I can be either a help, or be helped myself.

29 04 2008
Who’s Heresy ? « fAKE eXPRESSIONS oF tHE uNKnOWN

[…] – The Gender of the Creator and Face […]

5 05 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

I don’t believe we differ in our value of Scripture but we do appear to differ in terms of allowing Scripture to shape our praxis – I’m following what I consider a clear reading of Scripture on this issue.

I don’t believe that there is a “biblical intent” mandating our reference to Godde in the masculine and I believe that Godde is fully male and fully female. In Godde’s economy S/He creates embodied expressions of Goddeself as male and female.

I don’t believe that Jesus retains His penis and a male procreative and sexual function otherwise we would be “given and taken in marriage” after the Resurrection. Wouldn’t you agree that the act of sex, procreation and marriage go hand in hand in the biblical perspective and that we can’t separate between them? The use of the marriage metaphor in relation to Christ and the Church should not be applied to our sexual tools after creation otherwise you’d have to be gay and so would Jesus 😉

What do you mean by your last paragraph?

5 05 2008
Nic Paton

Aratus
I appreciate your openness, intensity, and despite having disagreed with you on a few occasions, I think you bring a lot to the discussion.

It’s the tensions between “orthodoxies” or at least “points of view” that make the emergent conversation a conversation. I’d hope you’d not draw back from that by being so definitive about “neither helping nor being helped”. The conclusion of that sentiment is a schism based on intelectual differences.

In my view there is room enough in G-d for a wide variety of opinions. I love the Message rendition of Col 1:18-20, (despite its use of the masculine and its free wheeling prose):

He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.

5 05 2008
aratus

Hi Guys.

Tim my problem with your view is that it is not grey enough, it has too much political correctness and not enough myth. I don’t doubt that you believe very sincerely that it is a biblical view. But that does not make it biblical.
Now here I am in danger of sounding (even of being) critical. I’m really not intending to be; but I think your view is philosophical, it is influenced not, as you say, by scripture as much as it is influenced by philosophy. And, considerable as the PM influence is, those two are very different.
I’m merely trying to say it as I see it, I mean you no harm in saying it. And, of course, I could be utterly wrong, no one (as far as I am aware) has recently given me exegetical carte blanche.

Let me put it this way Tim. At a king’s is coronation he wears his sword; not, one would hope, to use it. But as a display of his prowess (as Macchiovelli would have said). Since Jesus took his whole body with him (according to scripture), one must conclude that included in the package were his male genitalia. He wears them for the same reason that the king wears his sword for the same reason we will wear our genitalia. Even in times of peace generals get to wear the weapons they won the war with. Satan has never had such equipment or powers of divine persuasion that are given us simply by our gender.
But that does not mean we will ever use them again in either of their functions, and it does not necessitate that any of us are gay. This is a great myth. Male and female will cease to be distinctions, yes. That’s what scripture says but equally scripture says that Jesus got to keep his.
What I don’t know is how the Great Marriage will be consummated, scripture does not say. That there will be a consummation I have no doubt, and I am equally convinced that it will involve no one’s genitalia!
I would imagine it would involve Jesus’ equality with God – His God status and our true selves in absolute unity (Jesus is not marrying a multiple personality disorder). The closest I get to it here is in Worship and I dare say there is no closer picture for it than sex in marriage, far away as that picture is.
To state that God is fully male and fully female is like saying Monet is both The Ultimate Pond and the Ultimate Lilly Pad.
That is the kind of thing that happens when we philosophise our doctrine. It sucks all the richness and wonder out of the myth and leaves us with the dry, empirical bones.
I hope I have not offended you! I don’t intend to. But that is how I see it.

Perhaps I could ask where in scripture you see God’s full femaleness and His full maleness stated as a doctrine essential for our growth and sustainability. But then all we would end up doing is digging for specific gold, and that is not a helpful pursuit.
What I can say is that I see very clearly where, in current philosophical trends, gender equality is of vital importance. I think that view is anti-pastoral, and I think the biblical precedent is one of gender distinction.

5 05 2008
aratus

Nick, thanks.

Rebuke taken, no need for such definitiveness. You are quite right the logical conclusion is division.
But I suppose my real problem is one of time, and I should have been a little more honest… Maybe I should be even more honest in saying that my real problem is my personal discipline. It’s the same reason why I will not have DSTV in my home, I know myself too well – I’d never get any work done.
The truth is that I love this kind of debate, I thrive on it. But I may well turn to it too much and neglect my work. I guess my concern is, again, pastoral. None God has given me must be neglected. Hebrews 13:17 tells me an account will be asked, not of my cyber-opinion but of my pastoring and discipleship, my ‘keeping watch’. Which means sleepless, attentive readiness.

5 05 2008
Nic Paton

But surely pastoring embraces the whole of life? Why is your online activity not valid pastoral work? I’m not saying it should take precedance over those in your flock who you see Face to Face – they should get precedance – but the online relationships you are building up are real relationships, albeit via the medium of the internet.

The upside is that these can prove far more “sharpening” than your Aunty Pats who just need reassurence of salvation, but don’t want to re-examine any fundamentals.

The idea of a “rebuke”, BTW, didn’t even enter my head until you said it. I just wanted to point out that our conversation has resulted in a few sore points. It’s sparring, after all, and we will hurt each other a bit. But if the wounds get too serious then thats not good.

5 05 2008
aratus

Well the online community is not the community I have been asked to pastor, neither has the online community agreed to be pastored by me.
But yes, the upside is true.

I take rebukes where I can find them, intentional or not. There are way too many people singing my praises for my own good… another upside of the online debate.

Agreed, crossing swords must be for the purpose of iron sharpening iron; not for the purposes of blunting or bleeding. But I have not suffered any wound in these debates.

6 05 2008
timvictor

aratus,

It sounds to me that you’re mixing “metaphor” and “analogy” with ontology wrt to the gender issue and that your more concerned with avoiding the relevance of contemporary gender issues (contributions and critiques) than with an exegetical departure on this issue. I may reference this conversation in future writings. Are you ok with that?

6 05 2008
aratus

Yes, guilty as charged.
I am much more concerned with exegetical accuracy than with contemporary gender issues. Purely because contemporary issues come and go (hence the descriptive adjective ‘contemporary’). But God’s Word tends to last.

Please feel free to reference me.

7 05 2008
timvictor

Do you not realise that hermeneutics and exegesis are about both? The word of Godde does not simply fall into our laps, it gets interpreted by people who look at it through their filter – and we all have our filters.

There’s good reasons why we ended up with a canon in the first place along with good reasons why we create contemporary translations of the Scripture as well as good reasons why we no longer conduct church services in Latin and good reasons why we look to expand the notion of church service beyond the church-as-it-is. All of these stem from then so called contemporary issues! All of them required a going back to un-read our reading into Scripture and then required a re-read of Scripture.

But if it works for you then it works for you…

7 05 2008
aratus

Tim, It’s becoming a frustrating conversation and I’m not sure it’s helping either of us. You are not understanding my criticism of your approach at all.
I think there is a big difference between looking at scripture through the filter of culture and looking at culture through the filter of scripture.

You say they (hermeneutics and exegesis) are about both contemporary culture and scripture. Yes, I’m aware of that and I agree, but what I’m challenging you on is HOW they are both about those things, I am NOT challenging the fact that they are about both (not shouting just don’t know how to italicise). I am not suggesting a Greek service, or traveling on foot, or forbidding electronic amplification. I know there is an Amish type approach to culture; and I’m not suggesting that.
My criticism is in the fact that one drives a car on a road, one does not drive a road on a car. Or in the fact that a road takes you somewhere but not in the same way that a car takes you somewhere:
I think that you are interpreting God’s Word with contemporary cultural issues, and I am suggesting that you should interpret contemporary cultural issues with God’s Word. God’s Word itself suggests this and it states, quite clearly, that the opposite (what you are doing) is possible to do with God’s Word and it is to be avoided.

You have clearly succeeded in showing that I use God’s Word to interpret current issues. And my point is yes, yes, and so ought you to. I am not trying to deny your claim against me, I am asking by what you view my method as anti? I am also trying to show you what is wrong with your method.

I’ll give you an example:
You say “I don’t believe that Jesus retains His penis and a male procreative and sexual function otherwise we would be “given and taken in marriage” after the Resurrection.”
But you did not come to that conclusion by simply reading scripture. For three reasons:
1. Jesus’ whole body was resurrected that would be very difficult for you to deny scripturally – but you don’t try to deny it scripturally. You try to deny it sexually (or let me say for sexual reasons). It is simple reason from simple reading that tells me that when Jesus offered Thomas a detailed examination of his wounds He could equally have pulled his pants down and shown his male parts.
2. A simple reading of scripture tells me that we get to celebrate a great wedding feast in heaven where the bride is given in marriage to The Groom. And a simple read of scripture tells me that the ‘not giving in marriage’ was very obviously in the context of created humans not given to eachother in marriage in heaven. It is hermeneutics and exegesis which demands that I reject your interpretation.
3. You have disregarded as irrelevantly my suggestion that Jesus could be given in marriage without ever using His male organs. I am left to conclude that you have ignored scripture for the sake of culture, and I am not happy to say to you “if it works for you then it works for you…”. The same bible tells me that we are brothers of the same father and we should point out to eachother where we are going wrong.
I would have liked to think that you hold the same for me, not the relativist view you are displaying.

This all leads me to conclude that you are reading scripture through a culture filter (in this case a relativist / feminist one), which means that whatever in Scripture does not fit into the established contemporary cultural issue you discard. I’m suggesting that you should read contemporary cultural issues through Scripture. Which is a simple process of reading what it says so often that it drills into preconceptions and dislodges or un-establishes them.
It is not a popular pursuit but I think you will find that your ministry is enhanced and simple men, women and children will understand you a whole lot better.
I have no agenda to keep to conservative norms of men ruling. I have argued the case with God (to no avail) that women would do a much better job.

Strongholds exist and, according to my bible, they are ethical in the sense that they are established paradigms shaped by my world; and they exist in me as much as in anyone else. They must be demolished. We don’t reshape scripture to fit the strongholds, we demolish our strongholds to make room for scripture.

If you can show me in scripture that I am wrong then I will be willing to change my method. What would it take for you to do the same? I would suggest that a mere change in current ideologies would do it.
I hope you don’t despise me for my strong view.

8 05 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

I disagree with you – “ignore scripture”? I believe that “doctrine” is secondary to Scripture and open to review. We don’t find doctrines clearly stated in Scripture, we reason from the Scriptures and develop them through conversation. Then we review them in history.

As I evidenced in my post my point of depature is Scripture with particular reference to Godde creating “humans/humanity” as “male” and “female”. Further, the culture and bias of the biblical languages are relevent to the discussion but we go to far if we suggest that only male/masculine references to Godde are valid and definately too far if we suggest that female/feminine references take something ‘away’ from Godde. They may take away from one expression of the church or another but Godde clearly holds both “images” strongly forward as suitably representative. It sounds to me like you retain a “male bias” with regard to language in reference to Godde, which I do feel is open to critique. Why be so set on this tradition? It sounds to me like you’re defending a tradition based on a reaction toward “feminism” and its critiques, some of which are valid.

I do disregard your view that Jesus remains “as is” after the resurrection. I don’t believe that you have taken seriously that Jesus is resurrected and transformed, human version 2.0 and not human version 1.0 or 1.1 in the case of all of us since Adam and Eve. Further, we cannot use an “image/metaphor/picture” from Scripture to argue that Jesus retains his maleness and will be celibate for eternity (except perhaps with all the women). We cannot argue one way or the other definatively from this event. Rather, it may at best serve both positions equally well.

I don’t have the sense that you’re dialoguing so much as stating a position. If that’s the case, then sure I hear you but don’t agree with you.

8 05 2008
aratus

I don’t think either of us are dialogging anymore. We each hold to a doctrine.

I think that you are using scripture very unwisely. It would be one thing if I thought so from a traditional or liturgical position. But I maintain that scripture agrees with me (or rather that I agree with scripture).

Tell me: how would you define “unsound doctrine” in the contexts of Titus 2:1, Titus 1:9, 2 Tim 4:3, and 1 Tim 4:16?
If a doctrine can be ‘hugiaino’ it follows that one can also be unsound.
Acts 20:27 states the existence of a known, full, and pure Christian doctrine that Paul declared that he preached to the Ephesians and that he left nothing out of it.
If Paul left nothing out of it how on earth can you and I be re-making it or re-reading it or re dialogging it? The best we can do is discover it for ourselves. But it is all there already.
Where do you and I get of doing this kind of thing?: “…we reason from the Scriptures and develop them [doctrines, I think you mean] through conversation. Then we review them in history.”
I agree that some doctrines are not ‘clearly stated’ but most of them are. And I also suggest that a full reading of scripture reveals all of them as clearly stated.
The truth is that your influence is relativism, not scripture.

I don’t suggest going to traditional systematic theological writings and then looking for their conclusions in scripture. I suggest drawing conclusions from lots of reading of scripture; despite (regardless of) current trends, conversations and opinions.
Some current trends agree with scripture. Polygamy is not a current vogue – though I dare say it will come back. Slavery is very much the same kind of thing – though there are more slaves now than there have ever been at any other time in history.

What evidence do you present to maintain that Jesus lost his genitals at resurrection? His resurrection was no “Image/metaphor/picture” it actually happened.
I have nowhere suggested that Jesus will be celibate for eternity I am convinced that the marriage of the Lamb will be consummated. You misunderstand me. Sexual pleasure will pale in impossible comparison with whatever divine pleasure this Groom will indulge in with His Bride. Then we will see quite clearly why it is that reproduction and sexual pleasure had to take place the way it did on earth.
How can you “disregard my view” and at the same time hold that “we cannot argue one way or the other”? The only way you can do this is that you hold a doctrine of gender that is not from scripture.

9 05 2008
timvictor

I feel like you’re “labelling” and “lumping” rather than engaging. I could equally call you an MCP and argue that your misconstruing scripture. Rather, let’s stick to the texts at hand.

Can you illustrate from some of the texts at hand, e.g. the creation narrative, that, or anywhere else that your view that only ‘masculine’ references to Godde are cast in stone through Scripture and that it is somehow unfitting to reference Godde in the feminine and/or gender inclusive terms?

9 05 2008
aratus

Sorry Tim. I don’t mean to label you, that is unfair and unhelpful.
I am meaning, very deliberately, to draw distinction between our methods. But I can see how you feel that I’m labeling you and I apologise for that.

The only reference I really need is Jesus (though there are many others), He calls The Father “Father” because that is what He is.
But please understand me. I’m not suggesting that God must, on all occasions by matter of religion, be referred to in the male gender exclusively. I am suggesting that this picture of gender is a God ordained tool, and very confusing for the church if it’s preachers start referring to God as equally male and female.
Intellectually I can easily understand that God is equally male as female, or neither male nor female (which is a better understanding in my view). But how does insisting on duality of reference help the guy battling with homosexuality or the old granny or the little kids listening to my teaching?
Jesus prayed at Lazarus’ resurrection. “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42).
What are we doing from behind the pulpit for the benefit of people, to help them believe? And what are we doing for the benefit of the feminist agenda?
I know there are gender injustices, they were greater in Jesus’ day… But He still referred to The Father as “The Father”, not “The Mo/Father”. Why? Because clarity is infinitely more important than political correctness.

Do you agree that Acts 20:27 declares that there is existing and complete biblical doctrine or not? That is the real question we are debating. I could find scriptures to support my view and you could find some to support yours (and thus sidestep my accusations). But that is not the point. The point of our discussion is this question:
Is Doctrine established in Scripture? I say it was already in Paul’s day. What do you say?

A great litmus test is this… how would a 5 year old understand what I say? It is an essential for the preacher. Jesus made that fact pretty clear.
If you said to a 5 year old “God says He loves you and is your Father.” and to another “God says S/He [how do you even say that?] loves you and is your Mo/Father.”
Which statement is a 5 year old equipped to understand?
I can tell you right now that God’s love will be utterly lost on the second one as they struggle to comprehend S/He. If they ask you anything they will ask “What is a S/He, and a Mo/Father?”. And you will not be able to explain it to them, I would plead with you not to try! That God loves them never even entered their heads from your statement.
If a 5 year old does not understand then I would suggest rather don’t say it from the pulpit.
Spurgeon:
“It would be a good thing for us all if we had never left off being boys and girls, but had added to all the excellencies of a child the virtues of a man.”

We cannot feed lambs with philosophy.

More Spurgeon (forgive the Stoicism and hear the truth in his words):
“With the weak of the flock, with the new converts in the flock, with the young
children in the flock, our principal business is to feed. Every sermon, every lesson,
should be a feeding sermon and a feeding lesson. It is of little use to stand and thump the Bible and call out, ‘Believe, believe, believe!’ when nobody knows what it is to be believed. I see no use in fiddles and tambourines; neither lambs nor sheep can be fed upon brass bands. There must be doctrine, solid, sound, gospel doctrine to constitute real feeding. When you have a joint on the table, then ring the dinner bell; but the bell feeds nobody if no provender is served up. Getting children to meet in the morning and the afternoon is a waste of their steps and yours if you do not set before them soul- saving, soul-sustaining truth. Feed the lambs; you need not pipe them, nor put garlands round their necks, but do feed them.
This feeding is humble, lowly, unostentatious work. Do you know the name of a shepherd? I have known the names of one or two who follow that calling, but I never hear anybody speak of them as great men; their names are not in the papers, nor do we hear of them as a trade with a grievance, claiming to be noticed by legislature.
Shepherds are generally quiet, unobtrusive people. When you look at the shepherd, you would not see any difference between him and the ploughman or the carter. He plods on uncomplainingly through the winter, and in the early spring he has no rest night or day because the lambs are needing him; this he does year after year and yet he will never be made a Knight of the Garter, nor even be exalted to the peerage, albeit he may have done far more useful work that those who are floated into rank upon their own beer- barrels. So in the case of many a faithful teacher of young children; you hear but little about him, yet he is doing grand work for which future ages will call him blessed. His Master knows all about him, and we shall hear of him in that day; perhaps no till then. Feeding the lambs is careful work, too; for lambs cannot be on anything you please, especially Christ’s lambs. You can soon half poison young believers with bad teaching. Christ’s lambs are all too apt to eat herbs which are deleterious; it needs that we be cautious where we lead them. If men are to take heed what we teach. It is careful work the feeding of each lamb separately, and the teaching of each child by itself the truth which it is best able to receive.
Moreover, this is continuous work. ‘Feed My lambs’, is not for a season, but for all time. Lambs could not live if the shepherd only fed them once a week. I reckon they would die between Sunday and Sunday; therefore good teachers of the young look after them all the days of the week as they have opportunity, and they are careful about their souls with prayer and holy example when they are not teaching them by word of mouth.
The shepherdry of lambs is daily, hourly work. When is a shepherd’s work over? How many hours a day does he labour? He will tell you that in lambing-time he is never done. He sleeps between whiles just when he can, taking much less than forty winks, and then rousing himself for action, it is so with those who feed Christ’s lambs; they rest not till God saves and sanctifies their dear ones.
It is laborious work, too; at least, he who does not labour at it will have a terrible account to render. Do you think a minister’s life is an easy one? I tell you that he who makes it so will find it hard enough when he comes to die. Nothing so exhausts a man who is called to it as the care of souls; so it is in measure with all who teach – they cannot do good without spending themselves. You must study the lesson; you must bring forth something fresh to your class: you must instruct and impress. I have no doubt you are often driven very hard for matter, and wonder how you will get through the next Lord’s Day. I know you are sore pressed at times if you are worth your salt. You dare not rush to your class unprepared and offer to the Lord that which costs you nothing. There must be labour if the food is to be wisely placed before the lambs, so that they can receive it.”

9 05 2008
timvictor

I think a 5 year old may be equally happy referencing Godde in the feminine as the masculine depending on their exposure. I see no reason why a 5 year old would be confused. They’d be equally confused by an exploration of anything in depth.

For the most part, I don’t speak to 5 year olds and my best guess is that you’re older than 5. Why when writing should I be restricted to the simplest references? Spurgeon is not suited to a 5 year old! In fact, pastorally I deal with people who’re “helped” by an expanded image of Godde.

You keep coming back to the “feminist agenda” as you put it. My point of departure is not that agenda as I’ve clearly stated, but departs from scripture. My “light” exegesis of the creation myth is intended to show this.

It sounds like you agree that there is no mandate in Scripture intending that Godde be referenced in the masculine. There may be a preference within some sections of the church, but I don’t believe this should be taken to mean that we are to prefer masculine imagery and references or to speak against those who make use of a wider variety of references. I’m all for using masculine, feminine and gender inclusive references where they suit. In principle I see no reason for an objection to such a practice.

Aratus, do you consider it impossible to have this conversation without setting up something to be anti? If there is no biblical mandate on gender usage wrt Godde, and Godde chooses male and female images for Goddeself, then our “comfort” should apply equally to masculine and feminine references. I suggest that if we’re uncomfortable with feminine and gender-inclusive references then we should explore that further.

9 05 2008
aratus

You cannot pastor people by an “expanded image of God” any more than you can feed sheep on chocolate.

“Spurgeon is not suited to a 5 year old”? Have you not read any Spurgeon?
Here’s some Spurgeon worth reading:
“if I am understood by poor people, by servant-girls, by children, I am sure I can be understood by others. I am ambitious of preaching to the lowest, the rag-tag and bob-tail. I think nothing greater than to win the hearts of the lowly. So with regard to children. People occasionally say of such a one, ‘He is only fit to teach children: he is no preacher.’ I tell you, in God’s sight he is no preacher who does not care for the children.”
That, Tim, is why he was so successful a preacher. These high intellectual pursuits of ours are delusions of grandeur my friend. They do not admit people into God’s Kingdom; they forbid them.

If you think a child would understand S/He, then I don’t think you know children at all. I would advise spending some time with them (about a year in ministry to children is a good start) before you preach again. They can understand very deep issues, but not if it’s murky. It has to be clear. S/He is not clear (and I personally don’t think it’s particularly deep either).

You are suggesting the exploration of an intellectual pursuit which would lead us both to the conclusion we already hold. My concern is not really with your intellectual conclusion, it is with the sentiment (which I think I stated right in the beginning of our conversation). My concern is with your preaching S/He from the pulpit (I’m still unsure how you say S/He out loud, that’s how unclear it is, if preaching is God’s method surely the message must be preachable?). It seems quite clear from your posts that you do preach, and it’s the sheep you’re feeding that concerns me.
With Jesus’ references to “Father” and “Son” to describe Himself and The Father, the scriptural reference is heavily weighted towards the masculine. Why? Could it be that it simply serves as healthy food, clear depth?
“Is God actually male or female” is a question for a thesis (although I see nothing gained by coming to any answer, I don’t think it’s a great question for a thesis) but Christians are not nourished on theses. God could be genderless (or super-gender), as I think; or He could be equally male as female, as you think. It makes absolutely no difference to the lives of men and women, it does nothing for gender equality and it does absolutely nothing for the purpose of clarity.
Again my point (and why I am being so anti), insisting on getting divine gender equality ‘right’ from the pulpit is like insisting on teaching calculus in grade one.

Your pursuit leans toward the intelligentsia, but Jesus’ pursuit leaned toward the child, I think you are working across purposes.
How then do you propose that we all become like 5 year olds? Because according to Jesus we must.
Maybe if you were spend a year in children’s ministry then we could discuss this further (I hope that did not sound derogatory, I really mean that sincerely).
Spurgeon also said “if God has called you to preach, do not stoop to be a king.”
I’d like to say, “if God has called you to pastor, do not stoop to present an expanded image of God.”

Still, if we are to continue, I think our debate must center around Acts 20:27. Did Paul claim to preach an existing complete doctrine or not?

15 05 2008
timvictor

You condescending pratt! I worry for the poor sheep you preach to or possibly preach at.

Sorry, was that a bit harsh? I in fact have a child of my own and have spent time with children and several years doing children related ministry. I personally would not quote much, if any, Spurgeon to a child. Each to their own however.

If you must know: I’m happy to swop between “He” and “She” in reference to Godde when preaching; when writing my preference is to use “S/He”; I generally use “Goddeself” instead of “Him-” or “Herself” when speaking and writing as far as possible.

Pastorally this has resulted in much fruit and so I will keep doing as I am urged by Godde to do. That my practice bears fruit serves as evidence that it does in fact have a bearing on people’s lives. I generally find that new believers have no problems in this area. I hesitate to speculate why your congregants would have a problem with this but that’s your charge not mine. Lend your ear(s) to Godde and S/He’ll tell you that I’m being faithful to the Spirit’s leading in this matter.

Let’s leave the subject there.

On the last question of yours, Why would you want to center a debate around “For I did not shrink from declaring all that Godde wants for you” Acts 20:27 (New Living Translation)? That’s precisely what I strive to do, though when representing Godde I generally lean toward 1 Cor. 2:4. Are you versed at all in historical theology? Are you aware that doctrines are revisited as the occassion warrants? Hence, specific doctrines have received in-depth treatment in the histories of the various church traditions.

16 05 2008
aratus

It’s pretty clear that Paul in Acts 20:27 is referring to a complete counsel of God, not just God’s will specific to the Ephesian’s or their pastors. Paul is speaking about what we would call Doctrine, or Systematic Theology, (NLT is a paraphrase).

I agree that 1 Cor 2:4 is a very good verse to strive toward as a preacher, I’m with you there, striving too. But when God visits in my preaching, in His power it has little to do with me or my striving. I’m not sure though how you see that connecting in this debate.
Doctrines have been revived, not merely revisited. I know there is a historical restoration taking place, each move of God’s Spirit over the Church has been to restore something lost, we have wrongly denominationalised God’s life in God’s Church; but no matter he just moves somewhere else and restores something else. But it was all there in the beginning.
The “in-depth treatment” you speak of is called restoration, specifically the restoration of doctrine. Prophesied incidentally by Amos in 9:11 and then Preached by James in Acts 15:16, over a doctrinal matter, no coincidence there.

I’m asking a question, because I am really interested to know, what would constitute doctrinal boundaries in your thinking? That is what this debate was originally about and what I am trying to understand in your pov. Currently it remains unclear to me.
I probably hit a few nerves, but I’m not finding any other way to get an answer. I read two of your posts in this debate but they did not answer this question. You may have answered it somewhere else though.
The New Testament leads us who preach, in extreme clarity, to be aware that there are doctrinal boundaries and whatever is taught and accepted outside of those boundaries is not sound doctrine.
Just look for a moment at Titus 1:7-2:1.
– How are we who preach to ‘hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught”?
– For what (and by whom) are we who preach “sharply rebuked so that we will be sound in the faith”?
– Where do we go to find this “sound doctrine” to teach?

That’s the reason why I point us back to Acts 20:27. I really would like to know how you see it and how you define NT boundaries with regard to doctrine.

16 05 2008
aratus

Let me put it another way. I will not refer to God in the feminine from the pulpit for the exact same reason you believe you are compelled to (it seems now that we both claim the pastoral reason).

Now, unless we are referencing different deities, either one of us or both of us are wrong (not insincere, I am not doubting your sincerity as I hope you are not doubting mine). But we cannot both be right about this issue, and, since we are preaching it, we’d better get it right.
You are supposing that I will reference tradition or religion as my basis (I hope I am doing none of that), I am supposing that you will reference current philosophy and social trends as yours.
As it turns out we both reference scripture; great, common ground. But I am not clear on your scriptural references.
You have cited some statistics to the reference of the Gender of God, and an inner witness and now you are citing a traditional precedent (if I’m not mistaken).
But where are you getting the biblical unction?
If we are to preach a popular message I would make it my business to be sure there is an extraordinarily clear biblical mandate, because, according to Jesus, our message will by default be across purposes to popular social trends. Where it is not what is to stop us being influenced by the world or some other internal voice?

if it is so necessary to preach equally in the divine gender why a Father and a Son? Why was Jesus not a daughter – that would have sent a clear message. Or even if Jesus was male but referred to The Mother, which He never did, despite His many references to The Father.

Also in one of your posts you said that your sharpest opposition to preaching S/He from inside the Church, came from women, that you were surprised at that response. What then do you mean by “much fruit”? Having a bearing on someone’s life is not “fruit”. Strongholds which are to be demolished, also have bearing on people’s lives (by that I am not saying that you are preaching people into hell, I’m just trying to get a handle on your theology).

“If I must know?”?? Is this not a message you preach? I am glad at every opportunity to explain what is revelation to me. “If I must know” – why must it be torturous to explain it to me? Simply because we disagree? If it is revelation to you would you not want others to have some of it too? I preach because I am compelled to, not “if I must”. Surely even a condescending prig like me needs to hear? :^)

If this is revelation I’d like to be told straight out and shown how dull I am (instead of having to drag it out). Like Jesus did with the disciples on the Emmaus road. But it would have to be done with scripture, like Jesus did (Luke 24:27).

16 05 2008
timvictor

I must admit I’m at a bit of a loss about how to respond here.

My reference to “if you must know” is to serve the point of clarifying something I feel you’re being painstakingly annoying about. There is no good pronunciation of “S/He” verbally unless one’s tongue is capable of something mine is not!? I feel like you’re nit-picking on something and fail to see why you are so stressed on this point? What is your objection, in a clear and concise summary, to a gender-inclusive reference to Godde and to using feminine references in addition to masculine references for Godde?

I’d like to be absolutely sure I’m hearing you right on this (I guess that’s why your post on heresy references the gender of Godde):

1) You’re acknowledging that despite your reliance on Scripture and doctrine you’ve abandoned Christ Jesus Himself in favour of another deity.

or

2) You’re accusing me of following another godde, one who is not Jesus Christ Himself.

and/or

3) Everyone referencing Godde in gender-inclusive terms and in feminine in addition to masculine terms, follows another godde.

If the former please expand because I had I thought you were Christian. If in the latter two senses I caution you to go back and read Matthew 12:31-32 before following that accusation any further. As a Pharisee you may wish to take Jesus’ teachings on being in danger of the fires of hell seriously.

WRT to your last para – my light exegesis of Gen.1 along with Scripture making use of masculine and feminine imagery sufficiently legitimises usage of masculine and feminine imagery and metaphors where appropriate.

16 05 2008
aratus

OK, we’re getting nowhere discussing the gender of God. And, no, you’re not hearing me right – good thing you checked! But, don’t worry, if you go back and read what I did say it will be clear.

There is biblical error and there is sound doctrine, and I am still in the dark as to what you consider unsound doctrine, or what you would check your doctrine against. Your hermeneutics does not convince me that it is appropriate material for the pulpit. It is plainly contrived to make a popular social point, nothing wrong with being current, except that in this case the biblical precedent is stacked way against you.
But you seem to take criticism of you methods and conclusions very personally so I must leave you to them, again with no judgment on either your sincerity or your salvation. I’m convinced that our God is both able and willing to make us stand on that day (Rom 14:4).

I always think though, that if something is difficult to articulate it was probably never intended to be preached.

17 05 2008
Tim Victor

Aratus, it sounds like your completely biased on the subject and not open to engaging at all. I actually don’t find this hard to articulate and here is one clear example of how it has been preached.

Perhaps, for the sake of brevity and clarity, you could stick to shorter responses rather than longer ones.

I don’t see how you can say that “the biblical evidence is clearly stacked against me”? The bible in fact makes use of a number of metaphors and images for Godde, including “rock,” “fortress,” “shield,” “word,” etc. I don’t understand why you strongly assert that we MUST speak of Godde in the masculine and that this is the ONLY acceptable kind of language? Scripture itself has a flexible approach to speaking about Godde. Can you summarise your position clearly and concisely on this issue?

17 05 2008
aratus

OK, shorter responses. good idea.

The gender pictures we have are of Father and Son, not Mother or Daughter. In the sense of metaphors we have to look very hard to find a divine.
But I’m not saying that it is no there. God in the masculine is not the ONLY acceptable kind of language, I have not said that, but it is not appropriate for the pulpit.

I have two objections, which I have stated clearly (though at greater length).
1. Pastoral, you cannot convince me that people are clear with S/He. That kind of sentiment from the pulpit will most definitely bring confusion, as you even admitted in one of your posts.
What you will find, I’m sure, is that people will battle so much with the concept that they will miss your message – unless this is the message you are preaching. If the multi gender of God is you message I would question it’s merits. It does nothing for social equality.
2. I cannot see the biblical precedent to preach multi gender God. Genesis 1 is less than inconclusive, all you have left is the sparse female imagery, so then let’s keep the theory for where it’s appropriate.

Can you summarise your position on Titus 1:7-2:1 and Acts 20:27? And tell me what process you use to avoid preaching ‘unsound’ doctrine?

18 05 2008
aratus

I’ll be in Kenya for just over a week.

19 05 2008
nic paton

I’m not sure what to make of this all. I have been lost in the debate for at least 10 comments, despite the fact that my wife says I am really quite intellyjent.

I vascillate between seeing the to-and-fro-ing as solid constructive debate and then again I think it goes in circle after exasperated circle to little effect.

You both have dog-with-bone qualities, Aratus in support of “clarity” and “sound doctrine” and Tim in favour of “re-envisioning” G-d. I can see from each POV how the other seems unacceptable.

My reading is that Tim has emerged from modernity, while Aratus’s thinking can be described as essentially “modern”. Aratus is quite severe, at pains to defining an othodox “middle”, is verbose (this not as a criticism but a description – “with as many words as deemed necessary”), while Tim (when he is not in full battle regalia) is playfully and heretically concerned with the edges, and tends towards a mysticicm with less relience on words.

Aratus is concerned with the priestly – purification, pastoring, and boundaries; while Tim with the prophetic – embracing chaos, and challenging those boundaries. Its a classic tension in all societies, the church/ecclesia included.

I’m sure those with psychological training will be able to explain the differences and “personality clash” in more explicit ways. And I’m not dimissing the psychological POV here, I’m just not qualified to say more.

I just think you both need to soften up. It’s clear you are both sincere. But I don’t think anyone needs to win the argument.

21 05 2008
timvictor

Nic,

A most helpful summary 🙂

21 05 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

IMO: Your last “summary” is clear whereas the longer passages aren’t clear.

I believe you’ve misread one of my statements as support for yours. My comment to receiving objections from women had to do with the emotive nature of the issue, particularly with reference to women often being sidelined and having to “suck it up” because they’re “supposed to be 2nd”.

Aratus, we aren’t called to preach just what is comfortable or simply what is readily accessible. Would you have preached in relation to Apartheid during the 80s n 90s? If so, then I see no reason why dealing with the subject of Godde is unsuitable. I feel like you’re projecting your audience and comfort levels. In your opinion you may fail to see it’s relevance and fail to see how it can be fruitful. I’ve had no problems in either department. Don’t let your desire for clarity premature close you to something.

Scripture, in many instances, is a lot less clear on subjects that Evangelicals hold very strongly to. Hence we “reason from the Scriptures”. Despite the predominant usage of masculine references to Godde Scripture does not intend to say that Godde is male. Just as biblical authors freely use metaphors and other language tools to make Godde known, so can and should we.

21 05 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

WRT Titus and Acts … I don’t “take a position” on the texts. Hymenaeus and Alexander fit in a long line of people including Marcion among many.

My process is simple, I just don’t preach unsound doctrine 😉

29 05 2008
aratus

Great time in Kenya. We were in the north, right on the Sudanese border. What an amazing place and what lovely, simple, primitive people.

Thanks Nick for the analysis, I take your point about softening up, but I do think someone needs to win this argument.
I’m now halfway through Augustine’s City of God. Now there’s someone who was verbose, but you can understand why. The subject matter was critical then, and it is critical now, and it will be critical for the next generation also.
I think that it should be required reading for anyone entering the heresy debate.
It really is an outstanding work.
Some things Christians just have to get right, I think this is one of them. But if neither of us convinces the other (which looks like the likely outcome) we remain Christians, and therefore brothers (or perhaps sisters?) :^)

29 05 2008
aratus

You just don’t preach unsound doctrine?… I think your misunderstood my question. I don’t doubt your sincerity, what I was asking is by what means are you sure of your accuracy?
You dare not step into a pulpit without taking a position, Heb 13:17 demands we take a position, either that or we must stop preaching… for our own sake.

29 05 2008
aratus

I would agree that scripture has areas that are unclear and contextual digging is required, I think God wants it that way so that revelation can be both personal and relational even though it has been established for 2000 years.
But in this case it is abundantly clear and I feel you are declarifying it with cultural filters:
“The Father” is not called “The Mother”, anywhere. “The Son” is not called “The Daughter” anywhere. Jesus was male on earth and is resurrected with His male parts (whether or not He will use them again is not our debate). The Church is represented as “The Bride” and Christ as “The Groom”, everywhere in scripture.
I can show very clearly that the weight of scripture does indeed intend to show that God is male. But I would add that there are references equally intending to show that God is female (Jesus wanting to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks is a very pastoral example that you have not used).

I think that scripture INTENDS to show God male most of the time, and it INTENDS to show God female in isolated incidents. It is deliberate in both instances but the weight is by far towards God in the male gender.

The question is why is scripture so intentional? and what are the implications of its intent? That scripture is intentional is not the question, that is already established.
So here we agree, that scripture’s intent at God’s gender is intentional and metaphorical. That answers my view and yours quite satisfactorily…
It also shows me that gender is ultimately irrelevant, gender is actually itself a metaphor.

What you have yet to show me is why a gender equal God needs to be preached. What possible gain can come from that? What precedent can you point to in scripture?
The only reason I get from you is that somehow it will enhance gender equality on earth. I don’t see how forcing scripture in this way can possibly achieve gender equality on earth. And I don’t see that achieving gender equality is the aim of preaching.

2 06 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

You’re trying to win an argument and you’re alone in that. I’m not trying to start, win or lose an argument. I’ve been asked by people where I’m coming from and in response have explained and that’s all there is to it. You’re quite avid that my position is heresy and keep referencing some kind of scheme behind it, usually referencing some or other feminist agenda.

Please checkbox a “yay” or “nay” to any of the following:

1) Godde is spirit and as such has no body and no genetalia [checkbox yay or nay]
2) A human male is the image of Godde [checkbox]
3) A human female is the image of Godde [checkbox]
4) Godde has used male and female imagery to show what S/He is like [checkbox]
5) Scripture uses masculine and feminine along with imagery from the vegetable, animal and mineral kingdom [checkbox]
6) A variety of imagery is helpful in making things about Godde known
7) Therefore it is appropriate to use masculine and feminine references to Godde [checkbox]

There is no forcing Scripture in this or even trying to force a gender equality. In fact, none of the complementarian, subordinist or egalitarian arguments even enter the picture, nor does any feminist thinking.

If the above makes anyone uncomfortable the question is “Why?” Aratus, why are you uncomfortable with this? Put your theology aside for a second and speak from your heart.

It’s as simple as that to me and I don’t need to complicate it further and I don’t need to fight about it. Do you?

2 06 2008
aratus

Oh, I think we’re both trying to win, to sharpen and to be sharpened. You have just helped me clarify where I would reference God in the female from the pulpit. Thank you:

A good idea, this does summarise my position well:
1) Godde is spirit and as such has no body and no genetalia [nay, Jesus’ body is completely resurrected, and yay God is Spirit – gender is just a picture]
2) A human male is the image of Godde [yay]
3) A human female is the image of Godde [yay]
4) Godde has used male and female imagery to show what S/He is like [yay]
5) Scripture uses masculine and feminine along with imagery from the vegetable animal and mineral kingdom [yay]
6) A variety of imagery is helpful in making things about Godde known [yay]
7) Therefore it is appropriate to use masculine and feminine references to Godde [nay]
It is certainly not appropriate from the pulpit. The only reason why is doctrinal (and therefore pastoral), it is not even theological. That is where my heart is.

There is one instance where I can see it to be appropriate from the pulpit. When referencing an instance in scripture where God is referenced in the female; to make a point – because scripture does – that God is referenced in scripture in both genders, that God cares for you like a mother, or gathers us as a hen, or whatever the reference is (I would not even qualify it with percentages. I would not say “but God is referenced much more as male, so don’t think of him as a girl”).
But I would still reference God as “He”, for the sake of clarity. “God wants you to know that He is not just another male.” or “God wants you to know that He is as much female (more so even) as every woman in this room. He knows what it’s like to give birth…”

To make it a necessity in preaching to refer to God as “He” as much as “She” is dreadfully confusing and contrived, you are not convincing me otherwise. Scripture does not do that and I see every reason to agree.
We agree these gender things are just pictures, so then for the sake of getting the message across as clearly as possible, use the picture God uses the most.

Are you asking me to put my doctrine aside?
One may as well ask me to lay the foundation to one side while I build.

3 06 2008
aratus

I think you’d do better if you referred to God in the feminine exclusively. And you know that I think that you’d do even better to refer to Him in the male exclusively. But to try and do both?

I tell a story to kids about the North Wind. In my story the North Wind is referred to in the male gender. In GK Chesterton’s kids book “At the Back of the North Wind”, the North Wind is female.
And there is no conflict or confusion in our stories (except that his is better than mine), because our stories are not about gender equality. We’ve each picked one because one must be picked. If either of us went for a S/He in our stories our audience would remember the confusion of trying to get their heads around that one and the story would be absolutely lost on them.

3 06 2008
timvictor

Once again, writing is a different exercise to speaking and affords me the luxury of “S/He”. Speaking is different, hence I’m comfortable using “She” and comfortable using “He” in reference to Godde.

On one hand I fully respect your opinion and have no intention of shifting it. In your pulpit do as you will. In my I will do so too. On the other hand I am amused by your objections to my suggestion and your usage of it on the synchroblog on heresy.

On the matter of the gender of Jesus as resurrected and transformed I don’t believe there is sufficient grows for believing He retains his penis in the current sense within the economy of creation. After all, He is not merely resucitated but transformed bodily too. Hence, if He has a penis it is not like mine and does not work like mine for there is no procreation in the next economy of creation. In that sense, Jesus simply is not “male” in the sense that either you or I am.

Without recourse to outside influences, i.e. feminism and even pulpit preaching, why do you shift from “yay” to “nay” between point 6 and 7?

3 06 2008
nic paton

You are both still being pretty combative. Even though neither of you say you want to win the argument, the underlying tenor of the conversation is still essentially polemic.

If you are seeing yourselves as philosophers, then intellectual combat is what you are committed to. But this is the inconsistency that is a problem – you both have a “ministerial” approach – you say you are interested in “ministry” to the church/world – not a philosopher’s one, and yet you are using hardcore Socratic method.

You disagree. So what? Aratus feels that doctrine is critical, and works from within a hierarchical model. Tim feels Aratus is “hiding” behind his theology, and is doggedly perusing a vision of gender equality, and is more comfortable with an anarchic model. Neither of you HAS to do anything, to work together, or to agree.

But humour me here: I am searching for commonality, even if only as a creative exercise of imagination. In my heterodox vision of the people of G-d theoretical tension is OK. I am all for the inclusion of those unlike myself, despite how difficult that is in practice.

The other option – uniform cultures where we “obey from the top down” – creates other problems much more serious than having a bit of bitching and wrangling “in the ranks”. For example, if there is an imposed hierarchy with the implication that all who would belong tow the line, certain things become taboos and are not discussed. Top down, doctrinally pure, leadership provides a semblance of unity, but in my thought, is not a sustainable one.

True unity is the full manifestation of the diversity of G-d through the Love which conquers all. I’d rather put up with all kinds of brokenness and inconsistency with this vision, than do short term fixes and find that things get seriously broken down the line.

My vision is not going to suit 90-95% of the believing population. So I’m glad for the likes of Aratus that he can take care of Aunty Pat and her 8 friends who simply want to assured, for the 752nd time, that “God gave his Son so that we may have Eternal Life”, while I look after the one gay new age neoshamanic iconoclast muso who happens to believe in Christ, but get very bored by cliché and convention. I’m a minority type – an artist, an outsider, and I’m comfortable with it.

I’d suggest that you both answer me this, just for fun.

How I could build a sacred tribe which includes Aratus, by Tim.
How I could release Tim to minister to the flock in my care, by Aratus.

3 06 2008
aratus

Debate like this is highly underrated. I find it invigorating and, like labour, productive. Thank you both for sticking it out.

Tim I think your yay, nay exercise has helped enormously to define our pov’s.
I’m not sure why you are amused, but I’m glad to at least have provided some entertainment. Could it be that most are unwilling to tackle someone who has so much invested in the idea or that they simply don’t know what to say? I’m not sure.

If Jesus retained his wounds as trophies (which clearly He did) I see no reason why He could not retain his genetalia. Besides the fact that the record is that only the body wrappings were left in the tomb, and what better place to leave what He did not want. If Peter and John has found the wrappings and genetalia I am pretty sure they would have recorded that.
If you conclude your line of thinking you simplify it to a very Platonic worldview. What is the use of a body at all? And clothing (why was Jesus not naked when He appeared after His resurrection? – again for pastoral reasons). At the route of all of our debate is that we will not live in heaven as spirit beings but that a new heaven and earth, a city of God will be established. It will be as spiritual as heaven and as physical as earth.
God is coming to live with us, we are not going to live with Him (Rev 21:3 – the greatest revelation of Revelations in my opinion).
Again, my objections are doctrinal, foundational.
But we agree that whatever we will be (which has not yet been revealed) we will not be bound to our gender the way we are now. I agree completely with “if He has a penis it is not like mine and does not work like mine for there is no procreation in the next economy of creation. In that sense, Jesus simply is not “male” in the sense that either you or I am.”
Except that I would say “Jesus is not simply “male” in the sense that either you or I am.”

I think I have explained the answer to your last question. My doctrine is an inside influence. The preacher (me) is required to “watch his life and doctrine closely”.

3 06 2008
aratus

Nick, you are an inspiration!
I do not prefer pastoring Aunty Pat to pastoring “the one gay new age neoshamanic iconoclast muso” (literally LOL.) I am concerned for both (and I have both in my church). There was a guy this week who announced his engagement to a ‘boyfriend’.

Interesting point about being philosophical and hence inconsistent with ministry objectives. I would have to ask if the same objections could be leveled against Christ in Matthew 21:27 and Mark 7:13 (to name a few)?
I think Jesus’ objectives were very pastoral, He was not arguing to prove a point or to try convince the teachers and pharisees. He was arguing for the sake of the people listening. I wish my motives were as pure, I really do want to win, as I have stated.

But what a great exercise you suggest! I will answer it in a new post. I would suggest neither a top down nor a bottom up orthodoxy, there are more options than that.
I would suggest a front to back orthodoxy to release Tim to minister to the flock in my care… I will explain further.

3 06 2008
nic paton

Aratus – I look forward to where this is going!

A point – I am not opposing ministry and philosophical discourse. Holistic ministry must cater for discourse, and philosophy may be about ministry. What I am saying is that a conversation has a particular frame of reference, there are “rules” of communication that need to be shared.

For example, if you seek to love another, you will forgo being seen to be right. If you seek to conquer, at any cost, that’s probably going to lead to war, and it has it’s rules of engagement.

So when we “minister” – when we are representatives of G-d and G-d’s values – which we should always be – we acknowledge that philosophical discourse is a subset of the greater work of Truth, and will at points “bow the knee” to that greater truth.

But that does not mean it’s an unworthy venture. In fact, by rejecting philosophical engagement many parts of the Church have unwittingly accepted the default philosophies of their sub/cultures.

“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s … ” (William Blake)

3 06 2008
aratus

“When we fight for our ideas we must fight with the rules of ideas; not the rules of war.” – Michael Novak.
I see your point thanks. Love does indeed cover over a multitude of sins.

3 06 2008
timvictor

Aratus,

It sounds to me like we both agree on the foundational elements but differ in how we put them into practise. I say “I’m not trying to win” in referring to ‘not trying to change your practice’; you say “there is a common reference we should agree on” and seem to understand that to equally apply to practice but in a manner that differs from my approach.

I feel like I hear you in your context but am not sure you’re thinking beyond it to hear, see or include mine.

For me this is much like the Methodist-alcohol debate and the Baptist-dance debate. Both have good reasons, at least at point of origin, for not wanting to enter into behaviour they considered inappropriate. For a Methodist to insist that I as a Christian cannot have wine as part of communion is out of context. Similarly for a Baptist to say I cannot use dance as part of worship. (I assume you know what I’m referring to when I reference them?)

And so I believe similar for someone like you to say “Don’t reference Godde in the feminine or in gender inclusive terms and strictly adhere to male and masculine references unless there is absolutely no other recourse”. I don’t believe one can support such a position, but you don’t need to in order to choose your particular practice just as I don’t really need to in order to support mine.

4 06 2008
aratus

“I feel like I hear you in your context but am not sure you’re thinking beyond it to hear, see or include mine.”
Ok, I understand, but are we not in the same context? A pulpit is a pulpit.

Yes I understand the alcohol / dancing references.
I would say to insist that someone cannot have wine is against the biblical mandate. Paul does not do that. But Paul is pretty strong on sticking with what is doctrine and avoiding what is not, so I battle to see them as similar issues.
Drinking wine and dancing are not close to being doctrinal.

“Don’t reference Godde in the feminine or in gender inclusive terms and strictly adhere to male and masculine references unless there is absolutely no other recourse”.
I’m not trying to say that, although I can see how you think that I am.
I am concerned with clarity, not with law, tradition or religiosity.

5 06 2008
aratus

I’ve just put up a new post called “Just for fun” as an answer to Nick’s questions.

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