Should We Use Gender-Inclusive Language For God?

Would it be wrong to describe God as feminine? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I recently got into a discussion on Facebook on if we should use gender-inclusive language for God. Would it really be a problem if we used more feminine language to describe God? Could it help men and women to better relate to God?

The motive is good I am sure, but that does not mean that the action itself is. We know there are many ideas that are tried today that have excellent intentions, but they do not produce excellent results. What we would need to know is if there is any data that would help.

Fortunately, there is. This is in a book I am currently going through (Though I have paused to read Bart Ehrman’s newest that came out today) called Why Men Hate Going To Church. It is by David Murrow and I have found it to be incredibly eye-opening. For my own part, I can relate to much of what he says.

Murrow says that there are many men who believe in God and hold orthodox beliefs, but they just don’t care for church. I can say there are many times I can be sitting in a service and my mind is more on a game I’d like to play when I get home. Why? Because in much of church there is nothing challenging and you often hear the same kinds of messages over and over which is pure application. There is little wrestling with the text, serious exegesis, going back to the historicity of the accounts, etc.

One exception to this was a church we attended in Knoxville called The Point. I remember still texting a friend of mine into apologetics during the service and saying “I can’t believe I’m hearing a sermon on the Conquest in the Old Testament.” Some of you might be aghast at texting during church. Don’t be. ours encouraged it. They wanted us to let people know what we were doing and also to text in our questions which the preacher would answer afterward and if it was a lengthy response, he would put up a video message of it during the week.

Murrow says that we have in many ways feminized the church. This is not to say that women are unimportant, but when women dominate a church, the church doesn’t often get the benefits that men often bring, which is greater risk-taking and such. We become internally focused about the family of God instead of externally about the kingdom of God.

Murrow has no thoughts of changing the Gospel. Absolutely not. Instead, remove the feminine focus. Some sayings that guys have a hard time with that he gives as examples are intimacy with God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Intimacy in the Bible refers to sex. Men don’t want to think about sex with God. We love to think about sex and to have it, but not that way. We also don’t talk about personal relationships. If I called a male friend or they called me and one of us said we wanted to talk about our personal relationship, we would be asking if the other was gay.

Jesus does do many things that are not seen as masculine today, such as weeping openly, and no doubt some of our ideas about being a man are wrong, but not all. Jesus is not just the Lamb of God. He is the Lion of Judah. We have often turned Him into Mr. Rogers.

Years ago I read Five Views on the Historical Jesus. One view presented was John Dominic Crossan’s. He talked about how John the Baptist preached a fiery message and got arrested for it and put in jail and executed. Jesus saw this and decided to tone His down to a much greater message of love. Big problem with this theory. This Jesus is a mamby-pamby weakling. This Jesus is not a threat to anyone. This Jesus would never be crucified.

Unfortunately, the data is in and men do not really like going to church when church seems too feminine. The solution again is not to change the Gospel, but to make it a place where men feel they belong. They need to be in a place where they’re not ashamed to tell their fellow men where they are. Men need a place where they think masculinity is accepted and welcomed.

How is this going to be helped by speaking of God as feminine? Men look to other men to be leaders and having God described as a woman won’t help. Yes, I know there are some passages of Scripture that speak of God in some feminine terminology, but these are the exception. Most of it is masculine and needs to be emphasized.

We can also be assured that when men start going to church, women will go more too. Women will go more because wives and children often follow the husbands. Not always, but generally if you want to win a family to Jesus, you start with the father. Women will also go if single to find a good and godly man as well at a church where real men are gathered.

While I can understand the desire to help people feel more comfortable at church, I can’t support the idea of changing language for God. If God has described Himself in terminology that’s largely male, maybe we should leave it at that and consider that God can describe Himself better than we can. A little idea can have disastrous results down the line.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Engendered

What do I think of Sam Andreades’s book published by Weaver Book Company? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As a married man, reading about differences in gender is very interesting to me. How is it that husbands and wives are to relate together? What is it that makes us so different? What makes a man a man and what makes a woman a woman? As a Christian, I am thoroughly interested in a Biblical perspective, especially in an age where we often get the soundbite that gender is a social construct.

Andreades’s book is an excellent one. It was one I looked forward to reading every night. It’s hard for some to imagine that someone could take gender and make it interesting, but Andreades makes it fascinating. Andreades pulls you in and if you’re like me, inspires you to be a better man. (The counterpart being a better woman of course.)

Andreades also deals with current issues. He has done interviews with men who used to be in homosexual relationships and are now happily married to women. The interview involves a questionnaire that he calls the “Does She Matter?” quiz. His interviews show that change is indeed possible.

He also deals with false ideas of masculinity and femininity. Some men, for instance, thrive on love more than respect. Does that mean they’re less of men? One favorite part of mine is where he says that he in his life although being a man has never drunk a can of beer. Do you want to step outside and make something of it? As a man who never drinks alcohol, I can assure him I don’t, and I’m also the man who gets absolutely bored at football games.

The book is biblical entirely. One interesting aspect is he’ll tell a biblical story, but you won’t know it is one. These will often open chapters. Then I tried to always find out if I could identify the story. Fortunately, I could. It does make the stories show up in a whole new light. One particular aspect I liked is his look at women in the book of Judges. What is that? I guess you’ll have to get the book to find out.

Andreades also deals with thorny issues like submission in marriage and what role leadership plays. These are handled delicately and I think both sexes can find affirmation in what was said. Both are repeatedly called to live sacrificial lives.

What also makes something masculine? (Or feminine) In a favorite illustration, Andreades asks men to imagine going to the big Super Bowl, promised to be the best one of all. You sit down at the fifty-yard line right up front. Then you look to your left and see a woman. There’s one to your right as well. You look around and the stadium is largely full of women aside from some isolated men wondering what’s going on like yourself. Do you suddenly feel masculine? Could it be the masculinity is not in football, but the men you are with?

Interestingly, Andreades doesn’t really get into sex until the final section and not much is said about it, and I would very much like to hear his perspective on the role of sexuality in marriage. There’s also then something for the single people. If male and female relationships are what define us, can single people be male or female? Of course they can, but again, that’s for you to find out.

If I could recommend one book right now on this topic it would be this one. Andreades is an excellent writer and treats the text seriously. I look forward to any future writings he has.

In Christ,
Nick Peters