Author Archives: Jonny Raine

Christmas!

Complimentary refreshments will be served at all of our services (except for Christmas Day) including mince pies! Every service will be different so come to as many as you’re able to.

Origins: World

Having completed an overview series of the book of Genesis a year ago, it’s time to revisit the book in a bit more detail. So we’re taking on the first 11 chapters of the book with the title, Origins: World. As we do so, we’ll be exploring what it is that makes us humans in our world, especially in relation to God, and why the rest of the Bible exists. So it’s pretty essential stuff! Here’s the plan:

14 October Genesis 1:1-2:3 Creation
21 October Genesis 2:4-25 Harmony
28 October Genesis 3:1-24 Curse
4 November Genesis 4:1-26 Corruption
11 November Genesis 5:1-32 Death
25 November Genesis 6:1-7:24 Judgement
2 December Genesis 8:1-9:17 Creation II
9 December Genesis 9:18-10:32 Curse II
23 December Genesis 11:1-26 Corruption II

God is a Woman

Since I tend to have Radio One on in the car, there’s no escape from hearing the odd tune I wouldn’t normally listen to. Ariana Grande’s latest offering comes with the title “God is a Woman” and repeats the phrase, “You believe God is a woman”.

Of course, Ariana is not trying to make a theological statement, nor trying to correct another person’s errant theology. My hunch is that the person addressed in the song has put the female object of their affections on a pedestal to the extent that they are godlike.

Pop songs aside though, is God a woman? Or can we speak of God using female pronouns, referring to God as she?

There’s a certain Bishop in the Anglican Church, Rachel Treweek, who has campaigned for this for a few years and in her own practice uses the female pronouns for God. Another article has been published in the Telegraph about her appeals just a couple of days ago.

First thing we’ve got to say on this is that God is not a gendered being as we are, because God is not a physical being. God doesn’t have the physical attributes of gender, nor the chromosomal make-up. As Spirit, God is not physically and biologically gendered.

In fact, in terms of God’s characteristics, though God displays many typically masculine attributes, God also displays many typically female attributes. God is even referred to as mothering on some occasions (For example, Isaiah 49:15 & 66:13).

If God is neither male or female in that sense then, should we just use neutral pronouns and call God, “it”? Well, that would be inappropriate on a different level. To refer to a person as “it” depersonalises them and is belittling, turning them into an inanimate object rather than a person. You and I could well take offence at being called “it”. As such, it is even less appropriate for the greatest being in the universe who is a person — God

If “it” is out of the question, can we therefore pick and choose whether we refer to God as male or female? I don’t think we can. And that’s all because of the nature of God and of revelation.

Because God is so much greater than we are on every level, we cannot figure God out on our own. We must rely on God’s self-revelation in order to grasp who God is. For us to decide we know what God is like reduces God to less than God. But if God is greater and therefore needs to be revealed to us, then God remains lifted high as God should be and we remain humble in our pursuit of God.

How then has God revealed himself in the Bible? With masculine pronouns. God is always “he” in the Bible, not “she”. God is revealed as heavenly “Father”. God is never referred to as our heavenly “Mother”. What’s more, the eternal Son is revealed as a masculine Son, and when incarnated in human form, Jesus came with masculine biology. Even the Holy Spirit is referred to as “He”.

Those occasions when God is described as mothering, they are to draw out the depths of compassion and care and other roles that are more typically associated with mothering. Perhaps it’s similar to how I, as a male parent, might occasionally do things my wife is more inclined to as the female parent. But doing so does not make me any less male.

So, referring to God as “she” is wrong on several levels. It’s wrong because it elevates ourselves making us think we’re able to make up our own understanding of who God is as we please, which then reduces God. But even worse, it’s reversing and therefore abusing God’s revealed pronoun (not just his preferred pronoun but his actual pronoun). To do so is belittling and degrading to God. I think the third command might have something to say about that.

photo credit: lindsay neilson photos Ariana Grande via photopin (license)

The Peterson Phenomenon

Back in January, I started reading a book by Jordan Peterson. I posted a few quotes on twitter, and people started asking me my opinion of him. It took until last month to actually finish the book – it’s a long (albeit not too difficult) read, and my reading pace has significantly slowed down of late! But now I’ve read it I decided I’d give some brief thoughts.

For those who’ve never heard of him, Jordon Peterson is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology. Throughout last year he was gaining significant popularity, especially on YouTube, and particularly amongst evangelical Christians and those of less ‘liberal-progressive’ political persuasion.

He particularly gained notoriety when he was interviewed by Cathy Newman on Channel 4. This interview exposed Newman’s biased agenda and lack of research and enabled Peterson to clearly explain his rational position on topics like masculinity, the gender pay gap and transgenderism. Two thirds of the way through, Newman was left speechless! The interview is well worth a watch.

Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, evolved from an internet post where Peterson posted some suggested rules for how people ought to live. He expands these into chapters that explain and expound the rules using his experiences and knowledge as a psychologist and his research into all kinds of things, including his study of the Bible.

One thing that strikes me about Peterson is his common wisdom. In other words, he offers wisdom that God has graciously made known apart from the special revelation of scripture that enables us to live well as humans. Peterson simply has lots of wisdom to share on all kinds of topics – wisdom that can be gleaned by thinking carefully about how life works at its best and learning from others.

One particular chapter that I’d love every young parent to read is “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.” It’s a brilliant corrective for lacking parenting trends today. He also speaks into masculinity in several chapters, which is certainly worth tapping into and learning from.

Peterson has become popular amongst evangelical Christians largely because he is an ethical ally. On topics like gender and transgenderism, he’s willing to speak frankly from the conclusions he has come to. In an age when all is permissible, gender is flattened, and feelings trump reason, Christians may feel like what they stand up for is completely ridiculous. But to have a secular academic championing ethics and morals that resonate with Christians is affirming.

One eye opening moment for me was when he pointed out that you cannot say that gender is merely a social construct and also say that a woman was born in a man’s body. The two are incompatible statements – think about it! It’s also nice to have someone fighting against those who insist we should only have one or two children for ethical reasons.

However, there is not complete accord with Peterson, especially evidenced by his liberal theology. He doesn’t have a high view of scripture (even though he quotes and refers to it extensively) and he doesn’t have an orthodox view of God. He considers the Christian faith as a source of ancient wisdom rather than divine revelation, and therefore one source amongst all other religions.

If I were to sum up his position, I’d call it realistic humanism. He considers humans as capable of great evil, but challenges us to make ourselves into better people, especially in his coda. This runs opposite to the biblical perspective where we are totally incapable of fixing ourselves and need divine redemption in Jesus.

Peterson, then, is certainly worth reading, especially as a corrective to our increasingly permissive and irrational society. I enjoyed it very much. It’s not a quick ready and is at times quite challenging and provoking. And Peterson must not be swallowed without thinking carefully from a biblical perspective. But parts of it are gold dust!

(Originally posted in the September edition of our church magazine)

photo credit: Gage Skidmore Jordan Peterson via photopin (license)