Category Archives: Blog

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)

Serving Up a Hot Curry

When Curry was served up at the Royal Wedding, some certainly found it too hot to handle, whilst others appreciated a little spice to the typically bland affair. No we’re not talking Balti Chicken but Bishop Curry who was invited to preach for the marriage of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry.

The aftermath of that sermon was more than just gurgling tummies. Many were talking about it, from Sky News calling him “the unexpected star of the wedding” to Ed Miliband saying Curry “could almost make me a believer.” Some bemoaned it being out of context or that it went on too long. But then, the Christian interweb sparked up about it with the same kind of heat of a vindaloo – some celebrating the preaching of the gospel, others calling him a liberal heretic.

Since I didn’t watch the sermon live, with all the furore, I put it off and have only just set myself to watching it. For what it’s worth, here are some things I think we should keep in mind about it…

1. The Source

You’ve got to know who Bishop Curry is in order to understand where he’s coming from. Curry is the leader of the Anglican Church in America, the Episcopal Church. The problem is, under Curry’s leadership, the Episcopal Church has largely rejected what Christians have always held as true about marriage and sexuality and what the Bible clearly teaches. For this reason, the entire Episcopal Church is suspended from full participation in the global Anglican Communion – in other words, it is under some form of discipline. It makes you wonder what Archbishop Welby was motivated by in inviting him to preach.

Knowing this about Curry helps you understand better his position and the broader meaning behind what he is saying. When he talks about love and marriage, he really means love beyond the bounds of what the Bible affirms and what the Anglican Church has always believed and still does…officially at least. Like with many ‘Christian’ cults, he may use the same words but he may mean something very different by those words.

2. The Style

This is what captured most people. And for his style, I applaud him. As many people pointed out, he preached it like he actually believed it. He was passionate, he held eye contact, he spoke as someone actually speaking not as someone reading. He spoke as someone enthralled by the message not as someone fulfilling a duty. He wasn’t the most dynamic preacher ever, but in contrast to the typical sermon you’d see at a Royal Wedding, it was hot stuff.

It makes sense for our passion level to match the convictions of what we’re actually speaking about. If you’re preaching about data protection law, you’re probably not going to get so excited, but when you’re preaching about the God of Love, of course you should get passionate and display that through your voice and your body! Perhaps there’s something in that for the way we sing, pray and evangelise.

3. The Substance

The message Curry delivered was essentially that love is of God, as exemplified in the death of Jesus, and that when we begin to live out that love, the world flourishes. Because of what Curry actually believes about other things, unless he were to carefully define what he means by “God” and “love” and “Jesus’ death” we can’t know for certain exactly what he means and whether the substance was worthy. But taken on face value and considering the sense of occasion, that’s not bad going.

See, in a wedding, and in fact in a Royal Wedding, I wouldn’t think it’s the right context for a full blown gospel message, unless the couple were Christians. I personally would want to say something about sin and of Jesus dying to bear our sin, but it’s more of a context for whetting appetites with a taste of the gospel. Curry didn’t go as far as I probably would, but what he did say certainly could whet appetites for the gospel. My concern would be where they would follow that up with a main meal. I don’t think their hunger would be satisfied in the Episcopal Curry house!

So there’s a lot that we could be critical about with Curry’s sermon. There’s also a lot to affirm and be grateful to God about – think of when Paul said “whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18) It’s important to think about the context in which we have the opportunity to speak (for example, we may not be able to go into as great depths sharing the gospel in the workplace as we may in a bar after work) but it’s also right to be bold and courageous and hold clear uncompromising convictions about the only message that will save.

(Originally published in the June edition of the church magazine)

photo credit: avlxyz Lamb curry – Roti Bar, Melbourne via photopin (license)

Appreciate Everything

Masterchef has been back on our screens for a few weeks now and is almost at its finale. One thing I’ve noticed is that you’ll never hear the John and Greg, the presenters and judges, say is that they just don’t like this particular ingredient or style of cooking. Whatever meat or vegetable is thrown at a plate, they will appreciate it for its intrinsic flavour. And whether it’s Italian, fusion or street food, they will enjoy its style and flair for what it is.

It means they can be objective and fair judges. Think about how bad it would be for you if you cooked a mushroom based dish and it just happened to be that mushrooms are the one ingredient that they just don’t like. It could be the best mushroom dish in the world, but you’d be marked down just because the judges don’t like mushrooms.

So what Greg and John have managed to do is to have an appreciation for the intrinsic worth and flavour of each individual ingredient and appreciate the excellence of every kind of style of cooking. It makes their appreciation of food so much broader and so much more about excellence rather than preference.

Having this kind of broad appreciation is actually a great trait to have in life. It can make you much more appreciative of things, and not just the things that you have a preference for, but of all things. For example, I’m not a fan of football – it’s just not my preference. But I’m sure if I treated it with this attitude, I could appreciate the skill, the teamwork, the thrill of the game. Or birdwatching – again not my thing – but if I looked carefully at birds with this attitude, there would be things I would appreciate about birds, such as their colours or their characteristics.

Cultivating this kind of attitude will make us into more optimistic people with greater joy who are on the look out for the positives. In short, it’s one of the aspects of life that helps makes us happier. And there are biblical reasons for being this way – biblical frameworks for cultivating this broad appreciation. Here are three…

Goodness of Creation: When God made everything, the repeated phrase he used to describe it was that it was good. He made everything well. Everything has an intrinsic beauty to it, even though corrupted by sin, everything still maintains a level of goodness. To be able to look for signs of goodness and beauty in everything in this world, even above the corruption of sin, will help us have a broad appreciation.

Image of God: When God made humans at the peak of his creation, he invested within us something of his own image. We are made to be in some many ways, like our creator. That means that in every human being, no matter how sinful they are, no matter how impaired they may be, no matter how abused they have been, every human has significant value and worth. As we see that, we will have a greater love for all humans, even those we find it hard to do so.

Common Grace: When humans rebelled against God, we broke everything and we stained everything with sin. There’s not a square inch of this world that isn’t marred by sin’s corruption. But there’s also not a square inch of this world that isn’t held back by God from being as broken by sin as it could be. It’s God’s common grace that provides the needs of all his creatures. It’s his common grace that keeps societies from turning into complete moral anarchic chaos. As we see more of common grace, we will see God’s goodness even in the darkest of places.

But then, we have seen an even greater excellence in God’s special grace, in the image of his Son, in his new creation. We have come to taste and even greater flavour in Christ. Which ought to give us more cause for joy and delight. It ought to raise the level of our other appreciations.

So as we cultivate these three frameworks in our lives, we may find ourselves becoming more appreciative and thankful people. We may then be people who delight in all things, who experience joy even in dark places. And even more so because of the even greater excellencies we have experiences in Christ.

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