Objections to a Masculine God, Part One

Written by Father Bill No Comments

god masculinity bibleIs God masculine? Feminists laugh at the notion. Evangelical feminists tut-tut what they claim is the understandable parochialness of the idea. Complementarians bend over backward to grant as much of the feminist critique of patriarchy as they think is needed, in order to defang the challenge they fear by the question itself. And even defenders of Biblical patriarchy will often scoff at the question, declaring that asking this question makes fundamental category mistake when relating our ideas about God to human notions of sexuality.

However, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:7 makes the point clear: God is masculine. To understand the impact of Paul’s statement today we first need to glance backward at the debate within evangelicalism over the past 40 years or so.

As the feminist revanche against Western patriarchy began to gather steam in academia during the 1970s, evangelical lights within academia were beset with a dilemma. On one hand, they could forthrightly defend Western patriarchy insofar as it grows out of an underlying Biblical patriarchy. The great risk to this approach, however, is that such defenders of Biblical patriarchy would be tarred with the label “fundamentalist” by their feminist colleagues within the academy, and avoiding such disgrace (for it is a disgrace to them to ever allow themselves to credibly be insulted with such a term) is the basic foundation of the evangelical agenda within academe since the beginning of modern evangelicalism in the 1940s.

The other option is the one evangelicals adopted. It has two prongs: (1) to grant to the feminist deconstruction of Biblical patriarchy as much of its critique as possible, doing so with fawning humility, and (2) to posit an explanation of Biblical patriarchy that avoids vulnerability to the feminist slander as persistently as evangelicalism has ever avoided vulnerability to being called fundamentalist.

At the core of feminism’s antagonism to Biblical patriarchy is the Bible’s portrait of God Himself. The bluntly masculine portrait of God that one finds in the Bible gives feminism its chief target. And for so-called evangelical feminists on one hand, or for complementarians on the other hand, God’s patent masculinity in Biblical revelation is ultimately something to be explained away, or explained in a way that makes it of little lasting consequence.

So, again, is God masculine? Let’s begin by evaluating the contention of those patriarchalists who think the question itself is faulty. They think this for any or all of the following reasons:

(1) “masculinity” is a modern concept, unknown in the Bible’s lexicon;

(2) God’s transcendence renders foolish any attempt to speak of Him in created categories; God is “beyond” gender, and so “God is masculine” makes a pointless predication about Him; and

(3) “masculinity” as a predicate for God amounts to an anthropomorphism, and only the spiritually unsophisticated would think such an affirmation is factually true. We will examine each of these objections in turn in subsequent blogs.

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