Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Trinity and Gender Inclusive Language

This is one of those posts that require me to conjure up enough courage after it is written to hit "publish." I have visions of losing friends and no one ever reading this blog again, haha. In all seriousness, this post involves a certain level of vulnerability and deep honesty. Those two things usually entail the risk of condemnation and rejection. But I hope that anyone who reads this post will give me the benefit of the doubt and enough charity to know that I struggle with this topic and need a place to openly process my thoughts and questions. I want to be checked and corrected by you, my dear faithful reader! But please keep in mind that my questions reveal a hesitancy about this topic instead of an outright rejection of sorts.

I've been in situations lately where groups of women have discussed the issue of using gender neutral pronouns in reference to the Trinity. Usually when these conversations happen, there is always the assumption that every woman automatically agrees that the only self-evident option is to use pronouns that empty any hint of supposed maleness from God's triune being (which assumes the biblical language ever intended for that in the first place). I even find myself very ashamed when I realize I'm still using masculine pronouns to refer to God in conversations with other academics, especially women.

As a woman and a feminist, the idea of voicing my hesitation to gender inclusive language in relation to the Trinity is enough to ensure I will be the outcast who will forever be chosen last for the team. There is no faster way to receive a response of bewilderment, confusion, suspicion, and even a hint of pity. If only you were really progressive and enlightened, you'd understand why women must encourage gender inclusive language when speaking about the Triune God, right?

Yet, I wonder. I share all the same concerns that these good feminists share. I am committed to the cause of women's liberation as much as the next woman. I've felt the oppression more than I'd like to admit and know the good fight is just beginning. In contrast to the author of this post, I don't think that women who are hesitant to gender inclusive trinitarian language are simply "theologically well-educated." There are much more theologically well-educated women who have fought the good fight before me who adamantly disagree with my hesitancy in abandoning the use of masculine pronouns in relation to the Trinity. The matter is far more complicated than reducing this issue to who has the better training or more education (and to be fair, Dr. Millinerd hints as much given his lengthy post on this topic!).

Here is the rub: for me, this is a methodological issue. God gives humanity permission to speak about God. Unless God revealed Godself to humanity, creatures could not know anything about God. All the Barthian blood that runs through my body becomes very nervous when any speech that Jesus uses in relation to himself or God the Father is assumed to be easily replaced with other human language. The language of Father, and Son, and the imagery therein reveal the essential relationship between the members of the Trinity. They neither automatically entail exclusion nor some understanding of the maleness of God's being.

So these are my questions: If this masculine biblical language is abandoned, are we compromising the fullness of God's revelation? Moreover, should Christians simply discard the language given in the biblical witness because it has been abused or is the very task of the Christian to redeem said language? What is really gained by discarding the language used in the biblical witness when we choose gender inclusive language (especially when using female pronouns)? Is the gain enough to warrant or justify such a replacement?

It should be noted that I am not assuming the answers to these questions. That is the entire purpose of this post. I'm wrestling with these important issues for methodological and gender reasons. And at the most basic level, what language should I use when I write and speak? But the careful reader might be genuinely offended at my subtle assumption: the burden of proof is upon the feminists and those choosing gender inclusive trinitarian language to justify abandoning traditional biblical names and pronouns when speaking about God. Again, as a Barthian, I am not opposed to theological revolutions. However, such revolutionary moves can only be done once both one has wrestled with the tradition and also remained faithful to an objective methodological orientation.

Well, I guess with that last sentence, all my cards are now on the table.


Anonymous said...

I'm interested in your thoughts about the gendering of the Spirit. I don't have any problem with the Father/Son relationship, and see the need to preserve that unity. What I don't get is how the Spirit continues to be construed as masculine (in the Creeds, in most modern theology) when both Hebrew and Greek words are feminine or neuter. What gives?

Anonymous said...

Can I recommend Elizabeth Johnson's book She Who Is. It's a book about exactly the topic of your post--gender inclusive language and the Trinity. She changed my mind on the topic, largely because of the depth with which she wrestles with the tradition and has a well considered methodology.

Anonymous said...

Briefly my two cents that are have more thought behind them than I can put down on screen right now. I agree that there is a methodological concern here about the content revelation -- that is, I think I can fairly say that both of us want to truthfully witness to the content of the gospel and which includes scope of relationally between Jesus and the one he calls Father as it is attested in Scripture.

This dedication to the scope of content of the gospel requires discrimination when we take up concepts, forms of presentation, terminology etc. We must be ever mindful of what we are saying when we choose the form and methodology our theological articulations will take (e.g., Barth's dialectical method stands in an inter-informative relation to the content he seeks to explain in witnessing to the gospel. The same could be said for other theologians as well; for all the ways we might disagree with the subject matter and execution of his theology, Schleiermacher masterfully makes this point on method and content as well).

However, I would also say that there is a host of assumptions (cosmological, biological, philosophical, theological, linguistic, and hermeneutical to name a few) we make when we ask the question "what does it mean to be faithful to the gospel when using terms and choosing methods for theological articulation?"

Anonymous said...

Is there something particularly holy about the biblical language itself? If so, then is the worldview or philosophy of life of the biblical writers also a constitutive element of the gospel and to what extent? For instance, you, Melissa, and I would all agree that the gender exclusive form of church leadership assumed in scripture is not a constitutive part of proper Christian life, just as we probably don't (or can't) the share the same ideas about bodies, the dynamics of sickness and demon possession, and understanding of the timetable of the coming of the Son of Man that Jesus, his disciples, and Paul held, etc. And even if we do believe in "spiritual beings" called demons, they are placed within our modern evolutionary cosmology. A final example relevant the issue of Trinity and gender: we know that fathers DON'T implant the rudimentary form of humans in mothers for cultivation until the time of birth. These are some of the glaring instances demonstrating the cosmological, biological, philosophical, theological, and hermeneutical differences that separate the historic "us" from "them."

To be more direct, I am entirely convinced that those who claim to occupy the biblical worldview thereby making it a condition of fidelity to Jesus' person and work (or message) have been deceived or are deceiving themselves. For one, there is no monolithic biblical worldview. A look at the disparate cosmologies of the letters attributed to Paul in the Holy Scriptures is enough to tell us that. And two, the claim to hold to the biblical worldview in its cognitive (which includes linguistic) form and content is, at best, simply an impossibility for our finite minds conditioned by time, space, and the gamut of formative components contained in those two little words. At worst -- and here I am proudly sporting my theological convictions -- it undermines the transhistorical scope of Christ's reconciliation by locating the truth of the gospel and solely within a bizarre conglomeration of ancient worldviews held from Judea to Asia Minor to Greece and Rome between 35 and 100 CE. Should I go on? Its like an immanentized ecclesial subscript to the ancient Apollinarian heresy about Jesus. Just as the ratio of the human Jesus is replaced by the timeless logos in Apollinaris' Christology, so too in a recovery model of scriptural/gospel integrity in theology, the Holy Spirit as the ratio of the Christian life is confined within the worldview of time long ago in a land far, far away -- inaccessibly far away for that matter. Fyi, Kait, I am not accusing you of all of this, and I think it is more complicated when we start discussing in what way scripture is holy and the relative validity of ' imaginatively occupying the world of the Bible' as Barth does in his exegesis and theology. However, there worldview-recovery model when asking critical questions about the gospel is alive and well, and mission killing left-over of Christendom if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

And still, we haven't even gotten into the complexities that come when we raise another series of questions about the transferral of images and historical events across two millennia!

All that to say, when we say that we want to be faithful to the content of the gospel and the person and work of Jesus because it is God who allows us to speak about God, I completely agree. However, I am hesitant to say that this content comes attached to a specific conceptual framework or series of metaphors -- even if they are used by Jesus and recorded in Holy Scripture for the edification of our lives and renewal of our minds.

On to this issue regarding the traditional Trinitarian nomenclature, I agree with your conclusions about keeping the Father/Son language for now, though it is vital to be sensitive to the gender question and continue reforming our theology to witness faithfully to the nature of God's personhood and universal scope of the world's reconciliation and in Christ, I do not presently know of any better way to articulate the trinitarian dynamics (e.g., Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler won't do). I myself, however, would not balk at serious constructive theological attempts to address the problem and rework the language.

Kevin Davis said...


If you are not familiar with it already, the best source defending masculine language for God is Speaking the Christian God, edited by Alvin Kimel. I'm sure that you will find some essays more persuasive than others, but the list of contributors is impressive: Thomas Torrance, Geoffrey Wainwright, Elizabeth Achtemeier, Colin Gunton, Robert Jenson, et al.

Here's my quick take on the subject:
The logic of a "masculine" Trinity is simply that the Incarnation took a masculine form, like it or not. De-gendering the Father and Spirit will also require a de-gendering of the Son, which is impossible. The predication of a singular gender (masculine) for the Trinity is, of course, required by the monotheism of the Trinity, assuming that we are not following a highly suspect "social Trinitarianism" (recall Barth's preference for modal language over "person" language). So, given that a singular gender must be predicated of God and given that the definite incarnate form of God is masculine (Jesus), then masculine language for the Triune God must be retained. It should also be emphasized that Jesus Christ ascended in his incarnate form (his male body), reigning with the Father in eternity as male. That is where Nathaniel Maddox's project will ultimately fail. His desire to find some elusive existential core to the Christian faith cannot abide the ascended male Christ. That's just too historically-contingent for him and most liberals who are basically Platonists.

Even if you are not convinced, trust me that there are other hills to die on. This will not be something that the Church, by large, will change her mind about. Trust me. This is just a strange Euro-American elitist divinity school debate. That's putting it kindly.

Anna said...

I must admit that I like the Kardashians better than theology (as you well know)…but I have a question anyway. As I understand it (which I usually don’t ), you are talking about the “father,” “son” terminology in the Trinity and defending it on the basis of revelation which you find in the Bible…the question then is what to do with those passages that refer to the first person of the trinity in feminine terms or as female. Do we only retain the feminine descriptors of that first person when we are referring to those passages? The ones I have in mind are:
Deuteronomy 32:18 “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Isaiah 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
Isaiah 42:14 “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”
I know that all of those are metaphors or similes but when we talk about God as the Father aren’t we using metaphorical language anyway? Also, I know that feminists lucked out with Hebrew and Greek in that the words for Spirit just happened to be feminine but I find it kind’ve a weenie consolation prize to give to my gender to say that the Spirit is female or at least that the biblical writers were inspired to talk about the Spirit as female. It’s like—here girls, in light of the confines of ancient languages you get to have the Spirit on your team.
Also, there’s some compelling evidence for a female cohort to YHWH before monotheism became such a big deal. What do we do with pre-biblical inspiration then—or at least inspiration that was redacted out of the Bible—maybe that isn’t inspiration—I’m not up on my Barthian terms. Thanks Kait! Always compelling thoughts!

Anna said...

crud. I just found out pneuma is neuter. At least in Hebrew ruach is feminine most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, hi, I'm over here -- you know the one you didn't do the favor of addressing directly. Since you know nothing about me or my other theological beliefs, I'll assume by liberal you mean Barthian until you do me the solid of a direct address and explanation. Could you also provide the references where I've said anything that explicitly contradicts what Barth says. I just though I was riffing on him, so any help would be appreciated.

Still, I am intrigued by the platonism bit. Could you explain your rather ugly charge to me directly with some material freight? A thorough explanation of why you are on team Jesus and I get stuck with Plato seems like a reasonable request from the guy you are pointing at with whom you have no prior acquaintance.


R.O. Flyer said...


What is strange to me is that your justification for exclusively masculine language for God follows precisely from the logic of social trinitarianism. Social trinitarianism is what happens when we conceive of the God/creation relation in terms of a univocity of being, such that the "sociality" which is the Father, Son, and Spirit becomes our "social program" (Miroslav Volf). If you think God in terms of gender or the key to unlocking our "social programs" then what you must reject, in other words, is not only an "infinitive qualitative distinction" between God and creation but also any doctrine of the analogia entis (which would protect this distinction absolutely).

All of this is to say that the logic you use in your suggestion that the "incarnation" functions to not only genderize God but to essentialize that gender (masculinity) pretty much guarantees that you also inscribe masculinity into creation as such. I cannot think of a more perfect example of the dangers of social trinitarianism.

R.O. Flyer said...

To be clear, I invoke the analogia entis not because I in any way endorse it, but because you cannot hold to any version of it and think masculinity is indispensable for naming God.

Anonymous said...

Enter anonymous comment here, including bad grammer and negative attitude about some obscure point that has little to do with original post. Thank you. errr, I mean no thank you. I have an attitude problem!

Kevin Davis said...


I simply don't buy into your "host of assumptions" scenario for filtering dogma. Yes, that tracks with Barth to some degree, but what is the upshot for him? Not much, since Barth is quite aware that whatever the relativity of our language/categories/etc we are still largely bound to repeat the speech given (with all its contingencies and inadequacies...see CD I.1, sections 3-6). To put it in more scholastic categories, our ectypal knowledge of God can only go so far (a "weak likeness" to God's knowledge of himself, to use Bavinck's expression). There's a continuum between Barth here and the existentialism of Bultmann and Tillich, but I take it that the "conglomeration of ancient worldviews" does not fundamentally alter much for Barth in the way that it does for Bultmann. You can disagree and that's fine -- this is just an academic discussion. There's much worse things than being called a Platonist.

Jon Coutts said...

I'm kind of undecided on this point, but when Kevin says the "predication of a singular gender (masculine) for the Trinity is, of course, required by the monotheism of the Trinity" it makes me think about male and female created in the image of God, not to mention the ungendered Spirit and it seems to lend some credibility to a freedom of gender pronouns for the Godhead as a whole. That said, obscuring the maleness of Jesus and the language Father and Son might cloud the import of Israelite significances that come with it, so one would certainly want at least to keep that in play.

Kevin Davis said...

R.O. Flyer,

Yes, you are right that my argument does tend toward a "univocity of being," but I really don't see any way around it. The Incarnation requires this amount of univocity or else we don't have an Incarnation. And with the doctrine of the Ascension, does this make masculinity now a part of the "essence" of God? And/Or, was masculinity a part of the essence of God prior to the Incarnation (the asarkos logos)? I can't really answer these. I'm not sure all that "essence" entails or all that "masculinity" entails. Depending on how these are parsed, I might say "no" to both questions or "yes" to both questions (or "yes" to the first question and "no" to the second). The bare fact that Jesus was male is sufficient, in my opinion, to guarantee masculine language for God, but I would certainly hesitate to make "masculinity" (as a series of attributes) constitutive of God apart from "femininity" (as a series of attributes).

Anonymous said...

Hey Ry,

Would you mind further explaining the connection between social trinitarianism and univocity in talk about God? This is not some kind of an indirect challenge or subtle communication (I'll leave that to the Facebook dopplegängers.), I just missed the connection the first go around.

Thanks-a-mil. (Btw, we haven't hung out yet, and you've been here an entire semester. DC and I are going to see "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" tomorrow evening. Would you be interested?)

Anonymous said...

Nevermind, Ry,

I picked it up in your response to Kevin.
"I'm not sure essence entails all that masculinity entails."
I want to agree with this tendency as well; I would be an interesting issue to pursue further in this discussion.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responding to my questions. I understand that we are wading in rather choppy (though I think far more than merely "academic") waters with these questions. That's why I don't like epithets. Too many serious matters "discussed" theo-blogs wind up depending on them. For good fun though, if were going to have them, they have to justified with some sort of argument and openness for sustained discussion (I still want that explanation about Platonism, btw.). That's my condition engaging further in our discussion.

About Barth, often in at point of a controversy someone mentions that Barth can be used to support any theological perspective. Sometimes such a statements function as smokescreens for concealing one's own insecurities about interpreting/using Barth, a half-hearted commitment to the discussion or supporting one's claims, or yes, even Barth's own deficiencies. Since we both want to use him to support our differing convictions, I think we should continue using him until our own knowledge of his theology proves insufficient or he proves insufficient or irrelevant to the discussion.

Theologically speaking, I think a finite persons "host of assumptions" was an actually upshot for Barth. He seems to see it as a living demonstration of the glory of creation and the universality of the gospel. The pluri-form nature of the assumptions that are formative in the development and constitution of humans is not a problem to be overcome. It does not winnow down the gospel to a core, timeless truth; rather, it demonstrates precisely the opposite: the gospel cannot be winnowed down to our own tidy and timeless definitions of it. This, I would suggest, is an upshot for Barth.

Anonymous said...

Going back to the text you mention specifically, CD I/1 pars 3-6. Take a look at pp.144 ff., where Barth talks about the Word of God as act, I'm drawing from point 1 in particular:

"Not having God's Word in the serious sense of the term, [the Church] stands alone and is referred back to itself. If, however, we insist that the concept of God's Word means that the Church is not alone and is not referred back to itself, then we must accept the fact that the distinction of the times is one of order, and in no case can the contemporaneity of modern proclamation with Scripture and revelation be understood as one that we can bring about by eliminating the distinction, by incorporating Scripture and revelation into the life of humanity. . . When God's Word is heard and proclaimed, something takes place that for all our hermeneutical skill cannot be brought about by hermeneutical skill" (147-8).

Here, I believe, Barth names both of the likely problems we have identified in the "liberal" and "traditional" camp. On the one hand, Barth is worried about incorporating Scripture (and revelation with it) into an ecclesial framework, rendering it mute and predictable. This is what he means by "not having God's Word in a serious form." There is no direction but the self-supporting direction the church chooses for itself preemptive of the moment of hearing the gospel anew. This is my basic argument. On the other hand, Barth acknowledges that we must do theology from some *place,* and hermeneutical knowledge is not an prerequisite to or ingredient necessary for conjuring the Spirit. This is your concern: naming the "host of assumptions" doesn't get us closer to revelation. Though, I am still not clear, Kevin. Do you believe they are there? Or do you think we can share in or hold to Jesus of Nazareth's worldview?

I am not arguing that the validity of our proclamation of the gospel is contingent on naming our assumptions or "demythologizing", as you said. I don't think identifying our "host of assumptions" is the right way of "filtering dogma," at least not in the first instance. I don't think you have to name assumptions to filter dogma, for one thing; though I do think we have to be honest with ourselves about the incongruities between/amongst our everyday dogma, our sunday morning/writing desk dogma, and the dogma of our ecclesial traditions (in the broadest and narrowest senses of the term).

Anonymous said...

One other quote from CD I that supports what I am saying just show that I am not simply dressing Barth up in Bultmannian drab (cause I don't know enough to do that intentionally anyways). From page165:

"The speech of God is and remains the mystery of God supremely in its secularity. When God speaks to [humanity], this event never demarcates itself from other events in such a way that it might not be interpreted at once as part of these other events. . . . Nor should we forget that theology also, in so far as it uses human speech, is in fact a philosophy or a conglomerate of all kinds of philosophies. Even the biblical miracles do not break from through this wall of secularity. . ."

On the other hand (a move we should expect from ol' Karl):

"The secularity of the Word of God does not imply only that it meets us in the garment of creaturely reality. The secularity proper to God's Word is not in itself and as such transparent or capable of being the translucent garment or mirror of God's word. . . What can be brought to light by interpretation and exegesis of this part of the world will always be itself a hidden part of the world, since it is in our own interpretation and exegesis that *we try to find aid, and this part in turn will need fresh interpretation and exegesis, will ultimately resist all solution, and will thus be a contradiction of God's Word and not a complement to God's Word and therefore its simple reflection.*

This last sentence part sentence in particular makes my point. Our words are not so univocally attributed to God as to contain God or always univocally refer to God. Nor do particular words or descriptors (even trinitarian descriptors) timelessly refer to God. We shouldn't forget the Trinity is a doctrinal description developed for explaining or attesting to the reality of God through the reality of faith; it is not the reality of God itself, nor is it's masculinized linguistic form.

Anonymous said...

One last genealogical note on CD I/1 rounded off with a final quote from the "Preface" to CD III/4 where Barth expressly distinguishes himself from Bultmann while also arguing for the fluidity and open nature of all doctrinal articulations.

On using CD I/1 to defend the "ascended male Jesus": I think your argument is better made from CD II/2 -- or, at least after Barth works further and more thoroughly with an analogical mode of thinking and with a historicization of God's being (While the degree of historicization of God's being is debatable, the fact that it's present in Barth's doctrine is not.). If you want the kind of "maleness" predicated to God you are after, the Christology in and after CD II is your best bet; not the Trinitarian doctrine or Christology in CD I/2.

Here is my last quote. It's from the "Preface" to CD III/2 where Barth affirms the relative usefulness of existential philosophy as well as his reservations about its widespread and deep currency in the theology of his contemporaries: "[I]t is one thing to take one's bearings from the fathers, to learn from them and actually to accept their imperishable *insights*-if this is what is meant, I am happy to be dubbed 'orthodox' by my neighbors on the left-but quite another thing to try as a matter of principle to think and speak according to their judgments confessions, or according to a particular ecclesiastical structure. Nobody should maintain that he has learned this from me (though I have been held responsible for the impetus of this endeavor)" (xiii). (**) mine

Confessions are human judgments that might bear insight to the gospel, but they are not the gospel itself or Jesus himself. They are fallible and incomplete -- not only because of the nature of human finitude but also because of sinfulness. As such, I believe inherited doctrinal articulations are subject to revision and possible rejection. This was my original point about the fluid nature of language and our freedom to subvert, forego, or restore certain images from scripture, the tradition, and extra-ecclesial sources in so far as they help us speak about the being of God as God has present-ed Godself in Scripture and our proximate contexts.

mw said...

Kait, I admire and respect your courage (couer = heart) in articulating your questions, particularly on a subject matter as personal and controversial as gendered language for God. Often, we find in questions of this sort that we encounter not only our own but also others's deepest hurts and commitments in navigating the implications of the claims we are making. I remember in one of my first classes at PTS, I was leading a rather large class in a liturgy that included the Lord's Prayer. When it came time for everyone together to say, "Our Father" there were prominent and proud (in a good way) voices that declared "Our Mother" over the rest of us. I say "proud" proudly because I cannot imagine a dignifying God begrudging any woman her dignity as she addresses him (yes, I just said that), especially in a prayer with such petitions. "Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors." They said that line too, and that is not a petition without deep risk and trust for those who see and have felt acutely the abuses of patriarchy in its manifold dimensions. Our language of God (theo-logy) is forged in the wake of the Word made flesh in Mary's womb and shares in his endeavor to foster wholeness and newness in world where action is shaped by language. Jesus spoke of his Father in his own, distinctive human voice -- the voice of a Jewish man raised on the Jewish scriptures with the love of a Jewish mother in a Jewish community on whose lips and in whose hearts were placed love of and faithfulness to a God they knew as Father. The tenor of Jesus's voice was one of affection, adoration, and willing, loving submission as he addressed God as 'Father'. His own father was Joseph who trusted the angel's word in a dream and who risked his own good name to marry a woman who was pregnant not by him, and raised Jesus as his own son. 'Father' in Jesus's community and 'father' in Jesus's family never carried the tenor of fear in Jesus's voice. The Word made flesh spoke that word as he had always known it: intimately, trustingly, lovingly. Our own voice revocalizes Jesus's words, the phrases he used in order that we too might know God intimately, trustingly, lovingly -- the 'we' not born from the bosom of the Father. That not all of us can do so to the same personal effect is precisely why we have Jesus at all. Our language of God is meant to cultivate in us the love of God that Jesus knows as the son of God. Our language of God is also to do for our neighbors what Jesus's language did for his neighbors -- heal, challenge, strengthen, encourage, in short: love. That we orient ourselves towards God in Jesus at all puts us in contact with Jesus's heart and before the eyes of Jesus's Father. As we speak, we seek to conform to Jesus not only in our language but also in our own voice's tenor, having its own particular history of speech and soundings. For the women in my class, they were doing just that--addressing God in their own voices from their own histories. Whether we find we can use the language of 'Father' for God or not, we can acknowledge that Jesus used such language and that the language we use and its resonance in our bodies is to set our lives in the trajectory of his life, both in how we know and love ourselves and in how we know and love one another.

Kait Dugan said...

Mel - That might be the single best comment I've ever gotten on a blog. Can we get lunch sometime in the next few weeks?

mw said...

I would love that, Kait.

Kevin Davis said...


I think we are closer to agreement than otherwise apparent. What you say about Barth is right: "The pluri-form nature of the assumptions that are formative in the development and constitution of humans is not a problem to be overcome. It does not winnow down the gospel to a core, timeless truth; rather, it demonstrates precisely the opposite: the gospel cannot be winnowed down to our own tidy and timeless definitions of it."

I wish I could dialogue more with your selections from the CD, but I am really pressed for time. I'm in the middle of winter semester, with papers to write and exams to worry about. Just a quick note on Platonism: I'm using it as a label for theology that tends to stress the Creator/creature distinction so far that the absolute is not really able to take material form but, rather, must remain in a metaphysically pure realm. I'm thinking especially of (to some degree) Kierkegaard and those overly influenced by him. I love Kierkegaard as much as the next guy, but I see his thinking as heavily Platonist and uncomfortable with the material world. I'm not a full-blown Thomist (Aristotelian), but I am closer to Thomas now than my own earlier days of unabashed Platonism (when I was reading Simone Weil, Iris Murdoch, etc).

Anonymous said...


I too am busy with some remaining assignments from last semester's workload. I understand your reference to Platonism now. You should be able to link to my email from my profile, so perhaps in couple of weeks we can discuss this in a more appropriate venue instead of taking this blogpost a place Kait didn't intend for it to go. If we discuss Jesus Christ as God and human a bit more you might not think I'm such a Platonist in the way you are using the term.


To everyone else,

I recall Kathrn Tanner saying something about traditional masculine Trinitarian language her 2007 Warfield Lectures. There's one lecture where she is working with the Trinitarian persons pervasively. She prefaces the lecture by saying that she is using the traditional terms for the sake of clarity while admitting that there are genuine problems with it. Does anyone know if she talks about this in any of her other works? Thanks in advance.

Progressive Redneck Preacher said...

There is Biblical feminine language for God. Spirit is in Hebrew a feminine word. Wisdom is portrayed as feminine in Proverbs 8. In Isaiah God is portrayed as relating to us as a mother (I believe Isaiah 45 and 66 but would need to double check it). The image of the Holy Spirit as upon the waters in Genesis 1 is of a mother bird brooding over her nest of eggs; the same imagery of God as broody mother occurs in the Psalms when we sing about being under the wings of God; likewise this broody image recurs when the Spirit appears as a dove brooding over Jesus when the Father speaks. Jesus uses broody language to describe his relationship to Jerusalem. Also in 1 Peter 1 maternal language is used of God, when God's Word is likened to a mother's milk. The Word is the milk, God is the mother. I could go on ... I think it is important to have the revelation found in Scripture and tradition, when read through the lens of Jesus, be normative. However it is a more diverse revelation than often recognized. I for one am drawn to Moltmann's approach in THE SOURCE OF LIFE, drawn from the traditions of Moltmann and the Syriac church, of referring to the Spirit as the mother of all Living. It is Her womb we enter in John 3 to be born again, of above, not an earthly mother's womb. So hope those are helpful ways to reflect on it. You can embrace that femininity is an aspect of the Divine and be consistent with Scripture. In fact all masculine imagery for God is really only reflecting one portion of the Bible's imagery and language.

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