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Idolatry and Male Representation

The new, young associate pastor was praying, and in her prayer she referred to God as “Father-Mother God.” Silence settled over the congregation as mental gasps replaced “Amens.” The associate pastor had transgressed the unofficial line. You can represent God as vengeful or loving, gentle or angry, gracious or demanding, present or distant, but don’t you ever present God as male and female.

I was preparing a communion service with a slightly non-traditional text. Someone reading the material brought a portion of it to me. Was I sure I wanted to use this passage? Wasn’t it feminized? My text had crossed the line. I can represent God as just about anything, but never use feminine language. The feminized language in question? ” . . . gather us under your wing as a hen gathers her chicks . . .” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34).

We constantly use images for God, mental images, yes, but images nonetheless. And there is nothing wrong with mental images, provided you don’t cast them in stone–real stone or mental stone. The Bible uses plenty of images of God, including the feminine image of divine wisdom as used in Proverbs.

The problem comes in when you fix the images in place so that they become your picture of God instead of allowing God to constantly interact with you, shatter your images, and grow you up. As I previously commented on this:

Idolatry places its focus on the image, and thinks it can get hold of God and make him comprehensible. But true worship realizes that we haven’t gotten hold of God at all, that ultimately we stand in ignorance, experiencing something of the reality that is God.

Thoughts about conceptual idolatry have been nibbling at my consciousness as I follow the interview that Adrian Warnock is conduting with Dr. Wayne Grudem (latest entry (#7) here with links to the previous installments) along with the emphasis on male representation, the fear of “feminization” and other interesting aspects. I’ve responded to some of the points along the way (starting with The Most Annoying Theologian I’ve Never Read), but I think conceptual idolatry is the key point.

Complementarians regularly accuse egalitarians (that’s what I am) of ignoring the Bible, of not reverencing scripture enough, and of ignoring scripture where it doesn’t suit us. I certainly don’t agree with their accusations. I think they’re position is unscriptural, if the scriptures are understood properly. But in this case what concerns me much more is that when the complementarian position is carried to the extent of male representation, and when that position is made part of a supposed core of the gospel, I believe the position is anti-God.

Now note that I am absolutely and emphatically not saying that a belief that men should lead in church is itself anti-God. I disagree profoundly with male dominance in leadership. I believe it’s wrong. I believe it’s dangerous and destructive, but it is nonetheless one of our human disputes in how we follow God. When it becomes anti-God, I believe, is when it is placed at the heart of the gospel and made an essential of the gospel, as it is in the post I linked to from the Grudem interview (and elsewhere in the same interview. Why is that? Because it then becomes a crucial part of who God is, part of our image of God, and moreover an unchangeable part of our image of God.

In my morning devotions I encountered the following text:

. . . so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure

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  1. Molly says:

    Wow. This is excellent. Thank you. I’ve been talking/thinking about the same subject, and I really appreciate what you have written today.

  2. joy says:

    WOW sums it up- Idolatry and Male Representation-wow-This was GREAT and I’ve had the gender discussion about God so many times with people! thank you for blogging! I’m gonna’ love reading you- and may have to check out one of your books too! Blessings-PS please keep posting on women in ministry and updating us on this area!

  3. I try to keep up with this area quite a lot. I hear about it frequently because my wife and I often teach and minister together, and we do so on an equal basis, i.e. we each fully affirm the other’s ministry. Those who don’t reject the idea of a woman teaching generally appreciate the combination. I’m more theoretical and provide the structure, she gets right to the point and covers how to implement. If we trade off an hour at a time, the students benefit.

    Want a way to get me bent way out of shape? Just tell me God forbids my wife to teach. It infuriates me. I believe it’s righteous anger (or fury) too!

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