Monday, February 6, 2012

Different "Feels" of Christianity & the Delicate Balance of Theology

John Piper recently "conclude[d] that God has given Christianity a masculine feel," citing such biblical images as God the king, God the father, God the son, giving people a masculine name (like in common English where "man" can mean "humanity," the Hebrew and Greek languages use a masculine word to refer to people), the penis-requirement for priests, the twelve apostles were male, and that men are the head in marriage (as Christ is the head of the church [see this post for more on Piper's recent conclusion]).

I, too, want to join this concluision-drawing game.

1. God has given Christianity an anti-contraceptive feel due to the overwhelming times where sex is portrayed as only for children, not for pleasure (think about Onan in Genesis 38).

2. God has given Christianity a gay feel. In the Bible, male homosexual acts are talked about significantly more than female homosexual acts. Plus men are asked to be the bride of Christ and read Song of Songs as if they are the woman and God the man. David, the man after God's own heart, had an interesting relationship with his "friend" Jonathan. Christ is the head of the church just as men are the head in marriage. Christ's relationship is with men and men are to understand it through sexual imagery. Christianity has a gay feel. (John of the Cross got it right in his homoerotic poem about the Dark Night of the Soul.)

3. God has given Christianity a pro-choice feel based on the value God puts on human and animal life. People apparently didn't eat animals in "the beginning" (Genesis 9). After that, God requires all kinds of animals in sacrifices and offerings. Then in Jonah, the King of Nineveh has animals repenting and wearing sackcloth, which pleases God enough to not destroy the place. And yet this whole time, God's eye is on the sparrow (Matthew 10:26). God knows when sparrows fall, but God also wants them offered up for sacrifices. God wants life saved eternally, but doesn't care about life on this earth, which is why we'll always have the poor for us (Matthew 26:11) and why God asked Abraham to offer his son for a sacrifice (Genesis 22), wanted the Hebrew people to commit ethnocide (Joshua), and would kill a man and a woman for lying about money (Acts 5). No wonder so many Christians don't care about the environment. We, like God, should care about souls, not life.

Theology is a delicate balance of searching for God and reality while navel gazing. When men control the reading and writing of the Bible, then of course Christianity is going to have a masculine feel. No wonder Christianity had a very anti-Jewish feel when read and controlled by the Nazis. No wonder Christianity had a very white feel when interpreted by US Americans through the 1960s.

Christianity and God will tend to "feel" less like one thing or another when we read the Bible and reality truly in community, community that includes everyone and does not prefer one over the other. Then in community--as the body of God--we will begin to truly experience God and know God face-to-face in each other, not as if in a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12).


  1. I guess I don't understand this post considering that Piper qualifies his conclusion with:

    "When I say masculine Christianity or masculine ministry or Christianity with a masculine feel, here's what I mean: Theology and church and mission are marked by an overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, contrite courage, risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading and protecting and providing for the community. All of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus."

    "It's the feel of a great, majestic God who is by His redeeming work in Christ inclining men to humble Christ-exalting initiatives and inclining women to come alongside those men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work."

    I don't see why that statement necessitates a cynical retort...

    1. Piper's statements necessitate a cynical retort because Trevar has taken Piper's logic and applied it to other aspects of the Bible in the same manner and with the same care (i.e. not very much) that Piper did. The overarching point is, of course, that just like pictures of the historical Jesus, pictures of God tend to come out looking eerily like the person presenting the picture. We are all guilty to some extent of projecting our own world view onto God and thereby anointing our point of view and our perspective over against all others.

      Further, Piper's attempt to show that Christianity has a "masculine feel" to it grossly overlooks numerous passages where God is portrayed in feminine and motherly terms, it misunderstands that all language about God is necessarily metaphorical language, and because of this he feels the need to make normative statements about Christianity where none are appropriate. Yes, God is presented as father in the Bible, but God is also presented as mother (Hosea 11), rock (Ps 18.2), spirit (Gen 1), and even as a moth and rottenness (Hosea 5:12). All of this language is metaphorical language - yes, even including that language that speaks of God as king or father - it is not intended to speak ontological truths about God, nor should it be read that way.

    2. Even if I found Piper's conclusion valid, I would disagree with his tact. True, the history of Christianity is dominated by men; that's what patriarchy entails (although it is one thing to state a historical fact and quite another to say God prefers it that way, so much so as to refer to God as a "He"). However it is either negligent or cruel to be a person in power--a person who knows people look to his words for guidance in how to understand God and life, for guidance in living their lives--and make a statement about history without saying anything uplifting about female leadership within Christianity or the feminine metaphors for God while knowing that same patriarchal history still subjugates women today.