Also a Mother: Asian Feminist Theology Promotes God Also as Mother

by Kay Bonikowsky | January 30, 2021

Imagine waiting to be born inside a small, warm, and dark home. You feel safe and protected, and every need is provided. You are aware of a faraway pulsing and gentle voice. Eventually, the walls begin to squeeze in on you. At first, gently, then with greater force. You are ejected not so much out, but into a new home. You are born. You experience the gentle voice hinted at inside the womb as a person. You recognize her as Mother. In this way, Aída Besançon Spencer describes being born and intimately recognizing your mother from the inside out. “The mother is experienced first as this all-encompassing presence in the womb.”1 Being close, or immanent, is associated with mother. She asks, “For who could be closer than a mother and an embryo?”2

Evangelicals are known as “born again” Christians, evoking the imagery of re-visiting the intimacy of our mother’s womb. Nicodemus imagined this same idea when talking with Jesus in John 3. But Jesus clarified for him that the second birth requires something different than the first: the person doing the birthing. We must be born of the Spirit. Our new Mother is the Spirit of God. Protestant reformer Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf understood being born again in this way, primarily referring to the Spirit as Mother in the last twenty years of his life.3 Zinzendorf did not have a feminist agenda. He used this term because he believed it clearly and persuasively expressed the nature of God. Craig Atwood says that Zinzendorf “actively encouraged the Brüdergemeine [the Moravian church] to worship the Holy Spirit as the mother of the church.”4 As Mother, not only does the Spirit birth new life, she protects, guides, nourishes, comforts, and admonishes her children. She teaches proper behavior. She asks for obedience. Zinzendorf calls the Spirit the “Mother above all other mothers.”5

Should we hesitate to name the Spirit who gave birth to us as Mother? Asian feminist theologians have no qualms about a theology of the womb, which explores and celebrates our intimate relationship with God as also Mother.6 Evangelicals are known for devotion to the authority of Scripture, yet we have neglected the feminine and motherly aspects of God written into the pages of the OT and taught by Jesus. Even though evangelicals believe the starting point of Christian teaching should be the Scriptures, we can listen to Asian women’s experiences and reflections on God as Mother to deepen our relationship with the one who labored and birthed us into his family. The goal of this article is to provide evangelicals with reasons for adding a maternal aspect to Trinitarian teaching, in order to bring balance to the male-only imagery in the Father-Son relationship by gleaning insights from Asian feminist theology, which promotes God as both Father and Mother.

A New Perspective

Kwok Pui-lan defines Asian feminist theology, hereafter AFT, as a grassroots movement of theologically trained Asian Christian women who are organized to discuss the Bible and faith in the Asian context. It is “also a political movement to transform the church and society so that women’s freedom and dignity will be fully recognized.”7 AFT brings two important perspectives to theological discussion by not only focusing on women, but also by its Asian context. AFT offers evangelicals a new perspective on the motherhood of God because it speaks from women’s perspective, its Asian context affirms the value of the family, and its roots in Asian tradition hold opposing concepts in tension without negating one or the other.

Why turn to AFT to engage the idea of the motherhood of God? William A. Dyrness makes clear in his book, Learning about Theology from the Third World, that listening to other cultures stimulates theological conversation, and with scriptural authority in place it should prompt reflection on how faith reflects cultural context.8 Although evangelicals trust that Scripture is “transcultural and therefore the final authority in theology,” Dyrness explains that evangelicals are often unaware of how culture shapes how we hear and understand the Word.9 Have we allowed Western culture to influence biblical interpretation? Dyrness cautions that this is often the case. Interpreters may tend toward familiar and existing theological positions and disregard a cultural context that brings a fresh perspective.10 Furthermore, interaction with theologians from other cultures more often takes on a posture of correction rather than of learning.11 Grace Ji-Sun Kim, a Korean-American theologian, agrees. She says, “Christianity has become so westernized that anything non-Western sounds foreign or untrue or even evil.”12 Koo Don Yun encourages us that “no single view sees the totality of truth.”13 Truth is not divorced from the context of dialogue, conversation, and personal identity. So, while all cultural views are not equally true, we should be aware of our own contextual bias and learn to engage with those unlike us with the purpose of being mutually corrective.

A Woman’s Experience

AFT emerged in the late 1970s with an emphasis on the Asian woman’s experience as its normalizing factor, not the Western male mind.14 Western Christianity, influenced by the Enlightenment, has historically forwarded the white male as the universal self,15 pushing the female experience to the margins and casting women as the “other.” Marianne Katoppo, one of the first recognized Asian feminist theologians from Indonesia, describes this as a woman’s status always being “derived, never primary.”16 When the experience of men is normalized, God is imagined as male, arranging women into the subordinate role in the spiritual world as well as the physical. AFT desires to not only lift women above subordinate roles, but to address the feminine aspects of God’s character, such as mothering.

Before exploring the theological perspective of Asian women, an evangelical might ask whether it is valid to consider God in feminine and motherly ways. Because the Bible presents predominately masculine words and imagery for God, it is easy to overlook the Bible’s feminine imagery for God. But in biblical interpretation, we must be careful of assuming physical gender when grammatical gender is utilized. Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth-century theologian, calls attention to the inability of grammar to reflect the true reality of God’s person as having a gender. In his “Oration 31” he writes,

Do you take it . . . that our God is a male, because of the masculine nouns “God” and “Father”? Is the Godhead a female, because in Greek the word is feminine? Is the word “Spirit” neuter in Greek, because the Spirit is sterile?17

Every language differs in its grammatical gender designations. For instance, the Indonesian language does not have specific gender pronouns; “he” and “she” are the same word.18 Grammar does not necessarily reflect actual gender.

Even though God is grammatically referred to as masculine and the Spirit as feminine (Hebrew) or neuter (Greek) in the biblical languages, the Bible teaches that God does not have a sex. Numbers 23:19 specifically says that God is not a man; Hosea 11:9 and Job 9:32 affirm this. John 4:24 says that God is pure spirit, which, unlike a body, does not require a sex. A balanced view of God recognizes that even though Scripture frequently reveals God as relating to us as masculine, it does not reveal God as exclusively masculine.19 The Holy Spirit is the Divine Presence as Ruach (Spirit), Hokmah (Wisdom), and Shekinah (Presence)—all grammatically feminine images of God in the OT and in Jewish tradition.20

The Spirit is often portrayed as a brooding mother bird. Genesis 1:2 says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (NIV). “Hovering” is the Hebrew word rachaph, also used in Deut 32:11 to describe God as a mother eagle hovering over her nest of young chicks. Jesus longed to gather Jerusalem under his wing like a hen with her chicks, harkening back to the OT picture of the Spirit brooding as a mother bird.21 This mother bird appeared at Jesus’s baptism as a dove.22 Because of the feminine references to God in the Bible, many contemporary theologians join Count Zinzendorf and affirm teaching the Holy Spirit as Mother.23

Though evangelicals teach that the starting point of theological discussion should be Scripture, it is an illusion to think that we interpret Scripture’s meaning in a vacuum. All theology is contextual, formed within the cultural and personal experiences of the theologian. It is a fallacy to believe that anyone can be completely objective when determining biblical meaning. Lesslie Newbigin explains this illusion of objectivity in his book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. He asserts that every faith tradition brings cultural assumptions and that “what we see as facts depends on the theory we bring to the observation.”24 We must look to the communal experiences of the whole people of God, and Simon Chan suggests including the Christian experiences of those in Asian countries.25 Asian women expect to hear from God in their context of being female, often a subordinate place, and in their context of being Asian, a racial and lived experience of being colonized and dominated. Reading Scripture from the perspective of an Asian woman will naturally lead to different theological reflections and social analysis than from the perspective of a Western evangelical.

However, the contexts of Asian women are “so different and expansive,”26 we must be careful not to universalize all women’s experiences. Despite our hesitation to generalize, there is one observation that can be drawn about most Asian women’s life experience. Rebekah S. K. Moon says that Asian women have suffered all their lives from oppression, injustice, lack of recognition, and prejudice.27 Kwok Pui-lan describes some of the most heinous harms done to Asian women: Baby girls are often considered the result of bad karma, and female infanticide and abortion of female babies were rampant in the past and are still practiced today. A woman’s procreation is government controlled, her labor is cheap, and her body is sold for sex tourism.28 Regardless of wealth or status, the “traditional Asian female virtues of self-sacrifice, obedience and subservience” lead to the extortion of Asian women by governments, employers, and family members.29 Chung Hyun Kyung writes of this suffering poetically: “My mother knew my anguish, as only mothers do; Pitying my misfortune, for she had lived it too.”30

In addition to being discriminated against as women, Asian women also fight the marginalizing influence of Western colonization which imposed racial, lingual, and cultural inferiority on Asian peoples. Colonization has taught Asian women that God is like the white culture: powerful, dominating, all-knowing, a “Great White Father.”31 AFT recognizes that many Asian women are wary of turning to the West for theological instruction about this “conquering” God, believing such theology to have little relevance for Asia because Christianity is the religion of the empires that colonized their home, displaced them, and fragmented their sense of national identity. As a result, AFT speaks from a place of oppression and silence, not power and influence. The dismissed and overlooked poor women living in Asian countries need a compassionate and affirming God who gives “voice to their hurts and pains.”32 The degree of suffering may differ, but all Asian women have indeed suffered.

For instance, in Korea, Confucian influence has ordered the family into a strict hierarchy that reflects their understanding of the cosmic order.33 The most important duties of a Korean woman are to her family. Thus, she must obey her father and brothers, and when she marries, she must remain loyal to serve her husband’s family and produce a male heir. Choi Hee An writes that Korean mothers learn to meet their families’ needs at the expense of their own.34 She adds that Western Christianity, with its patriarchal interpretation of God, has only added to this exploitation of Korean women by asking for more obedience that removes her personal freedom and destroys her identity. By normalizing Korean women’s experiences as illustrative and instructive of the Christian faith, God is presented not as an authoritative Father who punishes a lack of obedience, but as a suffering Mother who sacrifices everything she has for the sake of her family. While a Korean woman may struggle to understand an authoritarian Father God, she instinctively understands a sacrificing God who loves as a Mother. She also recognizes God’s image in herself as she loves and serves her family’s needs. An image of God can be glimpsed in the life of a Korean mother.

This is the reason that AFT begins with women telling stories with the goal of reclaiming “women as subjects with their own thoughts, feelings and voice.”35 AFT aims to develop “alternate traditions which are inclusive of women and men”36 by emphasizing that both men and women are made in the image of God.37 In this way, AFT is a “response and a challenge to the traditional Christian theology”38 because it re-orders those who are often pushed to the side to now be the focus of theological identification.39 AFT proposes that, if Asian women are made in the image of God, then their experiences have something to teach us about God.

The Trinity as a Family

In designating themselves as Asian theologians, Asian feminist theologians draw attention to the historical, mythological, religious, and cultural contexts from which they hail.40 The most important institution in Asian life is the family. Based in Confucian traditions, the family is the basis for all other aspects of life, with clearly defined roles impacting not only the immediate family members, but also the structure of Asian society itself. In this way, patriarchy is ingrained in Asian culture and religion, even becoming evident in its Christian theology. Simon Chan, in Grassroots Asian Theology, says that to reflect Asian family values, Asian theology should be oriented on “the doctrine of the triune God as the divine family.”41 Chan, however, is content with the divine family consisting of “essentially” the Father and the Son.42 AFT would agree with him that for all Asians, family, clan, and ancestors are key to individual identity and status, but it would also ask how you can have a father or a son without a mother. Marianne Katoppo asserts that belief in an all-male Trinity is oppressive to women, and she adds that to have a male deity who alone creates life is ridiculous.43 Choi Hee An also recognizes the imbalance of limiting the family relations of God to solely Father and Son to the exclusion of recognizing the motherliness of the Spirit.44 This is often done by making the Spirit a neutered thing: a dove, a wind, a flame, but not a Mother who births a family.45 AFT recognizes the Spirit as Mother in the triune family.

The basis for teaching the Trinity as a family, with both Father and Mother, is in the Bible. In John 3, the Spirit births the family of God. John introduces us to imagery that has shaped evangelical identity. Jesus told Nicodemus that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born [gennaō] again” (John 3:3 NIV). The Greek verb gennaō is used eight times in this passage. This indicates a parental theme, as gennaō can refer to either begetting (as in the genealogy in Matt 2, for example) or birthing. Nicodemus interprets Jesus as referring to a mother’s role when he speaks of re-entering his mother’s womb in v. 4. Tim Bulkeley details why gennaō in John 3 is correctly understood as giving birth and not as begetting: “In verses 5–6 the preposition ek [“from, out of”] is used, which when used with this verb normally indicates a mother giving birth, rather than a father begetting.”46 John uses this birth imagery throughout his writings. In John 1:13, those who believe in Jesus are born of God. In 1 John, he declares four times that those who are born of God will live differently than before re-birth (1 John 2:29, 3:7–10, 4:7, 5:4).47

Moving beyond John’s writings, James 1:18 says God birthed us by the word of truth. The word used here is apokeueō, which means “to give birth from the womb.”48 This word is also used in 1 Pet 1:3 and 1:23 to describe a Christian’s new birth. In each of these examples, birth imagery is utilized, not begetting. The imagery of being born again is crucial to evangelical understanding of personal conversion and inclusion into the family of God. Being born of the Spirit means that, before we can have a Heavenly Father, we must be born of the Heavenly Mother.

Jesus does not introduce Spirit-birth as a new concept; he is building on OT imagery of God as a Mother laboring to birth a child. Moses says that God gave birth to Israel in Deut 32:18 and Num 11:12. God says that Israel has “been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb” (Isa 46:3 NRSV). When it is time for the new age to come, God says he will be like a mother on her birthing bed in Isa 42:14: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant” (NRSV). Bulkeley explains that “God will initiate forceful action, which will produce something new. This presents the image of God ‘giving birth to a new age.’”49 A mother gives birth, not a father. Again, AFT asks, is God not a Father and also a Mother?

Katoppo stresses the importance of including Mother in the triune Godhead because it is only with a mother’s womb that a family propagates. The Asian hope for the succession of the family is akin to an eschatological vision. She writes,

We should see the great emphasis which the people of Asia place on the continuation of family life, and the Asian outlook on salvation, closely related as it is to the experience of life in the mother’s womb.50

In an Asian worldview, hope is found in “the continuation of life from one generation to another.”51 A mother’s womb is the source of this hope, and it becomes the symbol of that cherished dream.

In the Hebrew language, the noun “womb,” racham, is closely tied not only to birth, but to the emotional response of a mother to her babe. Racham refers to a “motherly feeling,” and it is most often translated as “compassion.”52 As a verb, racham, “have compassion,” can be felt or shown by anyone regardless of gender, but as a Hebrew adjective, “compassionate” describes God alone. Exodus 34:6 establishes it as an essential attribute of Yahweh. “Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger. . .” (author’s translation). God responds to his children with motherly feelings. It is with emotion symbolized by a mother’s womb that God reprieves those deserving punishment and offers the hope of continued life.53 Isaiah 49 begins by saying that God formed and knew Israel while they were in their mother’s womb (49:1, 5). Like a mother could not forget the child she nursed, nor fail to show compassion on the child she birthed, so God cannot forget Israel (49:15). AFT brings a new perspective on God’s compassion, his womb, as the symbol for his dream of a family of many children.

Choi Hee An names God as “Family God,” who dwells with us in our kitchens, gardens, and inner rooms.54 Western theology defines God conceptually, tending toward the abstract.55 This directs conversations to be about God, detached and disengaged from the experience of connecting with God. Kwok Pui-lan suggests that “historical images of divine power, such as father, warrior, and king” which portray “a God situated at the apex of power,” who is far above us, do not consistently reflect how God has connected with humanity.56 Chung Hyun Kyung explains that God did not create and then step back from creation, but God engages, moves, and interacts.57 Hence, Asian feminist theologians expect to experience God in their “everyday, mundane, bodily experience.”58 This pulls God closer. God can be found inside and all around. The emphasis on God being present in creation has led to a pantheistic affinity in Asian thought, but it can also lead to finding God as revealed through creation, history, and daily living. Family God understands the struggles of a woman’s life and listens during laundry and when bathing children. Family God knows what it means to work to provide food and clothing for her family.

In Num 11:12, Moses envisions Yahweh as Family God who is also a Mother. After God became pregnant with the nation of Israel and gave birth to them, he expected Moses to breastfeed them and carry them around like a nursemaid. But God had not abandoned the family. He provided for all their needs, and even came to dwell with his children in the wilderness as Shekinah, a feminine term for God’s glorious presence.59 Rabbi Joshua ben Kaska declares that there is no place that Shekinah is not, even the thorn bush that burned before Moses.60 As Christians, the Spirit dwells inside us, becoming an intimate presence in our lives.61 God’s people have always experienced Family God as present with them in their everyday lives.

The Asian tendency to see God present in all of life can lead to animistic and pantheistic elements also attributed to earth-centered, god/dess worship. This causes evangelicals to be wary of calling God Mother for fear of worshiping a Mother Goddess, something contrary to the God revealed in the Bible who is not contained within his creation, but the Creator thereof. When God is imagined as a Mother, some evangelicals fear that women will see divinity within themselves and within all creation. Donald G. Bloesch cautions that this “immanental conception of deity” is at odds with the “traditional emphasis on God as transcendent and all powerful.”62 Mark L. Strauss warns that god/dess worship distorts God’s transcendence and destroys the personhood of God, leaving only a type of pantheistic life force.63 Elizabeth Achtemeier says, “If a female deity gives birth to the universe . . . it follows that all things participate in the life or in the substance and divinity of the deity—in short, that the creator is indissolubly bound up with the creation.”64 This tension between God as immanent Mother and God as transcendent Father revisits what Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson call a “central theological concern” of the last hundred years.65 How can God be both transcendent and also immanent, both a Father and also a Mother? With so much theological muscle invested in keeping these two contrasting truths balanced in the twentieth century, it is natural that this causes evangelicals concern.

Does maternal imagery of God destroy his transcendence as Bloesch, Strauss, and Achtemeier warn? William Placher provides an answer in his book, The Domestication of Transcendence, by detailing how the modern definition of transcendence has been altered as a result of the Enlightenment. Prior to the seventeenth century, Christian theologians understood transcendence to mean that God is unknowable, wholly other and mysterious.66 The definition shifted in the seventeenth century with the scientific desire to categorize, define, and contrast all things, even God. Placher writes, “Rather than explaining how all categories break down when applied to God, they set the stage for talking about transcendence as one of the definable properties God possesses.”67 Instead of emphasizing “how little we can understand about God and how inadequate our language is for talk about God,”68 which was the original meaning of transcendence, theologians “domesticated” transcendence by contrasting it with immanence and defining it primarily as a spatial location.69 Kathryn Tanner clarifies that this “‘contrastive’ account of transcendence makes divine transcendence and involvement in the world into a zero-sum game: the more involved or immanent, the less transcendent, and vice versa.”70 For God to be marked by spatial distance as apart and as above does not leave much room for God to be present and within. On the contrary, Placher and Tanner both suggest that God’s transcendence primarily operates through his immanence, “by which God is said to be nearer to us than we are to ourselves,”71 and for which we lack human explanation.72

Understanding God as “the Great” who birthed everything in creation, as Prov 26:10 declares, does not contradict the classical meaning of transcendence as unknowable, wholly other, and mysterious. For as a fetus in the womb knows of a mysterious other that is nurturing, feeding, and surrounding her with sheltered care and protection, so we too can experience and know God as our transcendent, yet intimately close, Mother. Ephesians 4:6 states that God, as Father, is both “over all and through all and in all” (NIV). Knowing God as also a Mother does not destroy his fatherly transcendence. Understanding the Trinity as family speaks to the inter-relationship God yearns to enjoy with his children and also brings him close to us in our everyday living.

Balancing Two Opposites

Before explaining how Asian understanding is philosophically prepared to tolerate ambiguity, it will be helpful to confront an implicit bias often found in the Western mind. This is the thinking that if we give space for one way of thought, it will detract from the truth found in another line of thought. There can only be one winner, for one idea threatens the truth of the other. As mentioned above, this is called zero-sum bias. In theology, it puts two concepts both taught in Scripture at odds with each other and drives us to find one winner and one loser. It introduces conflict instead of cooperation. For many evangelicals, zero-sum bias appears when the motherhood of God is rejected because we assume that asserting God as Mother negates God as Father. But this is zero-sum bias at play. An Eastern mind does not see opposites in conflict, but as complementing. Addressing this bias is the first step in understanding the ease with which Asians accept ambiguity, knowing that this makes evangelical interaction with their philosophies especially difficult.73

Another step is to acknowledge that Western culture seeks understanding by breaking things down into individual components, whereas Eastern cultures contemplate the whole and the “sense of interrelatedness of all things.”74 Kwok Pui-lan explains it like this: “The tendency to see each part in connection with the whole in Asian philosophical tradition is very different from the atomistic, mechanistic and individualistic worldview found in the West.”75 Western philosophy is categorical, dividing things into systems, and seeking absolute proofs. When it comes to theology, Dyrness says that the West seeks “to define God abstractly: What is his nature and how is he to be defined?”76 In the West, “analysis is the primary mode of critical thought.”77 The physical world is divided from the spiritual. Dyrness contrasts by saying, “in Asia, religion and philosophy are always integrated.”78 Eastern “thinking tends to be synthetic,”79 viewing the physical and spiritual world as interrelated and dependent on each other.

Another feature of Asian tradition is the use of symbols that allow the philosopher or theologian to present spiritual truth without insisting it share a concrete physical definition. The Asian symbol of yin and yang reveals how one can believe that two physically contradictory ideas, together, hold unifying spiritual truth.80 Yin and yang are physically represented by two tear-shaped designs, paired to form a single circle. In Chinese tradition, they symbolize complementary, yet opposing, forces of darkness and light, such as the sun and moon, male and female, father and mother, and heaven and earth. But it is more than a design. Veli-Matti Karkkainen says, “They are relational symbols,”81 because the one cannot be without the other. One can only be known in context with the other. They have an independent and cooperating relationship.82

Asian philosophers have sought moments of insight as they contemplated how the dual concepts are opposing, how they reflect each other, and how they interact and change to form a third completely new concept called chi.83 Asian theologian Koo Dong Yun sees Trinitarian truths for Christianity in contemplating yin and yang.84 Likewise, pondering the truth found in opposing symbols, we can explore how God is not either our Father or Mother, but both a Father and also a Mother because God is something completely other than a created person, which is the original meaning of “transcendent.” The goal of this Christian rumination is to draw us closer to God. Asian thinking encourages us to know God, not by categorizing and defining, but through relationship. As an Asian student once explained to William Dyrness, “God cannot be understood and controlled, God can only be contemplated and sung about!”85 AFT teaches us that God—as Father and also Mother—is worth both deeply pondering and marveling about.

Perhaps we can take a cue from the OT. Hebrew uses two words for “giving birth,” hul and yalad. Spencer says that “hul refers only to a woman in labor,” whereas yalad can refer to either birthing or begetting.86 Bulkeley agrees and says that hul “suggests the effort and pain of childbirth.”87 When God is said to give birth (hul), the statement is made alongside a statement about God begetting (yalad), so that God is shown as both Father and Mother. Deuteronomy 32:8 presents God begetting and giving birth to Israel. In Ps 90:2, God begets the mountains and gives birth to the world. In Isa 45:9–11, God describes himself like a father begetting and a mother birthing. Like yin and yang, the two opposing ideas can be brought together in harmony when we recognize there is a relationship between them and a third transcendent truth to meditate upon. Evangelicals can learn from AFT to hold two truths that are in tension together in triunity.

Conclusion

Focusing on the experiences of women, AFT has discovered an experiential connection with God as a Mother caring for her children. Just as a child turns to his mother time and again for help, reassurance, and needs, so God assures us we can turn to him. Hosea 11:1–4 describes God loving Israel like a mother loves her child: “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (NIV). Like a mother, God is never off duty, providing constant attention and provision to his creation, even to the little birds (Matt 6:26).

Understanding the Trinity as a family, with both a Father and Mother, deepens our own experience of God’s presence with us. As the baby in her mother’s womb is aware of the all-encompassing presence of her mother, so the biblical language and imagery of the Spirit as Mother reveals God to be near, intimate, and permeating all creation. Job 38:29 puts this idea into God’s mouth as he asks rhetorically about creation, “From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens” (NIV)? Creation was formed in the womb of God, a biblical idea that is not pantheistic. It is also Christian imagery, forming the nomenclature of evangelicals as being born again from the womb of the Spirit of God as children of God.

The God revealed in the Bible is distinct from all other. His image is not found in only one sex but in both. God is Father and also Mother, as one can only be known in context with the other. AFT offers a new perspective on how to use the tension of opposites as spiritual reflection. Reflecting on the difference between the two, their correlations, and the mystery of the Divine Father-Mother takes us out of our comfort zone of defining and explaining and into the realm of worshipful trust. In the same way that a newborn is aware of her mother while in the womb, but unable to comprehend her reality, we know God is present and close. The child does not know its mother yet, but the mother has known her child. This is the experience of being known by God as also a Mother.

Notes

1. Aída Besançon Spencer, The Goddess Revival: A Biblical Response to God(dess) Spirituality (Wipf & Stock, 1995) 13.

2. Spencer, The Goddess Revival, 14.

3. Craig D. Atwood, “Holy Spirit as Mother,” Zinzendorf: The Ecumenical Pioneer (Nov 19, 2011), http://zinzendorf.com/pages/index.php%3Fid=holy-spirit-as-mother.

4. Craig Atwood, “The Mother of God’s People: The Adoration of the Holy Spirit in the Eighteenth-Century Brüdergemeine,” CH 68/4 (1999) 886–909.

5. Atwood, “The Mother of God’s People.”

6. Marianne Katoppo, Compassionate and Free: An Asian Woman’s Theology (Wipf & Stock, 1979) 82.

7. Kwok Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology (Pilgrim, 2000) 9.

8. William A. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World (Zondervan, 1990) viii.

9. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 17.

10. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 19.

11. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 19.

12. Grace Ji-Sun Kim, Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love (Eerdmans, 2015) 85.

13. Koo Dong Yun, The Holy Spirit and Ch’I (Qi): A Chiological Approach to Pneumatology, Princeton Theological Monograph Series (Pickwick, 2012) 19.

14. Choi Hee An, Korean Women and God: Experiencing God in a Multi-religious Colonial Context (Orbis, 2005) 5.

15. Kim, Embracing the Other, 93.

16. Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 10.

17. St. Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius (St. Vladimir’s Seminary, 2002) Oration 31:7, 122.

18. Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 66.

19. Donald G. Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works & Gifts (InterVarsity, 2000) 61.

20. Johannes van Oort, “The Holy Spirit as Feminine: Early Christian Testimonies and Their Interpretation,” HTS 72/1 (2016) 5.

21. God refers to himself as an eagle again in Exod 19:4, carrying Israel on his wings out of Egypt. David adopted this imagery to describe his refuge under the shadow of God’s wings in Pss 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 63:7, 91:4. Jesus referred to himself as a mother hen in Matt 23:37–39 and Luke 13:34–35.

22. Matt 3:16, John 1:32–34.

23. Bloesch lists Elizabeth Johnson, Jürgen Moltmann, Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, Edward Schillebeeckx, and Donald Gelpi. Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works & Gifts, 61.

24. Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Eerdmans, 1989) 23.

25. Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up (InterVarsity, 2014) 18.

26. Kim, Embracing the Other, 106–7.

27. Rebekah Sangwha Kim Moon, “Women, Culture and Religion: A Korean Perspective,” in Culture, Women and Theology, ed. John S. Pobee (ISPCK, 1994) 41, quoted by R. L. Hnuni, “Contextualizing Asian Theologies: Women’s Perspective,” Asia Journal of Theology 18/1 (April 2004) 138–45, 141.

28. Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology, 115.

29. Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology, 17.

30. Chung Hyun Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again: Introducing Asian Women’s Theology (Orbis, 1990) 37.

31. Kim, Embracing the Other, 33.

32. Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again, 5.

33. An, Korean Women and God, 36.

34. An, Korean Women and God, 4.

35. Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology, 54–55.

36. R. L. Hnuni, “Contextualizing Asian Theologies: Women’s Perspective,” Asia Journal of Theology 18/1 (Apr 2004) 138–45, 142.

37. Asian Women’s Resource Center for Culture and Theology, “About Us,” https://awrc4ct.org/about-us/.

38. Hnuni, “Contextualizing Asian Theologies: Women’s Perspective,” 145.

39. Kim, Embracing the Other, 109.

40. Kim, Embracing the Other, 106.

41. Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology, 42–43.

42. Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology, 42–43.

43. Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 73.

44. An, Korean Women and God, 104.

45. Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 74.

46. Tim Bulkeley, Not Only a Father: Talk of God as Mother in the Bible and Christian Tradition (Archer, 2011) 35.

47. Linda L. Belleville, “‘Born of Water and Spirit’: John 3:5,” TJ 1/2 (Fall 1980) 125–41, 138.

48. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, ἀποκυέω; see further Jeffrey D. Miller, “Can the ‘Father of Lights’ Give Birth?,” Priscilla Papers 19/1 (Winter 2005) 5–7.

49. Bulkeley, Not Only a Father, 28.

50. Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 83.

51. C. S. Song, Third Eye Theology (Orbis, 1979) ch. 6, quoted in Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 83.

52. BDB 933.

53. Deut 4:31; Exod 34:6; 2 Chron 30:9; Neh 9:17, 31; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Pss 86:15, 103:8, 111:4, 112:4, 145:8, 78:38.

54. An, Korean Women and God, 108.

55. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 23.

56. Kwok Pui-lan, “Fishing the Asia Pacific,” in Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women’s Religion & Theology, ed. Rita Nakashima Brock, Jung Ha Kim, Kwok Pui-lan, Seung Ai Yang (John Knox, 2007) 18–19.

57. Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again, 48–49.

58. Kyung, Struggle to be the Sun Again, 92.

59. Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 77.

60. C. G. Montefiore and H. Loew, A Rabbinic Anthology (Macmillan, 1938) as quoted by Katoppo, Compassionate and Free, 77.

61. Rom 8:9, 1 Cor 3:16.

62. Donald Bloesch, Is the Bible Sexist? Beyond Feminism and Patriarchalism (Crossway, 1982) 10.

63. Mark Strauss, Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy (InterVarsity, 1998) 178.

64. Elizabeth Achtemeier, “Feminine Language for God: Should the Church Adopt It?,” Transformation 4/2 (1987) 24–28.

65. Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (InterVarsity, 1992) 10.

66. William C. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking about God Went Wrong (Westminster John Knox, 1996) 6.

67. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence, 7.

68. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence, 67.

69. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence, 7.

70. Kathryn Tanner, God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (Basil Blackwell, 1988) 89, quoted by Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence, 111.

71. Tanner quoted by Placher, 112.

72. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence, 9.

73. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 155.

74. Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology, 75.

75. Pui-lan, Introducing Asian Feminist Theology, 75.

76. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 23.

77. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 131.

78. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 123.

79. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 131.

80. See further Amos Yong, “Yin-Yang and the Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: An Evangelical Egalitarian East-West Dialogue on Gender and Race,” Priscilla Papers 34/3 (Summer 2020) 21–26.

81. Veli-Matti Karkkainen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (Westminster John Knox, 2007) 319.

82. Qinghua Zhu, “Women in Chinese Philosophy: Yin-Yang Theory in Feminism Constructing,” Cultural and Religious Studies 6/7 (July 2018) 391–98, 392.

83. Yun, The Holy Spirit and Ch’I, 54.

84. Yun, The Holy Spirit and Ch’I, 54.

85. Dyrness, Learning about Theology from the Third World, 141.

86. Spencer, The Goddess Revival, 113.

86. Bulkeley, Not Only a Father, 22.