Humanity reﬂects the image of God. We know this from the opening of Genesis. How humanity does this, however, has been a matter of speculation and disagreement among scholars. Options proposed have included the power to reason and thereby apprehend God, the power to choose, the ability to rule, a spiritual dimension, original purity, freedom of will, moral consciousness and responsibility, being a type of Christ, divinely reﬂecting relationships, the ability to subcreate, etc.
A reﬂection, of course, is not a copy. God is spirit, devising, gracing, transcending and then transforming matter in the creation and the incarnation. We are spirit, too, but totally committed to the material. Our gender is either a property of our material state (God, being spirit, initially having none) or reﬂects in two halves (male and female) something true about God’s perfect unity. This is the unity reﬂected in Deuteronomy 6:4 in the famous confession of Israel, the Shema, that the Lord our God is united or uniﬁed.
God anticipated our confusion about gender, schooling Israel back at Mt. Horeb not to look for either a male or female when contemplating God (Deut. 4:15-16). Despite that warning, some religious gender hierarchicalists are arguing currently that God is somehow masculine, but not sexually male. Transgender advocates agree and add that they are also genders, but trapped in sexual bodies which need to be adjusted. For many hierarchicalists, the argument seems difficult to negotiate. Complementarians have always maintained this ﬂaw in their system. They envision God as somehow masculine but not male—dividing gender from material sexuality. However, when the post-Michel Foucault transgender advocates employ the same argument, contending they are one gender trapped in the material markings of the other, these same complementarians recoil and reject the argument. One cannot have it both ways: either gender relates both to the spirit and the material or it does not. I have always been content to rely on the counsel of God through Moses and the words of Jesus that marriage is not an aspect of heaven or human resurrection (Mark 12:25). God as spirit does not have gender. That is a difference between God and Zeus. God creates and Zeus copulates. Instead, whatever is true spiritually about the triune God eternally in relationship translates itself sexually in the teaching tool of male and then female. However, God is supra-genderal. There is not consensus on this point, of course. Other egalitarians believe that God contains both genders and we humans reﬂect one or the other aspect of God. I write this by way of introduction to a most provocative issue of Priscilla Papers.
Professor J. David Miller opens appropriately in this post-Christmas season with a reﬂection on God’s use of both masculine and feminine images to describe Godself in the Bible, challenging the history of Bible interpretation to explain why the language melding both genders into God referentially is continually muted. If God is not a great cosmic male with a long white beard, then God can be a “father” and also “give birth.”
On the human plane, another college instructor, our staﬀ’s own Michal Beth Dinkler, examines the triumph of monastic women over gender restrictions to learn and teach authoritatively, while poet Ruth Hoppin celebrates the monastic dream of breaking free of all material restrictions and spiritually soaring in ascent.
Coordinator of CBE’s Boston chapter, Kristin Johnson, then deals with the Great Descent, examining submission versus subjection in the young downwardly mobile ministry of the One who came among us to do for us what we could not do for ourselves: die in our place to reconcile us to our Creator.
Long-time friend of CBE and champion of women, Dennis Preato, guides us in how we should live out our time together in this world, providing us an illuminating summary of ground-breaking studies that suggest what many of us sense in our hearts already: that the best marriages are ones that allow both partners to exercise cooperatively their God-given gifts and abilities as we take turns leading.
Finally, our book review editor, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary professor of New Testament, Aída Besançon Spencer, takes a balanced, evangelical egalitarian look at Eerdmans’ Feminist Theology.
All in all it is a very illuminating and interesting issue and I hope you enjoy it and learn from it as much as I did.
Blessings in this new
year of our Lord,