Category: Theology

We Need to Talk About Heavenly mother!

[Part 2: mother! Explained, Heavy Spoilers]

There are two main theories on Darren Aronofsky’s provocative mother!:

  • It’s a film about environmentalism. Jennifer Lawrence is Gaia / the Earth Mother / the Spirit of the Earth. The house is Earth. The people who assail the house, invited in by Javier Bardem (“Him” on the credits, but I’ll just call him “the Poet” or “God”), represent humanity and its destructive effect on the planet.
  • It’s a film about the events of the Bible. Ed Harris is Adam / Man (complete with the fresh wound of a missing rib), Michelle Pfeiffer is Eve / Woman, the smashing of God’s precious glass curio by the Woman represents the Fall, the couple’s sons are Cain and Abel, Cain murders Abel, a flood temporarily wipes out humanity from the Earth, Jesus Christ is born then murdered with the people of earth ritually partaking of his body, and the Apocalypse wipes out the earth.

It’s clear that the filmmakers intended some version of each of these interpretations, but they don’t entirely blend well together at first. How is Earth the mother of Jesus Christ? And who is Jennifer Lawrence’s character in the biblical events? Michael J. Knowles of Daily Wire suggests that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t Mother Earth, but a sympathetic Satan whose negative perceptions of God as a generous but egotistic maniac can be attributed to unreliable narration.

Which is interesting, but 100% wrong. The film tells us exactly who Satan is when Lawrence finds the ripped-up picture of her husband on the floor, horns and demon eyes drawn onto it. See also the flames that encompass Bardem on the movie poster (above). In this movie, God and Satan are one and the same.

The key to understanding mother! and winding these two narratives together is to remember that there isn’t just one Mother in the film. There are three.

And all three of them are deities (more…)

We Need to Talk About Heavenly mother!

[Part 1: Spoiler-Free Review]

Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (yes, the title is uncapitalized with an explanation point) has been getting some well-deserved buzz in spite of a lukewarm performance at the box office. The film ekes out a 67% “certified fresh” rating among critics at Rotten Tomatoes, but received a rare F grade from audiences at CinemaScore, with many audience members declaring it to have been “the stupidest thing they’ve ever seen in” their lives.

And they’re not wrong.

But I can’t stop thinking about it.

This is one of those films where the less said about the plot, the better. (more…)

Jesus Christ, Wisdom of God

(Part 3 of 4)
(continued from Part 2, “The Biblical Data on God and Sexuality”)

The previous post refuted the incorrect claim that the Bible teaches all three persons of the Trinity as quintessentially male. But what about Jesus Christ? After all, the fact that he was incarnated as a man had to mean something, right? In recent years, arguments against women’s ordination have come to rely more and more heavily on Jesus’ human gender.

Such arguments overlook the entire nature of who Christ is. More importantly, they overlook the fact that the early Christians undeniably associated Jesus with the female person of Wisdom in the Old Testament and other Jewish intertestamental literature.

In both the Greek and the Hebrew, the word for wisdom (σοφία / חָכְמָה) is feminine. In numerous places in the Old Testament, this feminine concept of wisdom is personified as a woman, sometimes with majestic and powerful language wherein Wisdom makes divine claims of herself. For example:

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always[.] [1]

Wisdom was also a regular fixture of intertestamental Jewish literature such as Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom of Solomon, the result being that Wisdom as a personified divine aspect of and authorized assistant to YHWH was already an important philosophical and theological concept among the Jewish community at the time of the birth of Christ.

Throughout Christian history, Wisdom has received significant attention from figures and movements in search of a feminine understanding of God. (more…)

The Biblical Data on God and Sexuality

 

Image via David Hayward @ NakedPastor

(Part 2 of 4)
(continued from Part 1, “The Shack and the Gender of God”)

For some, the gender [1] of God is obvious. The God of the Old Testament is referred to exclusively with masculine pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. [2] For the New Testament, both the Father and the Son are similarly described in masculine terms, while the titles used for God in both testaments are entirely masculine as well. Many believe this alone represents enough data to show that God is an essentially male or masculine being.

Most male headship advocates [3] will assert that the Spirit is referred to as a masculine being as well. [4] In actuality, the data on the Third Person of the Trinity is less decisive. In Hebrew, the word for “spirit” is the feminine רוּחַ, so the adjectives and verbs associated with it throughout the Old Testament are usually feminine—for example, מְרַחֶפֶת for hovered in Gen. 1:3. In Greek, the word for “spirit” is the neuter πνεῦμα with most of its adjectives and pronouns matching that case. Going by gendered language alone, the Spirit is a “she” or an “it.”

The oft-cited exceptions occur in John 15-16 when Jesus is delivering his sermon on the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, wherein he refers to the Spirit with the masculine pronoun ἐκεῖνος. At first glance this seems significant since a neuter form for this adjective exists (ἐκεῖνο) and John seems to have shunned it in favor of the masculine even though it does not match the case of the noun under discussion. However, the antecedent to ἐκεῖνος is not πνεῦμα, but παράκλητος, a masculine adjective functioning as a substantive noun. This could still be a decisive declaration on the Spirit’s sexuality if John had originated this usage of the term, but he did not. The masculine plural form was similarly used as a substantive adjective by Demosthenes in the 4th century BC. [5] John took the pre-existing masculine concept of a παράκλητος as one’s legal advocate and applied it to the Holy Spirit. It therefore follows that his identification has everything to do with the Spirit’s function in the lives of believers, not its gender.

This poses a dilemma for Christians who assert that God is wholly male or masculine: (more…)

The Shack and the Gender of God

(Part 1 of 4)

I never read the entirety of The Shack, the popular 2007 Christian novel about a man who converses with God about the murder of his beloved youngest daughter. My reasons were not theological. I had a childhood friend who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered when I was 9 and she was 11, so the subject of the novel was a little too close to home for me.

I did read enough of the novel to know that two members of the Trinity, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, manifested themselves as women (a black woman and an Asian woman, respectively), and this became one of the many theological “problems” that was protested in the novel. For example, Mark Driscoll, then at the zenith of his megachurch pastor career, decried this as “goddess worship.” Mary Kassian, writing for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, lamented that evangelical fans of The Shack were “succumbing to the feminist pressure to image God in feminine ways.” In quite recent history, complementarians and other male headship advocates [1] got it into their heads that all three members of the Trinity are quintessentially masculine and/or male, and as such, God could not have incarnated as a woman nor could he ever manifest as one, even if he wanted to.

 

 

Pictured: Human beings made in the image of God who can’t image God. Makes perfect sense.

The Shack has now been made into a major motion picture starring Sam Worthington. It was released today. Its reviews have sadly gone the way of most Christian films (15% on RottenTomatoes as I write this), but in light of the film, I thought it might be worth it to revisit what the Bible says about whether God has a gender, along with some extrabiblical details and philosophical considerations.

I am of the opinion that gender is created and God does not possess one as part of any eternal nature, so God could theoretically incarnate and/or manifest himself as a woman as well as a man should it please him to do so. And I want to point out that viewing God as genderless is not some novel feminist incursion on traditional Christian theology. It is historic and quite mainstream. (more…)

Review: After You Believe

After You Believe -- N. T. WrightAfter You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N. T. Wright [New York, N. Y.: HarperOne, 2010; HarperAudio audiobook read by Anthony Ferguson, 2010]

If C. S. Lewis had been in favor of women’s ordination and a Bible scholar (two things which naturally belong together ;-)), he would have been N. T. Wright. They were/are both Anglican, English, taught at Oxford, and have/had a preponderance of fondness for being known by their initials. Wright also, like Lewis, possesses a keen ability to reason from the Scriptures in a simple yet logical manner and a creative command of useful metaphors and analogies to bring his points to life. His Simply Christian (which I haven’t read) has been compared to Lewis’s Mere Christianity, with obvious similarities in the titles. No word on whether or not Wright shares in Lewis’s fondness for cigars, but I digress.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is a sequel to Simply Christian, but I can attest that you don’t have to read the first to understand and be edified by the second. As the subtitle suggests, After You Believe is about the development of character and what that means, a call for Christians to return to the pursuit of virtue. Central to Wright’s message is a breakdown of what the “Royal Priesthood” is: that Christians are meant to be both rulers and priests, and that this life is but the small opening part of a much longer existence (there are echoes of deification in this theology, although Wright does not use that term). The pursuit of virtue is not a matter of salvation, Wright is clear, but something we should seek earnestly in anticipation of and preparation for what God means for us to be. Wright makes the case that virtue is not something we are automatically given by the indwelling of the Spirit, but something that we must make a conscious effort to build up and pursue—with the Spirit’s help, of course.

(more…)

On Hope

Harley with a Funko POP of her namesake, age 10
Harley with a Funko POP of her namesake, age 10

Last Friday I recorded a podcast on the theology of hope with Dan Wotherspoon for Mormon Matters (available now). The other guests were Brian Hauglid of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and Patrick Q. Mason of Claremont. Though the podcast was by Mormons for Mormons, I had a lot to say about traditional Christian views on hope and eschatology.

Dan asked us at the end of the podcast if we could answer the call of 1 Peter 3:15 and “give a reason for the hope that is within [us].” I have given a personal testimony here, but I wanted to repeat here what I said on the podcast:

My daughter was born in 2006 at the end of a healthy pregnancy in which I’d had every reason to expect a healthy baby. As I looked down at her resting in my arms for the first time, a horrible thought came into my head. I felt like I was being silly, but in that moment my fear and dread were all-consuming. I had to say it. “Does my baby have a cleft palate?”

The doctor and the nurse exchanged confused glances and looked at me like I was CrazyMom. I thrust my daughter back at them, made the nurse take her to check her palate. I’m sure she was expecting to say, “No, CrazyMom, your baby does not have a cleft palate. Please stop acting crazy now.” Instead, she called out, “Actually, doctor, can you come and take a look at this? I think there’s something here…”

It was the beginning. (more…)

Mormon Theology Seminar Conference

I have been in California for the past two weeks participating in the Third Annual Mormon Theology Seminar, sponsored by Brigham Young University’s Maxwell Institute and the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. You may recall that I am an alumna of BYU (long story!). While I have never been Mormon and am not a believer in the Book of Mormon as Scripture, I regard the book as 19th century demi-Protestant theological fiction (perhaps inspired in some places) and my paper, “Called and Ordained: Alma’s Priesthood of All Believers” is on some theology in the Book of Mormon that I think both Mormons and evangelical Christians can embrace. I will be presenting that paper tomorrow (June 15th) at the seminar’s public conference.

The conference is free and runs from 9 AM – 6 PM. My presentation is at 3:45. Conference program available here.

Mormon_Theology_Seminar
(more…)

I Suffer Not a Woman–But I’ll suffer just about anything else

tchividjianTullian Tchividjian was in the news again in March, and not for good reasons. The disgraced grandson of famed mega-evangelist Billy Graham made headlines last June when he resigned from his megachurch post with the following announcement:

As many of you know, I returned from a trip a few months back and discovered that my wife was having an affair. Heartbroken and devastated, I informed our church leadership and requested a sabbatical to focus exclusively on my marriage and family. As her affair continued, we separated. Sadly and embarrassingly, I subsequently sought comfort in a friend and developed an inappropriate relationship myself.

At the time, while I winced at how Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, I had little sympathy for her. Infidelity is a form of abuse and unrepentant cheaters might be among the few who are actually deserving of public humiliation and shame (granted, their families are not). And while I think the “revenge affair” is still wrong and a terrible idea, I gave Tchividjian props for doing the right thing and recusing himself from ordained ministry. After all, 1 Tim. 3:2 says that an elder must be “the husband of one wife,” a phrase that I believe was a euphemism for “faithful to his wife” (as so translated by the NIV and NLT). The directive is repeated for deacons in 1 Tim. 3:12, and a similar qualifying phrase appears for the order of ministering widows in 1 Tim. 5:9 (“wife of one husband”). [1] Besides that, 1 Tim. 3:2 also says that an elder must be “above reproach,” and adultery is, oh I don’t know, reproachable?

In short: Christian adulterers have no business serving in ordained (or even just ordered leadership) ministry, whether as pastors, elders, or deacons. They may find other callings for their pastoral gifts, but ordained ministry should not be one of them. I personally believe this prohibition should be indefinite, but if such persons ever are restored to ministry, it should only be after years of repentance and therapy. Infidelity is not easy to repent of. It is associated with a wide variety of personality disorders and very serious character flaws, none of which are the sorts of things we want leading us from the pulpit.

Luckily for Tchividjian, the elders of Willow Creek Church [2] in Winter Springs (FL) didn’t have my grasp of the New Testament. They offered him a job just two months after his confession of adultery went public. His pastoral résumé hardly saw so much as a hiccup. Note that Willow Creek Church is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, a hierarchist (“complementarian”) denomination that doesn’t ordain women even to the office of deacon (which is very clearly a biblical practice; Rom. 16:1) precisely because of their interpretation of passages like 1 Tim. 3:1-12. They wouldn’t have offered Tchividjian’s new job to a woman no matter how much adultery she hadn’t committed; the sin of being born female would have been enough to disqualify her. Yet it took them all of a few months to hand the keys to the office to Tchividjian, 1 Tim. 3:2 be damned. Now that’s all blown up for them as it turns out Tchividjian had an even earlier, undisclosed affair. (So, when Tchividjian threw his wife under the bus, he was being a jerk and a hypocrite. For all we know, she was the one who had the “revenge affair.”) [NOTE: It has been brought to my attention that Tchividjian’s position at Willow Creek was “Director of Ministry Development,” a non-ordained staff support position. Unless this position was/is open to women, I think my criticism holds, and I think weeks/months after confession of adultery is still way too early to be “director” of anything ministry-related.]

(more…)