Feminine Fridays

On Feminine Fridays: Confessions of a Complementarian (part 3)

It’s Friday again, so it must be time for another rambling and confused post about girls, and church, and stuff.


This week I’d like to continue thinking about the John Piper quote I mentioned last week:

God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22-33).

From all of this, I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And, being a God of love, he has done it for the maximum flourishing of men and women. He did not create women to languish, or be frustrated, or in any way to suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy, in a masculine Christianity. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families where Christianity has this God-ordained, masculine feel. For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.

From The Frank and Manly Mr Ryle – The Value of a Masculine Ministry.

Is Christianity a man’s world?

Many people responded to John Piper’s speech in outrage, particularly the first few lines of the first paragraph quoted above; the idea that ‘God revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as a Father, not Mother.’

A number of people who I have spoken to, and read, have responded to that comment by saying that there as many biblical references to God as ‘feminine’ as there are ‘masculine’ ones. Now, I’m not willing to go quite that far. I think there are some, take, for instance: Matthew 23:37, where Jesus likens himself to a mother hen gathering chicks under her wings; Isaiah 66:13, where Yahweh likens himself to a mother comforting her child; or Job 38:29, when Yahweh talks about the ice and frost being born from ‘his’ womb. There are very many more examples which you can go and google for yourself, and I think it’s important to take note of them, and to appreciate the fact that God isn’t described exclusively as male, although I think to claim that there are equal numbers of ‘male’ and ‘female’ references would be a bit of stretch.

However, I do have a couple of objections that I want to raise (natch. hence the blog post).

Firstly, just because Yahweh introduces himself in male terms, such as ‘Father’, doesn’t mean that he actually is male. We read in Genesis 1 that ‘male and female’ were created in his image, which I take to mean that maleness and femaleness are both found in Yahweh; and that the concepts of ‘male’ and ‘female’ are both created by Yahweh, and therefore can’t be part of the Trinity’s eternalness. Surely?

Secondly, even if God is described mostly (which I think would have been a better word to use than ‘pervasively’) as ‘Father’ and ‘King’, rather than ‘Mother’ and ‘Queen’, the metaphors given for us are certainly not exclusively, or even mostly, male.

When it comes to talking about the way that we relate to God, the Bible uses two particular illustrations more than most. One is masculine: we are a ‘sons’ and God is ‘Father’; and one is feminine: we are the ‘bride’ and Jesus is our ‘bridegroom’. I haven’t done a count to see which image is used most, but I do think that the two of them are the primary ways that our relationship with God is seen, and I love that there are two. One male, and one female. It seems, to me at least, that even if John Piper thinks that Christianity is masculine, Yahweh rather disagrees.

As it happens, and as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, the bride and bridegroom picture is one I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year. But this is the first time in 12 years of being a Christian, that I’ve really thought about it in any depth, and that has rather troubled me.

Back in March I had the opportunity to preach at a women’s conference. The theme for the day was ‘Preparing for the Bridegroom’, and I spoke for 40 minutes on Hosea 2, looking at the way that we have treated God (his wife, the whore), and rejoicing in the good news of the gospel: that Christ has pursued us and bought us back, through his death on the cross, so that we might be presented as his pure and spotless bride.

It is a wonderful, beautiful picture, and it is hardly ever preached. Or at least, not in the complementarian, male-preaching circles that I find myself in. Have I heard about the bride less often because most of the preaching I hear is from men?

This is where I’d really like to hear from you all.

I’d quite like to know whether this lean towards ‘sons’ rather than ‘bride’ is to do with the preacher, and their identification with a particular gender of illustration. Are you an egalitarian or a complementarian? And how much have you heard about brides and bridegrooms?

In summary: enquiring minds want to know.

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  • Reply fiona lynne June 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I think it’s just an unfortunate consequence of decades and centuries of patriarchy (sometimes “soft”, sometimes oppressive) that has resulted in female Christians being comfortable hearing ourselves described as “sons” but male Christians being less comfortable being described as a “bride”. I think it’s changing in some churches thankfully.

    Although the images and descriptions for God are largely male in the bible as you said (and the why is a whole other question), I have enjoyed discovering small ways in which the female image creeps in. Like the name for God El Shaddai is likely to be derived from the Hebrew word shad, which means breast, referring to God completely nourishing, satisfying, and supplying His people with all their needs as a mother would her child. And each time God is described as compassionate (which is a lot of course, we need it!), the word is derived from the feminine word rehem, meaning womb.

    These little things remind me that in the end, our God is bigger than our imaginations and beyond our description – he is neither male nor female, but there are so many multiple ways, masculine and feminine, we can use to help us know him better.

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