She Who Is Not

Last week I had a post about language and God talk. It was called Horse Gods and it incorporated C.S. Lewis’ poem “A Footnote on All Prayers”.  Part of what came out of that was an exchange with J.W. about pronouns, the Bible, and Inspiration. I wanted to transfer some of that over here (I have edited it for clarity) in order to bring more people in on the conversation.

J.W.: So, what does your god look like? And how is that look any different from Piper’s or Driscoll’s?


Thanks for asking! Actually there is quite a substantial difference. Let me point out just a couple of things to start:

A) I don’t believe that language about God is univocal (as I have said). SO we begin in humility understanding that all our words, metaphors and concepts are OUR best attempt.
B) I believe that langue (since it is not univocal) functional relationally. When Jesus uses ‘Father’ language, he is talking about the WAY in which relates to a father. Not that God’s ontological being is Father in an exacting and representative way. It is an expressive use of language. That is the nature of language.
C) The way that Scripture is expressed is historic. I believe that the Bible is Inspired by Holy Spirit. That means that Holy Spirit was at work in the authors and ultimately in those who collected and validated the canon. (I confess this by faith). Those authors were historically situated and particularly located. They expressed their thoughts in their best language in their best frameworks. We see that historical locatedness and account for it when we engage their writings.
D) Whether you call it ‘original sin’ (I don’t) or ‘human nature’ or (my favorite) relational brokeness and conflicting biological impulses … humans have a problem. We are not 100% whole. Something is wrong (we don’t even do the good we WANT to do). That means that in every epoch and era there are things in place that are not perfect. Those show up in scripture – since it is a snap shot of its environment. The Bible is fully human (and I believe fully divine in a Process sense) but it is not ABSENT of humanity. It is full of humanity.

So If you take just those 4 things in contrast to Piper and Driscoll, then my God talk is:

  1. in Humility not certainty or pushy
  2. Relational not static or exacting
  3. Historical not trans-historic
  4. Human not un-human

Does that help? SO that is my starting point. From there I diverge wildly from the other two.


Well, first of all, thanks for a response.
Second, no offense, but you use an awful lot of words to not say too much. Or, to say the same thing over and over while denying that you are saying one thing, yet actually affirming another. Since I don’t have any real idea what you believe Piper and Driscoll believe, I still don’t know that you are painting a different god or not.
You start out saying that all expressions of God are only a best attempt, but then you claim to believe the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, which is it? Our best attempt, or Holy Spirit inspired? See the problem there. It’s either one or the other, can’t be both.
Certainly the Bible is written situationally. God could have inspired men to write it so it only made sense at one point in the entire course of time, or He could have inspired it so that it meant the same thing from beginning to end, from the beginning of time to the end of time. And written so that ordinary people could figure it out with a little help from His Holy Spirit. Which is what I believe. You seem to believe that only post-modern thought with a lot of help from certain philosophers can figure out this whole humility, relation, human thing. Sorry, way too many creeks have flowed over their banks throughout history for me to believe that only recently have we been smart enough to figure this whole mess out.
God (Holy Spirit) inspired the whole Bible. He could have very easily caused His writers to use words that wouldn’t mean anything to their (at the time, current) readers, but would only matter eons later. IF that is what He intended.
Again, you haven’t showed me anything but dichotomies, and nothing of substance that disproves anything Piper et al believe-which I still don’t know what you believe they believe.


1) I did use a lot of words, but it was to say quite a bit. Unfortunately it was not what you were looking for so you think I didn’t say much. I assure you that I say quite enough in my 300 words to get in a lot of trouble in many circles!

2) You are 100% wrong that “It’s either one or the other, can’t be both.” Inspiration is not the OVERriding of human intent – it is the filling UP and expanding of human intent. Inspiration does not make something inhuman. You are thinking of something else not inspiration. Then you accuse me of dichotomies? Weird. I am talking about a participatory-relational model that transcends either/or thinking. You must be confused.

3) Here is an example of the difference (which you apparently were not able to pick up on): It is equally a valid to call god She as it is to call god He. Because in the end, god is neither. Those are pronouns that stand in for their antecedent but which do not entirely explain god or contain god’s ontological reality. God did not give Christianity a masculine feel. We did. God is God that is beyond our biological categorizations and anatomical classification. God is not defined by those – we simply conceptualize God and these terms and portray those conceptions in our language.

This is the nature of language. It is symbolic – analogical – and metaphorical.  That does not mean that we are not saying anything when we talk about God. We are. It does not mean that there is no inspiration. There is. Those are not mutually exclusive.

To quote Elizabeth Johnson in She Who Is :

Words about God are cultural creatures, intwined with the mores and adventures of the faith community that uses them. As cultures shift, so too does the specificity of God-talk. 

To call God She is just as accurate and as inaccurate as calling God ‘he’.



Femininity, Image, and Identity: the role of youth pastors and movies

Hey Julie Clawson !  I could use some help thinking through a couple of things. 

 For those of you who don’t know her, Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice, a pastor, blogger, Emergent leader and former podcast guest. She is one of the conversation partners at the upcoming Emergent Village Theological Conversation at the end of January. ( Her blog is in my top 10. 


Background: I love going to the movies. As a student, I usually only go the theatre on Summer break (blockbuster action films + air-conditioning = awesome) and on Winter break (tired brain + Christmas money = fantastic).

Last week I saw two movies and was quite intrigued by a pattern that I noticed during the trailers: women being tough guys. The three trailers were for Underword: Awakening with Kate Beckinsdale, Haywire with Gina Carano (both action films) and The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher.

I have read enough feminist literature to know that there is a principle (which Thatcher made famous) that “In a man’s world …” a women often has to out ‘man’ the guys in order to break into the boys club and be taken seriously.

In a system where we have been socially conditioned to see certain behaviors and attributes as ‘leadership’ or ‘strength’ – or in the church as ‘anointing’ – then women must over-do it in order to overcome the intrinsic biases and gain credibility in a system geared to evaluate by masculine expectations. (people point to Joyce Meyer as a Christian example)

This is a real problem.

THEN I was reading your blog this week and you bring up the Lego Ads making their way around Facebook and tie it into both modesty and obesity. As a youth pastor I have read everything from Reviving Ophelia to Queen Bees and Wannabes ,that explains why girls treat each other the way that they do, and I recognize that there are deep underlying issues. Let’s be honest, these deep issues will not be solved by quoting some Bible verses or ‘going back to the way things were in the Bible’.


So here are my questions: 

1. What do we do with the karate-chopping drop-kicking gun-shooting heroines of violence on the silver screen these days? On one hand, it is nice to women getting these big-deal leading roles in major films… on the other hand, are they real portrayals of women-ness or is it the bad kind of mimicry –  like ‘Girls Gone Wild’ as a picture of sexual liberation or power.

2. Are there any resources that you can point me to for Image and Identity? Your blog post on the Lego issue is really sticking with me.

3. As a youth pastor, how would you suggest I navigate the (rapidly) developing sexuality without repression while steering clear of moral permissiveness?  Any thoughts?


Thank you ahead of time.
Any help would be much appreciated.
I sure am glad that I mature sisters in faith as conversation partners.


anxiously awaiting your response    -Bo

Heaven – we have a problem! (with sexuality)

This was a week of controversy in the Blogosphere – at least in my neck of the woods.

The topic of gender, femininity, and sexuality were the touch points.  I am going to highlight 3 controversial blogs from this week … but first I want to acknowledge that it mirrored (albeit in a much smaller way) something happening in the larger culture that we are embedded in.

This was also a week that saw the Penn State football sexual abuse scandal rock the nation, the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations, and several other national news story related to discrimination, abuse, and harassment.

These three christian conversations that follow are not happening in a vacuum – perhaps that is why they illicit such a heated response and so much attention. It impacts all of us.

Post 1:  from Stuff that Christians Like – a post called ‘Girls with a Past’ was a little test (written by a man) that women could take to see if one qualified as intriguing or not.  It was satire (which not everyone gets or likes) and it pointed out a real problem. Now, some people were offended and took it out on the author. I just want to say that the situation is infuriating but we can’t take it out on the person who illustrates the problem, Jon was articulating a severe inconsistency between what we say and what we do in the ‘church’.

Here is his post: let me know what you think.  It got over 500 responses.

Post 2: Rachel Held Evans (one of my favorite bloggers) put up a post called “13 things that make me a bad feminist”. It is part of a series that she does from time to time – she has also admitted to being a bad ‘evangelical’ and ‘progressive’.  This post went over like a lead-balloon . This led to a guest-post the following day.

Here is the post: . It got 149 responses.

Post 3: my co-host Tripp Fuller came out of the closet as not being ‘open and affirming’ on a video from Two Friars and a Fool. His contention was that affirming letters – whether L, B, G, Q, T, I or any other dash or asterisk – is an inherently limited response. It has two great dangers:

  1. it makes us feel like what have really done something, when all we have really done is 
  2. conceded the initial ground rules to the entrenched system.

The problem is that the system is capitalism and that means that ‘acceptance’ is becoming both something to market and a new group to be marketed to.

Tripp’s point of contention is that the gospel of Jesus calls the whole system into account. We can’t concede the rules of the game and then think that we are going to bring about the best-of-all-possibilities. The structure itself must be contested. The system can not be catered to – it must be undermined and subverted. People are too valuable to God to be classified by their genitalia or the genitalia of who they are attracted to. This was not received too well for the most part.

Here is the post: it got 84 responses.


My take:

  • The 3,000 year old gender roles in the oldest parts of the Bible merely reflect that culture’s understanding and are not the last word on ‘natural’ design.
  • The 2,000 year old gender roles in the New Testament were written in context where women were basically property. They need to be revisited and revised.
  • The idea of ‘original sin’ is a constructed idea and not biblical. What it is addressing, however, is real and I think we all acknowledge that. It needs to be addressed in better ways without pre-modern understandings imposed upon it.  
  • Until we address these three subject the conversation will always circle around and around in endless and unhelpful loops of misunderstanding: 1) social conditioning 2) constructed reality 3) biological implications of being mammals.

I would be very excited to enter into this conversation if we did not live in such a contentious and acidic ‘Argument Culture‘.  Thoughts?