Robert D. Decker is professor of New Testament and Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Feminism has made quite an impact upon the churches, more perhaps than we of the relatively small and isolated Protestant Reformed community are aware. Just how serious this movement is was made clear in a recent article by James R. Edwards in Christianity Today (February 21, 1986). Edwards’ point is that how we refer to God makes a significant difference. Here is what he had to say:
Who is she,
neither male nor female,
maker of all things
only glimpsed or hinted,
source of life and gender?
She is God,
mother, sister, lover:
in her love we wake,
move and grow, are daunted,
triumph and surrender.
So begins a recent hymn written from a feminist perspective. Two lines from a Jewish feminist doxology read:
Blessed is She who in the beginning gave birth . . .
Blessed is She whose womb covers the earth.
For most Christians, the impact of feminism is doubtless less extreme than these two examples . . . . Inclusive language and feminist theology: What is behind it, and where might it lead? Increasingly, our churches will be confronted by the issue. Is it possible to think about it and not simply be buffeted between the poles of convention and trend? Perhaps a look at the wider context of the issue will help . . . . Feminist theology concerns itself with woman’s role in Creation, redemption, and the church. Such questions are intensified by the fact that, in two millennia of church history, women have rarely been allowed to tell their own story. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, half the human race has been spoken for (or to), but essentially deprived of a voice in behalf of its own image, faith, and community.
Feminist theology, however, has gone beyond its origins in women’s suffrage and civil rights. With Promethean intimations it is clamoring for a resymbolization of Christianity, based on categories of feminism. Such theology, to quote Elizabeth Achtemeier of Union Theological Seminary (Va.), is “in the process of laying the foundations for a new faith and a new church that are, at best, only loosely related to apostolic Christianity.” Feminists who desire to change the names of God from Father, King, and Lord, to “Womb of Being,” “Immanent Mother,” “Life Force,” “Divine Generatrix,” or “Ground of Being” are not merely switching labels on a product. They are advocating a shift from a transcendent God to a creation-centered deity. God is no longer our father in heaven, but a “womb covering the earth.”
Donald Bloesch tackles the issue of feminist resymbolizations in a recent book, The Battle for the Trinity (Servant 1985) . . . . Bloesch argues that such resymbolizations of God are, intentionally or not, moving in one of two directions. They lead to making God an abstraction (as opposed to a person) and light years removed in transcendence. Or, with their insistence on an androgynous Godhead (“God/dess,” “Creator/Creatrix,” “Father/Mother”), they augur a return to fertility worship.
To quote Elizabeth Achtemeier again, “I am sure that much of feminist theology is a return to Baalism . . . . Many women, in their dedication to the feminist movement, are being slowly wooed into a new form of religion, widely at variance with the Christian faith. Most such women have no desire to desert their Christian roots, any more than many German Christians had when they accepted National Socialism’s resymbolization of the faith in Nazi Germany . . . . In Is the Bible Sexist? Donald Bloesch asserts, “The debate over sexist language is ultimately a debate concerning the nature of God.” What Gods nature is in itself, the Bible does not say. Presumably God’s nature is beyond gender. Nevertheless, according to the biblical tradition, God chooses to relate to creation in a masculine way, as Abba and King.
This is supported not only by Jesus’ use of “Abba” and “kingdom of God”, but especially by the use of “Lord’ in the Bible, a term of sovereign freedom and authority that occurs nearly twice as often as a reference to God than does the word “God” itself. AS Creator, God is sovereign initiator; as Sustainer, kingly ruler; and as Redeemer, he is self-sacrificer in Christ—and ultimately Consummator. Paul makes it clear there can be no doubt that God’s initiative and power alone effect salvation. see
To shift this emphasis from a sovereign theocentrism to creation-centrism—whether feminist or otherwise—is no longer innovation but error.
It ought to be obvious that this is serious business indeed! We must refer to God and address Him as God Himself has revealed Himself to us in His Word. (Cf. Exodus 3:13ff.) To do otherwise is to commit blasphemy. The god of feminist theology is an idol of its own imagination.
Another movement of no little consequence among the churches these days is that of “Liturgical Renewal.” Liturgy refers to the worship of God by the church. The worship services are “parched and barren,” it is alleged. The church needs to change its order of worship. Some churches are moving in the direction of less formal services. Usually this means more active participation in the services by the people in the pew. Pastors walk up and down the aisles chatting with the worshipers. There’s more singing and personal testimonies and prayer requests, etc. Other churches are moving more in the “high church” direction. The services must be more formal. Much emphasis is placed on symbolism, good music, choirs, etc. Many churches have permanent worship or liturgy committees which plan the services each week so as to avoid sameness and gain variety. While we do not agree with his theology, Franklin Arthur Pyles makes a point well taken when he writes: “The incarnate Christ is immediately accessible to those of us who believe through the Spirit and the Word. And this present accessibility is best realized in the worship service through the sermon. When the sermon is preached, the Word is made available and understandable so that the Holy Spirit may make Jesus Christ real to each listener. The care for a wayward child, a concern for someone’s health, an anxiety for a career, and most of all, guilt and shame—all are addressed as the preacher again specifically proclaims what it means that Jesus Christ has come, has died, and has risen for our salvation. While hearing the story and acknowledging its truth again, we are truly worshiping . . . . Thus, preaching, not the Eucharist, must remain’ the central act of worship, for while the Cross is indeed presented at the table, even that sacred meal remains ineffective without the Word.
“If our evangelical worship is parched and barren, it is because we have degraded preaching and the preacher. Let us call on these shepherds to lead us once again beside still waters and to shine a light on the pathway to heaven.” (Christianity Today, February 21, 1986)
A new hierarchy has arisen in Protestantism, that of the professional theologians who stand between the common man and his Bible. These theologians are needed to tell us what in the Bible is God’s Word and what is not. Christian Renewal (February 17, 1986) reports an instance of this.
More than 15 New Testament scholars have launched a controversial project to develop a consensus on what the historical Jesus probably said or did not say.
The consensus will be sought by voting—proverb by parable by pronouncement story—on the likeliest authentic sayings. After about six years the group hopes to have considered 500 sayings attributed to Jesus in biblical and non-biblical sources. Scholars say they are guided by the weight of biblical critical scholarship, plus their own insights into how many words were put on Jesus’ lips by Gospel writers or church tradition.
Dr. Funk says New Testament scholars “have hesitated to broadcast the assured results of historical critical scholarship out of fear of public controversy and political reprisal.”
Colors are being used to symbolize the degree of acceptance or rejection by the scholars. Red stands for yes—a deliberate parallel to the usage in Bibles that have the words of Jesus printed in red. Pink stands for “may be authentic,” gray for “probably not,” and black for “no.” Eventually, the Jesus Seminar hopes to publish a popular “Jesus Bible” with sayings printed in appropriate colors.
The initial balloting, at the St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary in southern Indiana, amounted to bad news for the beatitudes and other parts of the Sermon on the Mount.
Blackballed with virtually no discussion was one of Christendom’s favorite beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Similarly “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” got only six pink or red votes out of 30 cast.
Only three of a dozen “blessings” and “woes” in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were deemed to have derived from Jesus, and a fourth (“Blessed are you when men hate you”) produced an even split after some debate.
May God give us grace always to bow humbly before His holy, inspired, and infallible Word. In spite of what mere, sinful men say, those holy Scriptures alone are “able to make us wise unto salvation” (II Timothy 3:15).