Tag Archives: trinitarian

the divine feminine: God the Father

My intention for this series is to come from a perspective that gives weight to Scripture and church history. Before I do that, I must share this story. My first year in seminary had its ups and downs. I was a Barthian four-point Calvinist with progressive politics. In one practical theology class, the professor made it compulsory to write inclusive language about God. Distressed, I called the first disciple of Jesus I ever knew: my mother. If she was to fit a category theologically, she’s Arminian and gender wise, complementarian. I complained, “But mooooom! They’re just enforcing THEIR agenda!” She responded, “Rodney, God is Spirit, God is greater than what you or I can imagine.” Then it hit me, yes God is transcendent. I alluded to that in my final paper for undergrad. I would go on to become a better theologian because of this friendly reminder. And well write my Master’s thesis on the topic.

The Gospel of John chapter one, verses one through eighteen, functions as a Jewish-Christian anti-polytheist, anti-imperial critique. As an announcement of Good News, the Johannine author (John for short), writes of a creation account whereby the Word/Wisdom of God echoes the creation theology of the book of Exodus (Chapter 33-34for ex.). “The vocabulary of 1:1-18, “word….light….life….God…testimony….glory….grace….truth,” is reminiscent of the epiphany that attends the law at Sinai”- Dwight Callahan. Fascinatingly enough, Clement of Alexandria in his commentary on the Decalogue, argues that the Logos Inarnate is the same spoken word of God from Sinai to Moses and Israel.

The way that we understand the Parenthood of God is by first looking at the sources that name YHWH as FATHER. What type of Parent is God?

In the Torah, starting with Genesis, Moses refers to GOD as El Shaddai. Now as J.R. Kirk points out, most of our American Standard English translations of the Bible sanitizes biblical language. They are not “literal” as many claim; more like literary. El Shaddai like in Genesis 17:1 the covenantal God who demands the practice of circumcision (of all practices), is El Shaddai, the God of Many Breasts.

This God is not simply “God of the mountains.” That comes from reading extra-biblical sources, which are then re-read into the text. God El Shaddai alone is the source of humanity’s fruitfulness (Genesis 35:11, 49:25). The Bible’s condemnation of Ashera must be seen just as John 1 is, as prophetic critiques against idolatry. God doesn’t need a wooden Ashera statue or pole to represent God. God is Spirit, God is Holy and faithful, and expect us as human beings to do the same.

Revert back to Exodus 34, specifically verse 13, Israel is commanded to break down the Asherah poles and “sacred stones.” Again, verse 17,” Do not make cast idols.” Contrary to what the complementarian Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood teaches, the concern for Asherah poles was NOT about Asherah’s gender. It was about the actual poles and statues themselves being barriers to the Israelites worshipping The One True God.

Now, as El Shaddai, God our Nurturing Parent makes room within herself as God of the Patriarchs, the God identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Feminist scholars find the divine election of Abraham and the covenantal practice of circumcision to be a male-centered discourse (Genesis 17). What would it mean to examine this text in light of God as nursing Mother/Father? Perhaps one implication would be that since God is transcendent, God is capable of opening Godself up to the Other.

In several of his writings, Clement of Alexandria refers to God as God our Nurturer. Unfortunately, many complementarians essentialize fatherhood to simply providence (men being the breadwinners). This explains why CBMW president Owen Strachan can use shame to call out stay-at-home fathers as “MAN-FAILS.” The God of the Bible is great, God is holy, and God cannot be contained by anything according to Clement. The protest against gender essentialism is a protest against idolatry. And this protest actually works both ways. The Holy Other God who worked in the lives of the prophets Deborah and Huldah, warriors like Jael, and apostles like Junia and Phoebe, is also the Warrior God of the Exodus (Exodus 34:11).

God the Nurturing Parent, the Mother and Father of all creation was revealed to the Jews and Gentiles in life, death, and Resurrection of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. It is in Christ’s return we see in Revelation 1:13, that Jesus recieves the Church as the Son Of Man with nursing breasts (mastoi). And if we see the Son, we have also seen the Father. It is the Second Person of the Trinity that I shall turn to next.

Open Theism, Moltmann, Patristic Thought, & Divine Apatheia

In a recent facebook group discussion, we have gone back and forth about the meaning of what does it mean for God to be impassible?  Does God really not suffer, and therefore is not able to relate to humanity? A current stream of polemics in BOTH conservative evangelical and mainline liberal Christian academia consists of making Platonism along with any other form of Greek philosophy to be enemy of the one, true pure biblical perspective. The use of this argument is valueable but it does have it limits. As Christians, we are to experience the world Pentecostally, in that God has reconciled all nations and tongues to Himself in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in the Sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church to go through out the world. Each language, philosophy, academic discipline can be used for the glory of the Triune God. The confusion of Babel comes in when Christians, for example talk about capitalism as Christian freedom, or when the early Church Fathers appropriated the Gentile, philosophical writings of their contexts with words like “apatheia,” “immutability,” “impassibility,” and the like. How can the God who died on the cross be considered unchangeable and incapable of suffering in any way?

Pentecostal Hybridity [not syncretism, since cultures and languages are fluid, and they can change], leads to language barriers and conflicts, and yes, definitely extended debates. Christian engagement with the “world” [prevailing cultures] does require something more than nuance, it requires discernment. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are must examine the prevailing texts of the day, appropriate the good, and discard the bad by measuring them with the Cross. A while back, Open theologian John Sanders wrote a post on the Early Church Fathers on Hellenism and Impassibility. While in some of his published works, Sanders took a more critical stance on the Church Fathers’ and their appropriation of “impassibility,” Sanders is now arguing (rightfully) that the way the Fathers understood God’s impassibility was really quite different from Greek philosophy. Sanders notes,

“From the second through fourth centuries there was no standard definition of divine “impassibility.”[i] For Christian writers it did not mean that God was apathetic, distant, or lacked compassion. God did experience mercy and love. Christians disagreed with one another whether God experienced anger depending on whether or not they thought this emotion “fitting” for God. The word functioned in a couple of ways. First, it was a way of qualifying the distinction between creator and creatures. God is incorruptible while we are not. But we will be made impassible (incorruptible) in the eschaton. Also, we are prone to be overwhelmed by emotions, particularly negative ones, but God is not. Hence, it was used to safeguard divine transcendence (aseity) rather than deny psychological emotions to God. Second, it functioned to distance the Christian God from the gods of polytheism. They were passible in the sense that acted capriciously and lost control of themselves. In contrast, the Christian God faithfully loved, was patient, and acted consistently.[ii] Hence, it is clear that when the fathers said God was impassible they did not intend to rule out that he has emotions or that he is affected by and responds to us.”

This observation holds especially true, particularly when one looks at the corpus of one Clement of Alexandria. Clement worked really hard to distance the God of Christianity from the Roman imperial Egyptian divinities of his day. Clement understood the gods of that pantheon to be greedy, lustful, sexually immoral, and controlled by their desires; and of course, their worshippers followed in their footsteps. What Clement did was argue that God is apathetic to what these gods desired, that the God revealed in the Divine Logos-Person of Yeshua the Messiah was fully capable of controlling himself, and also served as the source of our holiness, our own participation in the divine apatheia.

Often dismissed often as a pantheist heretic and for his kenotic Christology, Juergen Moltmann in his The Crucified God: The Cross Of Christ as the Foundation And Criticism of Christian Theology, made similar arguments as John Sanders and Clement of Alexandria concerning divine apatheia. Our conversation starts on page 269,

“An examination of the discussion of apatheia in ancient Greece, Judaism, and Christianity shows that apatheia does not mean the petrification of men, nor does it denote those symptoms of illness which are today described as apathy, indifference, and alienation. Rather, it denotes the freedom of man and his superiority to the world in corresponding to the perfect, all-sufficient freedom of the Godhead. Apatheia is entering into the higher divine sphere of the Logos. […] Love arises from the spirit and from freedom, not from desire or anxiety. The apathetic God therefore, could be understood as the free God who freed others for Himself.”

For Moltmann, it is essential for Christian theology to have both apatheia and pathos (which we find in the Old Testament). Thus, Moltmann concludes about apatheia, “Christian theology can only adopt insight and the longing of Hellenistic apathetic theology as a presupposition for the knowledge of the freedom of God and the liberation of fettered man” (page 275) Contrary to the popular saying “freedom isn’t free,” freedom is free, and its source is found in the Open God of Liberation. Just as no one desire or emotion is able to claim the Triune God as its own, neither can any oppressive tradition or institution possess the freedom that the Christian has been given by the Creator.  In the words of Clement of Alexandria, “For God bestows life freely, but evil custom, after our departure from this world, brings on the sinner unavailing remorse with punishment.” (Sermon to the Greeks, Chapter 10).

The Crucifixion of God’s Son is the one true source of humanity’s liberty.  The God-Man’s death on the Cross must be seen as God opening up God’s covenant for all humanity. Undergirding this premise for Moltmann is his CORRECT observation that the downward pathos movement of YHWH can only be understood as part of the special revelation in the Hebrew Bible, and in God’s communion with Israel.

“Therefore, there is for it a direct correspondence between the pathos of God and the sympatheia of men. On the basis of the presupposition of election to the covenant and the people it is necessary only to develop a dipolar theology which speaks of God’s passion and the drive of the spirit in the suffering and hopes of man. This presupposition does not exist for the Christian, especially for the Gentile Christian. Where for Israel immediacy is grounded on the presupposition of the covenant, for Christians it is Christ himself who communicates the Fatherhood of God and the power of the Spirit. Therefore, Christian theology cannot develop any dipolar theology of the reciprocal relationship between the God who calls and the man who answers; it must develop a trinitarian theology, for only in and through Christ is that dialogical relationship with God opened up.”- Page 275, once more (Bold Emphasis My Own)

Moltmann’s move is a significant gesture, a critique of the Gentile imperial arrogance we know as natural revelation. Moltmann at once contextualizes himself in the story of the Crucified God as a German Gentile, and at the same time is able to articulate the narrative of God’s people (Israel) and God’s Messiah. Now, Moltmann goes on to argue that the beginning of Trinitarian history happens at Golgatha; I disagree. God’s own Trinitarian history begins with liberating Exodus event and the Incarnation of the Logos, the Word made fetal flesh. The history of full human participation in Trinitarian history begins with the Crucifixion, I would contend, since God sovereignly chose to embrace us ragged Gentiles into the salvific equation. The Openness of God for us begins with the sweet embrace of Jesus nailed to the tree.

Wonder Woman saves the day: On Being An Open Theist

There’s a saying among comic book fans who like DC Comics. If you need someone to save the world, call Superman. If there is a mystery to be solved, call Batman. And if you need to end a war, call Wonder Woman.

When it comes to religion and politics, there are always going to be factions. With persons who identify as Open Theists, things aren’t going to be any different. First of all, let me be upfront. I believe in the freedom of the Triune God who freely decides to give humanity free will so that we can have genuine relationships. I have for the most part always believed in this with the exception of the 3 or 4 years I was a 4 point Calvinist. Even when I was Calvinist, I got into arguments with liberals and evangelicals and postevangelicals IRL and online on Facebook. The worst arguments happened in Calvinist groups themselves. I couldn’t believe there were so many different varieties of Calvinism. Come on, someone claimed to be both an anabaptist and Calvinist! That was ridiculous (I thought in my mind).

When I left Calvinism, it was not any of my Arminian, liberal, or emerging church friends who convinced me to eventually leave Calvinist theology. It was one of the Five Point Hardliners who sent me a 20 page paper (I kid you not) via a Facebook message explaining to me why I was not a REAL Calvinist (and therefore not a real Christian) since I didn’t affirm ALL FIVE POINTS. I was so angry, I first started re-reading the Bible without Calvinist interpretation, learning historical contexts for things like the story of Jacob and Esau. It was around that time I transitioned to identifying as an outspoken Trinitarian and Open Theist.

When I first learned of Open Theism, I was unimpressed. In Baptist Theology class, the teacher abused his authority, using polemics and demonization to demonstrate his fauxgressive take on Open Theism. He would regularly cite C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle and the story of the servant of Tash. Not. Impressed. It’s not as if the Tash story doesn’t have problems, like Orientalism, which is one of the three stools of White Supremacy’s throne. Plus, C.S. Lewis does not equal the Christian Canon or Tradition. So there was that too.

It took a combination of prayerful reflection on the Scriptures, familiarizing myself with continental philosophy, as well as forging friendships with people like T.C. Moore to help me grow as an Open Theist. What other theology dared begin with Jesus’ call to repentance as the start of theological introspection? Whose the politician outside George W. Bush that actually made Jesus the number one philosopher? Much like John Howard Yoder [whose silence and embodiment of male supremacy is problematic] who is said to have brought back Jesus’ teachings as central to Christian ethics, Open theists made free will theology anew, grounded in Jesus, contemporary hermeneutics and traditional evangelical theology such as God’s triunity and the trustworthiness of Scripture. At Brite Divinity School, I could have followed suit with everyone else and hopped on the process theology bandwagon, but I chose not to.

Instead, I wanted to take the risk of being different. Open Theism is some of the best that Evangelicalism has to offer. Honestly, part of my goal at trying to be the best theologian and preacher I can be, I wanted to dialogue with evangelicals, and the Openness of God movement was, and is a good way to do so. The Open Theist community has folks who are also Pentecostal, Baptist, Mennonite, heretical political libertarians, six-day Young Earth Creationists, theistic-evolutionists, inerrantists, proponents of cruciformity, Anglicans. As with any theological movement, it is going to have its various factions. Yes I [personally] believe Open Theism is necessarily Trinitarian, but I respect other’s approaches to seeing the future as partially open. This isn’t relativism or being “overwhelmed” with diversity; this is me working in the hopes of persuading others to my side. That side does include a commitment to traditional creedal Christianity, Charismatic traditions, and open theology, much like Tom Belt offers.

One caveat. A unified voice for renewal must not be hegemonic, and it must match the gender inclusive vision of Pentecost, women and men preaching the Good News. Any renewal movement must also look to pay attention to the margins. Yes formally, open theism was made a systematic alternative to calvinist evangelicalism in 1994, but there have been persons who wrote and preached about God sovereignly choosing divine self-limitation and the partial openness of the future for centuries. Major J. Jones in the 1970’s (a classmate of Rev. Dr. MLK Jr.) wrote about a personal, holy Triune God and he had Openness leanings. Open Theism cannot be a Small Tent Revival kind of movement. It needs the biblical model of Pentecost if it is to open up space for a Spirit-led renewal.