In this recent Christianity Today piece a Singapore theologian, Simon Chan, succinctly argues against feminine names for God or avoiding personal pronouns to describe Him.
As Chan puts it:
The quest for gender-inclusive language has been a preoccupation of many mainline Protestants and liberal Catholics for decades. Some evangelicals also make compromises to accommodate these concerns. But before we jump onto the theological bandwagon, we need to reexamine the reasons for the use of masculine terms for God in Scripture and throughout the Christian tradition.
Chan notes that the Hebrew God was uniquely a Father when the surrounding cultures were rife with feminine deities. Modern liberals claim the Hebrew God was the imposition of patriarchy. But the goddess cultures were themselves patriarchal and then, as now, treated women with less dignity than the Jewish and Christian tradition. Had the ancient Hebrews succumbed to surrounding culture they would have worshipped gods and goddesses. Instead, they yielded to all demanding Creator God who reveals Himself as having some maternal qualities but who is still the eternal Father.
Goddess cultures imagined deities procreating and pantheistically birthing the created order, Chan writes. Judaism worshipped a non-sexual God who created by fiat through His Word, presiding over creation, but distinct from it. Of course, this concept of God the Father develops further with the Trinity, as the Heavenly Father relates to His only Begotten Son. Christians uniquely worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Thankfully, the radical feminist theology of the 1990s that derided God the Father and insisted on feminine and sexualized deities has mostly and mercifully faded from the scene. IRD reported and critiqued the “Re-Imagining” movement of that era, which touted ancient goddesses like Astarte and Isis, or urged worship of “Sophia” as the feminine embodiment of God. Re-Imagining mocked Christian beliefs about Christ’s atonement on the cross as “divine child abuse.” And predictably it espoused alternative sexualities, as heresies often do, even including an eroticized Eucharist.
I recall at the 1996 United Methodist General Conference attending a Methodist Federation for Social Action awards banquet. Garrett Seminary’s Barbara Troxell placed her hands on retiring Christian Unity Commission official Jeanne Audrey Powers while screaming: “I bless you now in the name of S-O-P-H-I-A!!!!” They both shook while the crowd squealed with delight. Powers later asked me if I had felt the Holy Spirit. I said I definitely had sensed A spirit. So long ago!
Radical feminist theology, which rejected Father, Son and Holy Spirit in favor of Mother/Father or other variants, like Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, mostly has receded to marginal segments of academia. The latest, more benign fad, growing even among some “conservative Protestants,” as Chan notes, permits traditional references to the Trinity but otherwise refuses direct personal pronouns for God.
Chan warns: “Avoiding the use of personal pronouns for God unwittingly downplays God’s personal nature.” This trend simply repeats God, God, God, performing verbal acrobatics to avoid pronouns. It’s theologically and linguistically ridiculous, somewhat similar to referring to a friend as Dawn, Dawn, Dawn, or Bob, Bob, Bob, instead of him or her.
It’s a unique Jewish/Christian insight that God is in fact a friend, and a person, not an abstract force, or an unknowable spirit. Chan says this point is especially important in Asia, where God is traditionally impersonal. In contrast, the Jewish and Christian God has revealed Himself wonderfully so that we might know and love Him as our eternal Father. The faddish alternatives profess to be more inclusive, but they only make God more remote and less caring, ultimately little more than a projection of ourselves.
IRD’s traditional focus has been the churches’ social witness. Over 20 years ago IRD challenged the Re-Imagining movement by noting that churches not faithful to their historic doctrines cannot helpfully witness to society. Churches unsure about God’s identity will not offer helpful counsel about how society should order itself. A healthy and robust public witness for the churches requires their vigorous affirmation of Christian orthodoxy as transmitted by the global church across history and culture.