Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Daddy God

More than masculine imagery is needed for health and wholeness.

The divine – transcendent – eternal is so much more than the metaphors and analogies that we utilize is worship and prayer.

“The rule of prayer is the rule of faith” has migrated historically from prayer to sacrament to preaching and, now in our musical age, to worship. See also Worship Words Determine Faith [link]

Our language about God functions – Elizabeth Johnson

This is why we must both account for and attend to a more well-rounded and balanced approach to our imagery about God.

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Watch this video and let me know your thoughts about my nuanced and constructive proposal.

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Not Literally God

An interesting discussion from Facebook this week continues so I thought I would post it here as well.

I commented Sunday morning,

Some church songs are easier to make gender neutral than others.

Some of these songs lean so heavily on the masculine pronoun that they are nearly unusable

As someone who is very intentional about mixing up the English pronouns used for God [link], this is an important issue for me. It sparked a nice little discussion. To clarify I added the following:

The gender pronouns in the Bible are not a problem unless you think they are literal.
Scripture is fine as contextual (and timely) expression (as all expressions are). It is actually comes down to your view of language.
Language is the limiting factor because each era attempts to do its best with the words that it has – OUR era has two difficulties

  1. Hebrew and Greek do not come into English smoothly – one issue is the lack of masculine/feminine that say Spanish and French have. English is limited in that sense.
  2. The nature of language means that we utilize word pictures and metaphors that are never the exact representation of thing we are talking about. It is just as accurate and inaccurate to call God a rock, a father, or a mother hen. Of course, God is not actually ANY of those things really. They are word pictures. God’s ontological reality is not captured in any language.

We are just doing the best with the tools that we have.”

People will then point to Jesus’ gender as an endorsement of a masculine God.

Jesus, however, was using relational language. Not literal. God is not a big man with a penis in the sky. Jesus was saying that he related to God as one relates to a perfect parent.
IN fact, Jesus’ statements about his relationship ‘abba’ were so in depth that they comprised Jesus’ character {as in ‘I and the father are one’ if you have seen me you have seen the one who sent me)
In this way, Jesus was unique in history and truly worthy to be called ‘son of god’ which makes him worthy of praise (as we praise god) so that the Christian church developed a trinitarian understanding of god (a novel development)

It reminded me of that old CS Lewis poem, “A Footnote To All Prayers” (it references Pheidias who was  a legendary statue maker in the ancient world)

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

I am always surprised by how insistent people are that their language of God is accurate and sufficient. I guess that is a good reminder why this issue is worth contesting and why it is so vital that we challenge the status quo.

M is for Metaphor

Today we explore two words that appear at opposite ends of the language/reality spectrum but in fact have a great deal to do with each other and inform each other mutually.M-Metaphore

Before we dive into metaphor, there are two words that are needed in our theological tool-belt.

Univocal and Equivocal are important 2nd tier vocabulary words that radically transform the conversation.

Folks who hold that language is univocal tend to think that language is representative and exacting – that a word represents that which it stands in for and is exact in its ability to execute that function.

Folks who hold that language is equivocal tend to think that language is expressive and thus any word or concept expresses that which it stands in for and is inexact in its ability to do so.

If you believe language is representative (univocal), then you will say that these symbols (words & pictures)  represent that which they reference. Getting this right is essential because otherwise you are talking about something different that what is intended.

If you believe that language is expressive (equivocal), then you will say that language is both inexact and it is malleable. We do the best we can with the language/concepts/word pictures that we have but in the end they are both perspectival and provisional (it depends on where you stand and the words always stand in/substitute for the concept).

Here is how our Pocket Dictionary defines it:

Metaphor, metaphorical theology: A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that has an accepted, literal meaning is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or similarity between them. Metaphorical theology holds that God can only be spoken about through metaphors. Thus we must use metaphors to name our experience of God (the “Transcendent”); consequently, God can be described only in relational terms (that is, through the relational language of metaphor). Furthermore, metaphorical theologians, such as Sallie McFague, generally claim that such metaphors are culturally conditioned representations created by the mind as we seek to make experience intelligible.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 856-860). Kindle Edition.

Obviously we use word pictures to talk about God and God’s work. There is no shortage of examples in the Bible from a rock to a King, from a mother-hen to a dove, from a lover to a judge… and lamb.  We use analogies to talk about God and God’s work.

The question arises (post-enlightenment) when we begin to expect language to be exacting and representative. We do the same thing with the narratives of scripture when we hold them to the standard of newspaper reports and instruction manuals.

I fall squarely in the equivocal camp and think that all of our god-talk is expressive and provisional. As we come to understand more about God and God’s work in the world, we will come greater understandings and bigger revelations.

We do the best we can with the tools that we have.

This only becomes an issue when someone latches onto one a word-picture and insists that God IS a father. They mean literally and ontologically… which is impossible.
God being a ‘father’ is not exact and representative – it is a metaphor, a word picture. Jesus is saying that he relates to God as one relates to an ‘Abba’ daddy figure.
Which brings us to our second topic: metaphysics

Metaphysics: The philosophical exploration into the ultimate nature of reality lying beyond the merely physical (meta = beyond). Metaphysics deals with *ontological concerns, that is, with questions about what constitutes something as “real” or as having “being.”

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 860-861). Kindle Edition.

The important thing to understand about meta-physics is:

  • Unless you are a reductive-naturalist (that everything is physical) you have a metaphysic.
  • Metaphysics is how you explain the world (or universe) beyond what is seen and measurable.
  • A 21st century christian is not limited to the metaphysics of the ancient world that the Bible was written in.
  • The Copernican revolution (away from the Ptolemaic geo-centric world view) has seen cascading effects of de-centering both earth and thus humans from being central to everything.
  • This is why some have found a Process world-view a valuable alternative that incorporates scientific discoveries into views of the world and universe.

When one tackles metaphysical concerns, it is helpful to first have in place a notion of language (univocal v equivocal) and of metaphor when it comes to using word pictures and symbols to help us understand the world and human experience and existence.

Tell me how you are using language – then let’s talk about what is going on beyond the physical world.

Artwork for the series by Jessi Turri 

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