Does Father God Have Too Much Testosterone? Open Theism, Evangelical Feminism, and the Doctrine of God
— Monday, July 12th, 2004 —
It is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. While that old saying is (rightly) considered a male chauvinist chestnut today, some sectors in evangelical theology wish to apply something like it to the contemporary debates over the power and foreknowledge of God. The growing alliance between open theists and evangelical feminists is pressing with increasing volume a new argument against classical theism: It is just “too male.”
The latest salvo comes from open theist philosopher John Sanders in a festschrift for the father of “creative love theism,” Clark H. Pinnock.(1) Sanders argues that the traditional understanding of God as all knowing and all-powerful is “a reduction of God to human proportions.” Specifically, Sanders argues that classical theism relies on “the image of the ideal Western male” who is a “go it alone individual, not relying on anyone’s cooperation, who is never affected by what others do and whose will is always done.”(2) Sanders suggests that this portrait is “a mainstay of American movies and fiction.” Elsewhere, Sanders has indicted classical theism for portraying God as “the Marlboro man.”(3) He takes on classical theist Millard Erickson’s critique that open theism is “feminizing” God by asking “so what?” Sanders asks why that is any worse than
affirming a “deity full of testosterone”.
Sanders’ “Marlboro Man” charge simply doesn’t stand. After all, Christian orthodoxy is even more communitarian than much of what passes for “post-conservative” evangelicalism these days. Christian
orthodoxy holds that the Trinitarian reality of God not only grounds the concept of community—it is the metaphysical archetype behind the human realities of “fatherhood” and “sonship.” And of course, no one,
except perhaps your neighborhood Mormon elder, is arguing that God has the hormone testosterone (although I would argue that Jesus, in his continuing Incarnation, does).
But Christian orthodoxy does argue that the Fatherhood of God is integrally related to God’s rule over creation. This is why feminist theology in the mainline denominations carries with it such hostility to language of God as “king” or “Lord.” Indeed, the hostility is about more than masculine language. The very concept that God creates, oversees, and guides his creation toward a consummated Kingdom is rejected in feminist revisionism as “too masculine.” Instead, mainline feminist theology prefers to think of God as dependent upon the creation, cooperating with it, and nurturing it toward what it can become. Evangelical reformists aren’t willing to go that far. But they do recognize the connection between God-language and God concepts. I think they are on to something here.
Sanders points to the images of men found in American fiction and films. And yet, this portrait is not just found there. Virtually every human culture has celebrated its warriors and kings in terms of what are universally seen to be “masculine” virtues. Indeed, they are not just “masculine” virtues, but specifically fatherly attributes. In virtually every human civilization, the role of the father is pictured as protector, leader, and warrior. Could it be that this is not just an evolutionary anthropological fluke?
Could it be that this archetype is what Jesus is picking up on when he tells his disciples that Father God provides his children with food and sustenance (Luke 10:11-13)? Could it be that this archetype is seen in God’s warfare against his enemies for the sake of his firstborn son (Exod 4:22-23; Ps 89:22-27)? Could it be that this archetype is the reason the apostle Paul ties the Fatherhood of God to his sovereign rescue of his people from death and condemnation (Rom 1:4; 8:15; 8:23)?
Perhaps then there is a reason why the Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy has avoided both the hyper-masculine transcendence of pagan philosophy and the feminine immanence of pagan mysticism. Perhaps this why the Apostles’ Creed so beautifully and clearly affirmed belief in God as both “the Father” and “Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
And perhaps evangelical theology should think twice before it jettisons either truth for the sake of a God with less testosterone.
1. John Sanders, “Reducing God to Human Proportions,”
in Semper Reformandum: Studies in Honor of Clark H. Pinnock, ed. Stanley
E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2003), 11-26.
2. Ibid., 122.
3. Christopher A. Hall and John Sanders, Does God Have a
Future? A Debate on Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 127.