Articles for the Month of June 2012

Making sense of Revelation

Here’s a screencast based on my sermon at church on Sunday, which in turn was based on my last class at Carey…

Sexist theologian worships Christ as mother

The great theologian, Anselm, was sexist. As  carefully  points out in a post at BLT not just a sandwich. The passage he refers to from the Monologion is indeed really interesting, and indeed sexist.1 Yet there is more to it than this simple account.

Here is chapter 42 of the Monologion:2

I should certainly be glad, and perhaps able, now to reach the conclusion, that he is most truly the Father , while this Word is most truly his Son. But I think that even this question should not be neglected: whether it is more fitting to call them Father and Son, than mother and daughter, since in them there is no distinction of sex.

For, if it is consistent with the nature of the one to be the Father, and of his offspring to be the Son, because both are Spirit (Spiritus, masculine); why is it not, with equal reason, consistent with the nature of the one to be the mother, and the other the daughter, since both are truth and wisdom (veritas et sapientia, feminine)?

Or, is it because in these natures that have a difference of sex, it belongs to the superior sex to be father or son, and to the inferior to be mother or daughter? And this is certainly a natural fact in most instances, but in some the contrary is true, as among certain kinds of birds, among which the female is always larger and stronger, while the male is smaller and weaker.

At any rate, it is more consistent to call the supreme Spirit father than mother, for this reason, that the first and principal cause of offspring is always in the father. For, if the maternal cause is ever in some way preceded by the paternal, it is exceedingly inconsistent that the name mother should be attached to that parent with which, for the generation of offspring, no other cause is associated, and which no other precedes. It is, therefore, most true that the supreme Spirit is Father of his offspring. But, if the son is always more like the father than is the daughter, while nothing is more like the supreme Father than his offspring; then it is most true that this offspring is not a daughter, but a Son.

Hence, just as it is the property of the one most truly to beget, and of the other to be begotten, so it is the property of the one to be most truly progenitor, and of the other to be most truly begotten. And as the one is most truly the parent, and the other his offspring, so the one is most truly Father, and the other most truly Son.3

So, what do we make of this sexist medieval theologian? I made brief reference to this passage in my recent book Not Only a Father. Some things seem to me striking, indeed perhaps more so than his sexism, which was surely not unusual for his time (around the turn of the first millennium CE). Anselm is clear that sexual categories do not apply to the Godhead. In this he is thoroughly orthodox, and he was also capable of drawing highly orthodox but unusual pastoral consequences from his orthodoxy.
In his “Prayer to St Paul”, Anselm develops a warm and tender meditation on Christ as mother. (See my Christ as Mother in the Middle Ages. For example he compares Christ with Paul and other apostles thus:

You have died more than they,
that they may labour to bear.
It is by your death that they have been born,
for if you had not been in labour,
you could not have borne death;
and if you had not died,
you would not have brought forth.
For, longing to bear sons into life,
You tasted of death,
and by dying you begot them.
You did this in your own self,
your servants, by your commands and help.
You as the author, they as the ministers.
So you, Lord God, are the great mother.[6]

In truth Anselm’s sexism, like ours, is a product of his time, and his willingness to consider the full richness of theological and devotional opportunities orthodox thinking allows was perhaps bolder than ours!

  1. Finally concluding that God is more fittingly called Father and Son than Mother and Daughter because father is the first cause of offspring and a son better corresponds to a father than a daughter does. []
  2. From: Anselm, St. Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo. CCEL, 1958. []
  3. Bold emphasis added. []

Jesus and humour

Over on David Lamb’s blog Is the God of the Old Testament….? he asks about his readers’ response to his use of gentle humour in a couple of recent posts. Some of his commenters are quite convinced Jesus is the answer, and that the answer is negative:

  1. One wrote: I don’t find any record of Jesus ever joking around as though humour is marketable as intrinsically virtuous. It’s part of the human condition, so when he says something plausibly funny to his original hearers it’s merely a pedagogical device like calling us to imagine a guy with a log protruding from his eye pointing at a guy with a speck in his eye.
  2. And another replied: If I understand your point correctly [name] I agree. I couldn’t imagine Jesus writing a blog entry on humour being good for the soul. Jesus never once addressed humour in the biblical record. In God’s word Jesus did address a vast array of topics that were good for the soul and others that were bad for the soul. Paul did admonish about foolish jesting though.

Let me get this straight… According to you guys: Jesus did not talk about humour because he basically disapproved of it. You admit he did say some hilarious things, but this use of humour was grudging and only because it was a useful teaching tool to get the attention of the unwashed masses.

Oh, boy! I’d better finish my series on humour in every book of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) quickly so I can start on the gospels, if views like this are at all common.

Before I do though, please guys tell me, if Jesus disapproved of humour, what do you make of the one about trying to force a camel through the eye of a needle? It would be good to get an answer to that one, because otherwise how can we justify our riches!?


Geoff writes on TheologyGeekNZ1 about the big lie at the heart of “Creationism”:

If you are a Christian who does not believe God caused all things to exist (ie, create) raise your hand now..

The issue is this: the term “creationist” has been hijacked by a group of people who believe the earth is young (despite scientific evidence to the contrary). This is all well and good, but whether the earth is young or not is a scientific debate, not a theological one.

Young earth creationists use terms like this to terrify people into following their lead. They use loaded terms like “The bible literally says” or “if you dont believe its literal, where do you draw the line..”, and today the best one was, “I dont see any specific demarkation between myth and history, so its either myth, or history…”. Honestly, its tripe and shows extremely bad hermeneutical skills, let alone being tantamount to emotional and spiritual abuse. If you heard a school teacher teaching your child like that, you’d be on to the principal immediately to get them sorted out.2

  1. No go to source link available. []
  2. If you don’t like the spelling, complain to Geoff, not me, I just approve the ideas, not the spellings ;) []

Ruth 3: an indecent proposal?

Charles Halton in his post: Free Download: An Indecent Proposal: The Theological Core of the Book of Ruth offers a prepublication version of his fine article from the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament, “An Indecent Proposal: The Theological Core of the Book of Ruth.”

This is an excellent article, straightforward and clearly argued, and I think convincing. Now, when I have time to read it more carefully, and to revise my Ruth Notes I’ll have to decide how far to accommodate my reading to his. At present I think they are close enough that the rewrite will be small ;) and beneficial :)

The heresy of exhortation

Photo from Spacemakers

Marking a lot of assignments where students examine different Bible passages, in an institution that seeks to prepare people in Applied Theology, and so expects exegesis to find its natural outworking in application, submits me to a great deal of exhortation.

The vast majority of students reach the application stage of the process, and promptly start telling me how I should try harder. If the passage is Psalm 113 then I should praise God more often, if it is Luke 9:1-6 then I should evangelise more…

Isn’t it strange. Neither passage seems to me to be primarily an exhortation to try harder.

The gospel passage tells how, having himself gone from place to place telling and showing people that the reign of God was breaking into this tired old world, Jesus sent his disciples to do the same with power and authority – there’s nothing about trying harder, and little that sounds like “evangelism”.

It’s true the psalm starts and ends with imperatives: Praise Yah! but the content between is focused on God and on the claim that we have so many reasons to praise God, not least that raising the needy from the ash heap is what God does all the time…

The exhortation to try harder is the preacher’s curse. Not gospel, not even good theology, yet the almost invariable default response to a Bible passage. If “Jesus” is the expected answer to questions asked by Sunday School teachers,1 then “try harder” is the gospel preachers find in every Bible passage.


  1. Teacher: “What is fury, and hops along with a fluffy white tail.” Students: Silence, till one brave lad says, “Well, I know the answer is Jesus, but I’m sorry I can’t work out how!” []

Training pastors

I do like a nice drop of sarcasm :) So I enjoyed this gem from Jason Goroncy at Per∙Crucem∙ad∙Lucem: ‘Simpler Pastoral Education for Simpler Times? A modest proposal’ here’s a short extract to get you hooked :)

Happily, however, pastoring apparently isn’t like that. No, pastoral challenges in Canada today have greatly diminished. You’ve noticed that, haven’t you? Canada is becoming a more and more ethnically uniform country, so pastors need no longer know how to understand different cultures – say, those of India or China.

Canadians are attending post-secondary education less and less, so we don’t need a similarly educated person to help us co-ordinate the gospel with our lives. Just give us a charismatic speaker with great storytelling ability and a big heart.

Biomedical issues, political challenges, cultural currents, financial questions, technological innovations – everything is much, much simpler to understand today, so our pastors can be simpler people too.

Yes, let’s expect less of our clergy and theological schools. Let’s demand, in fact, that seminaries reduce degree requirements, lower standards for their professors, drop their tuition charges accordingly and give our next generation of pastors what they need – an education that is cut-rate, compromised and convenient. (Read between the lines of some of those seminary ads. That’s what they’re offering.)

Sure, those who care for our bodies need the best education we can possibly afford to give them. Can you imagine entrusting yourself or your child to a physician who learned medicine online? The idea is scandalous.

The image is the one Jason used to illustrate the post, I have not found it or a similar “Ministry for Dummies” picture elsewhere, so I believe he should be credited with it too :)

Performing (texts from) Genesis: Massacre at Shechem

I have again been most impressed by many of the performances of texts from Genesis prepared by my students. I will post some here, they are selected mainly by who (among those I ask) gives permission.

Steve Allen, based over in Aussie, produced this video of Gen 34, which leaves this enigmatic and troubling story enigmatic and troubling while still (I think) helping viewers to really “get” the passage better.