All you need is love…

Vicar’s article from the Bridge Magazine, March 2019

 

All you need is love

How did your Valentine’s Day go? Chances are your February 14th went a lot better than it did for the two men for whom the day is named.

Today’s consumer-driven Valentine’s Day festival traces its roots back to the 14th century English poet Chaucer, whose poem the Parliament of Foules pictured all the birds meeting to choose their mates on St Valentine’s Day. But the day’s origins are older than Chaucer. It was the 5th century Pope Gelasius I who made February 14th St Valentine’s Day. He wanted to help people forget a banned Roman pagan festival called Lupercalia which was traditionally celebrated in mid-February. During Lupercalia, youths raced naked through the streets of Rome, striking women with bloody strips of flesh taken from the remains of goats and dogs sacrificed on the Lupercal Altar. This practice was thought to increase women’s fertility.

Instead, Pope Gelasius introduced something altogether more wholesome: a day to honour two early Christian leaders, both called Valentine, who were martyred by Emperor Claudius II around 270AD.

One Valentine was a priest executed on February 14th for defying an imperial order. In those days only single men could serve in the army, and facing a shortage of recruits, the emperor decided that banning marriage would increase the number of potential soldiers. When Valentine was caught secretly marrying couples, he was arrested, and Claudius had him clubbed to death in the street. You won’t find that image on Valentine’s cards in Tesco.

The second Valentine was a Christian bishop from Terni. Arrested for preaching in the streets of Rome, he was placed in the custody of a judge called Asterius who decided to put Valentine’s God to the test. Bringing in his blind daughter, Asterius told Valentine he would convert to Christianity if God could heal the girl’s eyes. Valentine prayed and the daughter could see again, and three days later the judge and all his household were baptised. Asterius then released Valentine who returned to street preaching and was again arrested. From prison, Valentine wrote a letter to Asterius’s daughter signed, “From your Valentine”, so he’s the one to blame for all those pink cards!

Valentine was eventually brought before Emperor Claudius with whom he tried to engage in debate about Christianity. Claudius found the debate interesting but when it started going badly for him, he resolved things by executing Valentine. The date? February 14th. Another Happy Valentine’s Day.

So, two Valentines, one who risked his life to defy an emperor, the other a missionary and champion of free religious speech. And both were killed on February 14th, to give birth to our modern festival. Given a choice between “I love you” cards and striking ladies with strips of goat flesh, I think the Pope Gelasius got this one right!

 

The Kingdom of Easter

Published in the Bridge Magazine, April 2019

 

The Kingdom of Easter

So what’s Easter really all about? The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus? New beginnings? Flowers, chocolate and Easter bunnies?

To make sense of Easter you have to understand one thing: Jesus’ core message. So if you’ve just picked this magazine up at random, then read on – because if you grasp this, you’ll be well ahead of a lot of churchgoers!

The gospel of Mark sums up Jesus’ core message like this:

The time has come, the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14).

Jesus’ core message is as simple as that.

So what does this “Kingdom of God” mean? Maybe it’s like a religious frequent flyers club where you build up point for being good and doing religious things and being on church fundraising committees. Now those are all good things, but they aren’t what Jesus meant.

Or maybe the Kingdom of God is about politics: a way for religious leaders to motivate the masses to fight for whatever bit of land needs defending? But that’s not what Jesus had in mind, either.

Instead, think about kingdom like this: remember the days when you used to sit in the back seat of your parents’ car and fight with your brother or sister about “my side” and “your side”? Well, your “kingdom” is the bit of the seat you rule over. And that’s what the Kingdom of God is like: it’s the realm over which God rules: a realm of eternal love, peace and justice.

Now when some people hear that, they imagine Jesus means Heaven, but again that’s not what Jesus meant. The Kingdom of God isn’t about us going from down here on earth, to up there in Heaven. Instead, when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God his focus was on bringing up there down here. That’s why he taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom Come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” His point is not that we go up to Heaven, it’s that the Kingdom of Heaven is coming down to earth. And it all starts with Jesus. His body and life was the first place people could see God’s will being done on earth, as they would in Heaven.

That’s why he was such a threat to the rulers of his day. It wasn’t “love one another” that troubled them, it was all his talk about Kingdoms. That’s why they killed him. And that’s why God raised him from the dead: because in the Kingdom of God, there is no death. Only life in all its fullness, forever.

And that’s the point of Easter: a forever and a day promise of life in all its fullness, in the Kingdom of God; a Kingdom which is still near to us now.

And to receive it, we have to welcome it’s king, Jesus, by making him the centre of our lives. And when we do that –a little bit of “up there” comes and dwells in us, a deposit guaranteeing us all of God’s Kingdom promises for the future.

So that’s Easter: The Kingdom of God is near – repent and believe the good news.  And it’s as true and accessible today as it was on the first Easter Sunday.

May you have a very Happy Easter, and may a little bit of “up there” come “down here” to dwell with you this Easter time.

Visit www.hopechurchfamily.org/easter to find out about Easter celebrations in the church in your community.

 

In a spirit of full disclosure, I might have pinched an idea or two for this article from a talk given by US Pastor John Ortberg on Easter Sunday 2015.

Palm Sunday 2019 – you’re invited

An invitation to lunch in Palm Sunday

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the time we begin our Easter anticipation by remembering Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey,as the crowds joyously shouted hosanna, and waved palm fronds.

To help us celebrate in style all our churches are gathering together on Sunday morning in Upton for a special “benefice” service. We’ll start at 10:45am at the Pepperpot, followed by a march of witness through the centre of Upton to the parish church where we’ll have our Palm Sunday service at 11am (with a special drama supplied by the Open the Book Team). There’ll also be Sunday School for the children, communion, and then afterwards a “bring and share meal” in church.

By its very nature, a Bring and Share meal is a step of faith – we may all bring quiche – which is great if you like quiche! But rather than over-organise or tell you what to bring – let’s simply trust that the Lord will guide us as to what to make and bring and help us enjoy sharing it with one another! It would be lovely if visitors felt they could join us, so why not consider making sufficient food for yourself and another person?

To give us plenty of space to eat and mingle, we’re going to eat in Church rather than the Parish Rooms. The downside of this is that we won’t be able to reheat food, so please plan what you’re bringing in the light of that. There will however be hot drinks available.

If you are joining us at the Pepperpot but don’t want to carry food up the street, you can leave it on the tables we’ll provide in the parish church beforehand.

I hope to see you on Sunday, and if not, then perhaps at one of our Easter Services. If you want to know more about what’s going on in a church in your community over Easter, visit the Easter page on our website.

Rev’d Barry Unwin

What is confirmation?

First published in the Bridge Magazine, March 2019

 

What is confirmation?

So there I was, all set to write a Big Question article about Donald Tusk’s “small corner of Hell set aside for those who backed Brexit” comment when a friend suggested I should spare us all and follow up last month’s Big Question about Baptism with a Big Question about Confirmation instead. So here goes…

What is Confirmation?

The best way to think about Confirmation is as the sequel to Baptism! When a child is baptised promises are made on their behalf by their parents and godparents. They promise to follow Christ as their Lord and master and to set an example of faith to the child by their life and practice, part of which involves raising their child as a practising Christian as part of their local church. But there comes a time when a bouncing baby becomes a big strapping lad or lass, with their own mind, vision and values, and confirmation is the time when that big strapping lad or lass stands up and owns the promises of God for themselves.

Sometimes I’m asked, ‘When is the right age for a child to be confirmed?’ The Church of England’s rules don’t state a number, instead, they wisely speak in terms of a child reaching the “years of discretion”. We know that every child is different and that they mature at different rates, so what matters isn’t how many birthdays a child has seen, but what they understand about the Christian faith, and whether they are ready and willing to take ownership of their own faith journey.

To help them do this, prior to confirmation, candidates are supposed to be able to understand and say the Catechism (an interactive summary of Christian belief) which includes the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. In practice today, confirmation preparation tends not to be quite as rigorous as that. The group of young people I’m preparing for confirmation at the moment are using a video and discussion based resource called Youth Alpha for this, as well as having lots of fun playing games and eating sweets!

So what are the benefits of confirmation? Well, the two most significant ones are about identity and Holy Communion. Making a public declaration of what you believe is a significant step in working out who you are as a person. It’s the time you step out from your parent’s spiritual shadow and go public about your own faith journey. And part of this journey is to regularly receive Holy Communion. In fact, a Confirmation ceremony sometimes includes a Holy Communion service so that the newly confirmed can immediately receive their first communion immediately.

One final thought. We’re having a Confirmation Service with one of our Bishops in June 2019, so now is a great time to inquire about confirmation. If you have a child who you think is ready to be confirmed, or if you’re an adult and haven’t been confirmed but would like to be, then please get in touch with me.

 

 

 

 

Annual Church Meetings

Around this time every year, our churches hold a meeting that looks back over the last twelve months to celebrate what’s gone on, as well as looking to the future, as we appoint new Church Wardens and PCC members. It’s a chance to ask questions and learn about plans for the future.

Although only Electoral Roll members can vote, the meetings are open to anyone. So if you’d like to come and get involved with your church’s annual meeting, here’s a list of where and when they take place over the next few weeks.

Sunday 10 March10:30amChurch of the Good Shepherd DCC, Hook.
Sunday 24 March.noonRipple (at St Mary’s, Ripple, after the communion service).
Sunday 24 March4pmSt Peter and St Paul, Upton, (Parish Rooms)
Sunday 7 AprilnoonEarls Croome with Hill Croome and Strensham (at Earls Croome)
Sunday 7 April,5pmHanley Castle with Hanley Swan (at St Mary’s)
Monday 8 April7pmWelland (St James Welland)

We hope to see you there!

 

  • APCM Details

    There are no upcoming events at this time.

A new look to the church office

Decorating isn’t something I normally get excited about, but I’m going to make an exception for last week’s decorating work in the Church Office in Upton Parish Church. 

Ever since Upton Parish Church opened in 1879, people have been wondering whether the dull pink plaster that makes the interior so gloomy was really what the architect intended. Other churches by the same architect were painted, often in white, but not Upton Parish Church.

Last year to accommodate our Benefice Administrator Helen, we began transforming the office space established back in 2013. First we replaced the drab carpet, bought some new furniture, and added secondary glazing to the windows. Then we installed an electric radiator, and to help us get the most out of the heating, we fitted a suspended ceiling with new LED lighting.

However, the walls continued to make the room drab. So earlier this year we asked the Diocesan Advisory Committee if we could paint them, and with permission given and a special paint bought, a decorator arrived last week to transform the office. And we think the results are quite remarkable!

 

 

Big thanks then to Church Wardens Tim Toman and Roger Davies for helping write the faculty application , as well as handling the arrangements for the decorating process!

If you’d like to see the new, brighter, church office, do call in and see Helen during office hours (9:30am-1pm, Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri).

Next, the PCC wants to begin to transform the side (or “Lady”) chapel. Once again they’ll paint the walls a shade of white, as well as replacing the carpet, lighting, heating and furniture, with the ultimate aim of creating a small contemporary, comfortable and user-friendly worship and meeting space that can accommodate choir rehearsals, prayer meetings, small services and could even be hired out to external groups.

 

Barry Unwin
3 March 2019

Losing Jesus.

First published in the Bridge Magazine, February 2019

 

What have I got in common with David Cameron and Jesus’ mother Mary? Answer: we’ve all suffered the embarrassment of losing a child in a public place.

Back in 2012, the Camerons and their three children stopped off at a country pub. After a swift pint, the Prime Minister jumped into a car with his security team, and his wife Samantha followed with two of their children. Each assumed the other had eight-year-old Nancy, who was actually in the pub toilet. A panicked telephone call confirmed Nancy was okay, and her embarrassed Mum returned fifteen minutes later to collect her.

They have my sympathy because I did something similar in an Edinburgh pub back in 2009. A game of hide and seek, combined with a failure to do our normal headcount when it was time to leave, meant that it was only as I reversed out of the car park that my wife noticed the lost child’s bemused face staring at us through the pub door.

But when it comes to losing a child, Mary takes the biscuit. She lost the 12-year old Jesus for three whole days in Jerusalem. It was only at the end of the first day of the long journey back to Nazareth that she realised Jesus wasn’t off playing with the other children.  Three frantic days of searching later, mother and son were reunited. Perhaps predictably Jesus was debating the scholars in the temple courts,

Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

He says to his Mum, before she presumably grounded him for a month.

I wonder if you have ever lost Jesus? Not physically like Mary did, of course, but spiritually. Christmas was a great time to reconnect with him. It’s relatively easy to find Jesus in a carol service or other special Christmas events. But then the hustle and bustle of January means we get distracted and take our eyes off him. Rather than depend on the one who is in charge, we get busy trying to organise and plan every detail of our lives. And ever so slowly, the truly important business of enjoying the presence of God in our lives as we read the scriptures and pray gets squeezed out. That’s what I mean by losing Jesus.

It’s a bit late for New Year’s Resolutions, but it’s never too late to find Jesus again. So why not set aside five minutes of every day, to meet with God in prayer? Talk to him about your worries, your hopes and dreams. A lot of people find a verse from the Bible can help with this: a website called verseoftheday.com will even email you a daily Bible meditation to help you focus your thoughts on Jesus. And as you do that, something remarkable will happen: God will come and meets with you, as what was lost, becomes found.

Why do we baptise babies?

First published in the Bridge Magazine, Feb 2019

 

Why do we baptise babies?

David Beckham once said,

I definitely want [my son] Brooklyn to be christened, but I don’t know into what religion yet.”[1]

It isn’t just David Beckham who gets confused about baptism. I’ve met atheists who believe having their child baptised will guarantee a place in Heaven. Others think it’s about a guaranteeing a place in a church school. Some parents think it gives their child the right to be married in a particular church building. For others, baptism is an excuse for a big party, a glitzy naming ceremony.

And then there are the churches who won’t baptise babies. For Baptists, baptism is such an important expression of faith in Jesus that it could never be offered to a baby – after all, how can a baby express faith?

So why do we baptise babies?

Let’s start by asking “Why baptise anyone at all?” This one’s easy to answer:  Jesus tells us to! He told his followers to go

and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19-20).

St Paul explains why baptism matters: he tells us it’s the way a Christian is united with Jesus in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). In other words, it’s the route to eternal life beyond the grave. But its not the water used in baptism that does this, it’s the faith in Jesus that the person being baptised has. Baptism is an expression of that faith. The Book of Common Prayer puts it like this,

They that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the church.”

That word “rightly” tells us that baptism is all about confirming the faith already present in a person.

Does that mean if you don’t have faith in Jesus you shouldn’t be baptised? Yes! Baptism only has integrity if you have faith in Jesus: a faith which should affect how you live, including regular church attendance and a willingness to engage in Christian community. If you don’t want to do that, why bother with baptism?

So what about baptising babies? Clearly, they can’t display faith in the way an adult can, but from the earliest days of the church, believing parents brought their children for baptism because they wanted them to be included in the promises of Jesus. Infant baptism is the Christian fulfilment of the Jewish covenant of circumcision – which was how infant Jews became part of God’s family even before they could express faith themselves.

St Peter brings this mix of family and faith together in Acts 2,

Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children”.

The first infant baptisms followed soon after, as whole families were being baptised into the name of Jesus.

So what does all this mean today?

  1. That for baptism to have integrity, it must arise out of a real desire to journey in faith with Jesus, a journey that involves your lifestyle, and a commitment to being part of a church.
  2. Parents who bring their child for baptism need to be living out these values. To help them with this, we offer baptism preparation for parents seeking baptism.
  3. Children eventually need to take up the promises for themselves. In the Anglican tradition, we call this “confirmation.”
  4. Some parents should not have their child baptised! A better option might be to ask for a ceremony of thanksgiving. This is a way to give thanks to God for the safe arrival of a baby, and to name them publicly, but without all the promises and commitment that come with baptism.

Finally, a word on schools and weddings. All of our local Church of England primary schools base their selection on location, not religion, so being baptised offers no special privileges. Baptism does, however, give you a qualifying connection for marriage to a particular Church of England church.

If you’d like to know more about baptism visit the baptism page on our website.

 

 

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1479657/Beckhams-sons-christened-in-back-garden-chapel.html

When was Jesus really born?

First published in the Bridge Magazine, December 2018

 

When was Jesus really born?

Combine all that fuss about Christmas, with our Anno Domini calendar system, and you might imagine that Jesus was born in 1AD on December 25th. The problem is, there’s nothing in the Bible to point us to December 25th, and lots of evidence in the Bible to suggest Jesus was born several years earlier!

This lack of clarity over when Jesus was born has led some sceptics to be very critical of Christian claims about the birth of Jesus. In his God Delusion, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins dismisses the evidence for Jesus’ birth as a load of historical nonsense[i]. But is he right? What can we know for sure about when Jesus was born?

First, let’s deal with the obvious: in Jesus day there was no system for registering births with the state, so we don’t have the sort of details about Jesus’ birth that would be a matter of public record about any birth today. The exact time and date of his birth, and what he weighed, are a mystery, though it’s reasonable to assume that Mum and baby were in a stable condition.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t make a plausible estimate about when he was born. The gospel writers Luke and Matthew tell us that Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod (who most historians reckon died in 4BC[ii]). Luke later tells us that Jesus was “about thirty” years old in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar (28AD). So if Jesus was born no later than 4BC, and was still “about 30” in 28AD, then he had to have been born in 6-4BC.

Which would all be fine if the Gospel of Luke didn’t also tell us that Jesus was born after Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem to register for a census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. This is a problem because Quirinius didn’t become governor of Syria until 6AD, ten years after Herod died. So it looks like Luke made a mistake, and there’s an error in the Bible! Perhaps Dawkins is right after all?

Or perhaps not. As you can imagine, the historians have been poring over this question for many years, and have offered a number of possible explanations.

It could be that Quirinius was governor of Syria more than once: not only in 6-12AD but also during the period 4BC-1BC when we don’t know who was governor[iii]. If he’d begun a census in this earlier period, then there’s no problem with what Luke says. Sadly there’s no conclusive evidence to prove this, though there are some interesting hints it might have been the case. An archaeological find known as the Antioch Stones dated somewhere between 11-1BC, places Quirinius in Syria at this time, and the Roman historian Tacitus also seems to place him in the area in 4-3BC[iv]. Another archaeological find known as the Lapis Tiburtinus, refers to an un-named person going to Asia to take on a senior role for the second time. This could be Quirinius, but without a name, we can never know for certain.[v]

Another possible explanation is that Luke is referring to a census that began before Jesus’ birth, but which wasn’t completed until Quirinius was governor in 6AD (some Roman censuses took as long as 40 years to complete). This is a plausible theory, but until evidence of such a census is found, it is only just a theory.

Perhaps more likely is that many of our modern Bibles mistranslate the rather ambiguous language that Luke uses about the census. The New International Version which we use in many of our services, states:

This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

However Greek word orders are very different to English, and the word translated as “first” can also be translated as “before”. The Greek scholar and historian NT Wright suggests a better translation would be,

This was the first registration, before the one when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”[vi]

This actually makes a lot of sense grammatically and historically, because the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria in 6AD was notorious: it lead to revolution and the imposition of direct Roman rule on Israel.

Sadly, until more historical evidence emerges, we can’t know which explanation is right, but as things stand, no archaeological discovery has proven Luke wrong. In fact, the opposite is true, which does rather undermine Dawkins’ “historical nonsense” argument.

What then can we conclude from all this? That the checkable facts in Luke and Matthew’s accounts, suggest that Jesus was born no later than 4BC and possibly as early as 6BC.

Which is all of course rather embarrassing for the inventor of the Anno Domini system, a 6th century monk called Dionysius Exiguus. Either he hadn’t read his Bible very accurately, or more likely, he made a mistake when translating the Roman calendar system into his new format. And once his flawed Anno Domini system was popularised by a 7th century monk called Bede, based in my home town of Sunderland (and former parish of Jarrow) it was more than anyone’s job was worth to correct the error!

 

[i] Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion, p93-95

[ii] For details of Herod’s death, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_the_Great

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Roman_governors_of_Syria

[iv] Tacitus, Annales, iii. 48

[v] For a sceptical view of the evidence about Quirinius see https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/quirinius.html

[vi] For more information on how Luke 2:2 can be translated, see http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2004/12/luke-census-and-quirinius-matter-of.html

Is God a woman?

First published in the Bridge Magazine November 2018

 

Is God a she?

 

My daughter started studying at Durham University last week scene of the latest round of our culture’s gender war.

Not content with forcing the sacking of the assistant editor of Critique, the university’s philosophy journal for the transphobic hate crime of sharing an article[i] from the Spectator Magazine that said women don’t have penises,[ii] the Students Union have issued “pronoun badges” to all new students bearing the slogan, “My pronouns are:”[iii]. Then there’s a space for the student to fill in their preferred option: whether something traditional like she/her or he/him; or something more gender fluid like: they/them, e/em, per/per, ve/ver, xe/xem.

Lest you think this just affects a bunch of loony students, the same pressures are coming to our schools, where organisations like Stonewall are using equality legislation and anti-bullying campaigns to shift our understanding of gender away from traditional or “binary” religious or chromosome based definitions of male and female towards something “non-binary”, where gender can be as simple as what you declare yourself to be.

And as you’ve probably noticed, with this new thinking, comes new language. The new pronouns used by non-binary people, words like: zie, sie, ey, ve, tey and e will be brilliant for Scrabble, but we shouldn’t be blind to what these new words mean for us. As Big Brother put it in 1984, once

…you control the language, you control the argument”.

Someone else trying to control the language so that she can control the argument is Rachel Treweek, the Bishop of Gloucester. Back in September, she told the Sunday Telegraph she didn’t

…want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he”[iv].

Previously she has challenged the Church of England to stop referring to God as he, and to also use female pronouns[v]. But is she right to do this?  What does the Bible actually say about God’s gender? Is God a she?

Let’s start with the obvious. The God of the Bible is not a human being, but Spirit (Numbers 23:19, John 4:24). Therefore God doesn’t have chromosomes or any physical body at all. As Article One of the Church of England’s doctrinal basis (as found in the Book of Common Prayer) puts it, God is

without body, parts, passions.”

But despite this, God must have both a “maleness” and a “femaleness” to Him because the Bible speaks of humankind (both male and female) being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

So what is God’s gender? Well, the overwhelming majority of the pronouns and descriptions of God in the Bible are masculine. Paul’s letters refer to God as Father over forty times and use masculine pronouns throughout. Jesus, who knew a thing or two about God, speaks of God as Father sixty-five times in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and over one hundred times in the gospel of John. Most famously, Jesus said this is how you should pray:

Father, hallowed be your name…”

Father, here, doesn’t mean God is our biological father, instead, it’s a relationship term, an invitation into the eternal relationship of God the Father to God the Son; through the Father’s promise of adoption into his family, by trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But despite all the male pronouns and descriptions, there are also a number of female images of God in the Bible. Whilst at no point is God described as “she” or “her”, He is described as being like a woman in labour (Isaiah 42:14); a considerate, comforting mother (Isaiah 49:15, 66:13); a mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11-12), and a mother hen (Matthew 23:37). God’s wisdom is personified as a woman in the book of Proverbs, though we are later told that the male Jesus is the Wisdom of God (1Cor.1:24).

I haven’t added up the numbers but I’d be surprised if these female images of God amounted to more than 0.5% of the total gender-based references to God in the Bible, and so on weight of numbers alone, it’s pretty obvious that God presents himself as male in the Bible, albeit with some significant female characteristics.

However, a critic might reasonably ask to what extent the maleness of God is a consequence of the Bible being written by men in a male-dominated society? Perhaps men have obscured the truth about God by remaking Him in their own image? That question is of course as impossible to answer, as the equal but opposite charge: that when feminist theologians call God she, they are remaking God in their own image and therefore obscuring the truth about Him!

When it comes down to it, we each have to decide whether we’ll trust what the Bible reveals about God, or try to rewrite it to suit our own agenda. The 4th-century theologian Hilary of Poitiers put it like this,

For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the [Bible], but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages. Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of himself, and bow with humble reverence to his words. For he whom we can only know through his own utterances is the fitting witness concerning himself.”[vi]

Or to put it another way, if God were a student at Durham University, then the Bible is his pronoun badge, and he’s written “He” “His” and “Father” all over it, and who are we to tell Him He’s wrong?

 

[i] https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/08/is-it-a-crime-to-say-women-dont-have-penises/

[ii] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6192453/Student-editor-tweeted-women-dont-penises-fired-university.html

[iii] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/university-hands-out-pronoun-badges-13362943

[iv] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/16/church-england-should-avoid-calling-god-bishop-says/

[v] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/24/bishop-rachel-treweek-gods-not-a-he-or-a-she

[vi] De Trinitate (1.18)

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