- Adapting a cultural image to God since that makes God in our image.
- Adapting the language of His revelation to fit a cultural trend.
The first one we took up yesterday. Yes, contextualization of the Gospel so that it makes sense is necessary. Using images from culture to illustrate can be helpful (see Acts 17). But neither of those can alter the essential message of God in Christ rescuing sinners (see Acts 17 again).
I know a guy who was a part of God's movement in my life. In 9th grade, this guy lived out his faith like none I had seen. It was a man wrapping his life around his faith rather than the cultural Christianity I was used to: fitting my faith into my life. He's now a social work professor and still as honest and forthright as he was then. He's just liberal. And I don't mean left of me but left of basically everyone.
One of the best conversations we had in the past few years regarded his willingness to refer to God as "God's self" and his leadership in a gender-inclusive conversation about God's identity. My friend has no problem referring to God as she or s/he. No patriarchal language for him. No sir.
He has and will continue to adapt his language to the trend of culture toward inclusion. I see two theological problems with that. The first is simply that cultures and their trends change. What's in vogue 50 years from now might make you look stupid today. And because of the inherent sinfulness of the people within that culture, it will probably shift away from all things that are true, honorable, just, pure, commendable, and excellent. It just seems like a bad linguistic investment.
Secondly, and more importantly, it assumes God was so dumb that He didn't recognize that others down the road might be offended at His lack of inclusion. God should've thought through His revelation more carefully and not gone with a misogynistic, patriarchal culture to reveal Himself to humans. We, today, are more in tune with what God should have said. Baloney. That kind of chronological snobbery is foolish and heretical.
God revealed Himself in ways of His choosing. He chose Father. He chose Son. He chose King. And the images and language then are just as valid and just as needed today. For example, we need to know God as Father. Any question about that can be answered with a look at the societal devastation of absent fathers. We're not smarter, more in tune, or more evolved than God. We're just arrogant when we think that we can reshape or reword how He's revealed Himself and it come out better for us.
The objection comes from picking up on the couple of seemingly feminine portrayals of God in the Scriptures. I'll deal with two briefly. One is Jesus wanting to gather Jerusalem under His wings like a hen her chicks (Matthew 23.37 and parallels). I'll point out that it's a man saying that. I'll also point out that as a dad, I like to do the same thing on family movie night - especially when the scary part is happening and it looks like the bad guy is going to win. That doesn't make me feminine. It makes me caring. Good dads care.
The second comes from the portrayal of wisdom in Proverbs as a female. Even a cursory reading of that clearly delineates God and Wisdom. It's not saying God is a female named Wisdom. It's saying the beauty of Wisdom (beauty being a feminine characteristic), as God possesses it, is indeed a beautiful thing.
So no language changes needed. God knew what He was doing in giving us the images and metaphors in the Scripture. And no bowing down at the altar or cultural trends will improve on it.
But that's just me thinking thoughts...