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Why We Call God 'Father'
Illustration by James Steinberg

For at least the past 40 years, traditional language for God has come under fire. While formal feminist theologians disagree about what language to use instead, they are unanimous that masculine words for God, especially Father, must be expunged from our theological vocabulary. For the church to be inclusive, they argue, it must replace man-centered language with language that accounts for both male and female. Furthermore, since our human words cannot adequately portray God's fullness, no single characterization will suffice. God could be addressed as father and/or mother in order to bring out his multifaceted nature.

Underlying this view is a belief that terms like father and mother are mere human characterizations of God, shaped by specific cultural and backgrounds. The predominantly masculine images of God in the Bible reflect an ancient patriarchal society. As a consequence, critics say, biblical religion has absorbed patriarchal values, which in turn are used to justify beliefs and institutions that harm or subjugate women. Theology, therefore, must be reconstructed to yield a valid religion for women based on women's experience.

The quest for gender-inclusive language has been a preoccupation of many mainline Protestants and liberal Catholics for decades. Some evangelicals also make compromises to accommodate these concerns. But before we jump onto the theological bandwagon, we need to reexamine the reasons for the use of masculine terms for God in Scripture and throughout the Christian tradition.

Not an Invention

Feminine images are used throughout Scripture to describe God's compassionate and loving nature. Examples include the frequent images of God protecting and comforting his children (Isa. ...

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Why We Call God 'Father'
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July/August 2013

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