Daughters of Sarah

January 3, 2022

Language and gender influence the beyond gender. Both male and female imagery contribute to our understanding of God, but neither male nor female is adequate by itself to describe God. The use of overwhelmingly male language to talk about God, therefore, is at best skewed and at worst idolatrous. This point has certainly been made before, but several things make Clanton’s work a good treatment of the issues.

First, it is written from the viewpoint of a conservative Christian who takes the Bible seriously and deals straightforwardly with the texts. I appreciated Clanton’s account of her own growing awareness of problems both in the biblical texts and in the way people around her used them. This makes the issues immediate and personal, not simply academic questions.

Second, the historical perspective is very helpful. I’ve been aware of the use of female imagery for God in scripture, but Clanton showed me a lot I didn’t realize about how consistently this imagery has been used throughout church history. She also demonstrates the other side of the picture-that the same writers who wax eloquent about God’s motherly care for us continue to use exclusively masculine language for God. It seems that for centuries no one has noticed the problem with references to God carrying us in His womb.

Clanton then gives a brief overview of the church’s wrestling with the three persons of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ as a model for the way our theology should reflect two genders in one God. She shows a good understanding of how and why these issues have formed Christian theology, and places the need to move beyond masculine God-language firmly in the context of these basic theological issues.

The latter part of the book deals with the impact of one’s God-image, specifically the gender of God, on self-esteem. Much of the information presented is common sense. For instance, women who see God as we look at God. Yet God is those whose God transcends gender. The quotes and studies used are helpful, but this section of the book struck me as the weakest, using psychological data somewhat simplistically to show how much healthier both men and women are whose God is androgynous.

Overall, In Whose Image? is a practical and helpful examination of the issues involved in the ways we think and talk about God. Clanton uses scripture, Christian history and theology, and contemporary culture in an accessible and non-threatening way. She shows that all those sources challenge us to grow in our knowledge of a God who includes both male and female and cannot be confined by human word and thought.

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