Women and the Gender of God – Amy Peeler

Women and the Gender of God by Amy Peeler
Published by Eerdmans on October 4, 2022
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction, Theology
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A robust theological argument against the assumption that God is male.
God values women.
While many Christians would readily affirm this truth, the widely held assumption that the Bible depicts a male God persists—as it has for centuries. This misperception of Christianity not only perniciously implies that men deserve an elevated place over women but also compromises the glory of God by making God appear to be part of creation, subject to it and its categories, rather than in transcendence of it.
Through a deep reading of the incarnation narratives of the New Testament and other relevant scriptural texts, Amy Peeler shows how the Bible depicts a God beyond gender and a savior who, while embodied as a man, is the unification in one person of the image of God that resides in both male and female. Peeler begins with a study of Mary and her response to the annunciation, through which it becomes clear that God empowers women and honors their agency. Then Peeler describes from a theological standpoint how the virgin birth of Jesus—the second Adam—reverses the gendered division enacted in the garden of Eden.
While acknowledging the significance of the Bible’s frequent use of “Father” language to represent God as a caring parent, Peeler goes beneath the surface of this metaphor to show how God is never sexualized by biblical writers or described as being physically involved in procreation—making the concept of a masculine God dubious, at best. From these doctrinal centers of Christianity, Peeler leads the way in reasserting the value of women in the church and prophetically speaking out against the destructive idolatry of masculinity.

With all the current discussion about pronouns and gender identity, it begs the question What is God’s gender? On a surface level, we might immediately say that God transcends gender, but He certainly present Himself as male. It’s the pronouns, right? And the distinction of God as Father. And then, strongest of all, the incarnation of Jesus as a human male. Some more progressive Christians have tried to move away from using gendered pronouns for God. The conservative response to this has been a sarcastic “respect God’s preferred pronouns.” Can we take the conversation out of the culture wars and have a discussion strictly based in the biblical text and its historio-cultural context? If we did, what could we learn about the role of gender in the interpretation of the divine attributes? How might the traditional view of God as male have impacted thinking about the status of women and gender relations? How does our view of God’s gender affect our view of women? In Women and the Gender of God, Amy Peeler offers a substantive and thorough exploration of all these questions.

Peeler begins by exploring the historical and cultural context in which biblical texts were written, noting that ancient societies were patriarchal and that this shaped the way in which God was depicted. She argues that the use of male pronouns and imagery for God reinforced patriarchal ideas about gender and power, and that this has had lasting effects on the status of women in religious traditions. Then, she pushes back against that traditional narrative, walking a fine line to explain how God-as-Father works as a metaphor, but does not imply maleness. A late chapter describes God as not being masculine—a direct counterpunch to the Mark Driscolls and John Pipers of the evangelical world.

Peeler bolsters her arguments with Scripture, focusing in particular on God’s actions in the Incarnation and their deigning to be born of a woman. Since the prevailing narrative of God’s maleness has led to a reinforcement of patriarchal stereotypes that have demeaned women, Peeler flips the script, focusing on how the Incarnation shows God’s high value of women. Indeed, Women and the Gender of God spends quite a bit of time focusing on the birth narratives and drawing out how Mary’s honor and agency in the Incarnation provides a compelling counternarrative to a theology that has often seen women as less than. A later chapter ties Mary’s work into the work of ministry, arguing for full inclusion of women in every aspect of spiritual life.

While “the gender of God” is the hook for Peeler’s work, her primary focus is on the implications that arise from perceiving God as male. Some may question why the cultural narrative of God as a white man with a beard needs to be challenged. Peeler answers them in no uncertain terms. If God is presented as male, then the “image of God” is seen as male as well. Perceiving God as male has had the effect of devaluing women and limiting their inclusion into spiritual life. Peeler manages to do all this while yet recognizing God’s embodied maleness in Jesus and holding to a high view of Scripture.

Women and the Gender of God is a compelling and important work—and not just for its primary subject. Peeler’s treatment of Mary is more thorough and nuanced than anything I’ve read from a Protestant perspective. To state the book’s conclusion in just three words is this: “God values women.” And therefore, how we think about, speak about, and perceive the Divine must reflect and uphold that value.