Christians are quick to make assumptions and judgements. When they do, bad things happen. Good people get wrongfully attacked. Relationships are broken. Division occurs. Battles are waged.
This is probably why Jesus so strongly warns against judging others. Yet we never seem to accept His message. When will we ever learn?
The latest Gungor controversy is a classic example of what happens when Christians are quick to judge others.
The case against Gungor (brought up in a prosecutorial tone with loads of “evidence”) seems convincing at first glance. The charges are alarming: unbelief in a historical Adam and Eve, unbelief in a historical Flood, and describing God using feminine labels.
The inevitable headlines, accusations, and reactions are filled with hyperbole and apocalyptic rage. They no longer believe in the Bible! Heretical! How can they reject God’s word?!
But here’s the thing, Gungor’s beliefs are actually pretty common among distinguished Evangelical scholars because they’re based upon Biblical context and attained through serious study, background information, and a high-level grasp of textual style, language, and cultural information.
For lay Christians who haven’t gone to Seminary and haven’t seriously studied the Old Testament, poured over textual criticisms, and wrestled with the complex and serious nuances that go into interpreting scripture, these beliefs seem radical, dangerous, and absurd, but in reality they’re probably more in line with what the original Biblical readers thought than we realize.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to copy-and-paste three articles (these authors can communicate principles and ideas much better than I ever could) that might put Gungor’s “heretical” beliefs into perspective—you might be surprised by how these beliefs may actually instill a higher and more sacred appreciation of God and scripture.
1) Unbelief in a historical (literal) Adam and Eve
(The portion below is from Rob Bell’s ‘What is the Bible: Adam and Eve)
jwhittenii asked you:
What about a What is the Bible on Adam & Eve—historical vs. fictional?
All right, then, Adam and Eve.
Do you think they were real people?
I don’t think that’s the point of the story.
Could they have been?
Of course. But then you’d have to answer all sorts of questions about DNA and fossils and evidence for how old the earth is…
Does anybody actually know for sure whether or not they were actual, real people?
So debating whether or not they were actual, real people isn’t the point.
Exactly. It’s actually dangerous, because in arguing one way or the other you may miss the point of the story.
But your answer that you don’t think that’s the point of the story seems like you’re avoiding the question-
But your answer is clearly taking the Bible less seriously than if you simply said that you believe they were real people because the Bible says they were real people.
Absolutely not. I give that answer because that’s the answer that takes the story the most seriously.
But some people say that if you don’t believe that Adam and Eve were real people, then you’re denying the truth of the rest of the Bible as well-
That’s crazy. And demeaning to the scriptures as well.
Okay then, why don’t you think them being real people is the point of the story?
Because the storytellers clearly have a much bigger point in mind…
So first, the bigger point.
Then second, some details from the Adam and Eve story.
Then third, some conclusions. Which will, of course, just be getting the discussion started.
First, the Adam and Eve story is found in the first several chapters of the book of Genesis which is the first book of the Torah. The Torah (In Hebrew Torah means way, teaching, or instruction.) didn’t take the form we’re familiar with (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) until it was edited and assembled during the exile in Babylon. (Which is why Deuteronomy, often referred to as one of The Books of Moses, tells how Moses…died.)
During the exile, these writers and editors found themselves living not in Jerusalem, their home and the center of their faith, but miles away in a foreign land filled with strange people with strange customs who worshipped a host of other gods.
And what story do they collect and edit together during this time?
A story about an earlier time in the life of their people when their ancestors found themselves miles from home in a strange land needing deliverance from slavery (That’s the book of Exodus, briefly.) Remember, these are Jewish people serious about their culture, their ancestry, their faith, and their God. Their religion was deeply tied to the land, to the mountain in Jerusalem where they worshipped their God in their God’s temple-until the temple was destroyed and they were hauled away to a foreign land.
Can you see how the Exodus story of God delivering their ancestors from oppression would have struck a chord for these people in exile? Can you see how it would have given them hope? Can you see how they would have clung to the idea that their God liberates people-and maybe their God would now liberate them? Can you see why they would have made great efforts to make sure this story was recorded and told?
Because of this history, Exodus has often been called the central book of the Hebrew scriptures, the most important book, and even the first book because it centers around an event-an event that the people compiling the Torah were passionately hoping would happen again. (The prophet Isaiah even talked about a coming Exodus in which all of creation would be liberated…)
And if you start the story with the people in slavery in Egypt, anybody paying attention would naturally have a question: How did they end up in slavery in Egypt?
Well, they ended up there because of a man named Joseph…
And who was Joseph?
The son of Jacob…
And who was Jacob?
The son of Isaac…
And who was Isaac?
The son of Abraham…
And why is Abraham an important character in the story?
Because he’s the one God promised to bless, and then to make a tribe from, a tribe that would bless the world…but that ended up in slavery in Egypt. (Did you like how I did the book of Genesis in reverse there?)
And why was a new kind of tribe that would bless the world a big deal?
Because things had gotten way out of hand. From the earliest human memory, brothers were killing their brothers, whole civilizations were consumed with violence, early technology and empire building filled people with such pride and ego they literally thought they could build a tower to heaven to become gods.
Ahhh yes, like a progression. Or a disease that spreads. Human rebellion started with just a few but kept building a head of steam until the entire human project was going off the rails.
Exactly. That’s essentially the first eleven chapters of Genesis.
So the book of Genesis, then, is like a prologue, giving people the back story on the escalation of human violence and rebellion and explaining why God called Abraham to be the father of a new kind of people, a people that would show the world a better way.
So, there’s a bigger story that’s unfolding in Genesis as it makes its way to Exodus.
Yes, it’s a story about our origins, about the human propensity to make a mess of things, about violence and power and sin and all of the ways we have from our earliest conscious experiences of being human chosen to disturb the peace that God intends for the world.
Now, a bit about the details.
The name Adam means ground, or dirt.
The name Eve means breath, or life, or living.
Mr. Dirt, meet Mrs. Living.
The names are so broad, they seem like they’re intentionally stand in’s-representatives-of all of humanity–
Yes, it appears they are.
And then they talk to a snake-
Actually, talking snakes were a common literary device at that time.
In the chapter one poem they’re created in the image of God, in the chapter two story one is created before the other. Why are there two different versions in two very different styles?
There are multiple authors at work here, stitching together different perspectives. Remember, most of the scriptures started as oral history, tales told around a campfire.
Paul and Jesus both talked about Adam and Eve like they were real.
They did. Unless you see Mr. Dirt and Mrs. Living as a way of talking about the human condition from the very first moments when people started realizing they were humans and they were in a particularly destructive condition.
That’s the power of a great story-in its particulars (characters, their names, what they do, what they say) it speaks to universals (things we all desire, attributes we all want, truths about the human condition that we all share.)
In the modern world we are deeply conditioned to see literal truth as the highest, most reliable form of truth. And so lots of stories are only judged true that literally happened in actual space and time. But there is more-than-literal-truth, like when Jesus tells about the man who has two sons and the one son asks for his share of the inheritance. That story he tells of the forgiving father and his two sons is undeniably true. Its moved and inspired and convicted people for two thousand years. And yet you never hear debates about whether or not the father or the sons were real people.
But it’s clear from the context that in that case Jesus was telling a parable. It frees people from trying to figure out whether it really happened.
Exactly. To say it another way: some true stories actually happened. But the far greater truth is that it happens. There’s some Adam and Eve in all of us (A good comedian could have a field day with that line…).
So with stories where we don’t know about the literal history, then, we should stick to the same questions? What’s the meaning? What is the universal here? What does this story tell us about who we are and who God is?
Well said. And that’s the problem with only having the two categories of historical or fictional to choose from. Those categories imply that its truth is bound up in its literal historicity. They don’t need to be. In fact, they should be set free. The categories are too limiting…
2) Unbelief in a historical (literal) Flood:
(Below is a portion from Rob Bell’s ‘What is the Bible?: Flood’)
Part 2: Flood
Let’s talk about floods. Because the ancients did. The Sumerians told flood stories, the Mesopotamians told flood stories, the Babylonians told flood stories-stories about water and its destructive power to wipe out towns, cities, civilizations, and people were not unusual in the ancient world.
There were even stories about people building boats to survive these floods.
In these flood stories, all that water coming to destroy humanity was understood to be divine judgment for all of the ways people had made a mess of things. The gods are angry, it was believed, and a flood was their way of clearing the deck to start over.
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth…[Genesis 7]
So when we come to a story about a flood in the book of Genesis, it’s not that unusual. This flood story is like the other flood stories because this god is like the other gods-fed up with the depravity of humanity, unleashing divine wrath in the form of a flood.
But then this story does something strange. It ends with the divine insistence that’s never going to happen again.
And then this God brings a rainbow and a promise and a covenant.
A covenant. A covenant is an agreement, an oath, a relational bond between two beings who belong to each other.
This was not how the other flood stories ended. In those stories, the gods are angry and everybody dies and the gods are satisfied. End of story.
But this god is different. This god commits to living with people in a new way, a way in which life is preserved and respected.
So why was this particular story told?
Why did this story matter?
Why did it endure?
First, imagine if you had no pictures of earth from outer space, no weather reports, no Google images, no airplanes-imagine if you’d never been more than a few miles from where you were born. And then imagine water-massive, undulating, swirling, terrifying water-coming at you out of nowhere and wiping your entire life away.
Imagine what that would do to your psyche.
You would do what we do whenever we suffer-you’d look for causes. And in the ancient world, it was generally agreed upon that the forces that caused these kind of things were the gods who had had it up to here with humans and all their backstabbing, depraved ways and had decided to unleash their wrath.
That’s how people saw the world.
But then there’s a twist: this story starts in a familiar way, a way that people would have heard before, but then it heads in a different direction. A very different direction, a direction involving rainbows and oaths and covenants.
This was not how people talked about the gods.
The gods are pissed off-that’s how people understood the gods.
But this story, this story is about a God who wants to relate–
A God who wants to save–
A God who wants to live in covenant…
This story is about a new view of God.
Not a God who wants to wipe people out,
but a God who wants to live in relationship.
So yes, it’s a primitive story.
Of course it is.
It’s a really, really old story.
It reflects how people saw the word and explained what was happening around them.
But to dismiss this story as ancient and primitive is to miss that at the time this story was first told it was a mind blowing new conception of a better, kinder, more peaceful God who’s greatest intention for humanity is not violence but love.
It’s primitive, but it’s also really, really progressive.
One more thought, this one about unicorns.
(How great was that sentence?)
You’ll often hear people talk about stories from the Bible such as this one with a certain rolling of the eyes, as in can you believe people still believe this stuff?
Much of this cynicism is due to the way stories like these have been told-often by well meaning religious people trying to prove that there actually were two animals at a time that went in to an ark and
Yes, the boat really was big enough
Of course God had a plan for where to put the elephant poo.
That sort of thing. What this stilted literalism does, in its efforts to take the story seriously, is often miss the point of the story. This story was a major leap forward in human consciousness, a breakthrough in how people conceived of the divine, another step toward a less violent, more relational understanding of the divine.
It starts like the other flood stories started,
but then it goes somewhere different.
3) Describing God using Feminine Labels
(The portion below is from Dr. Margo G. Houts online article entitled ‘Feminine Images for God: What Does the Bible Say?’)
I was twenty-two and just a year out of college when the issue of gender inclusive language for God first grabbed my attention, via a bumper sticker, no less: “Trust in God–She will provide.” I can still recall my immediate sense that God was being diminished, even insulted, and I dismissed it as a feminist ploy. All my life, I had faithfully attended worship, Sunday School and Bible studies. Not once had I knowingly seen or heard any feminine language for God. God had always been to me “Father,” “King,” “Jesus,” “Lord,” and “He.” I had always just assumed that God, like Jesus, bore masculine gender. I saw no reason to deviate from the exclusively masculine language that I had inherited since childhood, language that felt comfortable and natural to me.
Then in seminary, I made a shocking discovery: the Bible itself uses feminine language for God. No longer could I simply dismiss it as a radical feminist invention. Why, I began to wonder, do inspired authors use it, why did I not know about this before, and what difference will knowing it make? For the first time, I began to ponder what it was about my social location that made feminine language for God strike me as a diminishment rather than an enrichment. More questions pressed me: Does God have gender(s)? How does religious language work–do gendered words attribute gender to God? These and other inquiries have led me to try to incorporate the Bible’s own example of inclusivity in the way I think, talk to and speak about God.
Biblical inclusivity is increasingly finding its way into our churches. For example, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) incorporated the divine feminine into a 1990 confessional statement: “Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home, God is faithful still.” (The Book of Confessions, 10.3) This affirmation is eminently true to the biblical witness, for relationally, God is like a mother in Isaiah 49:15 and like a father in Luke 15:11-32.
We who seek to follow the biblical example must first know what that example is. Some of the texts which started me rethinking the way I conceptualize God follow.
A: Female images for God (drawn from women’s biological activity)
1. God as a Mother:
a. a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14) whose forceful breath is an image of divine power . God is threatening to come against Israel in power, a power likened to the forceful air expelled from the lungs of a woman who is in the final throes of labor. Calvin misunderstood Isaiah’s intent and construed this as an image of maternal tenderness!
b. a mother suckling her children (Num. 11:12)
c. a mother who does not forget the child she nurses (Isa. 49:14-15)
d. a mother who comforts her children (Isa. 66:12-13)
e. a mother who births and protects Israel (Isa. 46:3-4). In contrast to idol worshippers who carry their gods on cattle, God carries Israel in the womb. The message to the people is two-fold: it demonstrates God’s superiority over other gods, and reiterates the divine promise to support and redeem. In short, God’s maternal bond of compassion and maternal power to protect guarantee Israel’s salvation.
f. a mother who gave birth to the Israelites (Dt. 32:18) The biased translation of the Jerusalem Bible (“fathered you”) obscures the feminine action of the verb, more accurately rendered “gave you birth”:
JB: You forget the Rock who begot you, unmindful now of the God who fathered you.
NRSV: You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.
The Hebrew word in the first line can be translated as either “begot” (male activity) or “bore” (female activity); the context must provide the key. The word in the second line can only refer to female activity. Scholars have taken these two lines either as a male and a female image of God back-to-back, or they take both of them as female, due to the way this verse is located in the overall poetic structure of Deuteronomy 32.
g. a mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals and feeds her young (Hosea 11:1-4) This poem is in the first person, where in Hebrew there is no distinction between male and female forms; the speaker can be either male or female. The series of activities are those that a mother would be likely to do: “it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I was to them like those who lift infants [lit., suckling children] to their cheeks [OR: who ease the yoke on their jaws]; I bent down to them and fed them.” (NRSV)
Given the context, it is possible that Hosea is indirectly presenting Yahweh as the mother over against the fertility goddess mother figure of the Canaanite religion that he is challenging. The images belong in pairs. Israel is presented as a wife in ch. 2 and as a son in ch. 11, that is, as female and male in tandem. It may be that Hosea is making the point that Yahweh alone is God by presenting Yahweh as the husband in ch. 2 and as the mother in ch. 11.
2. Other maternal references: Ps. 131:2; Job. 38:8, 29; Prov. 8:22-25; 1 Pet. 2:2-3, Acts 17:28.
B: Feminine images for God (drawn from women’s cultural activity).
1. God as a seamstress making clothes for Israel to wear (Neh. 9:21).
2. God as a midwife attending a birth (Ps. 22:9-10a, 71:6; Isa. 66:9) (midwife was a role only for women in ancient Israel).
3. God as a woman working leaven into bread (Lk. 13:18-21). This feminine image is equivalent to the image of God as masculine in the preceding parable of the mustard seed.
4. God as a woman seeking a lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10).This feminine image is equivalent to the image of God as masculine in the preceding parable of the shepherd seeking a lost sheep. Both Luke 13 and 15 contain paired masculine and feminine images for God, drawn from activities of Galilean peasants.
C: Additional examples of the divine feminine.
1. Female bird imagery. Yahweh is described by an analogy to the action of a female bird protecting her young (Ps. 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 91:1, 4; Isa. 31:5; Dt. 32:11-12).
a. The eagle: Dt. 32:11-12: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead Jacob ….” (KJV). The female eagle, both larger and stronger than the male, does the bulk of the incubation of the eggs as well as the hunting. She is the one who bears the eaglets on her wings when it is time for them to leave the nest. In a sudden movement, she swoops down to force them to fly alone, but always stays near enough to swoop back under them when they become too weary to fly on their own. It is a powerful image of God nurturing and supporting us when we are weak, yet always encouraging us to grow and mature. Cf. Ex. 19:4, “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself,” and Job 39:27-30.
b. The hen: Mt. 23:37 (par. Lk. 13:34; cf. Ruth 2:12): “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not.” In his lament over Jerusalem, Jesus employs feminine imagery. Whereas the magnificent eagle is associated with light, sun, height, mobility and exteriority, the lowly hen is “associated with the shadows and darkness of the henhouse, and with depth and stillness and interiority beneath the mothering wings” (V. Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine [Crossroad, 1987], 93). Each image illuminates a different, important aspect of God’s relation to us.
2. God as Mother Bear (Hosea 13:8), a fierce image associated with the profound attachment of the mother to her cubs. God’s rage against those who withhold gratitude is that of a bear “robbed of her cubs.”
3. Holy Spirit (in Hebrew, feminine; in Greek, neuter) is often associated with women’s functions: the birthing process (Jn. 3:5; cf. Jn. 1:13, 1 Jn. 4:7b, 5:1, 4, 18), consoling, comforting, an eschatological groaning in travail of childbirth, emotional warmth, and inspiration. Some ancient church traditions refer to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms (the Syriac church used the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit until ca. 400 C.E.; a 14th c. fresco depicting the Trinity at a church near Munich, Germany images the Holy Spirit as feminine).
As we seek to follow biblical inclusivity, let us also affirm the consistent witness of the church, namely, that God is neither feminine nor masculine (gender), neither male nor female (sex). God, who is transcendent Spirit, possesses no physical body, yet accommodates to human limitations by using physical, relational, gender-laden images for self-disclosure. Some of those are feminine. Inasmuch as God inspired the biblical authors to be inclusive, who are we not to be?
If you were patient enough to read through the above points, and brave enough to keep an open mind during the process, then you can probably understand that even though Gungor’s views are not widely accepted among Evangelicals—they’re far from being heretical.
And within the contexts described above, the views are certainly less dangerous than fear-mongers make them out to be. In fact, they actually strongly support the overall Biblical account and God’s message in a vastly profound way.
But we’re blinded by our self-righteous rage.
Unfortunately, many Evangelicals have already rejected Rob Bell as a heretic and will dismiss anything he says, writes, or produces, so the points he brilliantly illustrates above regarding Adam and Eve and the Flood may be completely ignored, rejected, or dismissed regardless of merit.
Others will also reject the Biblical accounts of feminine imagery for some reason or another.
For Christians, it’s easy to attack someone for having even the smallest variation of belief. Thus, people go from Saint to Heretic in a matter of seconds. There’s no dialogue, no grace, and no critical thought.There’s no prayer, no time spent meditating on scripture, and no time given to God.
Instead, the war cry goes out that someone is dangerously holding a minority theology, and they must be destroyed at all costs—often using slander, hate, bitterness, and sheer thoughtlessness. Christians then assume the worst and enter their Pharisee mode—piling on the guilt, being judgemental, and seeking opportunities to destroy reputations and defame the work of others.
Ironically, even though Jesus was described as a great Teacher, Christians are unwilling to listen, learn, and humbly follow His instructions.
God help us.