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Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 68–69 

Book Review

Our Father in Heaven: Christian Faith and Inclusive Language for God

John W. Cooper. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998. 301 pages.

Reviewed by Linda Matties

Our Father in Heaven is John Cooper’s detailed attempt to state the case for and against the use of inclusive language for God. Each argument, whether for or against the use of inclusive language, is presented clearly with plenty of examples. Cooper, professor of philosophical theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, finds that the issue hinges on one’s view of biblical revelation. If one accepts word-based inspiration in which inspiration revolves around the actual words found in scripture, then using inclusive language is problematic. However, if one accepts an idea-based inspiration in which inspiration revolves around the ideas found in scripture, there is room for inclusive language. He places a great deal of weight on the difference between names and titles such as father, king, and lord, and other descriptors such as rock, light, love, eagle, etc. Whether or not this particular argument can be sustained will have to be decided by linguistic experts.

The book has a number of strengths. First is its comprehensive nature. It covers a wide range of arguments on the issue and looks at them in the light of biblical interpretation, historical practice, and language. Second, the detailed table of contents makes it easy to locate a particular argument. Third, Cooper carefully supports each argument with an impressive list of citations from major authors in the field. Fourth, he is straightforward about his personal bias on the issue.

Despite these strengths, the book is not without weaknesses. Although the numerous citations are footnoted and referenced in the index, there is no cumulative bibliography at the end. Partly because of Cooper’s attempt to be so comprehensive and partly because of the structure, the book makes for tedious reading. Each rather lengthy chapter has an introduction and a conclusion and sections within each chapter also have introductions and conclusions. This causes some repetition. It would definitely be easier to use the book as a reference to be consulted, than to read it from cover to cover.

Another problem is that the overall tone is quite judgmental. One cannot help but feel that anyone who disagrees with Cooper’s views is less than Christian. This weakens the book as a tool for gracious dialogue on a volatile issue.

Although Cooper is quite comprehensive when it comes to dealing with the major arguments on the issue of inclusive language, he has deliberately chosen not to discuss the issue of human inclusiveness within the church, particularly in the leadership structure. If we were by now {69} accustomed to seeing either men or women exercise every kind of leadership, would the gender of God matter as much as the scholarship on the issue suggests that it does?

Due to the long-winded nature of this book, it will likely not appeal to the average church library patron or to undergraduates. Other sources, such as Paul Smith’s Is It Okay to Call God Mother? (Hendrickson, 1993), which Cooper cites repeatedly, have a more desirable readability level. This book is not recommended as a priority purchase.

Linda Matties
Librarian, Abbotsford School District
Abbotsford, British Columbia

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