God on the Dance Floor

Ballroom dancing must be the western culture’s last bastion of patriarchy. A few months ago Nikki (my wife) and I ticked off our to-do-list by taking up dancing.  Like most modern couples, we struggle to find time together. Dance was meant to solve all that: intimacy, music, and romance.  But it’s all gone strangely awry. You see, Carol—my female instructor—turned out to be a chauvinist. “Males always lead; the woman’s role is to follow,” she informed. The guy next to me nervously looked at his partner. I snickered. Sexist men of the world, your safe haven is in a dance hall near you!  Then again, perhaps another bastion of patriarchy remains …

bridal dance

How about the church? In the eyes of many, Christianity is as patriarchal as it gets, where men dominate and women are subordinate.  How backward!  How countercultural!  “How could it be otherwise?” some wonder, as from the top down, Christianity is a family business: a Heavenly Dad calls the shots, and directs his Son to save the world in the power of some mysterious Spirit!  So not only do Christians hold to this bizarre notion of a three-in-one God, but this Trinity appears patriarchal, hierarchical, and monarchical right to the core.  No wonder so many feminists have preferred to walk out the door.  In the words of one woman, “Christianity is a masculinist religion and irreformable.… The question for many women is whether they can be Christians.”[1]

The church certainly has a lot to answer for when it comes to (mis)treatment of women.  But my dance experience has got me wondering if such critiques have made a mis-step when it comes to this Triune God.  Watch a novice like me, and you’ll see some ugly leading.  Skill is short, and so are cues, so I push and pull and occasionally step on Nik’s feet.  But when I watch Carol and her partner, it’s so fluid.  There’s rhythm and poise, and I can’t tell where the leading ends and the following begins.  “Subordination” is never a word I’d use to describe their dancing.  Instead, “grace” comes to mind.  Each works to make the other look good; each moves in beat to a higher rhythm.  Thinking on the Trinity, then, what word best describes the motions of Father, Son, and Spirit across time?  How about an old Greek word, “perichoresis.”

When Basil and his Cappadocian brothers framed the Trinity way back in the fourth century, they chose this word.  Meaning?  It means to dance around. Perichoresis means that three distinct persons are in such an interpenetrating dance that three become one: echad—to borrow a Hebrew noun—a composite unity, where each blends into the other with no beginning or end.  (Think of when the multiple members of your favourite sports team work as one.) Each member moves to glorify the others—to highlight their true beauty and prowess. And what is the higher rhythm of this dance?  It’s mutual submission to the beat of love.

Look around.  Western culture is fixated on freedom. But we want it without strings attached. I, Me, My, Mine. We seize power, and seek independence—so screw anyone who gets in the way or holds me back.  In this mindset, feminists like Betty Friedan have painted any type of submission—such as a female dancer to her lead—as dehumanizing.  Women like Carol who dance to these rhythms are not “fully human.”[2]

The Trinity, however, suggests another way. It reveals that at the heart of the universe is a relationship.  We are built for community. Radical independence only leaves us lonely. But mutual submission—of men to women, and women to men—is the path to life. And far from oppressing, this triune God has suffered on our behalf through Jesus, to throw open this divine dance for all to participate. And this God, who is essentially Spirit, transcends all gendered metaphors, longing to embrace us as a mother does her children.  If we are willing, that is.

Freedom always comes in a form.  And what is the form in which we are most free? It’s love. To quote Jürgen Moltmann, “God is love.  That means God is self-giving.  It means he exists for us: on the cross… Through the concept of perichoresis, all subordinationism is avoided… Here the three Persons are equal; they live and are manifested in one another and through one another.”[3]

So, this coming Wednesday you’ll find me back in the dance hall. And this coming Sunday, you’ll find me worshipping this three-in-one God. Why? Because the longer I dance, and the longer I sing, the more convinced I am that God’s dancing around in love is the only foundation for what we all want: a truly humane community of men and women moving together in inter-dependent freedom.

Dave Benson

[1] Daphne Hampson, The Independent, 13th Nov. 1992, cited by Rosie Nixson in Liberating the Gospel for Women, Grove Evangelism Series No. 28 (Bramcote, Nottingham: Grove Books Ltd, 1994), p3.

[2] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Bantam, 1972), 77.

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM), 83, 176.


24 responses to “God on the Dance Floor

  1. I have always loved the images of God and dancing, both in marriage as well as dancing with God, keeping our eyes on Him, who leads us in the most wonderful adventures with Him. A good read is The Divine Embrace by Ken Gire. I love dance!

  2. It appears to me that the word “submit” has gotten a bad rap. When we hear submit it carries a negative connotation. I don’t think that connotation is biblical.

    • I agree Rob. Same with ‘helper’ in Genesis 2:18, said of Eve. Most usages of “helper” in the Old Testament refer to God Himself, so clearly helping does not mean subservience. And in the New Testament, Jesus is most clearly seen as the fullness of God when He lay down his life in humility to serve (Philippians 2:1-11). If life is only about “me,” then “submit” questions my autonomy and challenges my pride. But if life is about “us,” then there is no greater privilege than mutual submission out of love (Ephesians 5:21). If it’s of interest, you can check out a video of a talk I gave on Jesus and Women, closing with a more full critique of power-grabbing as the way to freedom: http://www.kbc.org.au/media/message-jesus-a-womans-friend-or-foe/.

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  4. Scuba diving one year we came across a pod of dolphins playing. We sat on the ocean floor and silently watched in amazement as the dolphins performed a seemingly perfectly choreographed dance. It was a swirling funnel that they jumped into at the water’s top and then swirling around each other they progressed 30-40 feet down where they meticulously reversed directions toward the top and jumped out of the spiral while others jumped in. Amazingly, no one ran into anyone else and the pattern appeared perfect. Now that was an example of Godly dance IMO.

    They supported, honored, respected each other, making each other look good. They did not get in the way of each’s dance. Each knew their part in the dance. No one led, no one followed, or they all led and all followed. Who could tell. And they were joyous in their dance as is the way of spinner dolphins here. We could all learn from such godly examples. :)

  5. God on the dance floor??? Are you serious??? What bible are you reading??? The Message probably. This is so ridiculous. The church has a lot to answer for when it comes to treatment of women, What does this mean??? Paul says women are to remain silent in the church. Paul says that man can teach woman but woman cannot teach man. Are you changing this to suit???? Use The Message translation I am sure they will change it. Just because you took a dance class doesn’t mean that ” Oh this must be what God does dance around in love” Your very quick to judge those who don’t follow your seeker sensitive views.

  6. 1 Corinthians 14:34Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. 35And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 1 Timothy 2:11-13 (King James Version)
    11Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
    12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
    13For Adam was first formed, then Eve.

    Both from King James Version of the Bible the only trustworthy translation.

  7. From recent conversations and some pending posts (not of my doing), some have inquired about the “dancing around” aspect of God’s nature. Is this a seeker-sensitive soft-sell on a God of justice? This language is never used explicitly in the Bible itself. …

    If you’re interested, check out the video of a message I preached recently on “God the Relater: Song and Dance” … it’s an unpacking of the nature of the Trinity, following the Big Story of Scripture through: http://www.kbc.org.au/media/message-image-2-god-the-relator/.

    The word “perichoresis” does mean “dance around” (or “around the circle” but with the same implication). This isn’t a novel concept … rather, it was a major theological turning point toward affirming the divinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by 4th century orthodox theologians. … so it’s not a recent innovation.

    None of this is to downplay God’s justice. But it is to recognize that the essential nature of God is love, as per 1 John 4:16.

    Concerning the relation of men and women and Paul’s teaching, check out Stanley Grenz, “Women in the Church” and John G. Stackhouse Jr., “Finally Feminist.” (Also check out the files at http://logos.kbc.org.au/blog/resources/logos-talks/women/, which I’ve uploaded after a talk on “Jesus: A Woman’s Friend or Foe,” which you can watch at http://www.kbc.org.au/media/message-jesus-a-womans-friend-or-foe/.)

    As with any letter or text, Paul’s epistles are written to a particular people in a particular context. This is not the place for a long-winded exploration of the cultural context of passages like in Corinthians or Timothy, re: women remaining ‘silent’ in church. But it is to say that Paul gave varying advice depending on the church and its location, and he often affirmed women in leadership positions.

    It’s dangerously simplistic to map straight from one’s English Bible to a timeless edict on the role of women independent of context. The Biblical story is progressive (Creation > Fall > Israel > Jesus > Church > New Creation), with a trajectory set in Christ toward true liberation in which divisive distinctions of male and female will eventually become irrelevant (Galatians 3:28). In a divided world, let’s offer a grace-filled taste of that future kingdom now.

      • Hi Gavin,

        Sorry you felt this way after watching the talk. It was the best I could put together with my time and effort, honestly seeking to faithfully represent the cultural context and Biblical teaching rightly understood in its historical-grammatical form.

        I’m not sure in what sense it was absurd or vain. To be honest, I’m not really interested in continuing a dialogue at this point, as I feel it has become hyper-critical and doesn’t reflect Christ’s love. Stewardship wise, I have higher priorities than defending myself. In terms of what the church has to answer for in regards to women, rather than me (as a male) coming up with particulars from history, take the time to ask the women you know both inside and outside the church what their attitudes are towards Christianity. Even if you disagree and ultimately feel they have no substance to their complaints (though we are finite and fallen, so I suspect there have been many genuine abuses in the name of Christ), this may give some insight into why we have a case to answer.

        Whatever stance you take on the place and role of women both inside and outside the church, I pray that we both model the self-giving and serving love of Christ by which this world was won. May love and truth embrace.

        God bless, Dave Benson.

      • Just thinking, Gavin … Re: the “Jesus: A Woman’s Friend or Foe” the first 7 minutes or so is a drama not intended to ‘teach’ using logic and Scripture, but rather to bring up the issues targetted at a primarily post-Christian audience. Best to listen to the message proper :)

  8. Gavin,
    When people pick and choose portions of an ongoing thought flow in Scripture, they can make Scripture say many different things than was originally intended by the author.

    One way of reading 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is that in the Corinthian church women were found disrupting the service with lots of questions.

    The 1st Tim. 2:11-15 section is regarding a specific problem in the Ephesus church and is Paul telling Timothy that he, Paul, wanted Timothy to allow some particular women to learn and not to authentein. Authentein was a very negative word, meaning much more than exercising authority.

    One way we know that more was meant than silencing women in these verses is that there were women leaders spoken of elsewhere who were praised, as well women publicly prophesying (including preaching) and praying in the meetings were admonished to consider their attire so as not to bring shame on their husbands or the church.

    It is important to look to the context of the individual letters and to balance them with what else is said in other letters and in what Jesus did and did not do and say. We need a full picture.

  9. Hey guys,
    I appreciate the debate! I’m glad that WF offers the liberty for us to talk about anything and everything. I would just like to remind us for the need for grace and love in our language and interacting with one another, after all, that is what marks us, right (John 13:35)?
    Quick message to women following this discussion: there are diverse interpretation of the Scriptures quoted above, as TL pointed out. But most of all, please do not let anyone undermine your value as individuals, women, and children of God. Diminishing words of anger are is the opposite example of Jesus’ character and message.

  10. Rene,
    Can you remove the first post because it is the same as the second? Everyone is silent in the church during the sermon anyway. I just didn’t understand what the churches mistreatment of women was all about.

  11. Gavin,

    The point some are trying to make here is how to properly study the Scriptures. Context is hugely important. We cannot swoop down into an ongoing discussion in Scripture (in 1&2 Timothy a discussion between Paul & Timothy) , pull out pieces of sentences and then paste them together in any way we choose. This is what has happened on many subjects in the body of Christ. It is a recipe for disaster and for demeaning certain members and groups of the Body while elevating others.

    Which Bible translation of the original languages is not nearly as important as learning how to properly read and study in context.

  12. Hey TL,
    This is where you are wrong TL, the translation used is critical. Trying to mix denominations is dangerous. Should we use the Jehovah’s Witness translation – “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures”, the Catholic Bible – “The New Jerusalem Bible”, the “NIV” version – a corrupt version, the “Book of Mormon”? What subjects are you talking about in the body of Christ that are disasters. I am not going to accept Catholic Doctrine which consists of (to name a few of the false teachings) transubstantiation, purgatory, rosary beads, Mary the immaculate, statues, praying to saints, the apocrypha, original sin, confession to a priest. None of these are sound doctrine. TL, if you would like to continue this discussion somewhere else rather than under this post add a link to do so.

  13. Just to clarify. I believe in the immaculate conception of the virgin Mary with Our Lord Jesus Christ. Not the doctrine of Mary the Mother of God which is that Mary was sinless and remained a virgin the rest of her life.

  14. Pingback: Everythings’s Bent (part II) « Wondering Fair·

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