A Gender Neutral God/ess is primarily a book about linguistics, religion and history, and the use of gendered words to describe Deity.
Author J. J. McKenzie’s argument is that there is a strain of gender neutrality (not androgyny, which implies physicality, but an inclusiveness of spirit that encompasses characteristics of both sexes without being bound to one form) in the Jewish and early Christian traditions, expressed through the use of both masculine and feminine (and in the Greek New Testament, neuter) words to refer to Deity and His/Her/Their characteristics.
McKenzie gives numerous illustrations of parallelism (the use of similar but not identical phrases, in sequence, to express a concept more fully), for example, in which one phrase in the sequence uses a masculine word, and the other its feminine equivalent, thus suggesting a fully-inclusive view of deity.
I would like to note that I am not a historian, theologian, nor a linguist, nor do I speak or read Hebrew or Greek, and am therefore not sufficiently qualified to give a substantial scholarly review for this work. That said, the author does a fine job of making her points clear and accessible to reasonably intelligent laypeople, without getting bogged down in jargon or confusing language. The arguments themselves seem to be plausible, if not proven (very little about history can be proven), and the author has indeed gathered a great deal of historical and linguistic evidence to support her claims.
At times, certain of the author’s arguments feel speculative, rather than substantive – especially when she tries to link traditions that, while stemming from the same root, are described and experienced hundreds, even thousands of years apart (an early Christian living in a Jewish milieu probably did not see gender-inclusiveness in deity in quite the same way as an ancient Hebrew surrounded by polytheistic cultures, for example).
McKenzie has a tendency also to extrapolate a great deal of meaning from small details, as when she gives an entire imagined backstory for a scrawled image on a pot. That said, however, I do think her general point is reasonably plausible and well-made, though I am not as optimistic as she appears to be about the potential of a gender-neutral deity for human enlightenment and gender relations (there are, after all, plenty of definitively patriarchal cultures who cheerfully worship female deities without conceding equal rights to human women, for example).
The book is not a light read, but it is a substantially interesting look at linguistic analysis and at the Bible, and it certainly engages the reader in its arguments. It will, at very least, make a reader think hard about language, word choice, and the changes and even obscuration in meaning that can come from a simple translation from one language to another, without sufficient understanding (or with active hostility) to the original meanings, purposes, and connotations of the words.
A Gender Neutral God/ess is certainly worth the intelligent layperson’s time to look into , and it will almost certainly give you new ideas concerning religion, Deity, and language.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader