The God Who Likes His Name

Holy Tnnity, Feminism, and the Language of Faith


Rector St. Mark 5 Episcopal Church, Highland, Maryland

Notwithstanding the protest of contemporary theologians, substantive changes in the language by which the church names God must result in an alienation from the gospel.


O W T O NAME GOD? This question has b e e n acutely p u t to the American churches in the past decade by feminist theologians, a n d with p r o f o u n d effect. Substantive changes in the language of faith are now taking place: T h e triune n a m e of Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit is routinely ignored, baptisms are occurring in the names of inclusive substitutes, liturgies are composed that omit references to God as Father or Jesus as the Son a n d some that directly address God as Mother a n d o t h e r feminine titles, the masculine p r o n o u n for the deity is said to be inappropriate usage. I m p o r t a n t reasons a n d theologies are advanced to justify these changes. T h e thesis of this essay is that these changes must result in an alienation from the gospel. T h e particularities of the biblical revelation that are now so offensive to contemporary sensibility are at the very heart of profession of faith in the Holy Trinity. T h e triune God has n a m e d himself, a n d he likes his n a m e .

For we are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received and to profess belief in the terms in which we are baptized, and as we have professed belief in, so to give glory to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.1
1. Basil, Epistle 125.3, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Chnstian


In the course of defending the divinity of the Holy Spirit, Saint Basil enunciated the above grammatical rule for Christian faith a n d worship. His a r g u m e n t is that our c o m m o n baptism into the n a m e of the Holy Trinity functions to shape the public life of the people of God. As we have been baptized, so must we formulate and confess o u r creedal belief; as we profess our faith, so must we pray, composing o u r worship and doxology accordingly. Baptism, creed, liturgy—all together form an interlocking whole, a language of faith; yet within this network of communication the Sacrament of Baptism plays a formative role. "Therefore go a n d make disciples of all nations, baptizing t h e m in the n a m e of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). Instituted by the exalted Christ a n d m a n d a t e d by the canonical Scriptures, the initiatory rite constitutes and structures the church. From it flows o u r discourse and prayer, o r d e r e d by that verbally identified reality into which we are sacramentally incorporated. Given this morphotic function, Basil insists on the exact wording of the baptismal naming, rejecting all alterations a n d substitutions. "It is e n o u g h for us," he comments, "to confess those n a m e s which we have received from Holy Scripture, and to shun all innovations about them." 2 T h e baptismal m a n d a t e is thus received as dogma, binding on the community as a whole. T h e significance of the d o g m a goes far beyond the establishment of a c o m m o n rite of initiation. It is grammatical instruction stipulating the speech and practice of the church: God is to be n a m e d as Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit. 3 Trinitarian speech pervades the corporate life of Christians. We begin the liturgy by the invocation of the triune God. We j o i n our voices in threefold creedal acclamation in the confession of the catholic faith. T h e Eucharistie Prayer is classically given distinct trinitarian form: T h e Father is praised and thanked for the blessings of creation a n d salvation; the crucified and resurrected Jesus is r e m e m b e r e d and extolled; the o u t p o u r i n g of the Spirit is besought u p o n b o t h the community a n d the oblations of bread and wine. Whenever the c h u r c h acts in the ministry of Christ, whether to bless, to absolve, to anoint for healing, or to ordain to office, the triune God is explicitly proclaimed, entreated, glorified, n a m e d . Even our shortest prayers a n d collects are concluded in trinitarian doxology: "through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives a n d reigns with you [the Father] and the Holy Spirit, one God, now a n d for ever." At the center of ecclesial society is the proclamation of the gospel and the
Church, 2nd. ser. (New York: T h e Christian Literature Co., 1890-1900), Vol. VIII; see Epistle 159.2. 2. Epistle 175; see Epistle 188.1; Epistle 125.3. 3. See D e b o r a h Malacky Belonick, "Revelation a n d Metaphors: T h e Significance of the Trinitarian Names, Father, Son a n d Holy Spirit," USQR 40/3 (1985), 3 1 - 4 1 . Also see Richard H o o k e r ' s formulation of the baptismal rule used in defense of the Anglican form of the Gloria Patri against Puritan objections, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity 5.42.8.


The God Who Likes His Name

r e c o u n t i n g of t h e biblical narrative. We tell t h e story of the G o d of Israel, creator of t h e universe, who gathers a p e o p l e to himself in holy covenant, b i n d i n g t h e m to h i m by n a m e a n d sacrifice a n d p r o p h e t i c Word. For h u n d r e d s of years, t h e L o r d shapes, breaks, a n d molds his p e o p l e , forming t h e m into faithful witnesses a n d joyful worshipers. In t h e fullness of time, h e sends his Son, the p r o m i s e d Messiah, to offer a t o n e m e n t for the sins of t h e world. We tell t h e story of Jesus of Nazareth, t h e Son of this God, b o r n to a n d i n t o G o d ' s p e o p l e . P r o p h e t , teacher, healer, eschatological b e a r e r of t h e future k i n g d o m , Jesus confronts Israel with t h e exhilarating message of t h e i n c o m p a r a b l e love of t h e O n e h e calls Father, a love revolutionary in its unconditionality a n d grace, a love that d e m a n d s new g a r m e n t s a n d new wineskins, conversion a n d discipleship, d e a t h a n d rebirth. This Jesus, however, is intolerable; his message a n d p r e s e n c e are too t h r e a t e n i n g . H e is betrayed, d e n o u n c e d , humiliated, executed as a c o m m o n criminal. But t h e Father vindicates his Son o n Easter m o r n i n g by raising h i m from t h e d e a d a n d exalting h i m to his right h a n d , establishing h i m as t h e destiny a n d conclusion of t h e universe. We tell the story of t h e Holv Spirit, t h e divine b r e a t h that moved over t h e waters of chaos at t h e b e g i n n i n g of creation, who spoke t h r o u g h Moses a n d the p r o p h e t s , who a n o i n t e d Jesus with u n c o n q u e r a b l e power to heal t h e sick, exorcize evil, raise the d e a d . It is this Spirit the exalted Christ promises to p o u r o u t o n t h e c o m m u n i t y of f a i t h — t h e futurity of t h e k i n g d o m , t h e love of t h e F a t h e r a n d t h e Son. "The C h u r c h , " writes George Lindbeck, "is fundamentally identified a n d characterized by its story." 4 At any p o i n t in history t h e c h u r c h , or ecclesia, of Jesus may be picked o u t as that assembly proclaiming t h e narrative of t h e Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit a n d promising it as g o o d news to its hearers. It is this story that provides the foundational c o n t e n t a n d vocabulary for o u r p r e a c h i n g , liturgy, a n d theology. By it the imaginative life of t h e c h u r c h is renovated, renewed, recreated. T h r o u g h it t h e p e o p l e of G o d envision their mission a n d ministry. In it all believers find forgiveness for their past a n d h o p e for their future. It is this story which is summarized a n d encapsulated in the t r i u n e n a m e . But if t h e t r i u n e n a m e , a n d t h e manifold trinitarian n a m i n g s of t h e language of faith, identifies t h e Christian c h u r c h , this is because t h e appellation first a n d primarily identifies t h e G o d of t h e c h u r c h . Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit is o u r deity's proper name.5 4 George Lmdbeck, "The Story-shaped Church Critical Exegesis and Theological Interpretation," in Scriptural Authority and Narrative Interpretation, ed Garrett Green (Phila­ delphia Fortress Press, 1987), ρ 165 5 See Robert W Jenson's important discussion, The Triune Identity God According to the Gospel (Philadelphia Fortress Press, 1982), pp 1-20 Cf Catherine Mowry LaCugna, "The Baptismal Formula, Feminist Objections, and Trinitarian Theology," fëS 26 (Spring 1990), 235-50


P r o p e r n a m e s are distinguished from c o m m o n n o u n s in that they signify singular a n d u n i q u e objects rather than classes of objects. A p r o p e r n a m e allows us to designate a specific something, separating it from the anonymity of existence for communication, study, use, love. Even deities need p r o p e r names. We n e e d to be able to identify which one we are addressing, worshiping, obeying, fleeing. In the resurrection of Jesus, God declares his n a m e of the new covenant: Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). This n a m e articulates the apostolic experience of God in Christ. It identifies the specific deity we are talking a b o u t or praying to as being precisely the God of the New Testament. Each term within the n a m e links us to God's historic self-disclosure; each is g r o u n d e d in the salvation narrative; each interprets the o t h e r two. "Father" refers specifically to the holy transcendence whom the Nazarene knows as Abba, the O n e h e bids us pray, "Our Father, who art in heaven." "Son" designates Jesus in u n i q u e filial relationship to the Father. "This is my Son, w h o m I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17). "Spirit" is the c o m m u n a l love a n d life a n d future of the aforementioned Father a n d Son. T o g e t h e r these mutually coordinated names form one n a m e , a n a m e p r o p e r a n d personal to the Christian God. 6 With the n a m e of Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit, our God is clearly identified a n d o u r experience of deity linguistically defined. Each believer, by the m a n d a t e of the risen Christ, is baptized into this n a m e , initiated into a new relationship with the triune God of the Scriptures. From this point on, we m e e t a n d experience the deity from within the trinitarian narrative proclaimed in the community of faith. We are the people of the Trinity, shaped a n d formed by the threefold appellation of o u r God. "Baptism into the n a m e of 'the Father, a n d the Son, and the Holy Spirit,' " writes Catherine LaCugna, "means incorporation into the power a n d essence of God, into the history a n d story of God, into the life a n d heart and identity of God." 7 T h e dominical c o m m a n d , therefore, both sanctions the triune n a m e by divine revelation a n d establishes it as a necessary function in our knowledge of the living God. 8 God gives himself to us in his n a m e , and by his n a m e defines our experience of him as triune. We know the deity as the Holy Trinity because we speak, pray, hear, believe, worship his personal n a m e . As we have b e e n baptized, so must we confess and pray o u r faith. We are i n c o r p o r a t e d into a distinctive language a n d grammar. T o replace the trinitarian formula is to repudiate the creed, church, God of our baptism. Take two r e c e n t proposals: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier; Mother, Lover,
6. J e n s o n , The Trìune Identity, p p . 12-13, 17-18. 7. LaCugna, "The Baptismal Formula," p. 248. 8. See T h o m a s F. T o r r a n c e , The Trìnitanan Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church ( E d i n b u r g h : T. & T. Clark, 1988), p. 70.


The God Who Likes His



Friend. T h e former c a n n o t function as a p r o p e r n a m e : It does n o t identify; it does n o t specify which God we are talking about. As Robert J e n s o n points out, all putative deities presumably create, r e d e e m , sanctify, as well as a lot of o t h e r things. 9 F u r t h e r m o r e , within classical trinitarian theory these ad extra activities are u n d e r s t o o d as contingent cooperative works of the G o d h e a d . T h e Father creates, redeems, a n d sanctifies t h r o u g h the Son by the Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is fully involved in the functional activities of deity. O r to p u t it slightly differently, God was n o t always creator, r e d e e m e r , sanctifier; h e has b e c o m e such by his free decision. 10 Within the divine life of the G o d h e a d , however, the deity is eternally Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit. This is his n a m e before time a n d forever. "Mother, Lover, Friend," on the o t h e r h a n d , poses a somewhat different problem. 1 1 Perhaps what is most objectionable is that it so clearly seeks to evade the biblical narrative; it is so clearly o u r own invention. Speak Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit a n d we know we are immediately speaking of the God of the New Testament. But to what deity does Mother, Lover, Friend refer? What story are we telling when we n a m e divinity thus? This a n d all similar formulas s u n d e r the c h u r c h from the evangelical narrative by which we identify o u r God, as well as ourselves. They "disrupt the faith's self-identity at the level of its primal a n d least-reflected historicity." 12 F u r t h e r m o r e , this formula is o p e n to the same criticism as above. Are the terms to be interpreted only in relationship to us, in which case we are presented n o t with a p r o p e r n a m e b u t ad extra descriptions; or are they to be i n t e r p r e t e d within the name? It is difficult indeed to reconcile the latter with the biblical story, n o t to speak of Christian sensibility!

Therefore it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate. For the latter title . . . does nothing more than signify all the works, individually and collectively, which have come to be at the will of God through the Word; but the title Father has its significance and its bearing only from the Son.13 In his debate with Arianism, Athanasius was compelled to address the question of how we n a m e God. In their philosophical u n d e r s t a n d i n g of
9. J e n s o n , The Triune Identity, p . 17. 10. T o r r a n c e , The Trinitarian Faith, p p . 8 7 - 8 9 . 11. O n the use of feminine imagery for the diety, see Roland M. Frye, Language for God and Feminist Language: Problems and Pnnäples (Princeton: C e n t e r of Theological Inquiry, 1988). 12. J e n s o n , The Triune Identity, p . 17. 13. Athanasius, Contra Arianos 1.34, in A Select Library ofNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, 2 n d ser. (New York: T h e Christian Literature Co., 1890-1900), Vol. IV. My i n t e r p r e t a t i o n of Athanasius is deeply influenced by T h o m a s F. T o r r a n c e , "Athanasius: A


deity, his o p p o n e n t s were fond of calling God the unoriginate, which they evidently believed spoke clearly a n d accurately of the divine being. Divinity is self-sufficient in its essential reality, clearly distinguished from the c o n t i n g e n t creation. Unlike the misleading a n t h r o p o m o r p h i c a n d metaphorical terminology of the Bible, the term unoriginate is true a n d precise. Athanasius r e s p o n d e d by noting that such n a m i n g is a form of negative theology that speaks of God, n o t as he is in his inner reality, n o t as he is in his divine n a t u r e , b u t only in his relationship to that which is m a d e by him from out of nothing. It thinks divinity exclusively in terms of creaturely being; it a p p r e h e n d s God solely by his works. We believe the universe to be created, contingent, finite, d e p e n d e n t for its existence u p o n the deity; thus we call God the unoriginate a n d creator, thereby contrasting him with that which he is not. We construe him in his absolute difference a n d distance from us. For Athanasius, while what we say in this regard may be true—but as Gregory Nazianzen observed, if we do n o t know what something is, how can we specify what it is not? 14 —it does n o t yet grasp God in his internal being. It is analogous to inferring the character and personality of Shakespeare by reading only his plays. Such an approach to divinity is inherently a n t h r o p o c e n t r i c , for it conceives the deity from a center in ourselves a n d the created o r d e r a n d n o t from a center in God. Ultimately, we e n d u p knowing simply ourselves t u r n e d inside out. We are thus n o better off, says Athanasius disparagingly, than the Greeks. 1 ' 1 T o n a m e God the Father a n d the Son is to speak of the deity as he is in the i m m a n e n t reality a n d relations of his divine essence. It is thus to know him objectively, truly, accurately. W h e n we n a m e God Father, we are n a m i n g him n e i t h e r by abstraction from creation (via negativa) n o r by infinite extension of creation (via eminentiae) n o r by self-projection (mythology); rather, we are identifying him by the eternal Son, who belongs to the divine being a n d is p r o p e r to the Godhead, who has projected himself into creation in the person of Jesus Christ. T h e playwright has stepped into his play. In Jesus o u r theological reflection a n d knowing are ontologically g r o u n d e d in God. T h e F a t h e r / S o n relation, therefore, must have primacy over the c r e a t o r / c r e a t u r e relation in our apprehension of divinity. In the Nicene Creed the catholic church confesses the following: "We believe in o n e Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten n o t m a d e , of one Being with the Father . . . " (emphasis a d d e d ) . T h e key phrase, which originates from the creed adopted by the Council of
Study in t h e Foundations of Classical Theology," Theology in Reconciliation (Grand Rapids: William B. E e r d m a n s Pubi. Co., 1975), p p . 213-66; T o r r a n c e , Trinitarian Faith, esp. p p . 4 7 - 1 4 5 . 14. As cited by T o r r a n c e , Trinitarian Faith, p. 50. 15. Contra Arianos 1.33.


The God Who Likes His Name

Nicaea in A.D. 325, is the affirmation of the incarnate Christ's oneness of being (homoousios) with the Father. While this confession was vague e n o u g h to p e r m i t a plurality of interpretations at the Council, it clearly excluded Arius a n d his followers, a n d they knew it. It is to Athanasius that we owe the t r i u m p h of the homoousion in its evangelical radicality: Athanasius forcefully declared that o u r Lord's oneness of being with the Father was to be u n d e r s t o o d in terms of identity. Jesus of Nazareth—the creed speaks of the incarnate Son a n d n o t the logos asarkos ("Word without flesh")—fully possesses the divine ousia ("essence"). In the divide between creator a n d creature, Jesus is to be located clearly a n d categorically on the creator side. T h e Nazarene is God; a Galilian rabbi, a m e m b e r of the Holy Trinity. In the words of Athanasius, "And so, since they are one, a n d the G o d h e a d itself o n e , the same things are said of the Son, which are said of the Father, except His being said to be Father." 16 God has incarnated himself in time a n d space. H e has c o m e as Man, as the specific h u m a n being Jesus, who lived a n d died in the first century in an obscure Middle Eastern country. T h e theological consequences of this confession are revolutionary. In Jesus we may now know God directly a n d personally. T h e deity has presented himself to us as an object. 17 This objectivity is of course mediated—we m e e t God only in his assumed creaturely form—but it is an objectivity nonetheless in which the T r i u n e bestows himself to o u r h u m a n knowing. As with any o t h e r object, we may now pick o u t o u r God: "There h e is. T h a t o n e , the son of Mary. H e is the O n e I worship." In the concrete particularity of the crucified Jew, we a p p r e h e n d the deity, in the Spirit, according to his divine nature. We may use the word "revelation" to describe the gift of divine objectivity, but only as long as we u n d e r s t a n d it to m e a n m o r e than information, namely, the communication of God's very self. O n c e the Incarnation has taken place, once the eternal Word has m a d e himself object in Jesus, we may n o longer look anywhere else to find divinity. God has chosen the time, the place, the media by which we may m e e t him. T h e humanity of Christ is the trysting g r o u n d s of o u r love affair with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. T h e faithful m a n Jesus therefore defines the reality of God. Identical in being with the Father, o u r Lord embodies, finally a n d decisively, the character, life, a n d essence of deity. Karl Barth expresses this powerfully: The Word of God does not just come to us through the man Jesus of Nazareth, as though we could later have heard it and known it in itself and apart from him. The Word of God is this man as man, and always and inescapably it is spoken to us as the reality of this man and not otherwise. This is God's mercy, that
16. Contra Arianos 3.4. 17. See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1957), 11/1, pp. 1-62.


precisely in the reality, no, as the reality of this man, God is Immanuel, God with us, God among us.18 This is n o t christological triumphalism (christo-fascism as some p u t it), as t h o u g h the c h u r c h is parsimoniously restricting the knowledge of deity to a select few. It is rather the h u m b l e recognition that in Christ we are, by grace, confronted with the fullness of divinity a n d given access to the i m m a n e n t triune being. Jesus, as the Son, is the second person of the Trinity, risen into the divine society of the Godhead. Consequently, we may n o t evade the Nazarene or go b e h i n d his back in our quest to find deity, for the holy God has terminated o u r quest by becoming the object Christ a n d enacting his trinitarian life amongst us. It is crucial to u n d e r s t a n d that Jesus reveals God the Father precisely in his identity as the begotten Son. 19 Jesus is n o t the Father, he is the Son; and it is as the Son that he discloses the Father. T h e divine F a t h e r h o o d and Sonship are correlative: T h e Father is the Father of Jesus, a n d Jesus, the Son of the Father. Neither can be conceived or known apart from the other. United in being a n d agency, Jesus is the place where the Father is e n c o u n t e r e d . From Christ we learn who the Father is; in him we learn from the Father who the Son is. We m e e t both simultaneously a n d coincidentally in mutually defining relationship. Thus our Lord can insist that he is the sole mediator of o u r knowledge of the Father: "I am the way a n d the truth a n d the life. No o n e comes to the Father except t h r o u g h me. Anyone who has seen m e has seen the Father" (John 14:6, 9). This is the theological explanation why "Father" is used infrequently in the Old Testament to refer to God, a n d even less frequently as a term of address. Until Jesus arrives on the scene, the God of Israel is known only in his undifferentiated oneness, addressed only by the ineffable n a m e of Yahweh. Only the Son can introduce us to his Father. We may now r e t u r n to the text of Athanasius with which we began this section. W h e n the c h u r c h names God as the Father and the Son, it is speaking of the creator in his i n n e r reality, referring to relations subsisting in the divine ousia. Unlike the Arians, Athanasius insists that we truly know the deity in Jesus Christ—as Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit. WTien challenged why we may a n d must use this language, he replies that it is sanctioned a n d authorized by the divine Word himself who knew "whose Son H e was." 20

From the ancient church on, the root trinitarian assertion is that the history
18. Barth 19. 20. Q u o t e d in Bruce Marshall, Christology in Conflict: The Identity of a Saviour in Rahner and (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987), p. 129. See T o r r a n c e , Trinitarian Faith, p p . 59-60. Contra Aria nos 1.34.


The God Who Likes His Name

God has with us, as Jesus the Israelite with his "Father" in their Spirit, is not merely a manifestation or revelation of God but is God.21 T h a t God should have a history is nonsense in view of o u r inherited understandings of deity. God, after all, is that reality which dwells outside time as the creator of time. H e is eternal, the p u r e actualization of being, i m m u n e to the changes and movements of temporality. We may speak of God as the Lord of history, b u t we well u n d e r s t a n d this to m e a n his providential guidance of history from the external vantage p o i n t of heaven or supernature. We certainly do n o t m e a n he is an actor within history, making history, having history, living t h r o u g h history. O n the contrary, God in his timelessness is impassible, ultimately unaffected by the events a n d h a p p e n i n g s of the world. Yet there at the heart of the Christian gospel is the story of God b e c o m e Man, a God who is born, who is raised in Nazareth, who breathes a n d eats a n d cries a n d laughs a n d loves, a God who suffers a n d dies. This is a God who in Christ both affects a n d is affected by the world, a God who has, in the words of J o n a t h a n Edwards, "really b e c o m e passionate to his own." 22 T h e gospel is thus the claim that the deity has a history—the history of Jesus in Israel. T h e W o r d has b e c o m e flesh; the Crucified is homoousios with the Father; the eternal Son lives in a n d t h r o u g h time. It is the peculiarity of this God that he is identified, n o t by abstract attributes, b u t by narrative—by historical descriptions a n d biblical stories. We r e m e m b e r what h e has d o n e in the past. We anticipate his promises of what he will do in the future. "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." O u r God is eternal in that he is faithful in time to his promises. T h e divine transcendence is properly described as eschatological futurity or temporal unsurpassability. 23 T h a t the eternity of the biblical God is irreconcilable with the eternity of Greek philosophy is increasingly a p p a r e n t today, b u t for almost two t h o u s a n d years Christians have been convinced that the being of their God must be defined by its transcendence of temporality. H e n c e , the theological problem: How d o we keep together the divine timelessness a n d the narrative descriptions of God's history? Well, it is n o t easy. Athanasius is a case in point. O n the o n e h a n d , he is emphatic in his insistence that, in Jesus, God has c o m e as Man, a full-blooded h u m a n being, with biography a n d all. O n the o t h e r h a n d , all the Hellenistic predicates also obtain: God is incorruptible, immaterial, unchangeable, for example. In his fidelity to Scripture, Athanasius did n o t attempt to resolve the paradox; b u t later theologians, particularly in
21. Robert W. Jenson, America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 91. Throughout this section I am indebted to the creative and provocative work of Jenson. 22. Quoted in Jenson, America's Theologian, p. 118. 23. See Jenson, Triune Identity, pp. 138-84.


the West, did try, a n d usually at the expense of the biblical understanding. W h e n a Greek c o m p r e h e n s i o n of deity is j o i n e d to the biblical narrative of God's history with us in Christ, dualism appears at two closely connected points: (1) T h e préexistent Word, the logos asarkos, is posited as the innertrinitarian g r o u n d of creation. 2 4 God creates a n d saves the world not through Jesus of Nazareth b u t t h r o u g h his metaphysical discarnate double. (2) T h e processions of the i m m a n e n t Trinity are divorced from the historical missions of the economic Trinity. 25 T h e begetting of the Son and the spiration of the Spirit b e c o m e ineffable events i n d e p e n d e n t of salvation history. W h e n these two moves occur, the divine being of the G o d h e a d is uninterpreted by the historical event of Jesus. We d e t e r m i n e t h r o u g h our philosophy, ideology, culture, a n d religious experience what deity is, a n d t h e n we assert that this deity is somehow a n d in some way "revealed" t h r o u g h Jesus. Within m o d e r n Protestant reflection this ultimately results in the theological irrelevance of the Nazarene. Creatively building on the work of Gregory of Nyssa, Martin Luther, a n d Karl Barth, the American theologian Robert W. J e n s o n has o p e n e d the way for a fresh appropriation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. H e asks us, as cited above, to move from a theology of revelation to a theology7 of constitution: It is n o t that the stories of Jesus, the Father, a n d the Spirit vaguely reveal the divine being; they are constitutive of it. T h e historic relationship in the Spirit between Christ Jesus a n d his Father, lived out in the conditions of first-century Palestine and eternally established in the resurrection a n d ascension of o u r Lord, is the triune life of the Godhead. T h e Christian God has a history, a n d just as the identity of every h u m a n being is defined by the life h e or she lives, so the identity of our God is defined by his history with us. God is the Father who grieves for the death of his Jesus at Calvary. God is the Son who prefers the company of harlots and tax collectors to that of religious professionals. God is the Spirit p o u r e d out on the c h u r c h on the day of Pentecost who will bring us into the kingdom of the Father a n d the Son. T h e Holy Trinity does n o t lie b e h i n d or u n d e r these historical events; the Trinity is constituted in a n d by them. T h e r e is n o o t h e r God b u t the God who knows himself as this history. "Truly, the Trinity is simply the Father a n d the m a n Jesus a n d their Spirit as the Spirit of the believing community," writes Jenson. "This 'economic' Trinity is eschatologically God 'himself,' an ' i m m a n e n t Trinity.' "26 T h e new nonsexist liturgies of the Episcopal Church (Prayer Book Studies
24. R o b e r t W. J e n s o n , "The Christian Doctrine of God," in Keeping the Faith, ed. Geoffrey Wainwright (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), p. 47. 25. Robert W. J e n s o n , "A 'Protestant Constructive Response' to Christian Unbelief," in American Apostasy: The Triumph of'Other" Gospels, ed. Richard J o h n N e u h a n s (Grand Rapids: William B. E e r d m a n s Pubi. Co., 1989), p p . 6 5 - 6 6 . 26. J e n s o n , Triune Identity, p . 141.


The God Who Likes His Name

30) illustrate the direction of m o d e r a t e feminism today. They aver a trinitarian theology while simultaneously abstracting from the divine historicity: "We are challenged with being faithful to the creedal tradition of the C h u r c h , while, at the same time, n a m i n g the God who is O n e in T h r e e a n d T h r e e in O n e ' in non-gender specific terms." 27 O n e specific way this is worked out in the texts is the virtual elimination of the vocative "Father." With the exception of the Lord's Prayer, God is addressed only as "God." W h e n the Trinity is u n d e r s t o o d eschatologically, however, all such efforts to evade the particularities of the biblical revelation are shown to be both futile a n d apostate. Apart from the constituting temporal events of the evangelical narrative, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is meaningless. "Father" is n o t just o n e of many m e t a p h o r s i m p o r t e d by fallen sinners o n t o the screen of eternity. It is a filial term of address revealed in the person of the eternal Son. Jesus names the holy God of Israel, Abba, Father, thereby manifesting the intimate i n n e r c o m m u n i o n between them, a u n i q u e relationship of knowing a n d love. "No o n e knows the Son except the Father, a n d n o o n e knows the Father except the Son" (Matt. 11:27). By this address God is acknowledged as the h o p e , joy, a n d final authority in our Lord's life; by this address he is constituted as the Father. T h e dominical n a m i n g occurs within the being of the G o d h e a d . It is an event of the divine biography, an eternal act of self-differentiation. T h e Father receives from Jesus his hypostatic identity as Father. H e is defined by the filial address, trusting obedience, a n d joyful worship of his begotten Son. This consubstantial relationship is confirmed a n d established on Easter m o r n i n g : By the Resurrection there forever stands before the first person of the G o d h e a d the O n e who calls him Abba. Christians are c o m m a n d e d by the divine Son to address his Father as their Father: "Pray t h e n like this: O u r Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy N a m e " (Matt. 6:9). This filial invocation is a privilege of adoption in Christ Jesus. By baptism we are incorporated into the humanity of o u r Lord a n d his eternal relationship with the Father in the power of the Spirit (Gal. 3:26— 4:6). In Christ we are inserted into the trinitarian conversation of the G o d h e a d . T h e prayer, praise, a n d intercession of God the Son are realized in the lives of his a d o p t e d brothers a n d sisters. "For you did n o t receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear," the Apostle heralds, "but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father' " (Rom. 8:15). By the gift of the Spirit, the c h u r c h is drawn into the vicarious worship of its risen Lord. With a n d t h r o u g h Christ, we boldly n a m e God Father a n d e n t e r into intimate fellowship with him. Thus, the structure a n d languaging of o u r prayer a n d discourse both manifests the triune society of the G o d h e a d
27. Commentary on Prayer Book Studies 30, Containing Supplemental Texts (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1989), p. C-20.


a n d enacts o u r participation in it. As J e n s o n observes: "Christians bespeak God in a triune coordinate system; they speak to the Father, with the Son, in the Spirit, a n d only so bespeak God. Indeed, they live in a sort of temporal space defined by these coordinates, a n d just and only so live Un God.' "28 W h e r e is God? H e is in heaven, we say. Where is heaven? It is wherever Christians invoke the Father with their b r o t h e r Jesus in his Spirit. By our trinitarian naming, the triune God is actualized in time. T h e God of the gospel identifies himself in and by the particularities of the biblical narrative. O u r prayer to God a n d our speech about him, therefore, will be true only to the extent that they are controlled by the temporal events of the evangelical history. 29 We may find this frustrating, offensive, and scandalous; b u t the sovereign God nevertheless remains free to be for us the O n e w h o m h e has eternally elected to be in the history of Jesus of Nazareth: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

T h e Holy Trinity is the God who has n a m e d himself Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit. By this n a m e , a n d by the narrative that it embodies, the identity- of the living God is revealed a n d constituted. T h r o u g h it we are given access into the triune life of the G o d h e a d . C u r r e n t feminist proposals for altering the language of faith therefore have the most profound significance. 30 If I am correct in my analysis above, these changes touch the substance of the gospel. T o a b a n d o n or reject the trinitarian n a m i n g is to create a new religion, a new God. Yet this crisis carries within itself a wonderful opportunity: It may, a n d i n d e e d must, provoke our theological reflection to a radical appropriation a n d reformulation of the trinitarian dogma. When this occurs, we will see that the triune God is n o t a deity of sexism and patriarchy b u t the God of the gospel who saves m e n a n d women from their sin a n d liberates t h e m for love, discipleship, and joyous fellowship in the Father, Son, a n d Holy Spirit.

28. Jenson, Triune Identity, p. 47. 29. Ibid., pp. 106-07. 30. One of the most pressing needs today, especially in light of the popular metaphorical theology of Sallie McFague, is the formulation of a trinitarian understanding of theological language. The work of Karl Barth is suggestive here. See George Hunsinger, "Bevond Literalism and Expressivism: Karl Barth's Hermeneutical Realism," Modern Theology 3 (1987), 209-23.


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