Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Trinity I: Analogous Language?

The 212th General Assembly (2000) authorized the formation of a task force to study the doctrine of the Trinity. The task force has produced a thirty-five page draft paper entitled, “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing.” The Office of Theology and Worship of the PCUSA is looking for feedback on the document.

Although I’m glad, that we are writing papers speaking to the importance of the Trinity. I am also pleased at the praise the paper affords the traditional formulation of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

With the witness of Scripture, the ecumenical creeds, and the Reformed confessions and liturgies, we regularly speak of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Presbyterian Church (USA) respects and values this way of speaking of the Triune God, resisting any tendency to discard or diminish it. The language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, etched in Scripture and creed, remains an indispensable anchor for our efforts to speak faithfully of God. If our lifeline to this anchor is frayed or severed, the historic faith of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church risks being set adrift.
Nevertheless, the authors of the draft paper suggest that all language of the Trinity is merely analogy. I’m not sure that I agree. For early Christians and for centuries afterward, these titles were not mere analogies. For example, to what would the language of “Holy Spirit” be analogous? Moreover, calling God, Father, and Jesus, the Son, speaks of the special relationship between God and Jesus. In the Scriptures, Jesus calls God, his Father, several times. Elsewhere God announces on different occasions that Jesus is “my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” These references are not hidden in parables. They are not simile or metaphor. The writers of Scripture understood them as titles for God and Jesus. Biblical writers would see a difference between, for example, calling Jesus, “the son of God,” and “the cornerstone.” Moreover, the only direct biblical mandate we have for naming the Trinity in worship (Matthew 28:19) is the traditional language -- Jesus tells the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I will grant that our theological language is limited. Even the traditional language of the Trinity may be abused or misunderstood. I believe the Church should teach, clarify, and warn against the abuse of the language. Instead, the draft authors want to add to the confusion by creating inferior substitutes.

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