the longest post in the whole world

a few days ago I said that I would upload an essay on the language of the Trinity to my website.

um, well I obviously haven't yet - the necessary technical expertise has been missing on my part and my husband has been away. so whilst I will still do that, it is much more readable from the website, for those who can bear to read a long post and who are interested, here it is..........


Ought we to continue to name the Trinity as Father, Son and Spirit? Demonstrate an awareness of different strands of this debate in your answer.

For most Christians today this question is a non-question. There is no perceived reason to desist in naming God as Father, Son and Spirit. To even begin to explore this question is, for some, to venture into the territory of radical feminism and as such, they say, it has nothing to say to the ‘ordinary Christian’. And in many ways I can see their point. Why change, or even consider changing, something which is so rooted in Scripture and Tradition that to question it is to question the very foundations of faith? What conceivable point would we have for shaking these foundations? Does it really matter?

Why is it that people, women and men, are offended by the masculine language of God; God the Father and God the Son particularly? Is it because we are so offended by exclusivist language nowadays that we are automatically offended by exclusively male metaphors or names? I suggest this is not the case, the majority of people I know are not offended by exclusivist language, it simply does not occur to them to be offended. The idea of God as father is more likely to be problematic for those whose relationship with their father makes calling God ‘father’ difficult, or, to give another example, calling God ‘father’ might be difficult if people assume the legitimisation of the subjugation of women, because of the hierarchy perceived in the Trinity, the head being the Father. It is not merely the language that is offensive but the problem of disordered human relationships that make the idea of God as Father troublesome.

Of course there is disorder in all relationship, this is our context - the consequence of Adam and Eve’s disobedience was disorder in relationship: between human beings themselves and then with creatures, creation and God. This disorder was perpetuated and made worse by Abel in the killing of his brother, with the further rupturing of human relationships - with their ‘brothers’ and with their God. So, we might say that to name God by any human relationship is problematic and that it is questionable to say that simply using inclusive language of God will remove the problem. However, ignoring the problem does not remove the consequences of solely masculine language either. We must move towards a better understanding of the nature of language particularly in relation to God.

It is universally recognised that language is limited for the things we would have it say, we see this particularly in the job of translation, where the word being translated does not have a direct equivalent in the language it is being translated into, we have to choose a word which might not give the exact meaning. When it comes to naming or describing God, this problem is manifold. By definition, any word that is describing God loses some of its meaning to us because it is God who it is describing. To say that God is good is wholly different than to say that I am good. To call God ‘father’ is saying something different than what it means to call our biological fathers ‘father’. We are much more able to say what that word does not mean, than what it does mean. To call God ‘Father Son Spirit’ does not mean that God is involved in the business of procreation, or that God is a man (or two men and a disembodied ghost), or that there is a ‘grand-father’. These are the difficulties of language about God.

But of course it goes beyond this; it is true that our relationships are disordered because this is our context, but they are also disordered because of how we imagine God. Our relationships are the outcome of who we believe God to be and if we retain a sub-biblical notion that God is male, because of a particular rendering of the masculine language in the Bible, then our relationships with each other, particularly between male and female will be distorted from their true nature. Not only this, but to perpetuate this notion of God’s maleness is nothing short of idolatry[1]. We make God in our image - or rather in men’s image - and worship that idol. Therefore it is of the utmost importance to explore the significance of this language and the alternatives to it.

There are many different thoughts regarding the Trinitarian Name and the possible permutations of the Name that would make the Name less male. There are those who would remove any gendered language from the Name, instead replacing it with such appellations as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier or Creator, Liberator, Comforter among others, and thus removing the problem as they see it. Moving on from this approach is that of introducing the opposite feminine language – Mother, Daughter, Spirit – or emphasising the feminine root of the word for Spirit. I shall explore these in a moment but before we look at the different positions taken in this debate, I would like to share a recent experience that I had discussing this very question. Actually the question was whether God was male, but this was based on the male language overwhelmingly used for God, and in particular the Trinitarian Name. My position is, and has always been, that the Name of God, Father Son Spirit, does not denote gender in the Trinity. It has been my understanding that most serious theologians would not begin to argue that God is male[2]; this is what I have been taught and it appears to be the understanding of the majority of feminist theologians and responses to feminist theology that I have read. It was, therefore, much to my surprise, and incredulity, that I discovered a thesis being formulated by an Anglican Conservative Evangelical[3] to the effect that God is male. Now, whilst the thesis itself has many flaws[4], what became evident to me was that this thesis was being taken seriously, and, most worryingly, by those studying theology in other Christian theological colleges[5]. Initially my instinct was to ignore this strand of thinking in any theological decisions I may make regarding the language surrounding God, viewing it as an aberration on the theological landscape, however if that language is the direct cause of a theology of God’s maleness which is being encouraged and emphasised, not simply inherited, then we must take this question seriously. We can no longer assume, with Achtemeier that ‘it is universally recognised by biblical scholars that the God of the Bible has no sexuality’[6]. It is not simply a case of re-education about the nature of words that is then needed; it is a re‑education about the theology of God, which is wholly more serious. I will have this in mind throughout this essay.

Let us begin with the idea of inclusive language for God. This is either to remove gendered language in its entirety, or to introduce the concept of Mother-Father God. In many ways I am drawn to the abundance of new metaphors that there might be for describing the Trinitarian relationship. To replace or to be allowed to be flexible in the Trinitarian Name gives freedom to identify the most nourishing human relationships with the source of all relationship. Additionally, to give God a name free of gender is to remove the danger of idolatry and total self-identification with a Name that has a human correlation. Both of these reasons are good reasons for at least looking at the nature of the Name of God and questioning its permanence. Having said this, there are also considerable problems inherent with removing the Father/Son relationship from the Trinitarian Name (it is the first and second Person of the Trinity which causes the affront, the third Person being notably silent on gender, at least in name)

The most common interchange in the Name in feminist writing is that of ‘creator’ for ‘father’ and at first sight this seems a reasonable swap. Indeed when we imagine Father God, we go beyond our own human fathers – this would be idolatry - and we imagine the Father of all creation do we not? Fathers create and Creators create, don’t they? Well actually Fathers beget and Creators create – indeed, calling God ‘creator’ removes the possible heresy of imagining Creation is the same essence as the Creator. It may seem, in fact, better to replace ‘father’ with ‘creator’ to avoid this heresy and also the possible idolatry that comes with calling God a name that has a human equivalent, thus tempting us to imagine God in our own image rather than we in his. In addition to this, ‘creator’ gives us a wider remit than ‘father’; ‘creator’ is both transcendent and immanent and reminds us of the otherness of the Creator to the Creation. ‘Creator’ in fact, removes us from God in a way that ‘Father’, even ‘Heavenly Father’, does not.

This is a problem then.

Whilst we can see similarity in the names of Creator and Father, essentially they are not equivalent terms. We may call God, Creator, but our next question is ‘who is this Creator?’ and the answer that comes is ‘He is your Father’ – the relationship is found in the name of Father, and not in the name of Creator. A Creator can be for our good, our bad, or simply indifferent, but even with the worst experiences of fathers in human relationships, we understand that the word ‘father’ is meant to denote a particular relationship between this parent and this child, for the good of the child. However, most significantly for this student, the main problem comes with the fact that to re-name the Father, Creator, is to name God in relation to His Creation. In the relationship of God, Father Son Spirit, the Father is the Father of the Son and the Son is the Son of the Father, mediated by the Spirit. The Trinity is self‑defined; Creation is not a necessary conception in order to speak the Name of God. We find this difficulty in most of the suggestions put forward for ungendered equivalents of the Father and the names for the second and third Person can also be seen to fall into this pit; Liberator, Redeemer and Comforter, Sanctifier.

So what about the other inclusive language alternative, that of Mother-Father, Daughter-Son? Again, on the surface this seems to eradicate the exclusive nature of Father/Son language, and avoid the pitfall of defining God through the Creation. However, to mix the metaphor is to introduce a new danger; that of the hermaphrodite God/ess, not only that but we are also in danger of introducing another Person/Persons into the Godhead, rupturing the careful formulation of the Trinity[7] and moving from three-in-one to a polytheistic pantheon. The suggested language simply does not carry the weight of the meaning behind it, noble as the intention is. In the words of Roland Frye ‘Combined words such as Father and Mother, Mother-Father, God-she, and he/she suggest a grotesque hermaphrodite god or androgynous divinity.’[8] In essence this suggestion merely emphasises the problem. If one does not wish to suggest that God has a sexuality, then do not introduce another one! The addition of the female to the male counterpart does not make all equal, it merely compounds the idolatry that it is trying to demolish. This argument is the same for introducing the idea of the feminisation of the Spirit, but this comes with some problems of its own which I will mention later. And so the answer lies not in this equalisation of language, but in the education of what it means (and what it does not mean) to call God ‘Father Son Spirit’.

Of course, we may find that this is more difficult than it sounds and that people do not wish to be merely re-educated in their deep-rooted beliefs. It is notoriously easier to fight vehemently for long-held opinions than to embrace the challenge of re-interpreting them. All this leads us to say that inclusive language, whether ungendered or multi-gendered will not serve the feminist theologian’s purpose.

It is now that we turn to the suggestion that feminine language for God may be a solution. Not to use exclusively feminine language but to be able to use feminine language interchangeably with masculine language – Father Son Spirit, Mother Daughter Spirit, God, Goddess. Is it possible to simply use the female language alternative in equal use with the male language equivalent, thereby explicitly articulating that God is as easily expressed in feminine terms as in masculine ones? The intention behind this suggestion is, in my mind, a good intention. Women have throughout history been subjugated by men and this is still the experience of the majority of women today. Not only this, but it is the prerogative of much of the Church to continue this distortion in the name of Scriptural purity. It is undeniable that a good proportion of this prejudice comes from a particular understanding of God’s being – namely that God is male. However, yet again there are difficulties in using feminine language in naming God.

Firstly the connotations that come with naming God as ‘Mother God’ are as rife in our current context as they were in first century Palestine. It is not a mistake that Jesus, the great liberator of all oppressed groups, names God as Father. Now, as then, a female deity has meaning that takes us outside the proclaimed God of Christianity. Jesus called God ‘Father’ (a point that I will return to later) and it would have been totally inappropriate for him to call on God as ‘Mother’ in that context. Jesus was calling on and singling out the God of Israel, the God of Israel would not have been called ‘Mother’ in the cultural context of goddess religion where the Queen of Heaven was a false deity and not merely the feminine equivalent to the King of Heaven. So in first century Palestine, Jesus was making it clear which God he was calling upon, this is the God of Israel, the God who becomes the father of Israel as a developing theme of the Old Testament and is finally revealed fully as the intimate abba in the New Testament[9]. And it must be recognised that it is a very serious movement in biblical theology to change the name that has been given to us from the lips of Jesus.

It must also be pointed out that this is not simply a first century concern. Some might suggest that this objection is outdated; it might not be relevant for the discussion that we are participating in, in the twenty-first century. However, my observation is that the twenty-first century is full of pagan ‘mother-god’ symbols, the worship of Diana is a current phenomenon as seen in this modern prayer: ‘Hail Artemis Diana, Blessed Lady of the Beasts, I dedicate myself to you. May my path honour Thee, May my spirit celebrate Thee, May my life force magnify you. These things I pray, Be fulfilled this day, Goddess Mother help me, To know what is right.’[10] So to call on God as ‘Mother’ is to invoke other images than the God of Israel, even in our current paradigm.

Having said this, might it be said that the same is true in calling God ‘Father’? We have never called God ‘Mother’ and so the imagined problems are simply that, imagined. But we know from observable experience that calling God ‘Father’ has led to idolatry of the male and the subjugation of the female. Is using the name ‘Mother’ more theologically problematic than calling God ‘Father’? Is there something inherent in calling God ‘Mother’ that leads to paganism? For Elisabeth Achtemeier there is an inevitable link between exchanging masculine language for God with feminine language, and paganism[11]. In this exchange, she insists, we exchange God for ‘no gods’, we lose the unique nature of the Christian God and we gain nothing. If we were to do this, she maintains, we are opening up the door to pan(en)theism. In particular, it is the female language of birth that she sees as the most problematic – a Mother-God gives birth to Creation, a Father-God creates. As such in a religion where the primary metaphor or name of God is Mother, the inevitable conclusion is that the Creation is of the same essence as the Creator. I am not entirely convinced by this argument, there is, perhaps, a more perceivable link between a mother and child than a father and child but the truth is that both a mother and a father, in biological terms, are the same in essence as the child – like begets like, whether this is in fatherly or motherly terms.

Of course I would certainly agree that the primary image of the Mother is that of identification with the child in birth, and perhaps this is less true of the father, the primary image being that of distance and discipline – but these are our cultural primary images, they are not necessarily inherent in the metaphor. However, let’s continue with Achtemeier’s argument for the moment - she asserts that this primary image of the birthing mother, and therefore total self-identification of Creator and Creation, also leads to an endless cycle of birth, life and death. The Creator as mother, being within this continuing cycle, prevents the cycle becoming the spiral of transformation that the transcendent God, imaged in the distant father, has to offer. This never‑ending cycle of life is mirrored in Qohelet’s maxim – ‘meaningless, meaningless, utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless’[12] If there is no transformation, there is no point.

Now, it is certainly true that some feminists have fallen into this trap, some have asserted their own power in their resurrection, and in doing so re-interpreted resurrection in such a way that it is simply a shadow of the Christian hope[13]. But is this an inevitability? And if it is a danger, an assertion with which I certainly agree, is it a more extreme danger than the danger of using masculine language for God? Is the inevitability of using masculine language almost exclusively for God, that of the oppression of women and the exaltation if not deification of the male? Is it simply dangerous to name God at all?

Certainly it seems inescapably dangerous to name God with our small words. Achtemeier’s thoughts rest on her assertion that there is universal acceptance of the belief that God is not male, regardless of the majority use of masculine metaphors[14]. This may be true in academia, however most of the Church is not made up of academics, most of the Church is made up of people who are used to hearing God almost exclusively spoken of in masculine terms, and we cannot blame people for coming to the logical conclusion that God is male. It may be obvious that God is not male to those who spend time studying or thinking about God, but it is not obvious to the majority of Christians. Male language for God has been identified with the maleness of God. And this is not something that is going to go away.

Our current climate in the Church is one of paradigm shift. Some are embracing the notion that there is no male or female in Christ[15], whilst others are threatened by the new scenery. It is not enough to say that everyone knows God is not male and thus everyone knows that male language does not denote a sexed God. Inarguably, everyone does not know that God is not male, and it is the language that creates this image. Nevertheless, whilst I see flaws in Achtemeier’s argument, I accept that to name God ‘Mother’ is also found to be lacking and suffice to say that by introducing the female equivalent of Father and Son, we do not eradicate the problem and it may even import other problems of its own.

Similar to the above suggestions, but with some specific issues of its own, is the suggestion that the Spirit should be given the fully feminine flavour that is possible both from the root gender of the word ruach and the associations of the Spirit of God with the feminine personification of Wisdom found in Proverbs 8. Whilst I have no theological problems with referring to the Spirit as ‘she’, this suggestion simply compounds the problem, if we decide to call the Spirit ‘she’, whilst exclusively using the masculine pronouns for the Father and the Son, then we emphasise the problem that we are trying to remove. God becomes more seriously gendered by the introduction of a solely female ‘character’ within the Godhead. The impression is given that God is indeed gendered and, more than that, the female is cancelled out by a ratio of 2:1! By giving the Spirit a feminine character, we say that, once again, the female is occluded by the males, in this case both in quantity and visibility – the Father and Son historically being the more visible Persons in the Godhead.

However, this does bring us on to the discussion of pronouns. Whilst the Name of God might draw our primary attention, we must also tackle the problem of exclusively masculine pronouns for God. Robert Jenson[16] denies the viability of using non-gendered pronouns like ‘God-self’, which he suggests introduces the possibility of polytheism: for example in the sentence ‘God sent God’s Son’ – are both Gods the same God? And which God does the Son belong to? This is another problem of language, and particularly the English language, there is no way of identifying the one God as the other, rather than an entirely different entity. Jenson asserts that it is the traditional biblical narrative, including the personal pronouns of ‘he’, that allows us to use ungendered pronouns like ‘God-self’ in the full knowledge that the idea of polytheism is alien to the Christian faith, thus it is unwise to remove these pronouns simply because they cause us a problem now – they are part of our ongoing narrative, from which the God of our ancestors is revealed to us. However, we are not now exhausted of choices; there are other pronouns that are open to us – ‘she’ and ‘it’.

Without hesitation we must discard the idea of calling God ‘it’, this is a problem that has haunted the Holy Spirit for long enough. ‘It’ suggests a non‑personal being and simply cannot be entertained as an idea for the God who is defined by relationship between Persons. So, what about ‘she’? Is it possible to simply say ‘The Father, She’? I have been accused of demolishing language by mixing the gender specific language of ‘Father’ with the feminine pronoun ‘she’. Is this true? While I understand that there might be confusion in using ‘she’, it seems to me that this confusion is really rooted in a misunderstanding of the function of ‘Father’ in the name of ‘Father Son Spirit’. As we have discussed previously, ‘Father Son Spirit’ is the Name of God, not a description of biological relationships. It is a name that we have been invited to use, by Jesus, but it is not our Name to give or take away. It is the Name used in the conversation between Jesus and his Father, and as such this conversation goes beyond our understanding, it must simply be enough for us to use the Name, recognising our efforts as childlike, rather than assuming we understand the full density of the language.

But what we do know is that the pronoun which denotes masculine gender has no hold on the Name of God. For us it is enough that the pronoun used is a personal pronoun that denotes the personhood of God, and as such it is perfectly reasonable to use the feminine pronoun as well as the masculine one. I would suggest that to continue using the Name that has been given to us together with the feminine pronoun is both theologically tenable and pastorally appropriate, opening up the conversation about the nature of God in many different settings, not simply academic ones.

And, of course, this is a conversation that is as relevant today as it was centuries ago, when the idea of two natures may have been seen as the total deconstruction of what it means to be a human being – something that today’s orthodox Christians accept without question.

To end our discussion, I think it is important to recognise two things. Firstly that this is a conversation that will, rightly, continue until the end of history. It is, fundamentally, about the nature of God - the phrase ‘what’s in a name?’ after all belies the significance that names hold for us – and human beings will never tire of talking about their Creator, I hope. Thus it is not a despairing conversation, which must depress us because it is not over yet. And secondly, it is a conversation that must be allowed to occur, for both sides of the debate. This is not simply the cause of the feminists; it is the cause of all human beings who are seeking after God. It will not do well for feminists to feel that they have ‘won’ the argument and stop the conversation, or simply to have their own conversation partners within the feminist movement. We must continue to discuss, however robustly, with those with whom we disagree, in order to see most clearly how God has revealed himself to us all.


E Achtemeier, ‘Exchanging God for “No Gods”: A Discussion of Female Language for God’, in Kimel jr A F (ed), Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism (United States, Europe: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Gracewing, 1992), 1-16.

D’Costa G, Sexing the Trinity: Gender, Culture and the Divine, (London: SCM Press, 2000)

R M Frye, ‘Language for God and Feminist Language: Problems and Principles’, in Kimel jr A F (ed), Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism (United States, Europe: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Gracewing, 1992), 17-43.

Grey M, Introducing Feminist Images of God, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001)

Heine S, Christianity and the Goddesses: Can Christianity cope with sexuality?, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1988)

R W Jenson,’ “The Father, He…”’, in Kimel jr A F (ed), Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism (United States, Europe: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Gracewing, 1992), 95-109.

J M Soskice, ‘Can a Feminist Call God “Father”?’, in Kimel jr A F (ed), Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism (United States, Europe: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Gracewing, 1992), 81-94.
[1] Frye R, Language for God, page 21
[2] whilst recognising that the majority of non-theologians probably have this notion of God
[3] John Richardson, founder Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream – the debate can be found here: www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/forum/thread.cfm?page=8&thread=1532&sort=creatdesc starting at the 1 Sept 2006 posting.
[4] the first of which is that Creation was made to be ‘female’ thus making Creation necessary for God’s definition.
[5] ongoing discussion with Dave Williams, student at Oakhill Theological College here: http://radical-evangelical.blogspot.com/2007/06/god-creation-and-me.html and here: http://radical-evangelical.blogspot.com/2007/06/is-god-male.html
[6] Achtemeier E, Exchanging God, page 4
[7] Frye R, Language for God, page 21
[8] Frye R, Language for God, page 25
[9] Soskice J M, Can a Feminist Call God “Father”?, page 90
[10] http://www.spiralgoddess.com/Diana.html (accessed: 18th July 2007)
[11] Achtemeier E, Exchanging God, pages 1-16
[12] Ecclesiastes 1:2
[13] For instance Julie Hopkins articulates this view in ‘Towards a Feminist Christology’
[14] op. cit.
[15] Galatians 3:28
[16] Jenson R W, “The Father, He…”, pages 95-109


Anonymous said...

Hi, Jody. I ran across your post by accident but very much appreciated what you had to say. Maybe I missed them, but I did not see any references to materials from Christians for Biblical Equality (www.cbeinternational.org), and they've been addressing this issue of gender and the Trinity for some time, so you might want to check them out. Blessings, Kim

jody said...

thank you for this Kim,

I had a particular remit for this essay, which was written particularly with a 'feminist theology' engagement in mind, both with those feminists who have become post-christian, like Daphne Hampson and Mary Daly, even those whose arguments one might question as being truly Christian, like Julie Hopkins or even Rosemary Radford Reuther, and then those who are orthodox feminist Christians, like Elizabeth Achtemeier.

As ever there is only so much room (although I always find I would like to write more, research more...)

I really enjoyed the article I found here:


and will point people towards it, it picks up on what I say regarding the real point of discussion is less about the nature of language and more about the nature of God - something which I find more and more troubling.

dave williams said...

A clarification

With reference to footnotes 4 and 5, readers of the referenced discussion will note that I do not agree that God should be described as "male" nor do I believe that God is dependent upon creation in any way, shape or form for his nature.

Further, assessment of a particular theological college's views is best made on what the Faculty there teach.

jody said...

thanks Dave

as you say readers can read the discussion, as I have referenced it.

In my essay, I simply say that the fact you take this thesis as seriously as you have, and that you are being theologically trained, is a worry to me - I think you will agree, and my other readers can see from the long discussion that we had regarding John's thesis, that you did take it 'seriously'.

that is not a judgment, by any means, simply part of where I was coming from when I wrote the essay. You took it seriously - that worried me.

no more than that.

thanks, Jody

Davewilliams said...

Well interestingly enough the question "What if anything do we lose if we talk about the relationship as Parent -Child rather than Father-Son" came up in an exam today. Enough to really make the brain hurt.

(For the record -I didn't answer in terms ofJohn Richardson's thesis -so much for things being taken seriously)

I think the key issues are in terms of what Father Son means.

Parent Child perhaps fails to distinguish "we are his offspring" in terms of all humanity from

1. Jesus -Son by nature, legal heir, reciptient of everything the father gives -in terms of rule of the nations, defeat of the enemies.. Father Son takes us to Psalm 2 and Psalm 110

2. Sons by adoption -faith union's legal implications for us

Parent-child perhaps also heightens the confusion about "cosmic child abuse" there is no child abuse in the atonement -there is a willing Son who works inseparably with his father.

jody said...

well Dave, what an interesting question to have on your exam.

I think it answers the question as to what the faculty at Oakhill thinks about taking seriously the idea of God's maleness - the question is seriously biased towards there being a particular 'correct' answer.

anyway, can you elaborate on the son is the son 'by nature', that in particular interested me in your answer (rights of inheritance being less controversial)

I think I would still go with Father, she....

Davewilliams said...


There honestly isn't any possible way of drawing that conclusion about the Oak Hill faculty!

1. The question was about "Father and Son" not even about "He"

2. The question was really about the use of the language in the Bible and indeed in orthodox Christianity.

3. You yourself have noted in your own essay that both feminists and their critics do not regard Father language as implying maleness.

4. Also as I stated my own answer did not in the slightest refer to gender!

5. Yes I think the question was suggesting a right answer -i.e that "Father" language matters. Even so sometimes answers are provocatively worded to make you think hard! So don't assume too much in the wording of one question without knowing some of the other questions that faculty have thrown at us over the past two years!

In terms of "Son by nature." The point is that we are "sons by adoption" -we are brought into that legal relationship as distinct from mere offspring. Christ on the otherhand is the eternal son -not by adoption.

jody said...

dave, I guess with a question like that, some engagement with the reasons behind having to look at the naming of God would be good.also, what about thinking about what is gained by de-gendering the name

as you know I did not like things like Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier, but Parent/Child is less troublesome.

could you expand on the idea of the legal relationship?

davewilliams said...


Exactly. An answer must consider the implicit question -why would someone chose to use "parent -child" So in my answer I referred spcifically to the issues of feminism and patriarchy -egalitarianism in contemporary western culture. I also referred to the pastoral issues of abuse and difficult relationships with fathers.

I think though, how much attention given in such an answer will depend upon the purpose of it in its context. This wasn't a case of a subject with lots of class discussion on the gender issue. Therefore, the primary purpose was more to think about the nature of the Father-Son relationship and its implications rather than to describe different theological factions.

The idea of legal relationship -I'm really thinking about the implications of inheritance there. I would also be wanting to say that this isn't any old parent -child relationship. It is King-Heir. So you want to think about the Father's giving nature -but with regards to Christ it is not just indulgent, play giving rather it is work, posession of the nations,defeat of enemies etc.

Does Parent-Child get to the heart of why the relationship is the way it is?

In terms of troublesome and less troublesome I want to think about

1. What Rahner means when he talks about the economic Trinity being the immanent trinity

2. What is involved in naming. It is frustrating for me when people call me David on a regular basis, Dave. But at least they are going with what is my name on my birth certificate. Imagine though if they chose to call me Tom instead. There is an expectation in loving relationships that people allow others to reveal themselves and to know them as they are revealed.

The way that God has chosen to make himself known may cause a few problems for a few people within one small geographical part of the globe during one small time in history but is that an excuse for us to tell the Eternal, omnipresent God that we have decided to change his name?

jody said...

well I certainly concur with the idea that Father Son Spirit is a 'name' rather than a 'function'.

although your attitude to those who might find the gendering of the name problematic is telling Dave!

I think that it is Robert Jenson who speaks of overhearing a conversation between the Son and the Father, and therefore we are not at liberty to change the name, because it is a 'name' and not and implication of maleness. I agree with him.

I am still confused about the idea of legal relationship. why does the Son need to have a legal relationship with the Father?

tell me more about the economy and immanence of the trinity....

davewilliams said...

Hi Jody,

What is your understanding of my attitude to those who might find the gendering difficult?

Legal relationship. Some people think of relationship and legal as too contradictory things -so one is about love, the other about rules. That's not what I mean here. Rather there is a nature to your relationship with your husband and mine with my wife that is distinct from your relationship with your child or with a friend. This is important in Trinitarian terms in that Augustine was keen that we don't think of the Trinity as three "friends" So we want to say that the relationship of 1st to second person is not simply of parent to child but of first born heir. We also want to say that when we become Christians -adoption means a change of our status in relationship to the Father distinct from "we are his offspring" -to being heirs -which relates to who The Son is but is not the same as who the Son is.

Immanent and Economic Trinity -this relates into your comment about Jenson's point, I guess. When we look at how the relationship is revealed in time and space, then how different is that to what the relationship is like in reality. If the economic Trinity is the Immanent Trinity -then can we treat the use of Father-Son language -and indeed the nature of the incarnation as just accidents of language or social context, or not.

I think that was the type of questino John was trying to wrestle with.

jody said...

Hi Dave

you said:

'The way that God has chosen to make himself known may cause a few problems for a few people within one small geographical part of the globe during one small time in history but is that an excuse for us to tell the Eternal, omnipresent God that we have decided to change his name?'

led me to believe that the 'problems' that a few people have are not that much worth bothering about, perhaps I'm wrong?

with regards to the legal relationship within the trinity. I think that this is making the mistake of seeing sonship in terms of creation, rather than the eternal trinity itself. how can the son inherit what is already his eternally?

Davewilliams said...


My point was more one of understanding our perspective and making our decisions in the light of it. That doesn't mean the problem is not real or that people pastorally should not have their questions or concerns treated with respect :o)

With regards to your second point. Who has made the mistake of seeing sonship in terms of creation? Certainly not me -and I hope not you either!

I guess the simple answer is that the Son is eternally begotten. Sonship is not a time issue. Therefore the eternally begotten son is the eternal heir. I didn't think this was a moot point -but I'm continuously being surprised. Remember the issue here is about the relationship between Father and Son. The Father gives to the Son. In what sense does he give? There is an incarnational sense I guess but also a timeless sense. When is it that God says "Today you are my Son."