I have finished Kendall Soulen’s The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity. Well, I guess I haven’t really finished the whole thing. He plans to publish a second volume.
This book attracted me because I care about the Jewish and Hebrew Bible roots of my faith and had already read and appreciated some of Soulen’s work on developing a non-supersessionist a theology–one that does not claim that Christianity has replaced Judaism. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that Disciples and other Mainline Protestants keep struggling with how to address God in worship. The feminist critique of Father-Son-Spirit language has made us awkward and self-conscious in our speech.
Without getting lost in the details of Soulen’s argument, I can say that one of the main things I took away is that metaphorical language can truly name God, so long as it remains rooted in the name given to Moses. That name, especially when we follow Jewish custom and leave it unspoken, names the uniqueness of God. Father and Son represent not so much gendered language as kinship language. Such language is one of the most appropriate ways we can speak of God. But the Spirit opens up myriad other metaphors that are also worthwhile and appropriate. Still metaphor has its limits. That God has a personal, unpronounced, mysterious name upholds the uniqueness of his being behind all the metaphors.
From reading this book I also got a stronger sense of just how biblical the doctrine of the Trinity really is. It especially makes sense to frame the doctrine as a further development of the Jewish practice of seeking names of God that avoid actually saying God’s revealed name, the Tetragrammaton. I may forget a lot of the argument Soulen made, but I don’t think I will forget the basic pattern he uncovered where the uniqueness of God, the presence of God, and the blessing of God convey the reality of the Triune God. He shows that this pattern really exists in the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament.
I would argue that, historically, a passage like Exodus 20:24 stands at the threshold of Biblical Yahwism.
“You shall make an earthen altar for me, and shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I put the memory of my name I will come to you and I will bless you”
This passage already clearly contains the pattern.
I have long thought that the difference between Judaism and Christianity is not about who has the covenant. Rather it is about different ways of knowing the presence of God. It is appropriate that the second person of the Trinity stands for the presence of God. That is where the two faiths divide. Still, both Christians and Jews have had to rethink the locus of God’s presence since the events of 70 CE. At the roots of both faiths there must have been a belief that God, in his sovereignty, could choose for his name to dwell in a variety of places.
In regard to naming God in worship, I am glad to see that Roman Catholics now have become reluctant to pronounce the name Yahweh in worship. It slips into some hymns and contemporary music used in Protestant worship, but as a general rule LORD gets used as a substitute. It is just that many worshippers probably don’t know that it is a stand-in for the Name.
A lot of the experimentation with changing the Trinitarian names to feminine grate at worshippers who feel a political point of view is being imposed upon them. I don’t really know what to do about this. As Soulen points out, a lot of very bold language experiments were made throughout church history. Feminine and maternal language can work fine. But most of his example don’t come from liturgy. Liturgy puts words in people’s mouths. I understand people resisting having the words of somebody else’s agenda put in their mouths, especially if they feel it has been done simply for shock value. There may be more shock than value.