Reinvisioning Trinitarian Language
I remain a Trinitarian, even if the Trinity as a doctrinal concept can't be fully explained, because the doctrine reminds me that God is bigger than my ability to comprehend. The Trinity also reminds me that God is relational. God is internally and externally relational. That is, the relationship that God has with us mirrors in some fashion God's internal relationship as three partners, one God (I borrow the term partner from Ruth Duck and Patricia Wilson-Kastner. God is more than a formula, but if God is Trinity how do we speak of this God in appropriate ways?
The traditional formula, one taken from Matthew 28, describes God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In recent years feminist theologians have raised questions about the propriety of using exclusively masculine language. They have called upon the church to develop new metaphors to speak of God, metaphors that are more inclusive and empowering to women. This has become increasingly important in our own day as the church fails to capture the imagination of increasing numbers of people -- both male and female. The use of exclusively masculine language can lead to woundedness (something Carol Howard Merritt spoke of this past weekend).
One way in which the Trinity has been reinvisioned is the use of the formula: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. These are, of course, functional terms and not relational ones. The use of these terms to refer to individual members of the Trinity conflicts with a touchstone of Trinitarian theology, and that is that when it comes to functions, God as Trinity works in concert, so that it is the Trinity who creates, redeems, and sustains.
If this formula, though often used, is problematic, what should we do. For guidance, at the suggestion of a friend who is also Trinitarian, I've been reading the book Praising God: The Trinity in Christian Worship by the above mentioned Ruth Duck and Patricia Wilson-Kastner. This book, published in 1999, is very helpful in exploring the way in which the Trinity functions in worship. They remind us that our words to describe God as Trinity are metaphors, and encourage us to envision appropriate metaphors that stand in line with traditional understandings of the Trinity while being more inclusive and empowering. Since we often find a brief formula helpful, they suggest one that mirrors as closely as possible the traditional Father, Son, and Spirit. This formula moves beyond gender specific language, but doesn't fall into the trap of functionalism. Thus, they suggest Source, Word, and Spirit.
In encouraging our creativity (within appropriate limits), Ruth Duck writes:
We praise God as Trinity, simply because the Source of life comes to us in Jesus Christ and seeks through the Spirit to draw us into communion with God's self, all people, and all creation. Love is the mystery at the heart of creation. The only appropriate way for us to respond in praise and in the offering of our very selves in love. And then, when we need to find words for this wondrous, all-encompassing relationship of pure unbounded love, we must apply heart, soul, and imagination to the task. "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is only one way of putting the mystery into words. Current and future generations face the task of finding additional words to praise the triune God, not only to avoid the pitfalls of exclusively masculine language but also to recover worship of the Trinity as the vital center of life and faith! (p. 45)
If the Trinity gives voice to the Christian vision of God as being relational, which I believe to true (I affirm its centrality without making this confession a test of fellowship), then how should we speak of this God we serve? What kinds of language is appropriate? What are the limits?