Calls for theological innovation and the employment of "theological imagination" are now routine among mainline Protestants and others prone to theological revisionism. Dismissive of doctrinal orthodoxy and biblical language as out of date, oppressive, patriarchal, and worse, the proponents of theological reformulation intend to restructure Christianity around an entirely new system of beliefs, playing with language even as they reinvent the faith.
Now, along comes the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its controversial policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity. The more liberal denominations have been debating contentious issues such as sexuality for years. Yet, even as the PCUSA is embroiled in its own controversies over homosexuality, the denomination has decided that a bit of controversy over the Trinity is also in order.
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The late Elizabeth Achtemeier once observed that "No aspect of the feminist movement has affected the church's life more basically than has that movement's attempts to change the language used in speaking to or about God." As she explained, "The feminist claim is that all language about God is analogical and metaphorical, and that therefore it can be changed at will to overcome the church's patriarchalism and foster women's liberation. Principally, therefore, the feminists seek to eliminate all masculine terminology used of God, either by supplementing it with feminine terminology or by using neuter or female images for the deity exclusively."
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Language matters. It always has, and it always will. This explains why God is so clear in naming Himself in Scripture. As Basil the Great bore witness in the early church, "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."
Basil got it just right, and his warning resounds across the centuries. We have no right to tamper with the names by which God has named Himself. "It is enough for us to confess those names which we have received from Holy Scripture," explained Basil, "and to shun all innovations about them." The line here is not merely between traditional and imaginative language--it is the line between the worship of the one true and living God and the worship of idols.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. For more articles and resources by Dr. Mohler, and for information on The Albert Mohler Program, a daily national radio program broadcast on the Salem Radio Network, go to www.albertmohler.com. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to www.sbts.edu. Send feedback to email@example.com.
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