Editor’s note: This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage in dialogue by posting comments online at the end of each article at www.thelutheran.org.
The series is edited by Philip D.W. Krey, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries.
Amy Marga: Probably one of the most well-known phrases in the Christian faith is Jesus’ command to the disciples in Matthew 28 to go and baptize “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Does this mean that God’s only appropriate name is “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit”?
How free are Christians to call upon God using the logic and names that appear throughout Scripture, such as Yahweh in Exodus 3? Or Sophia, the wisdom that beckons us in Proverbs 8? What about the depiction in Genesis 3 of God walking in the cool of the Garden of Eden? Or God the pillar of fire that led Israel out of bondage in Egypt? Or God the baby snuggled at his mother’s breast, whom Martin Luther says we need not look past if we want to know God’s true identity?
Do these appearances of God tell us anything about how we should call upon God’s name?
John Hoffmeyer: I like your starting point with Matthew 28. As Christians we should look to the unsurpassable revelation of God in Jesus Christ to orient our naming of God.
The most important reason for Christians praying to God as “Father” is that in doing so, we are following Jesus’ practice. Thanks to the Spirit, our prayer becomes part of Jesus’ own praying to God the Father. By the Spirit we are adopted children of God and siblings of Jesus Christ. The fuller Trinitarian name “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” grows out of Jesus’ prayer to God as Father.
This logic requires us to listen to what the Bible teaches about Jesus’ prayer to the Father. In Mark 10:29-30, Jesus envisions people leaving “brothers or sisters or mother or father or children” for the sake of the gospel. He goes on to say that in the new life centered on the gospel, people will receive “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” a hundred times over.
Conspicuously absent from the latter list are fathers. Jesus doesn’t mean that men who are parents are excluded from gospel life. Instead he is taking aim at the dominant power of the social role of father in his day — and still so often in ours. Not only was the father the dominant power in the family, in other social relations the male authority figure was also dominant. In Jesus’ vision of a gospel-centered life, God is the only Father, and is a Father who pulls the rug out from under the earthly practice of male dominance.
It follows from our being adopted into Jesus’ prayer to God the Father that we should be at the forefront of challenging all forms of male privilege.
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