Naming the Trinity (Soulen's big idea)

I am currently reading Kendall Soulen's new book The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity. It is, in my view, a very important theological book that will be much discussed for some years to come.

The whole book focuses on a single issue and proposes an answer by means of a single, simple idea.

The issue is this: how should we name God, the Holy Trinity?

Soulen proposes that there is not one but three "most appropriate" patterns for naming the Trinity; and each of those patterns of naming correspond to one of the three persons of the Trinity.

Pattern 1: the theological pattern. This is associated with the first person of the Trinity. It focuses on the divine name of God — YHWH. Soulen does a magnificent job of putting the divine name YHWH back at the centre of Christian theology. He convincingly shows that it is not only the OT revelation of God but also the NT revelation that is dominated by this name.

The first person is the mysterious one whose name this is. He is also the one who bestows this "name above every name" upon the second person. The third person brings about the recognition of and glorification of this name.

Pattern 2: the christological pattern. This is the pattern of naming that most people are most familiar with. This pattern is primarily associated with the second person of the Trinity and the focus is on divine presence. The key pattern of naming is that of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Pattern 3: The pneumatological pattern: This pattern is most associated with the third person of the Trinity and is associated with the theme of divine blessing. Here a vast multiplicity of names flow, even those not found in Scripture. For instance, Augustine's famous "Lover, Beloved, Spirit of Love" pattern for naming the Trinity is, according to Soulen, legitimate following the third pattern of naming.

Soulen maintains that all three patterns of naming the persons are equally important and "most appropriate" — Christians need to keep all three in balance in their theology and spirituality.

There is a lot to say about this book — and I need to ponder it for a while before I draw firm conclusions — but I simply wanted to flag up its key point. I think that Soulen is one of the more interesting theologians working today and this book reinforces my regard for him.

I have to say that part 1 of the book, which offers a historical journey through naming the Trinity in Christian theology, is absolutely fascinating. His analysis is very thought provoking.

Vol. 2 will consider how this new paradigm allows some contemporary trinitarian debates to be navigated (e.g., debates on the use of masculine language for God) and also the issue of its relevance to discussions about the immanent Trinity (vol. 1 is focused on the economic Trinity). I can't wait for it!


Alex Smith said…
Sounds very interesting. Am I right that this is a different book to the "best introductory to the Trinity" that you mentioned on Facebook a few weeks ago?
Robin Parry said…

The best intro I mention was Michael Reeves' forthcoming book (with different titles in the UK and USA). Mike's book is wonderful.

He works for UCCF (The British Christian Union movement) — he's their theologian and he's good.

Unknown said…
What is your email address Robin?
Robin Parry said…

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