Furthermore, it is a mistake to focus only on the phrase “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” without noting the two words that introduce it in the Great Commission: ” … the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Whenever God reveals his name, he reveals his character. We see in God’s name his communal nature and desire for a personal relationship to his people. “I Am who I Am,” he told Moses. “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob … This is my name forever.”
Almost all the recent alternatives to the Trinitarian formula undercut the personal significance of God’s name by replacing it with words of function. As many have noted, “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” encourages modalism, the heretical teaching that God’s threeness is more about his modes of operation, or our perception of him, rather than something intrinsic to the divine essence. Biblical Christianity teaches that all three persons of the Trinity are involved in creation, redemption, and sanctification. A document “commended for study” by the Presbyterian Church (USA) explicitly rejected a modalist understanding of “Creator, Savior, Sanctifier,” but still encouraged its use, along with “Mother, Child, and Womb,” “Sun, Light, and Burning Ray,” and other troubling triads.
As theologian Robert Jenson has noted, “Such attempts presuppose that we first know about a triune God and then look about for a form of words to address that God, when in fact it is the other way around. … [T]he phrase Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is historically specific and can be what liturgy and devotion—and, at its base, all theology—must have, a proper name of God.”
God is serious about his name—which is why he took the trouble to reveal it to us in Christ. To create an alternative according to our cultural sensibilities is at best parody and at worst idolatry, even if it is constructed from the good metaphors God has given us. Most idols, after all, are created from God’s good gifts.
Creator, Sanctifier and Redeemer
May 8, 2008 by Amy Welborn