Inclusive or Expansive Language in Worship?

How do you name God? If you pray, how do you address G - d? 

Does it matter what language is used for God in public worship?

Anyone who has struggled with   these questions has encountered the obvious pitfalls to be stumbled into by using:
  • gendered language or non-gendered language
  • names of power and authority or gentleness and humility
  • Biblical metaphors or contemporary metaphors
I could go on, but I won't, because the purpose of this post is to recommend an excellent short essay Naming God posted by Maggi Dawn. She writes about the importance of how language is used in theology and worship and how pastoral, theological and aesthetic concerns need to be interwoven in constructing liturgy. She highlights some of the problems posed by using 'inclusive language':
  • replacing male pronouns and patriarchal language with female simply replaces one gendered power structure with another
  • removing gendered language has theological limitations
  • rewriting beautiful historic texts is tortuous and impoverishing
Maggi Dawn asks if the use of 'expansive' language is a better solution?
"Expansive language aims to use as many names and metaphors for God as possible; to stretch the imagination towards God, in order to allow our minds and our mouths to discover that alongside the comfort of loved and familiar imagery, there is also novelty, shock, challenge and joyful surprise in our encounter with the Divine." 
I find this a hugely helpful idea. Do read the whole essay. It is beautifully written. I'll end with her concluding words:
"Let’s take all these names and more besides, let’s roll them around in our mouths, and taste and see whether they are, in fact, good; and let us feel our way towards articulating our worship in a way that is both inclusive and respectful of one another as it is honoring and worshipful of the God whose name, as St Paul says, is above all names."

Image Credit: god: CC Licence, from dreamsjung on Flickr


  1. Thank you so much for pointing us towards Maggi's essay, Nancy. I have read it and also bookmarked it to come back to. As you say, a potential minefield and any help with negotiating it is very welcome.

    1. Thanks for commenting Perpetua - I'm pleased you found the link to Maggi's essay helpful. I particularly like the idea of 'expansive' language which I don't think is a new idea but what Maggi says about it has expanded my thinking about these issues.


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