Any attempt to retrieve classical Christian teaching about God must not only retrieve the scriptural foundations of such teaching. It must also retrieve the form that scriptural teaching takes, i.e., the glad tidings of the Lord’s reign (Isa 52:7).
Theology is discourse concerning God: God in his being, attributes, persons, and works; God and all things in relation to God, from whom and through whom and to whom are all things (Rom 11:36). The principal subject matter of Christian theology has a proper name, “Yhwh,” which is the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). The fundamental claim of Christian theology regarding its principal subject matter is “Yhwh reigns.” This fundamental claim at once identifies God as king and describes the nature of his relation to all that is not God. Christian theology in its breadth and length and height and depth is one long commentary on the claim that the Lord reigns, a commentary designed to aid the church’s own varied expressions of this claim in prayer, proclamation, and praise.
Christian theology in the 20th century was not always eager to affirm God’s regal status. In many instances, in fact, Christian theology sought to deconstruct the claim that the Lord reigns. The deconstruction of the “royal metaphor” (what its critics called it) was central to the revision of “classical theism” (a label also invented by critics of traditional Christian teaching concerning God). Critics of this teaching offered a number of reasons for rejecting or redefining the royal metaphor. It was, they claimed, rooted in antiquated pre-modern approaches to biblical interpretation. It contradicted modern scientific understanding of the nature of the universe. It provided warrant for numerous forms of tyranny and oppression. This picture of the God-world relation, its critics argued, had held the church captive far too long. A Christian theology come of age and alert to the requisites of human flourishing needed to abandon the royal metaphor in favor of a more wholesome and humane conception of God. As a result of this critical judgment, the story of 20th century theology was, in large measure, the story of more or less revisionist proposals regarding the doctrine of God.
The purpose of the present article is not to address modern criticisms of traditional Christian teaching, at least not directly. I mention these criticisms only to observe that the critics were right about one thing: traditional Christian teaching about God is tied intrinsically to the royal metaphor, the claim that Yhwh, the triune God, reigns. Accordingly, any attempt to retrieve classical Christian teaching about God must not only retrieve the scriptural foundations of such teaching. It must also retrieve the form that scriptural teaching takes, i.e., the glad tidings of the Lord’s reign (Isa 52:7).
The central theme of Book Four of the Psalms (Psalms 90-106) is the kingship of Yhwh. These psalms are therefore an instructive place to begin in considering the scriptural portrayal of divine kingship. Psalm 93, the first instance of the claim, Yhwh mlk, “the Lord is king/the Lord reigns,” in Psalms 90-106, provides a helpful entryway into this portion of Scripture and this article of Christian teaching.
Psalm 93:1 opens with the announcement, “The Lord is king,” “The Lord reigns.” The psalm expounds the significance of this announcement in three phases. First, Psalm 93:1-2 grounds the enduring stability of the world in the divine king’s eternal being and transcendent power. Second, Psalm 93:3-4 considers creational sources of opposition to the Lord’s kingship–the mighty floods–only to conclude that creaturely opponents to God’s reign pose no ultimate threat. Third, Psalm 93:5 acclaims the enduring stability of God’s “testimonies” and God’s “house,” two central privileges enjoyed by the divine king’s covenant people.
(1) Ps 93:1-2. The first section of Psalm 93 begins with praise of the divine king’s transcendent power, drawing on the imagery of an Ancient Near Eastern king’s royal attire: the Lord “is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt” (Ps 93:1). The section concludes with praise of the divine king’s eternal being: “you are from everlasting” (Ps 93:2; cf. Pss 90:2, 4; 102:24-26). According to the middle frame of this section, the divine king’s eternal being and transcendent power are the source of the world’s enduring stability. Because God the eternal, almighty king reigns, “The world is established; it shall never be moved” (Ps 93:1). Moreover, the psalmist expresses further confidence that the world will stand secure in the future because God’s reign stands uncontested since the beginning of creation, when God established his throne in the heavens: “Your throne is established from of old” (Ps 93:2; cf. Pss 103:19; 104:3).