III. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY, ANCIENT AND MODERN
#13. The biggest change in modern trinitarian theology was one of scale: the most minimalist & modest of all doctrines became a Theory of Everything
The Trinity was a doctrine that developed slowly as a whole, but the Father-Son relation, the nature of the oneness and threeness of God, and the relation of the three to creation is significant early on. To say that it has become a Theory of Everything, following Barth and TF Torrance, is to say that if you are talking of the Christian God, all discussion must begin with a discussion of how the Trinity informs the ground and grammar of the discussion. If you are going to do a “theology” of anything, then it needs to be understood in the context of the living, dynamic life of God. This is not a God locked in a truth-statement, but is to say that we are to think and act as those who live in the context of the life of this God.
Whenever the Trinity is not everything in our theological discussion, we are starting in another place that will be foisted onto God—this is called idolatry. If the Triune God is set aside for a moment, we begin with human logic based in our own experience. This God is more than a Theory of Everything; this is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Universe. Our thinking must begin with this God, even to do natural science, as T.F. Torrance argued. If we are to do theological science, the Trinity is the framework in which this project begins, proceeds, and ends. We need to get past theories being an end, and move to an active life within the life of the Trinity as participants of God’s grace and missional love.
#14. Ancients: it’s the key to scripture (which in turn shapes practice). Moderns: it’s the key to practice (even though it’s not scriptural)
In the ancient world, the life of Christ in the context of many religious cultures meant that a deep clarifying needed to occur. Answering the questions of who Jesus is and how He revealed the Triune God were critical in reading the received texts, establishing creeds to unify and clarify, and to call people to the true God in the face of the competition. Church leaders—not professional academics—shaped the doctrine.
In the Trinitarian revival, there was a recognition that the Trinity had become an appendix to theology, the role of the human in faith was a self-focused process, and the church had become too much of a business. In rediscovering the Trinity, God was again made the primary concern for the witnessing life of the Church and in discovering what it means to live as the beloved of this Divine Family. Practice is important, but the best of modern Trinitarian theologians know to begin with God, but not stop there. We still have a long way to go for the theology of the church to actually be taught and believed by people who merely want God to make their lives better. We have become focused on being therapeutic, instead of coming to know the Great Healer. We have focused on defining and enforcing moral parameters for Christians (and the world) and not allowed the love of God to transform the grateful and responsive life of faithful love lived in relation to God. We still have a Deist God who is above and beyond most churches instead of the Triune God who is present in the service to speak an word by the Spirit, bringing the Living Word to lead and bring us to share the life of the Abba. We have a long way to go before practices flow from restored relationships to the Trinity and not some models that are vaguely based on relational ideas. But in the end, when we encounter the Mystery of the Trinity, the practice of life and church will change because it is not about our success any more.
#15. Ancients: the choice of words is easy & their meaning is restricted. Moderns: the meaning of words is vast & the choice is impossible
Words always need to be explained in context. Words are the lifeblood of communication and we need to clarify for the other how our words connect to reality. The best words are those that convey a sense of the other that connects us and attunes us to life together. The ancients’ use of words was not easy—homoousia vs. homoiousia is significant: Is the Son like the Father or one with the Father? It matters and had to be debated. Even so, the nature of the oneness is not simple or restricted to discussion on what perichoresis might provide as a word to say so that the distinctiveness could be seen in a mutual indwelling in the space of the other—and that still has a ton of mystery to be left undefined.
We have not left the ancient words. We still need to create new words if we can discover better ways to articulate what the Bible is saying and to speak it to this generation. I have introduced the word koinonarchy as a word that includes the koinonia—shared life of God, and archy—the concept of rule. This means that the ideal of the love of the three Persons of the Trinity may not be hierarchical or even egalitarian. Maybe their life of love also shapes the uniqueness of the acts of each but lived from an inseparable unity. We can do the hard work of limiting the use of our words and hold them lightly until we find a better set of terms. This is the method of good science—the words are open to discovery as we are transformed by what we encounter. Thus, we need to have better conversations of discovery and learn to choose to name the impossible and let reality keep opening up. Language will only ever be a tool to help us grow in our relation to what and who is other than us. We need to do this discovering in community and with joy and freedom as we are met by the God who wants to be known and makes that possible by the Spirit through the Son who shows us His Father’s heart.