III. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY, ANCIENT AND MODERN
#16. Ancients: the word “Father” must be stripped of all connotations except mere relation. Moderns: those ancients thought God was male!
The debate over the name “Father” is a long standing issue. To say that Father is “Mere” relations is a bit slim, it can also be seen as a proper name for one specific, particular, unrepeatable person. Jesus came to show us the Father, and that needed some work! It appears that the disciples did not really get who Jesus’ Father was and most theology books tend to be silent on who the Father is as a distinct person who Jesus came to reveal. But that Father sent Jesus to bring us to a reconciled relationship with as the goal of the Incarnation. This is a person with a mission revealed in Jesus’ mission.
The ancients were concerned about what we mean when we speak about the God in the Bible. The Councils were intent that Jesus be seen as God in the Flesh—who is able to show us the Father. After that, theological discussions went a bit stripped down as the debates over the essences and energies took over discussions and the person of the Father took a back seat. That is our loss! Discussions of natures and attributes are not nearly as revealing as the stories of Jesus revealing His Father.
Many people today do mistake God for a male deity. But this is not the general opinion of the Academy—the problem is that the conversation between Church and Academy is strained and disconnected. The church is absorbed in “practical questions” and the academy in “theoretical questions” and they are not serving each other. This is problematic for both and leaves unclarified the question of what and who the Father is as the one who loves us and calls us sons and daughters.
The absence of a robust discussion on who the Father of Jesus is and what we are to know of this Father in order to share in eternal life is a huge topic. The very thing Jesus came to do seems to be the last thing we consider when discipling today. Rather than know this person called Jesus’ Father, we argue about gender and shared essences. I do not think that is what Jesus intended. Until we can know the Father and Son in the Spirit we will not be sharing in eternal life.
#17. Ancients: the doctrine is a tonic against idolatry (since it names an undepictable mystery). Moderns: the doctrine depicts God as an advocate of my social cause
The ancients had a clearer sense of false religions and idolatrous practices. They also had a sense of “mystery” as not reducing the Creator God to human words. Rather, they allowed for a personal vastness in God that could not be reduced to mere words. But there was also a sense that this God was to be known intimately in prayer and the worshipping life of the community. There is a positive side to the clarification of the Doctrine of God. God is not changed by our confession, but we are changed when we are clear about who we are coming to in order to enter the life of Grace initiated by this God. If we think God is angry and has legal demands we will have an idol of a power-hungry god. If we humbly listen to Jesus reveal the love of God, we will always be growing with God.
Speaking of the “Trinity” was the terminology used in the early church to best depict what was revealed by Jesus in the Bible. There is a unity and a particularity that found clarity in this term. When you get the vision right, it tends to eliminate false ideas.
The social causes of modern persons can be dominant in how we think of God. There are Social Trinitarians and anti-Social Trinitarians. Those with social concerns may simply ask, “What will God do for me if I pray?” or they may see God as our social program for the future of the church. Those Social Trinitarians who are oppressed and marginalized will seek God for relief as did the children of Israel in their captivity. Black Gospel music echoes a God who might meet the needs of the underdog. The God of the Bible does address social concerns and, at the same time, we do live in a self-seeking age. We need wisdom to let God reveal God and not make God in our image or to meet our desires. I do think that the proper thinking about the Triune God can open up knowing God for what God has to offer: Godself in loving embrace.
While there may be those who want to use God, many are seeking the reality of God in a world diminishing in its grasp on reality. Many people are fed up with the façades that look like God. They seek for honesty and authenticity with God and other humans. This pursuit is the best hope for the modern world. We need to acknowledge that many people, especially in the church, seek the idolatry of serving and worshipping self. But the Gospel is still the Good News of the Triune God who seeks a reconciled relationship with us: we need all of God to meet all of what we truly need—a restored relationship.
#18. Ancients: it’s the worst theory about God apart from all the other ones that have been tried. Moderns: it’s the greatest theory ever!
The Trinity is more than a theory (a set of ideas), it is the actuality of God in human history that gives us real access to who God is and what it means to live in response. When the Trinity is a set of ideas it is abstract. When the Trinity is seen as aligning us with the living God, it is a waking up to reality to live with the persons who have come to meet us and be our family. The early Christians lived and died for this living with God. The truthfulness of the teachings about God led to a willingness to be martyred, teach, travel, and have councils to stay committed to the actual God.
Tragic visions of God, like the Unmoved Mover, who merely got the world going and then left or the God out there who leaves us alone, are vastly inadequate. They entirely miss pointing us to what Jesus set as His mission agenda—to bring God to us that we might be brought to this Triune God.
There are a few moderns who love talking about the doctrine of the Trinity, but that is a relatively small group. For the majority, the Trinity is a mystery or sheer foolishness. Some have found inspiration for the life of love and God’s plan for patterns of relationships like hierarchy. I think we need to press into this conversation and become astute as well as practical about what the Bible says about knowing and being known by this Triune God who is our Father, with the Son who is with us and for us, and the Spirit who opens our hearts, minds, and lifestyles to participate in God’s own life.
I would say that the best of today’s theologians affirm that the doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine through which all others may be known. This means that the Trinity has implications for everything in thought and deed. This makes the study of the Trinity the Queen of the Sciences. It is also the doctrine most likely to be used in a sleight of hand manner to fool people, to create theories that meet human needs. Thus we need to know the real Trinity to avoid all false and deceptive presentations so that we have connection with the God revealed in the Bible.