This series of blog interactions engages the great theologian Ben Meyers, who recently posted on avoiding heresy with the Trinity. See http://www.faith-theology.com/2017/06/tweeting-trinity-because-heresy-is-meh.html. I will agree, disagree, and request clarification on other points. I think these issues need further illumination because Ben’s concerns miss some key implications of trinitarian theology. So, we begin at the beginning with a conversation on Ben’s first three tweets, on HOW TO AVOID TRINITARIAN HERESY.
#1. Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain the Trinity.
If we only talk about the Trinity on Trinity Sunday, and do it poorly, then we need to think about abolishing it. It would be better to say that we need every Sunday to be a Trinity Sunday—in participation, not explanation. Trinity Sunday is part of the liturgical year that celebrates the logical launch of the church after Pentecost. The church ignited now proceeds in the life of the Triune God who is with us. Rather than ignoring Trinity Sunday, we need to see the Spirit set the church on fire again.
Maybe we need to educate both preachers and everyone else as to what an appropriate Trinity Sunday could look like. We could engage how we relate to the Trinity in worship and not try to explain the mystery to make it fit our heads. I am slow to give up what could be a launch pad for what may revitalize the church to participate in the life of the God. Rather than abolish, I think we need to rediscover what it is intended to be created in the Body of Christ and discover our true identity as the people of the Triune God. Many Christians are not even aware of Trinity Sunday, so it is already vaporizing away. I do not think it helped those amnesic congregations to be more Christian. If Jesus came to show us the Father in the power and presence of the Spirit, then we might see this day as a reminder and a renewal to awaken us annually to the inviting life of God that knocks at our door. Let’s make Trinity Sunday meaningful again (or for the first time)!
#2. Teach children to make the sign of the cross when they say the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
I am always for teaching children. Many churches have not learned to say “Father, Son, and Spirit” because someone would have to explain it. Ignorance is a greater problem than heresy in many cases. I like the embodied sense of making the sign of the cross to build memory in bodily experience. I hope the children do not think of God as being like one human body with three parts being focused on. The unity of God is in the particularity of the three persons who live in unified love and being. In loving unity, they embrace and include us in a life in Christ, by the Spirit, reconciled to the Father.
We probably need a lot more creativity in introducing people to the Triune God. We need more reflection on the God who reveals a relation as the Father who reaches out, the Son as the human who touches and redeems this world, and the present Spirit who is giving us life and breath, as well as weaving our lives together. The One God is with us in these three ways of being that need not be reduced to definitions and descriptions; they are the dynamics of God as portrayed in the Bible.
We could talk more about the God who speaks and less about the philosophical categories we want to put God into. Children need to know a God who relates. Yes, the sign of the cross can become rote tradition that is meaningless. We need to put our best minds to work with children to stop heretical children’s sermons about eggs and water, and then to attune them to the God revealed in Jesus in ways that wake them up to the reality Jesus gave in simple stories. In the process of teaching children, we may learn for the first time what our hearts were missing. We need a whole person experience in communities of shared love.
#3. When someone offers to tell you the practical implications of the doctrine, just smile and move along
Ah yes, the practical. Some theologians are concerned that a primary focus in trinitarian thinking is to lead the uneducated into using the Trinity to merely meet human needs and desires. We might shape the Trinity into the answer for our vision of happiness and fulfillment. We would miss the mystery and holiness of God who is wholly other than us. If making God to fit us is the only option for thinking practically about the Trinity, then, yes, we can abandon the quest.
However, if by “practice” we mean that understanding the Trinity allows us to discover the Father and cry out “Abba,” knowing that we are a child sharing the Abba cry of Jesus by the Spirit, then that is a practical outcome that responds to the intent of the Bible. Theory and practice are held together in unity as a life of worship that acts like we really are impacted and respond to the living God. Active response is a practical outcome. We are not loved for responding, but our response is the fruit of the reality of our relation.
We ought not to want any impractical doctrine of the Trinity. If we better understand the Trinity, then we are better positioned to share in the life, mission, and ministry of the Triune God to us and through us. We are instructed to love as they love, to be one as they are one, and to be sent as Jesus was sent (see the Gospel of John). This orientation in theological thinking that affirms our coming to know how the Triune God acts is a proper formatting for how we are to practically live in this world. We are not separated, merely following an example; no we are participating practically in the acts of God. As Jesus only did what He saw what His Father was doing, so we, too, turn our eyes to Jesus to see what He is doing and to follow His work, empowered by the Spirit to practically work out our loving and joyful obedience in our homes and neighborhoods.
Idealized Christianity is what we need to avoid. To merely be able to think great thoughts and articulate concise doctrine is not enough. If those ideas do not take practical form in the life of community as the outworking of the work of the Triune God, we are most to be pitied. “Love one another as I have loved you” is a call to practical application of the Incarnation of God in Christ. His love is not solitary; it is shared from His Father. It is poured on the first community and beyond as the Spirit facilitates the ongoing life of gathering, worship, witness, and service.
If we do not discuss the practical implications of the Trinity, we will default to naturalistic thinking for how we define success; we will think of God in pure terms, but we will act out of what works practically as defined by the culture in which we live. With self-interest, the priority of the thinking self, and the urge to have power over our circumstances, we will be cast back on Western ideals of the primacy of the individual. Our practices reflect the soil in which we are nourished.
All people live a practical life. If our practices are shaped by discovering the Triune God, we enter a life of faith that is not a blind leap in the dark. We will begin to act in response to the God who acts in ways that are not disconnected or merely good ideas. We will be practicing life as an act of worship that will practically change everything as our values are formed in the renewal of our minds in Christ.
If we smile and move along when people are interested in discovering the Trinity, we will be abandoning those who are loved by that Trinity. Whether we teach, admonish, reprove or encourage, we could always be those who see that deep down people want to meet and know the living God—this is what is behind their quest. We need to do better theology, theology that is connected to life, and deeply connected to the living, Triune God.
More to come…