Not Your Old New Trinitarianism, A New New Trinitarianism

“Remythologizing” is a mouthful of a word, and it may scare people a few away from Kevin Vanhoozer’s fascinating book Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship (2010: Cambridge University Press). Vanhoozer explains in great detail what he means by it, and I won’t rehearse that here. But one of the reasons he picked the title was because it rhymes with the famous mid-century buzzword of a certain kind of liberalism, Rudolf Bultmann’s demythologizing. Vanhoozer’s style of theology is certainly setting out on drastically non-Bultmannian lines! Remythologizing is pretty much the opposite of demythologizing.

But as the book progresses it becomes apparent that, never mind the rhyme, the major opponent throughout this book is not Rudolf Bultmann, but Jürgen Moltmann. The cluster of ideas that make up the new orthodoxy, especially the kenotic-relational panentheism that has been drawing the doctrine of God toward itself for the past several decades, can all be found in Moltmann’s theology. I don’t want to overstate his influence, but Moltmann is at least a theological bellwether. It’s remarkable how consistently he has been the spokesman for the new constellation of doctrines. He’s also been the contemporary theologian who has most clearly linked the new theism to a new excitement about trinitarianism.

I picked up the trailhead in Moltmann’s 1980 book The Trinity and the Kingdom. But the trend was identified long before that by Karl Barth. In a prescient letter that he wrote to Moltmann on Nov 17, 1964, Barth expressed some reservations about Moltmann’s Theology of Hope. 1964, by the way, was the year after Robinson’s Honest to God appeared; Moltmann’s early work looked so much more vigorous than Robinson’s old-and-busted liberalism that it must have been hard to see Moltmann’s trajectory as dangerous. But Barth nailed it right away. He asked the younger theologian, “Would it not be wise to accept the doctrine of the immanent Trinity of God?” Already Barth could see Moltmann pressing his view of the divine being down into the flux and progress of created reality. Barth had passed away long before Moltmann got around to writing at greater length about the Trinity, and what Moltmann ended up saying was complex. But suffice it to say that his handling of the immanent Trinity didn’t follow the advice offered by Barth.

But “accepting the doctrine of the immanent Trinity of God” is decisive for the course correction offered by Vanhoozer’s remythologized theology and the communicative theism it advocates. The doctrine of the immanent Trinity of God makes all the difference in Vanhoozer’s doctrine of God.

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