Foreword to Harrower’s Trinitarian Self and Salvation

Scott Harrower of the Melbourne School of Theology has just published a book called Trinitarian Self and Salvation: An Evangelical Engagement with Rahner’s Rule (Wipf & Stock, 2012).

About a decade ago, I wrote my own “evangelical engagement with Rahner’s Rule,” so Scott asked me to write the foreword for his project. I really appreciated the drift of Scott’s argument in the book, and I found that the more I wrote about it the more I had to say. So it’s a stimulating book that got a longish foreword.

You can read some excerpts from the book at its Amazon page. It has endorsements by Tom McCall and Graham Cole. The best endorsement I can give for the book is what I said in the foreword, so here it is:

Modern Trinitarian theology has rejoiced in its discovery of the way God has made himself known in the economy of salvation. Operating under the broad guidance of Rahner’s Rule (“The economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, and vice versa”), Christian theologians have traced the presence of Father, Son, and Spirit in the events of salvation history, and argued with new vigor and confidence that the relationships we see among the Trinitarian persons here below are revelations of eternal triune structures immanent to the very being of God. Much of the energy and excitement of modern trinitarianism, a thriving and prolific ecumenical undertaking, have come from this project of reading the character of the eternal Trinity directly from the events of the economy.

The recent rush to the economy has much to commend it. If the doctrine of the Trinity had become austere and remote from the gospel over the centuries, the modern reorientation served to correct that tendency by locating the contents of Trinitarian theology in the midst of the events of Biblical history. The prevailing winds of what one writer has called “neo-economic trinitarianism” also dispersed a farrago of speculative metaphysical accounts of the inner life of God, distracting constructs which cumbered the theological prospect. Trinitarianism has lately been developed in greater proximity to the gospel, largely thanks to a widespread, generalized “loose reading” of Rahner’s Rule.

Such a re-centering of trinitarianism onto the economy, with its renewed attention to salvation history and its eschewing of speculation, should have resulted in a wealth of new biblical insight. If a doctrinal hypothesis is true, after all, it ought to prove itself fruitful for Bible reading. It ought to throw a more helpful light on the Bible, highlighting neglected themes and giving new prominence to terms that had heretofore been obscure. But theologians operating under the banner of Rahner’s Rule did not, generally speaking, use the new emphasis to seek treasures new and old in the text of Scripture. And professional exegetes have not rushed gratefully to the side of systematicians with news of discoveries made possible by the conceptual tools of the new trinitarianism. Modern trinitarianism has often enough congratulated itself on being more biblical than previous generations (“I thank God that I am not like the men of the middle ages!”), but with few exceptions the slogan “more biblical” has signified a hermeneutical wave of the hand at the general sweep of biblical history, the broad outlines of the entire scope of the canonical narrative. Valuable as this perception of the big picture may be, what has been lacking is detailed reading, the kind of close exegesis that engages hard facts, peculiar details, thick descriptions, and unexpected phraseology; the kind of thing that could either confirm or problematize the whole paradigm established by Rahner’s Rule.

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