Repost From December, 2004: The Trinity

De Trinitate

Scott Collins-Jones, “You are in more dire need of a blog than any white man in history.” (Movie quote, anyone?)

Since Scott, a funny, smart, opinionated guy who needs a blog doesn’t have one yet, he emailed me to ask how I can not think that someone who doesn’t believe in the Trinity is not unorthodox. Well, not coincidentally, Doug and I spent a long time talking about this the other night, sitting in his van in my driveway after catching the late showing of What the #$*! Do We Know!?. In fact, this is one of the things that Duffy Robbins and I talked about recently since Doug has made some public comments on this issue.

Now, listen, I disagree with Doug on some significant theological points — we’ve recently had heated conversations on the Trinity and baptism, among other things. But if you listen carefully to him, as I encouraged Duffy to do, Doug uses phrases like “The 3rd century Nicene understanding of the Trinity was once sufficient, but it isn’t any longer.” That is, he feels that many people use the “We’ve got to get back to a Trinitarian theology” line to once again hide behind a God who is quite — if not completely — removed from creation.

This is interesting for me because it’s almost exactly the charge leveled against Schleiermacher and Barth by Moltmann. Moltmann, however, felt that each of these two (and their many acolytes) had subjugated the Trinity and promoted a radical monotheism which leads to monarchialism which leads to Hitler (yes, Moltmann tends to overplay his hand a bit). Moltmann’s counter is to recover the Eastern Orthodox social/perichoretic conception of the Trinity. This is a way, he says, to think of a God who is intimately involved with the continuing creation of the world.

Anyway, my point in all this is that the doctrine of the Trinity is still on the table. Some people, it seems to me, would like for us to no longer debate certain “sacred” doctrines — the Trinity, the nature of Christ, the nature of scripture, the nature of marriage etc. And these persons tend to get very jumpy when emergent-types discuss these sacrae doctrinae, especially in books and at conferences that are being taped. “This is dangerous,” they say.

I say it’s dangerous to stop talking about these things, and it leads to a hegemony among those who already control the seminaries, colleges, magazines, radio stations, conferences, publishing houses, and magazines. We will continue to debate such things.

And furthermore, didn’t some famous theologian once say, “None of us is truly orthodox”? Who was that, anyway?

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  • Nicholas

    I agree, it’s dangerous to stop talking, debating and re-evaluating things.

    If Martin Luther didn’t have the bravery and boldness to challenge 1500 years of ‘sacrae doctrinae’, we might all still be buying indulgences and bowing to down to bishops and priests.

  • Hi Tony,
    Thanks for reposting these historic posts. I have only been reading you blog for a couple of years, so it is good get some of the back story!

    The question of keeping the doctrine of the Trinity on the table is fascinating. I think taking the development of christological ‘orthodoxy’ as paradigmatic could be helpful. It seems to me that the creeds represent settlements which negatively define what can be regarded as orthodox, whilst leaving positive definition open. So in terms of the Jesus’ nature(s), to be orthodox means that I shouldn’t believe that Jesus was a mere man, neither should I believe that he only appeared to be human. This leaves wide open the question of exactly what a being with these qualities does look like. So you then get a controversy over whether Jesus has a human will or a divine will or both, and eventually whether Jesus has a divine mind or a human mind or both. A balance between kataphasis and apophasis can keep a question on the table without having to rehash the old discussions which have shaped the table itself. I’m sure that this way, the doctrine of the Trinity can be kept open without us cutting off the branch we are sitting on.

    Looking forward to more historic posts.

    Best wishes, and enjoy your break!

    Barnaby Perkins