Are the Social Trinity and Panentheism Incommensurable?

Last week, I wrote about a question at my dissertation defense over which I stumbled.  There was one other question that tripped me up.

Stacy Johnson is one of my favorite professors at Princeton, though I never took a class from him.  (He is also the author of possibly the very best book on GLBT issues in the church, A Time to Embrace.)  Stacy is not, however, a fan of Jurgen Moltmann, my theological muse.  And at my defense, he asked me a question that he really has for Moltmann:

How can someone be committed to a social doctrine of the Trinity, in which the godhead is seen as an eternal, interpenetrating relationship of three divine persons, and also a panentheist, in which God is in all things and all things are in God?

It’s a good question, for it would seem that a commitment to the social Trinity requires an understanding of God as sovereign Other, whereas panentheism seems at odds with that commitment.

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Where Is God Revealed?

Two questions during my dissertation defense last week I think I fumbled a bit.  The first one was put to me by Kenda Dean who asked, in essence, “How is God revealed to human beings?”

She asked this because in my dissertation, I am critical of the way that “practices” have been emphasized in practical theology over the past couple decades.  This is primarily, I think, because of the preeminence of Stanley Hauerwas as Theologian Of The Americas, and because of the direction that Craig Dykstra has taken the Lilly Endowment (and its tens of millions of dollars).

I don’t have anything against practices, per se, being core to our understanding of the church.  I do, however, think that Dykstra, Hauerwas, Dorothy Bass and others have overdetermined the power of practices at telling us who we are and, more significantly, who God is.  In fact, I don’t think that ecclesial practices tell us much, if anything, about God.

What practices do, I submit, is show us how human beings organize our experiences of what we understand as the divine.  We pray, we sing, we take communion, we dance, we recite poetry, we listen to sermonators.  These practices all tell us what we think about God.  The whirling dervishes think something very different about the divine than do the frozen chosen.

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On Being a Doctor

So yesterday, in front of a gallery of a couple dozen friends, a committee of five professors from Princeton Theological Seminary questioned me about my dissertation for just over 90 minutes.  Then they dismissed all of us from the room, voted, and awarded me with the degree, Doctor of Philosophy.

Dissertation Moment (by Courtney Perry)

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The Dissertation Is in the Mail!

And here’s what Wordle says it’s about: