The Divine Dance (RJS)

The Divine Dance (RJS) April 16, 2013

Orthodox Christianity as affirmed in the historic creeds is at its heart Trinitarian -there is one God existing in three persons. But what does this mean — and why is it important? Certainly the Trinity is a tough concept to grasp – it overloads our mental circuits to use Keller’s phrase. We say the right words – but don’t really know what we mean or what we are supposed to mean. The difficulty of the concept has led some to conclude that three persons means three Gods, others that there are three different modes or aspects of one God as perceived from human perspective, still others that there is only one person in God. Does any of this really matter?

The final chapter of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God describes his view of the intrinsic beauty and importance of the Trinity – The Dance of God.

Question: Why has traditional evangelical been so non-Trinitarian in focus but has always been so quick to defend the orthodoxy of believing in the Trinity? How significant is Trinity to Christian living?

According to Keller the importance of the Trinity is community. God is love but without another there is no love. The Trinity means that God is, in essence, relational. (p. 214) Keller discusses the Trinity and importance of this relationship to a perfect God of love at the end of this short clip:

And Keller expands upon this theme in the book. The Trinity is described as perichoresis – to dance or flow around, mutual movement, mutual indwelling. Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love. (p. 215)

Creation is a dance with the inner life of the Trinity written all through it.

We lost the dance in the refusal to serve God and participate in his community – Adam onward.

We return to the dance through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I agree with Keller in large part – but I think he does not give enough credit to the story of Israel leading up to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Keller jumps from Genesis 3 to the gospels – and more than that, he really jumps to the crucifixion and resurrection in the gospels. I agree significantly with what he includes – I disagree with him in the fact that he leaves too much out.

It doesn’t do us much good to place Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, the other prophets for example, on the other side of the dance entirely. God was at work in his mission with his people from the beginning. And this includes the time netween Genesis 3 and Luke 1. This doesn’t minimize the need for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – but it helps us avoid an over simplified understanding of the story of God’s work and mission. More recent books – like Scot’s The King Jesus Gospel and N.T. Wright’s How God Became King help to flesh out the story and help us appreciate the mission of God from Genesis 4 on more clearly (well at least the gospels more clearly – we may still need a book that really brings the OT in more completely).

But all of this isn’t does not negate the powerful points that Keller makes in what he does include in this discussion of the divine dance. His vision of the divine dance of the Trinity is powerful.

The future of the dance is recreation: How, then, will the story of human history end? … We do not see the illusion of the world melt away, nor do we see spiritual souls escaping the physical world into heaven. Rather we see heaven descending into our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection. (p. 222)

As God is in perpetual relationship so we are intrinsically relational. The Christian gospel is not so much individuals becoming right with God as it is establishment of God’s community. We work for justice, we live for service, we honor the dignity of our fellow human beings created in the image of God, we strengthen our human communities, we become stewards of the material world, and we create through science and gardening and art.

OK – Keller casts a fantastic vision of divine dance, but is he right? Is the Trinity an essential element of Christian doctrine? And if so, is its importance in fact the essence of relationship? This is after all, somewhat different from the common understanding of God as the head, the Son in subordination, and the Spirit as helper or comforter.

Is Keller’s vision Biblical?

What would you add or subtract from this vision?

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  • RJS,

    I suppose I’d say that Keller’s vision is somewhat biblical, but not biblical enough …

    I would subtract “God the Son”, so that we can return “Son of Man” and “Son of God” to their rightful place as the true essence of Christianity itself.

    PS. Somehow trinitarians tend to make up grandiose ideas about how “trinity” is so wonderful, yet those ideas are seldom supported by scripture, whilst ironically such a strict “trinitarian” theology is not even necessary for those ideas to be true.

  • Tom

    The Trinity is important in that it shows us what perfect love looks like. It is seem in the love of family and the Church.
    The doctrine is being severely challenged in the church today. Thank you for this post.

  • Albion

    I know Scot likes perichoresis but as Hydroxonium says, where’s the biblical support? Keller’s philosophical training may lead him to posit a perichoretic trinity but it’s hard to find in scripture.

  • scotmcknight

    John 10 teaches so much about the mutual indwelling theme of Father and Son, Albion. “I and the Father are one.” What does “are one” mean? The theologians of the church worked this out in ways that stayed within the parameters of the Bible and, at the same time, deepened our perceptions in ways that are consistent with God’s nature revealed in Scripture. The Cappadocians are most responsible, and it is clear (I’m recalling John Behr’s discussion) that the Spirit comes into this by way of logical inference. What’s true of Father and Son must be true of Spirit.

    We test things by Scripture; we frame things by Scripture; we derive the substance of our theology from Scripture. But we are not to ignore what the Church has affirmed in the great tradition.

  • Jon G

    I agree with Hydroxonium and Albion.

    Trinity IS a powerful idea, but it isn’t a necessary one, and it certainly shouldn’t be an “essential” doctrine. There are other ways of explaining biblical passages without a doctrine totally foreign to the OT and 1st century Christians.

    Trinity is a way, perhaps the best way (although I don’t think so), that the Church has come up with to describe a data set that is extremely complicated…that is to be admired, but not written in stone. Just because it is widely accepted doesn’t mean it must be essential…it still leaves (or rather -makes) a lot of holes to be filled.

    I loved Keller’s book when I read it because it took specific data to its logical conclusion, but Trinity is speculation not necessitated by the data. For instance, if I remember correctly, Keller has argued that God MUST be Trinity because if He didn’t love from all of time, then He couldn’t be loving in essence (the argument above about not being loving without an object to love). But this statement makes no sense if you believe, as I do, that God created time.

    Also, does that mean that He was never a Father until He bore a son? No, the OT Israelites called Him Father, not because He had a child but because all of Creation originated in Him. It wasn’t a patristic title so much as a giving-credit-where-credit-was-due sort of title.

    And “Son of God”, “Son of Man”…these are ANE ways of saying “representative”…which was hugely important in a collectivistic society…not descriptions of an actual familial bond.

    I’m sorry, it may be well accepted, but that doesn’t mean it is well established. And if not, it shouldn’t be essential. I’d much rather see work being done to further the notion of Jesus being the physical temple that the spiritual Father indwells to marry His physical creation to His spiritual creation.

  • scotmcknight

    Jon G, How can we talk about these three facts in your view?

    1. The Father is God.
    2. The Son is God.
    3. The Spirit is God.

    Three “facts” from the NT that require some kind of encompassing mental construct in order for them to make sense. Furthermore, there is both NT and extra biblical evidence that some Jews thought the Christian affirmation of Jesus as God broke down monotheism.

    Larry Hurtado has demonstrated that the affirmation of Jesus as God/worshiped as God happened very quickly in the early church and its experience.

    Father and Son are stated by Jesus himself to be mutual indwelling; it makes sense to say the Spirit’s relation is analogous. Hence, we have Trinitarian facts: each is divine, each indwells the others. Those are the establishing reasons for perichoretic theology.

  • Jon G

    Scot @ 4 “We test things by Scripture; we frame things by Scripture; we derive the substance of our theology from Scripture. But we are not to ignore what the Church has affirmed in the great tradition.”

    First, I agree – we shouldn’t ignore the Church’s affirmations…but does that mean we must accept them?

    I don’t mean to be snarky, I really don’t, but I find this a problematic statement because it assumes both a consensus and a flawlessness about the Church and that just ain’t the case.

    And how many other Church affirmations are we now ignoring? Aren’t we still picking and choosing?

    This comes down to authority and I think you put your authorial structure once as (and please correct me if I’m wrong) something like theological, christological, ecclesial, scriptural…

    But this misses the implied self who is discerning or interpreting all these authorities first. I think it would be more accurate to admit that everything starts with ourselves as the authoritative filter and, of course, that authority has many, many flaws…but it is still where we begin. So appealing to the self may not be great, but at least it is honest.

  • scotmcknight

    Jon G, yes, I like that order still: and ecclesial precedes self until our conscience cannot abide it. At that time, though, we don’t just assert ourselves, we submit our ideas to the wider church and to those who know these things — for wisdom — and we are obliged to listen in the Spirit.

  • Jon G

    “Jon G, How can we talk about these three facts in your view?

    1. The Father is God.
    2. The Son is God.
    3. The Spirit is God.”

    1.The Father created everything…spiritual AND physical.
    2. The Son is The Father incarnate…hence God
    3. The Spirit is The Father’s spirit…hence God

    But it is ALWAYS the Father.

    I’m not saying there aren’t passages to be worked out…just that there are other ways of understanding the relationship without jettisoning everything the OT Israelites understood.

  • Jon G

    “At that time, though, we don’t just assert ourselves, we submit our ideas to the wider church and to those who know these things — for wisdom — and we are obliged to listen in the Spirit.”

    How do you decide who to submit to? How do you evaluate “who know these things”? How do you interpret or discern what the Spirit is telling you?

    You rely on yourself.

  • scotmcknight

    Jon G, creation is the work of the Son in Colossians 1, so it is not just the Father. Your statement of the priority of the Father sounds like Eastern theology’s way of framing the Trinity and the absence of the filioque clause.

  • scotmcknight

    “jettisoning”? Seriously? Are you saying Trinitarians like NT Wright and Hurtado have jettisoned everything OT stands for?

    Jon G, but the discernment is dialectical and reciprocal, not just univocal.

    Adding to this comment, Jon G: Daniel Boyarin, a well-known Jewish historian, contends the Christian beliefs about Jesus as divine were not at all unJewish.

  • Phil Miller

    OK – Keller casts a fantastic vision of divine dance, but is he right? Is the Trinity an essential element of Christian doctrine? And if so, is its importance in fact the essence of relationship? This is after all, somewhat different from the common understanding of God as the head, the Son in subordination, and the Spirit as helper or comforter.

    I think the Trinity is an essential element. I wouldn’t say that someone couldn’t be a Christian if they didn’t believe in the Trinity, per se, but I think that from the perspective definitions, it’s hard to conceive how one could really believe Jesus was God and not come to a Trinitarian perspective of some sort.

    I would also say, though, that I do not think that the eternal subordination of the Son is biblical.

  • Jon G

    Scot, I’m not foolish enough to get into a verse by verse debate with you. I realize that I’m way out of my league and I respect you immensely.

    I’m also admitting that the theory I’m advocating needs flushing out. But I’m going to ask you if there’s ANY other way that Colossians text can be taken. After all, in every letter of Paul’s he opens with a greeting distinguishing God as the Father from Jesus.

    Do you see Trinity as the way we understand the relationship or the way it must be?

  • Jon G

    Scot – jettisoning “everything” was an overstatement. My apologies. I just meant that a triune god was nowhere in the cards.

    I agree about dialectical vs univocal and that’s why I don’t suggest “ignoring” tradition. Still, let’s be honest and say that WE evaluate the evidence and follow it where WE see it going.

    Finally, people keep understanding me as denying Jesus’ divinity (RJS did this on a prior post). I don’t deny his divinity, I affirm it. Jesus WAS the Father in a human temple! What was so amazing to the disciples and those He touched was that God was now among them…not kept behind a religious system. If the people couldn’t come to the Temple, then, By God, the Temple would come to them! ☺

  • scotmcknight

    Jon G, on Colossians — absolutely no other way. Notice these words:

    For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

    This text says the Son — Jesus — created all things and all things are sustained by the life that is in him. That is an amazing claim to creation by the Son.

    Trinity is the way the church has put together the various statements in the NT into a coherent and consistent framework. That it can be approved is the nature of theology; that it is wrong-headed is, in my view, virtually impossible.

  • Paul

    Jon G,

    We may not have to agree with history on every topic, but belief in the Trinity is more than simply picking and choosing which beliefs of the early church we want to follow or believe. The Trinity (and the creed that supports it) was a culmination of hundreds of years of discussion/thought/heresy. This may not mean we have to believe it exactly (without critical thought), but I would say history of Christian thought is on the side of the Trinity in a way that makes it more than a belief held by some that we can simply move aside.

  • Phil Miller

    Jesus WAS the Father in a human temple! What was so amazing to the disciples and those He touched was that God was now among them…not kept behind a religious system. If the people couldn’t come to the Temple, then, By God, the Temple would come to them! ☺

    I don’t really have a desire to debate the issue, because, well, my mind is made up. But I have a hard time seeing how you would square this statement with Jesus’ own statement about the Father. If Jesus was the Father, it would seem something of a non-sequitor for Him to pray to the Father and to teach the disciples to pray to the Father.

    I guess that’s why I think the Trinity doesn’t go away. It’s because none of the other explanations that people have come up with do a better job of actually explaining things.

  • Charles Twombly

    The idea of God as a perichoretic dance in when the hypostases/persons intermingle in endless exchange is not incompatible with a more three-tiered “Father on top” understanding. Ancient Christian teachers drew a distinction between God apart from the world (the so-called ontological or essential Trinity) and God “entering” the world as creator, sustainer, incarnate (the “economic” Trinity).

    In eternity, no hierarchy apart from a “hierarchy” of origins (the Father begets, the Son is [eternally] begotten, the Spirit “proceeds”). The Creed reflects this: it begins, “I/We believe in one God, the Father…..” (not the Trinity) in a seemingly subordinationist way; but when it gets to the “second article” with its own subordinationist language (“God from God, light from light,” etc), it brings Father and Son into the closest possible identity with “homoousios” (of one being with the Fathe). Same with the Spirit in the “third article”: “he” is worshipped and glorified with the Father and the Son; he too is “equal” in that three-some.

    In the oeconomia, the Son can say, “The Father is greater than I” and “I keep my eye on the Father and do only what I see him doing,” etc. Same with the Spirit: true, he empowers the Son but he is also “sent” by the Son and can be called “the Spirit of the Son.”

    We (you, Tim, me, nearly everyone else) tend to be a wee bit intellectualistic here and keep on trying “to solve a problem.” Brad Nassif and other Easterners might tell us to back off and approach the “mystery” of God in the place where it really begins to “make sense,” in the “heaven and earth” meeting of God in the “mystery” of liturgical prayer, where “understanding” takes the form of beholding God as in a vision. If we “get” that, the question of whether the Trinity is really really the central dogma kind of goes shooting out the window. Like Isaiah in the Temple and Peter on the mount of transfiguration, we need to clamp down a bit on our talkativeness and “see.” We too have “unclean lips” and a proneness to make irrelevant suggestions about how God could do a better PR job.

  • Jon G

    Paul @ 17.
    “belief in the Trinity is more than simply picking and choosing which beliefs of the early church we want to follow or believe. …but I would say history of Christian thought is on the side of the Trinity in a way that makes it more than a belief held by some that we can simply move aside.

    I agree and that isn’t my suggestion. I’m not saying Trinity is merely picking and choosing. I’m saying that relying on Church tradition as an argument doesn’t work because we pick and choose from a myriad of traditions which ones we follow. Trinity is well established, I’ll give you that, but there was a reason why Nicea had to happen, too. Trinity was not always well established in the Church.

    Also, again, I’m not suggesting “simply moving it aside”. It should be considered, critiqued and improved or jettisoned if something better comes along. But it IS NOT guaranteed.

  • Bev Mitchell

    I’m out of my league here so will rely on some quotes to keep on the ‘straight and narrow’. As Amos Yong often says, a pneumatological assist may be helpful here. Besides Scott here and elsewhere, one of the best interpreters/explainers of the Trinity was T.F. Torrance and one of the best treatments of his thinking on the Holy Spirit is given by Elmer M. Colyer in Part III of his “How to Read T.F. Torrance: Understanding his Trinitarian and Scientific Theology”. To choose only three of many examples, Colyer summarizes Torrance this way:

    “The Spirit comes forth from God the Father, receives from the Son, acts from the side of God and unites Christ to us, actualizing Christ’s revealing and reconciling activity within us. Yet at the same time the Spirit upholds us from our side and sustains us from within so that we are set free in the Spirit to return through Christ and cry ‘Abba, Father'” pg. 225

    “The Spirit actualizes God’s relation with us and activates our relation with God in a way in which the freedom and agency of God interpenetrates, embraces and upholds the freedom and agency of our redeemed humanity through Christ’s vicarious humanity to the glory of God” pg. 233

    “This personalizing activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives is ultimately rooted in the fully personal character of God who alone is personalizing person. It is because God is a fullness of personal being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that God is the author and source of our personal and personalized reality.” pg. 233

    As Scott is pointing out, directly and indirectly, it’s all about relationship. Relationship, in Christian theology, begins with the Trinity. The Trinity is our supreme example of how relationship should function. The Good News is that we are invited into that very relationship, which is so magnificent that creation itself flows from its very heart. Creation and redemption are inextricably linked. They are linked through the divine relationship (perichoresis) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Trinity.

    Scott developed the unity aspect (4) and mentioned John 10. We can add John 17, because the very heart of Jesus’ high priestly prayer was a unity that even includes us – in relationship.

    To answer RJS’ good questions. Yes, it’s biblical. Yes, there is much, much more to be added.

  • Re what scot has been saying about theological development by Church Fathers, the outstanding work by Larry Hurtado, etc., some of you might want to check a somewhat different take–although related–at my blog. I rely to a great extent on the classic work by Charles Norris Cochrane: Christianity and Classical Culture.

    Cochrane’s approach is more philosophical, but it focuses on the identity of God as central to Christian revelation–scot is bringing that out, too, although it seems to me that this is an idea that receives too little attention generally. As I say, I follow Cochrane’s approach which is philosophical in orientation but none the less Christian for all that (another neglected aspect of early Christianity). I won’t burden this post with more links, but the relevant posts proceed from development of the idea of God as creator to the full development of that insight in the idea of God as Trinity–the heart of Christian revelation:

    ▼ 2011
    ▼ February (1)
    Trinity and Revelation
    ▼ January (3)
    The Identity of God: Trinity
    Creation Ex Nihilo In Early Christian Thought
    The Identity of God: Creator

  • Hey everyone,

    There are several good theologians who hold legitimate “high” Christological views that do not see Jesus as God (with a capital ‘G’). Here are four names: N. T. Wright, James D. G. Dunn, James F. McGrath, J. R. Daniel Kirk.

    Wright’s view is especially interesting. Here are two quotes from “Jesus and the Identity of God”:

    I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself “Well I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!”
    … …
    Let me put it like this. After fifteen years of serious historical Jesus study, I still say the creed ex animo; but I now mean something very different by it, not least by the word “god” itself.

    Col 1:15 can be understood by referring to Gen 1:26 and Proverbs 8.
    Jesus’s pre-existence can be understood both as God’s foreknowledge and as the pre-existent wisdom/logos (cf. James F. McGrath, The Only True God). Even his role as co-creator can be legitimately understood that way.

    (I have blog posts titled Plurality of “Godhead” in Gen 1:26? and Adamic Christology and Theosis, if anyone fancies a read.)

    Also, I think when we mention the mutual indwelling of YHWH and Christ (John 14:9-11), we lose the complete picture if we forget the mutual indwelling of Christ and his disciples (John 14:20). If indwelling automatically means YHWH = Jesus, then it should also mean Jesus = Disciples, which becomes YHWH = Jesus = Disciples. In that case, perichoresis must also include “disciples” within the Godhead. (I hope my “argumentum ad absurdum” makes sense.)

    My point is that in the bible, Jesus’s divinity is always understood through his role as the Messiah, Son of God and Image of God. If being Son of God and Image of God means that Jesus is God, then the principle of logical consistency should lead us to also conclude that Christians are also God. This is why N. T. Wright says that he has a very different definition of “god”.

    2 Cor 5:19 says that “God was in Christ” (en Christo), and throughout Pauls other epistles, he repeatedly mentions that Christians are also “in Christ” (en Christo). This is primarily the idea of reconciliation. It is hardly a statement of trinitarian Christology!

  • Charles Twombly

    Jon G. has the mindset of a good Socinian, a biblicist who would test the dogma of the Trinity by that ultimate criterion: not Scripture but himself–the “private interpretation” that has turned Christianity into a thousand sects, with tens of thousands of “popes.” Let’s scrap “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Let’s dump “I believen in one, holy, catholic church.” Instead, let’s wait for Jon’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

    He asks, “How do you decide who to submit to? How do you evaluate “who know these things”? How do you interpret or discern what the Spirit is telling you?” and apparently oncludes with “You rely on yourself.” No thanks. I draw comfort from the common mind of the “undivided church,” a mind that reflects the Spirit’s presence in the early councils, the ones deemed “ecumenical” by being “received” after the councils declared their minds, reception being the acceptance granted from the church at large. We need to take the words of Vincent of Lerins seriously: everywhere, at all times, by all. Easy to caricature these, given the diversity, even in ancient times. But if we take the big picture, certain dogmas have been absolutely durable. The Trinity is one; the Incarnation is another. Let’s stick with the grand consensus and not someone who would say, “You rely on yourself.”

  • Charles Twombly

    Am finishing up a brief article on John Henry (Cardinal) Newman for a study Bible that will include doctrinal/historical matters as well as the usual. Newman held that Scripture was meant to “prove” doctrine, not to “teach” it, a claim that will no doubt draw gasps. He recognized that Scripture was not “sola”: it was surrounded by apostolic teaching that was never written (see II John 12 and III John 13-14) but which was “knowable” because it was faithfully handed down by the apostles’ successors, a “fact” that gains traction from the reality that the “churches of apostolic foundation” basically agreed among themselves, even though they were far-flung and widely separated geographically. This was Irenaeus’s claim (in anticipation of Walter Bauer!). Irenaeus also claimed the existence of an “apostolic mind,” one that could put the pieces of the Scriptural puzzle together in a way congruent with the apostles’ original teaching (written or otherwise). The “orthodox” take the bits of glass and a make a mosaic of a king; the “heterodox” take the same bits and frame a picture of a fox or a dog. A few of my brothers here seen to be into foxes and dogs. (Tom Wright, whom I revere enormously, needs to widen his field of vision a bit. Secont Temple Judaism needs deep consideration; but so does the “reception” that Scripture received in the early centuries of the Christian era. Otherwise, the 2nd temple stuff can be a constricting band around the text instead of a deeper reading of it. Reception can be as illuminating as “origins” and “context.”

  • Charles Twombly

    My words from a recent thread on FB (maybe they’ll be of interest to some): “The little piece on JH Newman I’m working on today (its for a study Bible that’ll include doctrinal/historical matters) reminds me that Newman and his crew claimed that Scripture is for proving doctrine, not teaching it. That “outrageous” claim isn’t quite so inflammatory when we think of something like the Trinity or the two natures of the incarnate Word. If you merely proceed inductively, starting from scratch as it were, you might have a very hard time reaching either teaching, at least with the firmness that we find in classical Christianity. Proof texts to bolster the historic faith can be turned against themselves if we “hear” them in the way Arius and others did. The apostolic regula fidei (plus, especially, the Fourth Gospel) became an interpretive lens for focusing the pieces of Scripture in the “right” (orthodox) pattern. If we doubt that other ways (non-trinitarian, non-incarnational) could be plausible, a study of the Racovian Catechism (circa 1600), composed by ultra-biblicistic Socinians, should be a real eye-opener for many. Extra-exegetical approaches have to be acknowledged. Newman’s “outrageous” (prove, not teach) claim was said in the context of the consensual, creedal, conciliatory faith of the “undivided church,” a claim that many are having a harder time shuffling off. At any rate, exegetes should bring it into the discussion.”

  • MT

    I haven’t really read the comments so I’m not contributing to the conversation as much as just raising a question I’ve had about the Trinity and our application of it. If the Trinity works in a beautiful dance, an egalitarian relationship if you will, why do we teach this for our communities but not our marriage relationships?

  • Phil Miller

    Hydroxium, #23

    I’ve read nearly everything Wright has written, and I do not believe he is non-Trinitarian in any way. I think, though, the way he approaches the concept of Jesus’ divinity is different than what is typical in many systematic theologies. To put it simply, he does not look at a list of divine attributes and say, “well Jesus fulfills all of these, therefore, He is God”. What he does is kind of come at from the other end. He looks at how Jesus fulfills what the prophets talked about, how God would act, and he comes to the conclusion that way. So rather than thinking about God in abstract terms and saying Jesus lines up with these, he starts with the concrete and real person of Jesus. Jesus fully reveals God. It’s not that God simply worked through Christ.

    The whole article you quote from can be found here:

  • Charles Twombly

    Thanks, Bev, for bringing TF Torrance into the conversation. If exegetes pull their hair out at the sloppy or downright ignorant way theologians can treat the biblical text, theologians often have a similar problem with biblical scholars. When the latter talk about historical/theological matters, the results can be pathetic. I’m thankful that there are those (eg Tony Thiselton, Mark Elliott, Colin Brown) highly competent on both sides of the (unfortunate) divide. May their tribe increase; we need them desparately.

  • scotmcknight


    This has been a debate thrown onto the Trinity, in one case by Grudem (who sees eternal subordination) and in the other by Kevin Giles (who sees egalitarian relations flowing from Trinitarian equality).

  • Jon G

    OK, I can see that I’m going to be the minority here, and, actually, I’m used to it. I don’t have a lot of time today, and I know many don’t care to debate me, but let me flush out a couple more thoughts…

    Scot in #16 “absolutely no other way”. This is problematic for me because it assumes that 1) you have no room left to grow in understanding that text and 2) you see the text as incapable of being flawed, tainted, or manipulated by human interaction with it. I think 2) is at odds with Enns’ idea of Incarnational Scripture to which, I thought, you ascribed.

    I’ll offer some alternatives, which may not be compelling or probably, but are, at least, possible and that is really what I’m suggesting…that there are other possible explanations which should be explored:

    1) Could Paul have been speaking of Creation in a manner NOT referring to physical creation, which is set in Time but, perhaps, as FUNCTIONAL creation which is dependent on working or not working? Perhaps the Incarnation set about the proper functioning of creation – the essential ingredient needed, rather than the origination? It’s not a great theory, but it has some play.

    2) Could the text have been manipulated by somebody who presupposes Trinity? We have evidence for this occuring for John 5:7-8 ( I hate appealing to Ehrman here, but his point is valid: ). I also think there are others, but one is enough to say that the text is capable of being manipulated. Again, I don’t have reason to doubt that text so this explanation isn’t likely…but it is possible.

    3) Is it possible that the text is accurate, Paul was referring to the beginning of the world temporally, but we don’t fully understand what he’s saying because we are removed from his context? I’m sure you would interpret Paul better than I, in fact I know it, but that doesn’t mean that you have Paul cornered. There is still room for correction in your interpretation of that passage, no?

    It is the absolute certainty that I have issue with…go figure, I’m post-modern. It’s not that we shouldn’t try to be certain, or that certainty doesn’t exist, but that we know by experience that we rarely find it. And if that is the case, then we shouldn’t be dogmatic, especially about something so speculative and difficult to grasp as the Trinity.

    So, now, even though I said I wouldn’t, let me come back with a text for you. To take the following text at face value, which is what you are suggesting I do with Colossians, you must admit that this presents a problem to the “coherent and consistent” framework you are suggesting:

    1 Timothy 1:2b “Grace, mercy, and peace from God (Theos) the Father and Christ Jesus (the annointed messiah Jehovah who saves) our Lord.” – Premise #1…Paul uses the term “God” (Theos) specifically for the Father.

    1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God (Theos), and there is one mediator between God (Theos) and men, the man Christ Jesus,”. – Premise #2…Paul understands some distinction between the term “God” and “Christ Jesus”.

    1 Timothy 3:15-16 “…if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
    He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels…”
    – Premise #3…the subject “He” is what was incarnated and the subject referred to in the immediate context was “God”.

    Face value conclusion, given (1) Paul uses the term “God” for the Father, (2) Paul distinguishes between the term for “God” and “Christ Jesus”, and (3) the immediate context explicitly has Paul is talking about “God” when he discusses the incarnation, we ought to asume that Paul is claiming the Father incarnated (something “kosher” with the Genesis).

    Now, many will counter that Paul is reciting a creedal saying here, especially when the term “confess” can be found in vs 16, but I want to ask you whether this scenario I’ve painted sounds unlikely because you are presupposing Trinity when you come to this passage or whether it naturally follows from exegeting the text that Paul is referring to Jesus.

    I don’t think it follows from the text. Jesus as the subject of verse 16 is speculation (perhaps correct speculation, but still speculation) which means that speculating on the Colossians passage may not be so unwarranted.

    Anyway, this is just one example of many that show the Trinity is not as “consistent” as it is cracked up to be (and I have trouble seeing how it is “coherent” too). Again, IT COULD BE RIGHT, and I’m just a layperson using the limited brain God (The Father 😉 ) has given me…but I can’t see how this doctrine HAS to be essential. It could be right, but it doesn’t have to be right…

  • Phil Miller,

    Thanks for clarifying. Indeed, Wright is “trinitarian” in some sense, but as I’ve mentioned above, he makes it clear that his idea of “trinity” is very different from the traditional creedal formulation, as is his idea of “divinity”.

    This is like how he insists that he believes in “penal substitution”, even though his idea of it is very different from the traditional formulation.

  • Re Wright’s trinitarian views, it might be interesting to compare his brief comments to the much fuller (but still terse) presentation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). My view–and obviously I haven’t discussed it with Wright–is that his views probably fall well within the range of the CCC. Of interest to me is this. If you check out the relevant section (link below) and then do a Ctl-F and search “assume” you’ll find that the CCC stresses the idea of humanity being “assumed” by the Son. To me, this sounds like the CCC has adopted an approach rather more akin to Orthodox theology than to traditional Western formulations, and I think Wright probably fits into that mold. Anyway, here’s the link, at the end:




    Paragraph 1. The Son of God Became Man

  • MT

    Thanks for the resources, Scot. The Trinity is more than an example of how to live in marriage so I don’t think we should throw that debate onto the Trinity. I found it interesting, however, that we might be able to extract that from it. That a person’s view of the Trinity could affect their view of marriage relationships, whether it should or not.

  • Jon G

    Many thanks to Charles Twombly @ 24 for making me responsible for the downward spiral of the Western Church. And also for keeping this a safe place in which one can express their thoughts and doubts honestly without fear of judgement. Also, for assuming I don’t rely on Scripture.

    I just have one question to ask you Charles…provided you are being honest about not relying on yourself…you say “I draw comfort from the common mind of the “undivided church,” a mind that reflects the Spirit’s presence in the early councils, the ones deemed “ecumenical” by being “received” after the councils declared their minds, reception being the acceptance granted from the church at large.”

    My question is “by what authority do you decide to draw comfort from the “undivided church” (what a phrase!) as opposed to, say, secular society? In other words…who decides who you appeal to for acceptable knowledge?

  • Trinitarians can be really scary (and dogmatic) sometimes.

    Because I emphathise with Jon G, here’s my take on interpretation (hopefully not to add fuel to the fire):

    The point is that we can never escape logic/reason. People who claim to be placing God’s word/revelation over human reason are just elevating their own interpretation to the level of “God’s word”, and denigrating the other side’s interpretation to the level of “human logic”. But that’s simply not true. Both sides are using logic/reason (though I’d say that one side is using logic more correctly). It is inevitable. God doesn’t simply just dump all the information into our heads so that we understand things without going through a process of thinking/learning/reading/listening. God delights in working through natural processes, otherwise he would have made us perfect right from the start, and we would not have had to go through all these struggles and suffering.

  • RJS

    Hydroxonium (all the way back to #1, and then later),

    I am travelling and not with good access, so unable to participate fully in the discussion.

    I am convinced on Biblical grounds from Colossians, Philippians, John and other references, and then from reading the very early apostolic and ante-nicene writers, that a very high Christology, one that is in essence indistinguishable from trinitarian doctrine, is inescapable. Scot quoted I have a somewhat harder time seeing the basis for full blown trinitarianism … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – but I don’t think that is as significant.

    I’ve read Dunn’s book on Christology – and don’t find it (or his preface in the newer edition addressing criticisms) terribly convincing.

    Wright isn’t trinitarian in a traditional sense? I don’t think this is right – I think what Wright adds is a more complete understanding of what all this about Father, Son, and about Incarnation actually means.

  • Charles Twombly @ 24 – 26

    Stimulating words.

    Re Vincent of Lerins and a grand consensus, it seems to me that it is too common for people to lose sight of the distinction between the actual substance of the faith and theologizing about our faith. Interesting to note, in that regard, that Vincent’s Commonitory was written in the context of controversy over Augustine’s “doctrine” of original sin.

    Re Wright and Second Temple Judaism: “the 2nd temple stuff can be a constricting band around the text instead of a deeper reading of it,” very well put.

  • Jon G

    Phil Miller @ 18

    “But I have a hard time seeing how you would square this statement with Jesus’ own statement about the Father. If Jesus was the Father, it would seem something of a non-sequitor for Him to pray to the Father and to teach the disciples to pray to the Father.”

    I struggle with this myself and you are right that it leads to some weighty evidence for a Trinitarian explanation. Another possible way of looking at it, under a “Jesus as the Temple” framework is that the Temple (and Scripture has a variety of temples – not just buildings but gardens, kings, tents, buildings, a person, and groups of people…not to mention land) is used to point to the god beyond the Temple (or within the Temple). Perhaps Jesus, as the Temple, was pointing to God the Father when he prayed. For instance, in John 11:41-42
    “…And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

    It sure does appear that Jesus is talking to a separate person, but it also sets a precedent for Jesus actions being used as a pointer to God, the Father. This is both a problem and evidence for both Trinity and Temple frameworks.

    But what about when Jesus goes to pray alone, as in Gethsemane? Why would he be praying to the Father when there was nobody else around to hear it? Except somebody recorded what happened there so either somebody WAS around, or they were told later by God what happened, or they just gave an account based on speculation. All three of these options undermine the notion that Jesus prayed alone for his own benefit…the challenge to Jesus praying as a pointer to others. I think your realistically good challenge relies upon a picture of Jesus praying as a separate entity from the Father but that is exactly what the Trinity denies.

    Again, this stuff needs to be worked out by people more adept than myself, but I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that Jesus, being the Temple – the place where Heaven and Earth come together as Wright is fond of saying – being the representative of both God and Man, bridged this gap between the two and prayer is the vehicle that he used.

    So I see his prayer as bringing the spiritual and physical together and pointing to a reality beyond the physical, not as two separate entities talking. I don’t even see how the latter can be trinitarian rather than tri-theism…

    But it is a good challenge to work through and I’m still doing so! 😉

  • Charles Twombly

    Jon, you’re welcome! As for “relying on Scripture,” nearly all sides claim to do so. The question often becomes, what do I do when my own interpretation collides with a view that has received massive ecclesial consent? Do I do a “Here I stand…”? Or do I go with the “common mind” of the church? Even as Luther stood there in Worms (or was it Leipzig?) and uttered those (apocryphal) words, he shuddered at the possibility that he was overturning the settled judgment of the Body of Christ. For me (myself and I), I choose to go with the overwhelming decision of the Church, east and west, “catholic/orthodox” and protestant. But can’t the majority be wrong? Of course. Think of Athanasius “waking up and finding the world Arian.” So do we go with Gallup? Do we stick with the “big battalions”? “Might makes right”? Well, maybe, sometimes. But Vincent of Lerins and his (frequently caricatured) canon was careful to add “at all times” to his “everwhere, by all.” Taken with unimaginative literalness, his words apply to no doctrine whatever. All have been contested in one degree or another. But he had a big-picture lens on his camera and was looking at widespread consensus over a very long time. Close up, we see the blemishes; further back, the picture resolves itself with clarity. There’s no doctrine, not even the Incarnation, that has received the support that the Trinity has over sixteen hundred and more years. Even the filioque issue and the divide between Augustinians and Cappadocians can’t turn that fact over. (The “separaters”–the Nestorians and monophysites–nevertheless affirmed the Trinitarian creed of the first two councils.)

    So where does that leave you, Jon? My guess: you’re sort of what Martin Kahler had in mind when he said that the apostolic faith shouldn’t be hostage to the exegetes. “The faithful” aren’t sitting here waiting for you and others to finally put the exegetical pieces together. The “historic faith” is in Scripture, but it’s also around Scripture and gave the early church the lens for discerning which writings in fact reflected the teachings of the apostles known both in writing and oral teaching. If the oral stuff needed to be consistent with the written stuff, the same is true in the other direction. Here’s where Irenaeus and others come in. They knew of other “oral teachings”–those of the gnostics–and articulated a way of descriminating between authentic and inauthentic. “Authentic” teachings were openly available (no secret stuff) and widely known’ and embraced all over the far-flung Christian world (the Mediterranean world and the lands to the east). There was a core of apostolic teaching (implicitly Trinitarian and Incarnational) that, in the form of various regulae fidei (uniform in content though not in form), could be the measuring rod (ie canon) to judge authentic written gospels, epistles, “acts,” and apocalypse. Those who have patiently worked through all this generally emerge with deep admiration and (often) assent. I certainly do. Reserve judgment if you will; I’m not the “person” you have to answer to. Blessings.

  • Dana Ames

    you misread Wright. I also have read most of what Wright has written, and Phil Miller explains well. Wright starts from the same place as EO, which is the crucifixion and resurrection of a real person in history, and “works back” from there. Reading Wright was a major reason I already believed most of what EO teaches before I sought reception.

    “The inner workings of the Trinitarian Persons” is viewed as a mystery by EO – not at all in the sense that we should not make an attempt to understand what we can; after all, it is mainly the great Greek fathers who have given us the vocabulary we do use in the discussion. They thoughtfully chose those words to use in meeting the questions of their day, based on their interpretation of scripture and an understanding of its Hebraic mindset. It’s a mystery because our human thought and language ultimately can take us only so far, and those Holy Spirit-guided great intellects knew that. Ultimately it is in encounter with the crucified and risen Jesus (most commonly in what are viewed as the sacraments, but certainly in other ways too, since the whole universe is also sacrament) that we “understand” anything at all about God. That’s why EO recognizes that persons with very little intellect can and do have a relationship of robust and lively trust in Jesus, and why they are baptized and communed.


  • Jon G

    RJS at #37 “I am convinced on Biblical grounds from Colossians, Philippians, John and other references, and then from reading the very early apostolic and ante-nicene writers, that a very high Christology, one that is in essence indistinguishable from trinitarian doctrine, is inescapable.”

    I take your use of “Christology” to mean that Jesus was the point to the Biblical story, completely divine, and absolutely central to your faith.

    I just want to restate that I also hold to a high Christology, even if I distinguish it from trinitarian doctrine which I see as one way of elaborating that Christology. I think it is possible, without modalism or trinitarianism, to say affirm a high Christology. I’ve tried to do that with use of temple imagery as one possible alternative. I see Jesus, who’s name means Jehovah (the God of the OT) saves, as the combination of the Father’s spirit indwelling the Father’s body. The Jesus that walked around 2000 years ago was/is the absolute marrying of the two realms of God’s creation. And, just like my body is “Jon’s body” and my spirit is “Jon’s spirit”, the combination of the two is what people know as “Jon”. And sometimes my body “speaks” to my spirit and sometimes my spirit “speaks” to my body and the two are inextricably linked and symbiotic. Why can’t we have that without having 3-and-1?

    I just think Trinity complicates things beyond what is necessary.

  • RJS

    But Jon, I don’t think your attempt to rewrite the imagery adds anything.

    Doesn’t the idea of trinity complicates things only because we are trying to describe something for which we have no language and no intuition? Other descriptions … totally distinct, different facets, temple, and different instantiations are all things for which we have “common sense” analogies. But they all miss out on some important piece of the whole idea.

  • Jon G

    RJS, I don’t follow you. I think what it adds is simplification. I think we do have language and intuition for it. After all, we are made in God’s image and asked to be like Christ. We must have some ability to discern it.

    This is why I brought in the Jon’s body and Jon’s spirit example. What is missed by assuming two realms, one spiritual and one physical, and then combination of the two as the goal?

    I understand taking analogies too far, but I feel like Trinitarians are not taking some far enough and then creating absurd analogies to pick up the slack.

  • Jon G

    That sounded mean-spirited. I apologize for that.

    What I meant was, it seems simple and yet descriptive to say that what we see in Jesus is what happens when we fully embrace both sides to reality – spiritual and physical. Jesus is spirit God combined with physical God and that reality is meant to rule forever. Temple is just one way of describing that spiritual/physical reality. Father/Son is another…but both point back to YHWH the Creator of it all. When we take the description and make it “essential” to the faith, we put up unnecessary barriers, IMO.

  • Phil Miller

    It seems to me that you’re simplifying things at the expense of other things. If Jesus was truly God the Father with flesh (or in the flesh) while He was on earth, does that mean that God ceased to be omnipresent for 33 years?

    I guess the thing that strikes me is that whenever there’s a discussion on the Trinity, I don’t feel like anyone is truly saying anything that new or novel anymore. If you read through the discussions and history surrounding the development of the doctrine, it seems nearly all the objections that could be raised were raised be someone.

  • GaryLyn

    “How significant is Trinity to Christian living?”

    I’ve read through most of the comments and almost all of them seem to address the Trinity as doctrine or tenet of Christian faith. The comments attempt to define more clearly what is being said with this doctrine and why it is/is not important/essential to Christianity. But this is the question that is important for me. The reason I struggle with the idea of Trinity (at least as it is being discussed here) is because it doesn’t add much to or inform my Christian living in a significant way. It is hard for me to say this action, this choice, this decision, or this way of looking at the world that guides me come from the doctrine of Trinity. There are ways that I think about how God shapes my Christian living that are profound for me. Trinity is just not one of them.

  • GaryLyn says @ 47

    “How significant is Trinity to Christian living?”

    We’re used to living with the consequences of Trinity, living within the conceptual world that was formed by Trinitarianism–although less and less, it seems. To see how explosively world-changing Trinity is/was, check out the book that I linked to at #22:

    Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine, by Charles Norris Cochrane

    But actually, as other commenters have pointed out, the transformation of personal life brought about by the vision of God as Trinity and Jesus as assumed into the life of the Trinity is on display throughout the NT, especially perhaps in the letters of Paul. For Paul living “in Christ” involves a new relationship to the Father through His Son and lived in the Spirit. That vision drove him.

  • Jon G

    Phil –
    “If Jesus was truly God the Father with flesh (or in the flesh) while He was on earth, does that mean that God ceased to be omnipresent for 33 years?”

    First of all, I can’t comprehend omnipresence especially in light of my own presence (If God is everywhere, where is there room for not-God?) so I’m just not prepared to answer that question. But I don’t think the conclusion that God couldn’t be omnipresent follows from the notion that Jesus was God the Father in the flesh. Furthermore, the same could be asked of the Trinitarian view of Jesus…if God is omnipresent and Jesus came in the flesh, was Jesus not omnipresent…or not God?

    It’s all speculation, but I don’t see your critique really applying to my argument. I’m not trying to be novel and I don’t think my theory is all that unique…but I do see that there are some things that we understand in light of modern scholarship and archeology, and through the use of idea sharing tools like the internet, that do help us see things in a different way than was available in the past. Understanding “temple’ as a background to much of the Bible is a huge step forward for us. Same with “Empire” and comparative literature from the ANE. Also, linguistic studies…

    I’m just saying that I don’t think the early church dealt with “all the objections that could be raised”. But I do appreciate your point.

  • Jon G

    GaryLyn @ 47

    Yes! That is exactly my point. You don’t have to buy into Trinity to have a concept of God that is consistent with Scripture. It may be helpful for some, but it is not “essential” in order to be a Christian. And if it isn’t essential, then let’s not make it so. That just pushes away those who struggle to believe in it and divides the church unnecessarily…something Charles claims I am doing by voicing my doubts.

  • For what it’s worth, here are some passages from Hebrews that, taken together, seem to demand something like the sort of trinitarianism Keller’s defending:

    Heb. 1:1-4 – elevation of the Son and close association with the very being of the Father, seamlessly coupled with important distinction (which sets the tone for the rest of the sermon)

    Throughout Heb. 1, various OT passages are attributed to “God”; in 2:12, OT passages are attributed to Jesus; in 3:7, a passage is attributed to the Holy Spirit. There is no noticeable reason why the author of Hebrews assigns some material to God, some to Jesus, and some to the Spirit (in other words, the author does not seem constrained by the idea that some literature, e.g. Psalms, must be attributed to someone, but prophetic attributed to someone else; rather the attribution is governed by the author’s argument / hermeneutic / recognition of certain typological trajectories). It becomes obvious that for the author of Hebrews what we now call the OT is divine speech that points to and finds fulfillment in Jesus, but at various points that divine speech is just as attributable to the Father as to the Son as to the Holy Spirit. Yet the author of Hebrews is very clear on the nature / significance / uniqueness of the Son’s work in comparison to the Father’s work and the Spirit’s work.

    I think what’s on view here is something assumed throughout the NT. And, to add my two cents given some extensive reading of his that I’ve done, I too think it is a misread of Wright to interpret his thoughts on Jesus’ self-understanding during his earthly ministry as committing him to a different sort of trinitarianism than what Keller’s describing. They are describing the same realities from different points of view / for different purposes given the different contexts of their writing / different intended conversation partners. I would also suggest (re: Jon G) that thinking of reality in terms of two realms, and the desired goal being the combination of those realms, is to actually import goals / categories that are largely foreign to the minds of the biblical authors….so that is perhaps to do the thing that some accuse Keller-esque trinitarians of doing.

  • Slight modification: thinking of reality in terms of two realms when those realms are identified as the “physical” and the “spiritual.” There are certain senses in which such realms-talk is actually very true (e.g. this age and the age to come) but that is much more complex than physical vs. spiritual.

  • Charles Twombly

    Happy to be part of such a good-spirited conversation. But I must say, so many of the issues raised were hashed over and “resolved” centuries ago. I’m afraid many of the posts add to the “interpretive chaos” unintentionally unleased by the Reformation and inflated claims for the perspicuity of Scripture. Either God left us with an inspired text but no definitive way to understand it (leaving us to the devices and desires of our own individual intellects) or he didn’t. Apostolic writings require an identifiable apostolic tradition to help us find the way. Let’s look to The Great Tradition to help us resolve interpretive issues. Otherwise, we’re left with my “sectarianism” and yours.

  • Jon G

    Rory Tyer on the realms thing being too simple. Fair enough. I was trying not to muddy the waters unneccesarily, but you’re right, that isn’t a detailed view of reality.

    But I do think there is a dualism at play in which Biblical authors were aware of the tangible reality that they could see and the cosmic, invisible, reality that they couldn’t see. And I think they saw each impacting the other. And I think the Biblical claim is that God rules over both and is at work repairing and reuniting the two as it was supposed to be in Eden. This is the stage in which “may your kingdom come” is set.

    I don’t see, maybe because I’ve got a blind spot to it, why you don’t think the biblical authors understood the idea of “Heaven coming to Earth” – the spiritual joining with the physical. Could you elaborate?

  • Jon G

    Charles…earlier you called me a “biblicist” (even though you also said I don’t rely on Scripture! 😉 ). You ought to read Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible and make sure you understand that term because what you are suggesting in #53 falls into the Biblicist category.

    The text is inspired, but we still have to work out our interpretations. The Church helps immensely, but not decisively because it is made up of people like you and I who are individuals trying to make sense of things as best we can.


  • The early Christian writings while often containing “theology” should not be taken to be textbooks or manuals of theology. I think that has been done far too often. Even within those “inspired” writings I think you’ll find theologizing going on, as when Paul admits that was he’s saying is not from the Lord, but it’s his best opinion.

  • Charles Twombly

    An ongoing problem, especially with evangelicals, is what happens when you have a high view of Scripture but a low view of the Church. The evils of Medieval Catholicism, real or exaggerated (plus the current scandals) pretty much have taken ecclesiology off the table, it appears.

    Scripture (which didn’t drop out of the sky leather-bound) is no longer seen as the “Book of the Church” as if canonicity was a done deal by the time the last apostle died. As for all the “how could Jesus be God and yet pray to God,” etc etc, these are questions we used to ask when I was twelve. No references above to those who helped the Body of Christ work through issues like monophysitism and monothelitism, both vital to this conversation. No significant references to Athanasius or Cyril of Alexandria or Maximus the Confessor or John of Damascus. No allusions to the Cappadocians (Basil and the two Gregorys) and only slight notice of Augustine.

    Why? For heaven’s sake, why? Kind of like trying to teach a high school physics class and studiously leaving out any references to Newton and Einstein. Biblicism on steroids.

  • Rob Mitchell

    Keller’s sermons on the divine dance are metaphorical language describing the perichoretic inner life of the Trinity. More importantly, his language of God through Christ inviting us into participation in the divine dance is a plain-language advocacy of perichoretic ecclesiology, which may be one of the more important (and also more neglected) aspects of the nature of the church.
    Especially in John’s Gospel we see Jesus using perichoretic allusions: “I and the Father are One”, “I in the Father and the Father in me…”, “…that they [believers] may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us… I in them and you in me”. I think it is this absolutely vital dimension of the life and ontology of the church that Keller alludes to with his language of the dance, and he makes this clear when he refers to the Greek word for dance (in one form, perichorizo).
    Very few evangelical scholars have explored Trinitarian perichoretic ecclesiology in a thoroughgoing manner. British Reformed theologian Colin Gunton elucidated its horizontal dimensions in the perichoretic unity of believers but did not give as much ink to the vertical dimension of unity with Christ, though I’m very certain he embraced this as equally vital as well.
    I can’t help but to think that Trinitarian perichoretic ecclesiology touches on one of the deepest mysteries and most basic aspects of the nature of the church and her believers in relationship to the Triune God. Keller popularizes it but almost glosses it over with his word pictures. I’d really love to see a solid theological treatment.

  • Charles Twombly

    Rob Mitchell, even though my ’92 Emory dissertation (Perichoresis and Personhood in the Thought of John of Damascus) doesn’t focus on ecclesiology as such (it’s main chapters aim at the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation as deification), I hope you’ll find it helpful when Wipf and Stock publishes it in coming months. Much more to be done, but my “effort” is at the moment the only book-length study of perichoresis in English I’m aware of. If you read French, I’d recommend Emmanuel Durand’s book on perichoresis; it was published in ’05. Durand is a Domican teaching and doing research at the Catholic Institute of Paris. He and I have cornered the market at the moment. Hope others will jump in. The fields are white unto harvest. Cheers.

  • @Jon G – my initial thought is that “heaven coming to earth” and “spiritual joining with the physical” are two different, though potentially overlapping, things. The first is biblical (when those terms are qualified and defined biblically) but I do not think the second is what is meant by, or equivalent to, the first. When Jesus talks about his kingdom not being of this world, for instance, he is not opposing the physical to the spiritual as such (things that can be touched / seen vs. things that must be apprehended by faith) but speaking more to the laws that animate and govern the realms – the “world” is that which opposes the kingdom of God, and this finds both physical and spiritual expression. In the Gospels we see Jesus manifesting the Kingdom in physical ways; post-ascension we live in the tension between the present age and the inbreaking future age, which manifests itself physically primarily through the church catholic (though postmils would say that doesn’t go far enough and dispensationalists would say kingdom talk is all future and the church is a parenthesis; I think both are wrong).

    In the context of trinitarian doctrine, you said early on: “I’d much rather see work being done to further the notion of Jesus being the physical temple that the spiritual Father indwells to marry His physical creation to His spiritual creation.” My hesitation here is that this might introduce categories into christology that don’t seem to arise from the texts, and it seems close to the heresy of modalism – the idea that the Son and Spirit are manifestations of God the Father. This doesn’t square with the NT emphasis on Jesus’ presence / work before and during creation (and it is the universe’s existence that is in view, both in John’s Gospel and the Pauline texts, and inclusive, for Paul, of Jesus’ present upholding of creation). I think also that your statement above comes close to denying the preincarnate existence of Jesus, which is affirmed in a number of texts (such as the Hebrews passage I mentioned earlier). Although perhaps you could elaborate more on what you meant.

    I don’t mean to sound alarmist or like I’m trying to shut down critical / constructive thought by referencing these heresies – “heresy” is just a word of historical description, although some use it as a slanderous term. It just refers to that which was determined by many to be outside the bounds of orthodox Christian teaching on the basis of what they perceived to be the weight of Scripture.

  • Jon G


    I think your initial thought about the two descriptions is correct and now I understand your earlier point. I was being sloppy in my usage and unnecessarily narrowing my imagery to physical and spiritual and you’re right that the biblical authors didn’t view things like that. Still, the notion of two realities coming together through the use of a temple, or intermediary, satisfies many of the questions trinitarianism is trying to answer…while also not ignoring the testimony of the OT.

    As to modalism, I’m not concerned because, although people keep associating what I’m saying with Modalism, it isn’t. But even it it was, putting a name on it is not the same as debunking it. As to heresy, yes that’s an inflammatory word. I would much rather be called unorthodox. Heresy, to me, ascribes something against the Biblical witness rather than the Church’s witness.

    That said, there is much in Scripture about Jesus as the Temple and it has been largely ignored. In light of work going on with Temple motifs in Genesis and creation controversies, I think more needs to be explored.

    But I appreciate your pushback…


  • I would disagree with Jon G about Jesus being the Father. Jesus and YHWH have distinct conscious minds, and this seems to be an incontrovertible fact.

    Wright has explicitly stated that his idea/meaning of “trinity” and “god” are very different. These are the facts. If some of Wright’s readers still insist that Wright’s view is similar to the traditional view, then I can only say that perhaps such readers are more interested in saying the correct words, than in thinking the correct thoughts, because Wright’s thoughts about “trinity” and “god” are clearly very different from the traditional thinkers.

    On the other hand, I would personally stick to calling YHWH the one true “God”, Jesus the supremely divine “son of God”, and Spirit the “Spirit of God”, because this is the language used in scripture, which accurately describes the proper relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit, without resorting to trinitarian language that Wright clearly deems sufficiently wrong in the traditional sense that he has to explicitly state that his own sense is very different from the traditional sense.

    Meaning is hugely important, and that’s why language also becomes important because it is the means through which important meaning is conveyed. There is a very good scriptural basis for not calling Jesus “God”.

    Also, James Dunn correctly notes that in all of Paul’s doxologies, “glory” is always to God the Father (the “glory” that is to the Father is in/through Jesus and in the Church). The exceptions to Paul’s such practice is found in 2 Peter 3:18 and in Revelation. These happen to be the 2 books with the worst canonical acceptance.

  • Phil Miller

    Here’s another article that speaks to Wright’s view of the Trinity. As I said before, his point is that worshiping Jesus as God wasn’t something that Christians started doing later on, but it was something that happened very early in the Christian movement.

    This article is pretty good:

    The result of all this explosion of exciting but, as I have suggested, focused and disciplined thinking about Jesus and the Spirit is that, in effect, the NT writers offer an incipient trinitarian theology without needing to use any of the technical terms that later centuries would adopt for the same purpose. What is more, when we understand how their language works, we discover that it actually does the job considerably better than the later formulations.

  • Thanks! I would definitely agree with Wright on this. In fact, I have been quoting and referring to this article right from the start (#23).

  • Marshall

    My problem is that I don’t grasp what is intended by “person”. I would like to say something like “the Son is about incarnation” and so on, but I believe that view would ordinarily be rejected as modalism. And clearly it would be a category error to claim that “about incarnation” can be in love with another similar.

    I also don’t see why God should necessarily be expected to live up to Augustine’s ideal of perfection.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Rob (58),
    Have a look at “The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited” by
    C. Baxter Kruger. This may not be the rigorous theological analysis you are looking for, but it surely is inspiring. A more thorough, scholarly treatment is T.F. Torrance’s “The Trinitarian Faith”

  • Charles Twombly

    Bev and Rob: I second Bev’s motion and would add James B Torrance’s WORSHIP, COMMUNITY, AND THE TRIUNE GOD OF GRACE.