Wesleyan Trinitarian Theology

Wesleyan Trinitarian Theology September 5, 2014

Daniel Castelo’s Confessing the Triune God is a contribution to Cascade’s Wesleyan Doctrine Series. The Trinity is not a possession of Methodism, and much of Castelo’s book covers familiar ground – the roots of Trinitarian theology in the gospel, the early church debates about the Trinity, the danger of projection, and the relation of theology and economy.

But Castelo strikes a distinctive Wesleyan note, not least because he includes some substantial and quite stunning quotations from John Wesley. For instance: “when he is born of God, born of the Spirit, how is the manner of his existence changed! His whole soul is now sensible of God . . . The Spirit or breath of God is immediately inspired, breathed into the new-born soul; and the same breath which comes from, returns to God. As it is continually received by faith, so it is continually rendered back by love, by prayer, and praise, and thanksgiving – love and praise and prayer being the breath of every soul which is truly born of God. And by this new kind of spiritual respiration, spiritual life is not only sustained but increased day by day, together with spiritual strength and motion and sensation” (quoted 96).

And a similar quotation on the following page: The life of the Christian “implies the continual inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit: God’s breathing into the soul, and the soul’s breathing back what it first receives from God; a continual action of God upon the soul, and re-action of the soul upon God; an unceasing presence of God, the loving, pardoning God, manifested to the heart, and perceived by faith; and an unceasing return of love, praise, and prayer, offering up all the thoughts of our hearts, all the words of our tongues, all the works of our hands, all our body, soul and spirit, to be an holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God in Christ Jesus” (quoted 97).

On Wesley’s premise that the only holiness is social holiness, Castelo spends some time discussing the import of Trinitarian theology for social and political concerns. He makes appropriate qualifications, but insists that “if the Trinity is inherently relational and if we are called to be like God in some ways . . . then God’s relatedness can be said to be influential for how humans interact in their relationship” (110). On Trinitarian grounds, power “involves obedience, servitude, and self-sacrifice” (111). Within God, “the activities of ‘receiving’ and ‘giving’ are only conceptually distinguishable because in God’s very self they take place all at once. Exchange, self-donation, an reception of the other are all features of the divine life” (112). Human relationships are often quite different, but when humans relate in “just and free exchanges” that recognize “the dignity and well-being of all participants,” divine fellowship shows in a human sociality. This correspondence, Castelo rightly insists, is “only possible because of God’s hospitality, which involves both the invitation by God to befriend God and also the possibility to participate in a species of coinherence within the triune life itself” (113). Given the relationality of the life of the Trinity, it’s no surprise that the life of discipleship is pursued in community. Castelo mentions Wesley’s hostility to solitary religion,” and concludes that “growing in conformity to the image of Christ and inceasingly sensible to the promptings of the Spirit requires a fellowship of disciples” (116-7).

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