Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Meaning of the Trinity for the Communal Life of Faith?


I wrote a series of posts several months back about the question “Is God Primarily Angry?”  (My answer to that question is “No” btw.)

One of those posts had to do with the Trinity.  In it, I invoked the image of perichoresis – “dance” or “rotation”.

Now, I didn’t intend to try to work out any sort of “doctrine of God” or to “explain” the Trinity.  I know now more than ever that I am not able to do so.  I mentioned in the post itself that the image that I started with was anthropomorphic and, essentially, to not get too caught up in it.  

My goal in appealing to the doctrine of the Trinity in my approach to divine wrath was really threefold:
  1. To establish that God is not lonely and doesn’t have needs (as in God doesn’t need “wrath” to display some aspect of Himself that might not be possible without someone to punish). 
  2. To question and clarify what is intended by the word “wrath”. 
  3. To argue that God doesn’t have “parts” (as in “primarily” angry).
Essentially, my intent was to view and define divine “anger” (or “wrath’) through the lens of protology (origins and first things).  In other words, what is original within God?  Is the sort of hostility that characterizes the typical construal of wrath an eternal ‘attribute’ of God?

I still think my questions/points about “primary anger” are valid, that a protological imagination is essential to how we address them, and that the Trinity shapes Christian protology.  Attack the metaphysics of that post if you like, but don’t let them detract from the intent of the post and the validity of the line of thinking therein.  

But since the release of Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance (which I haven’t read) and The Shack (which I haven't seen), there seems to have been a spike in discussions of the Trinity (along with an associated spike in heresy hunting).  I’ve read several in-depth blog posts & discussions, most of them by some really smart guys.  

It's been...interesting.  Sobering.  A bit disorienting.  

The terminology is often inaccessible, necessarily anthropomorphic, and riddled with semantic equivocation.  People use the same words but mean different things.  When it comes to Trinitarian thought, the definition of “person” is enough to make your head spin.  So as far as the Trinity goes, to be forthright, I’m not sure that I have any idea what I’m talking about.  Looking in on some of these discussions makes me realize just how much I don’t know.

So there’s that. 

But that’s only part of what I wanted to say in this post.  The other part has to do with the place of the Trinity within the spiritual life of the Christian faith that I currently find myself in (of the evangelical variety).  What is it’s meaning for the life of faith?  

At best, the answer is not self-evident.

We do not say the creeds.  Our “liturgy” rarely invokes any traditionally Trinitarian language.  Even if it did (per more liturgical traditions), there is no clarity as to what it is that we’re talking about or why such things matter beyond dogmatic identity and association.  Evangelists occasionally reference the necessity of intellectual assent to the proposition “Jesus is God”, but their reason for doing so is to avoid the terrible fate that will come as a result of not making such a confession.  We may take a few steps into the realm of meaning in asserting that “to see Jesus is to see God”, but that hardly validates the metaphysical complexities, intricacies, and anathemas seen in the history of Trinitarian thought.

Sure, a few of the theologically minded may discuss some of the finer points of Trinitarian thought.  But other than a passing reference to the Trinity being “confusing” (the most common reference), as a religious badge of identity over against “non-Trinitarians” and their “misunderstandings” (“they think we believe in 3 gods!” we say incredulously) or in the rhyme of contemporary music, it holds no particularly vital or life-giving place in the spiritual life of the Christian community of which I’m a part.

I don’t know what to make of that.

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