Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Great is the Lord 4

RonHighfield.jpgRon Highfield’s new book, Great Is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God , sketches the “Trinity” as well as I’ve seen for an introductory text.

I believe this: Evangelicals will denounce anyone who denies the Trinity. Evangelicals have developed a theology that simply doesn’t need the Trinity. So, yes, they believe it; but it has almost no impact on evangelical theology — in the trenches of churches. (Not all, of course.)
So my claim: Most of Western evangelicals are functionally heretical. Most have a rhetoric for theology that has little room for the Trinity. Christ is God — and this gives them grounds for a satisfaction theory of atonement. But a genuine Trinitarian framing of theology is mostly gone.

Am I being too hard here? I don’t mean “confessing” the Trinity. I mean developing a theology where the Trinity shapes the theology.
Highfield seems to agree with me, but he casts his net wider:
“In liberal Protestant churches, confessing the Trinity has long since lost cognitive meaning, and liberal theologians, if they attend to the doctrine of the Trinity at all, treat it as a symbol pointing to something in religious experience” (104).
He goes further: “Even in confessional churches, those without robust teaching and preaching, traditional formulas become opaque and cease to illuminate the mind and stir the heart” (104).
Now to evangelicals: “many evangelical and conservative believers tend toward biblicism in their approach to doctrine, and thus they feel uncomfortable with the metaphysical language of the traditional creeds” (104).

If you are Trinitarian, this at least is true:

“everything God does is from the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. And every Christian response to God occurs in the Spirit, through the Son, and in the Spirit” (105).
Now he cuts into the reason why so many have learned to neglect the Trinity: “Western theology from the Middle Ages onward gives the impression that the doctrine of the Trinity, though true and important, could be left out without major revisions in the rest of the doctrine of God” (106).
The West emphasizes the Oneness and Essence of God. This emphasis has led to a widespread neglect of the Trinity.
So, what are we doing about this problem?
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Joan Ball

posted May 17, 2010 at 8:43 am

Wondering if this phenomenon is related to the western reticence to surrender and die to self. If one follows the dictates of a strong Father God and a well-described Jesus he or she can operate in the illusion of “knowing” the right thing to do next and can then endeavor (with reliance on things like strategic planning, goals and objectives, church programs for self-improvement) to do it. Living as a trinitarian by engaging the Spirit makes things messy…un-knowable. It forces the follower into uncertainty which requires submission and reliance that goes beyond singing “I Surrender All” to actually living it. This is counterintuitive for many Westerners (conservative or liberal) and especially difficult, I believe, for Americans. What are we doing about it? As with so many things in this faith, I think following Father, Son and Spirit to the fullest and encouraging others to do the same through our stories and serving their needs in a way that defies the broader Christian culture in its love, service, encouragement and obedience is the only way to make a lasting impact. As any good writing teacher would say, we need to begin to show and not tell…

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James-Michael Smith

posted May 17, 2010 at 10:12 am

I’m doing things like this to help people work through their understanding of God’s triune nature:–who-do-Christians-pray-to

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posted May 17, 2010 at 12:24 pm

It seems that in trying to create a solution to the heretical problems in the 4th century, through the ages we just created more problems. If we are truly Trinitarians then we need to work at implimenting this doctrine within our whole theology. When I hear someone say “God became man” I ask “which part? The whole Triune God or do you mean Jesus before he became physical? You know, the Logos?” Also, what about prayer? Some people pray to God without naming the Person. Some say the Father, and others say Jesus. But I never hear anyone pray to the Holy Spirit. But they are all God, right? I think if we want to be Trinitarian Christians we need to clarify the Persons rather than use the generic term God. And if we do say God we should say Triune God. As for me, I’m still re-thinking this whole doctrine and not sure where I am right now.

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Andy Holt

posted May 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I think the real problem is that we have a weak understanding of the Holy Spirit. First of all, how many Christians call the Spirit “It”? (He’s a person, not an object.) Secondly, we tend to think of the Spirit only in terms of spiritual gifts, and specifically the gift of tongues. Our knowledge of the Spirit has been greatly colored by the Pentecostal movement (and various caricatures of the Pentecostal movement). Thirdly, we evangelicals have failed to grasp that the Spirit dwells in us both individually and corporately, and that this is now how God is present in the world. When our pneumatology catches up to our christology we will have a more robust (and orthodox) theology.

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posted May 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Andy #4-
Well said.

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Wolf Paul

posted May 17, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I am in conversation with an old friend, Dallas grad, who says he is somewhere halfway between orthodox Judaism and Christianity: he believes Christiam beliefs should demonstrate a continuity from what the OT prophets preached, not a radical departure from it. He fervently believes in the resurrection of Jesus, but while we have not touched on it yet explicitly, I don’t believe he has any use for the trinity or Chalcedon. Some of what he says sounds similar to things I have heard and/or read from N.T.Wright (who in the recent conference in Wheaton expressed reservations about the wisdim and usefulness of Chalcedon).
Here is my question: if we confedd “sola scriptura”, what do we do with people whose study of “sciptura” does not lead them to the same conclusion as the Fathers and the Reformers, but who, in agreement with “scriptura” say “Jesus is Lord” and profess belief in the resurrection? Shouldn’t that be enough? Are we not ourselves denying “sola scriptura” if we demand more of people like my friend?

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Wolf Paul

posted May 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Pardon the typos in my comment, my fingers are too fat for my smartphone keyboard.

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posted May 18, 2010 at 9:05 am

I don’t think you are being “too hard here”, re: framing of theology based upon the Trinity.
Like many others now chiming in, I find this part of the discussion of Highfield’s text the constructive and helpful part. It’s also the part where I- maybe others?- find ourselves most vulnerable.
Some of what I discern regarding the objections to understanding the Trinity align with Scot, but there are metaphysical concepts embedded in the doctrine that demand some attention and reflection: neither of which are the kind of attributes that North American culture puts a high premium upon within the church.
Add to that the ongoing rejection of dualism by theologians and attempts by the same to develop the doctrine (Highfield included?) in ways that have more of a holistic underpinning (I think TF Torrance might be an example), and the understanding of the Trinity can be further muddled. Altogether, it points to a precarious social location for understanding the Trinity: and the doctrine.
I’d like to add to this some really earnest developments by James Torrance, Andrew Purves, Lesslie Newbigin, VM Karkkainen, and- yes!- NT Wright that go in directions that resemble efforts by the early church theologians to construct trinitarian theologies that serve the church in its worship and mission. Such efforts lend some clarity to both what Highfield discerns as doctrine and knowledge of God.

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