Thursday, 6 September 2007
Holy Trinities, Batman!
I am grumbling my way through an essay on the Trinity as part of a university paper called "Doing Theology." I say "grumbling" because the paper is a compulsory one in the BTheol program, and because - despite long disassociation from Armstrongism - I'm a thorough-going skeptic over full-blown trinitarianism.
Later I want to expand on this subject, but for the moment I'd like to share some of the surprises that have cropped up in my reading.
* Catholic theologians cheerfully concede that there is no explicit doctrine of the Trinity in either Old or New Testaments. I've dug through Richard McBrien's excellent Catholicism before making this statement.
[W]e cannot read back into the New Testament, much less into the Old Testament, the trinitarian theology and doctrine which slowly and often unevenly developed over the course of some fifteen centuries. (283)
* Evangelical theologians cheerfully concede that there is no explicit doctrine of the Trinity in either Old or New Testaments. I call British Anglican evangelical poster-boy Alister McGrath (Christian Theology, 2007 edition) to the witness box to demonstrate the veracity of that statement.
[N]either the developed trinitarian vocabulary or the specific concepts developed by Christian theologians to express the Christian vision of God are explicitly stated in the New Testament. (249)
* The first person to use the term Trinity was the Montanist convert Tertullian. Tertullian abandoned Catholic Christianity to adopt the beliefs of a Holy Spirit obsessed sect. Remarkably then, the first "trinitarian" to self-identify under that label was a heretic.
Tertullian's Montanism helped him to insights by which the church eventually transcended this formula and developed a more consistent doctrine of the Trinity. (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), 105.)
* Popular conservative theologian Larry Hurtado consistently describes the position of the early church as "binatarian."
The arguments used by orthodox theologians are sometimes creative, occasionally profound, and invariably subjective. Catholics have the easiest path through because they can fall back on the authority of tradition, something most of us feel more jaundiced about. But why let the facts get in the way? My favorite quote comes from Robert Jenson who, despite being Lutheran is a devotee of Reformed dogmatician Karl Barth.
Genesis' teaching about creation can only be accounted for by a full-blown doctrine of the Trinity. (Jenson, "Creation as a Triune Act," Word & World 2/1 (1982), 39)
Yeah right: try convincing a rabbi. This is supercessionism gone crazy.
In any case, the subject, and the sheer bloody-mindedness of the dogmatic bias from certain mainline sectarian hacks, has set me thinking. Of course, finding problems with the Trinity doesn't mean that COG7-style binatarianism is thereby a better option, or Ken Westby-style "One God" unitarianism, and I'd want to make that go double for the near polytheism of the Armstrong/Mormon "God Family" teaching. Making sense of the God question in 2007 calls for something more radical and "out of the box" than squabbling over proof-texts and obscure philosophical mumbo-jumbo.
More on this at a later time.