Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Theses on the Trinity by Fred Sanders

Fred Sanders is an evangelical theologian who specializes in the doctrine of the Trinity.  He recently wrote Theses on the Revelation of the Trinity in which he discusses a number of items in relation to how we should understand the revelation of the Trinity and how we should engage in theologizing about this reality.  Here are the eleven theses he posted.  Be sure to read the full article for his discussions on each of these items.  I give Sanders' comments on theses 10 and 11 as I thought they were especially moving.

1. The Revelation of the Trinity is Bundled With The Revelation of the Gospel. 

2. The Revelation of the Trinity Accompanies Salvation.

3. The Revelation of the Trinity is Revelation of God’s Own Heart.

4. The Revelation of the Trinity Must Be Self-Revelation.
5. The Revelation of the Trinity Came When the Son and the Spirit Came in Person.

6. New Testament Texts About the Trinity Tend to Be Allusions Rather than Announcements
7. The Revelation of the Trinity Required Words to Accompany It.

8. The Revelation of the Trinity is the Extending of a Conversation Already Happening

9. The Revelation of the Trinity Occurs Across the Two Testaments of the Canon.

10. The Revelation of the Trinity in Scripture is Perfect.  It’s easy to think that the task of theology is to make something useful out of the mess of materials that God gave us in Scripture, or at least to put in logical order what was communicated in historical sequence. Theology can think of itself as synthesizing doctrine from raw materials, so in trinitarian theology we can get turned around by asking “is the Trinity in the Bible” and meaning “can the later synthesis be identified as a legitimate construction from the raw materials given in the Bible?” Something is backwards in such a question. In this doctrine especially, it is better to suppose that Scripture speaks from an achieved synthesis and gives partial expression, here and there, to glimpses of that fullness and coherence. To be specific, what we have in Scripture is rightly ordered, with the emphases falling in the right places. One application of this principle is that when a passage of Scripture names the Father and the Son but then fails to complete the triangle, we should neither pronounce it binitarian nor cram the Holy Spirit into it. In trinitarian theology, the Holy Spirit in particular has suffered as much from his overzealous promoters as his underzealous neglecters. He is fully God and a distinct person. But triangular symmetry is manifestly not a concern, or emphasis, or prominent motif, of Scripture, and we should not belabor it in every subpoint of our doctrine.
11. Systematic Theology’s Account of the Trinity Should Serve the Revelation of the Trinity in Scripture. Christian theology should be a humble discipline, pointing from itself back to Scripture as much as possible. It may need to invent new terms, make careful distinctions, and construct conceptual schemas to make sense of the evidence; I’m neither justifying theological laziness nor criticizing scholastic predecessors (who tended to obey this rule more than moderns have). But a systematic rendering of the Trinity should be careful not to rocket out of the orbit of the biblical content it is designed to explain. It ought to eventually lead back to good reading of the text. Scott Swain argues that “doctrinal propositions apart from the exegetical arguments that they summarize are at best ambiguous,” and this is especially true in trinitarian theology, where the dynamics of the arguments can be so conceptually seductive as to alienate theological affections from Holy Scripture. Because of what the inspired text is –the words of the Father and the Son speaking in the Spirit– readers may actually come into contact with the triune God in them. The systematic theology of the Trinity ought to help open that possibility, not occlude it.

See my post The Trinity: Some Quotations for more on the Trinity.