The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World

Written by Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K.K. Yeo, eds. Reviewed By Christopher G. Woznicki

Theology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been marked by two trends. The first is a revival of Trinitarian theology. This trend has attempted to place the Trinity at the center of theology and church life. The second is a turn towards the majority world. It has been well documented that in the 20th century the church experienced explosive growth in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, whereas the “Western church” has dwindled. From this growth in the majority world church we are beginning to witness a shift in how theology on the global stage is being done. In The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World, editors Gene L. Green, Stephen T. Pardue, and K. K. Yeo bring these two trends together to produce a volume that “brings the global church to theological dialogue regarding kaleidoscopic understandings of the Trinity” (p. 2).

The editors have brought together nine evangelical authors from five different contexts: Anglo-American, Indigenous North American, African, Latin American, and Asian. Following a brief introduction by K. K. Yeo, Gerald Bray represents the Anglo-American context and attempts to create space for new ways of expressing Trinitarian doctrine while staying true to the substance of the traditional teaching of church. Randy Woodley writes on behalf of a severely underrepresented group in Christian theology: Indigenous North Americans. He argues that Western Christianity has been too preoccupied with substance ontology when dealing with the Trinity and that indigenous understandings of community could help the church develop a communal ontology.

The African representative in this dialogue, Samuel Waje Kunhiyop, gives an overview of the doctrine of the Trinity in African history, stretching back to the founding of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. He encourages the African church to return to its roots and emphasize the Trinity in its theology and practice. Chapters four and five are written from the Latin American Perspective. Antonio González makes a case for monotheism being about the exclusive rule of God. The fact that Jesus shares shares this exclusive role with God has interesting implications for our doctrine of the Trinity. Rosalee Velloso Ewell describes the implications that the doctrine of the Trinity has for the prophetic role of the church.

The final three chapters are written by authors in Thai, Japanese, and Chinese contexts respectively. Natee Tanchanpongs examines the theology of four Asian theologians and evaluates them in light of an evangelical framework. He proposes a “context-to-text” model for measuring their evangelical faithfulness. Atsuhiro Asano notes that most theology has focused on the metaphor of God the Father and has neglected the motherly aspects of God. In the final essay Zi Wang tackles the “Term Question,” the debate about whether God should be translated as Shang-Ti or Shin in Chinese language Bibles. She proposes that the answer to the “Term Question” may provide a way forward for answering questions about the relationship between individual cultures and the universal claims of Christianity.

It has often been said that the greatest theological thinking has been birthed out of mission. This is certainly true, for when the gospel encounters new cultural contexts new questions arise about God’s nature and identity along with how he interacts with people. The editors of this volume have done a fine job in showing how such cultural encounters can shed new light upon issues related to the Trinity that have yet to be explored in a traditional Western context. Not only have the editors shown how the various cultural voices can contribute to the church’s understanding of the Trinity, but they have also provided readers with fodder for missiological thought and action. For instance, Woodley’s essay will force some readers to deal with the issues that come with praeparatio evangelica and whether one can formulate a doctrine of the Trinity from natural theology. Tanchanpongs’s essay might serve as a valuable resource for those attempting to define syncretism. His account provides a nuanced and non-formulaic way to discern whether a particular theology is outside the bounds of the gospel. Kunhiyop’s essay will be of service to those who find themselves working in Africa. More than any other essayist, he provides concrete suggestions for strengthening awareness of the doctrine of the Trinity among local churches.

Despite these strengths, the book has its weak spots. The essays by Asano and Wang come to mind; both address the doctrine of God but fail to engage the doctrine of the Trinity in a substantial manner. Wang’s essay is clearly an essay on monotheism, and the aims of Asano’s essay are unclear. Is she merely arguing for motherly aspects of God’s action in the world (economic Trinity), or is she suggesting something about how we should understand God the Father within the immanent Trinity? Can and should the two even be separated? Despite two essays that do little to contribute to our understanding of the Trinity, however, this book is a prime example of how the perspective of Christians from different global contexts can enrich our understanding of the Triune God Christians around the world worship.

Christopher G. Woznicki

Christopher G. Woznicki
Fuller Theological Seminary
Pasadena, California, USA

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