Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Scripture, Community, Worship

Written by Daniel J. Treier and David Lauber, eds. Reviewed By Jason S. Sexton

Continuing the vigorous engagement of the annual Wheaton College Theology Conference, this collection of eleven essays results from the seventeenth consecutive conference held April 2008 as “Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry.” As the subtitle of the proceeding published volume indicates, the contents are divided into three parts: (1) Scripture: The Bible and the Triune Economy; (2) Community: The Trinity and Society?; and (3) Worship: Church Practices and the Triune Mission. This layout enables a sketching of one of the most recent attempts at trying to capture the impulses within trinitarian thinking today.

After the editors’ brilliant introduction to the current trinitarian situation, Kevin Vanhoozer takes chapters 1–2 for reflections on “Triune Discourse”—nothing new for him. He applies his previous work to finding a “link” (p. 71)—never mind the historical development—between the two ETS doctrinal tenets, the Trinity and inerrancy, claiming they “fit together hand in glove” (p. 75). In his characteristic witty style, he moves through optional models of Scripture and revelation to finally locate a Scripture principle in the “economy of triune communication” (p. 76), which leads one to wonder if the phenomenon of what Scripture is has been swallowed entirely in what it does—though perhaps for Vanhoozer Scripture is what it does. In chapter 3 Edith Humphrey debunks notions about “hierarchical” views of the Trinity (pp. 94–102) and presents a case for beginning a theology of understanding God as having always spoken through the Son.

Part 2 begins with John Franke (chap. 4) presenting the standard case for warmly welcoming relational models of the Trinity, finding them catalytic for mission. Franke is squared-off with Mark Husbands, who argues against both the social model and social analogy in “The Trinity is not our Social Program” (chap. 5), highlighting problems in Volf’s agenda and reading of the Cappadocians.

Keith Johnson (chap. 6) presents the theology of religions offered by Yong, Heim, and Dupuis, suggesting, “Under pressure to accommodate religious pluralism, [they] reinterpret trinitarian doctrine … to support their constructive accounts of religious diversity,” instead of holding “a compelling vision of the triune God as the ultimate good” (pp. 158, 160).

In chapter 7, Robert Lang’at (Kabarat University, Kenya) casts the mission endeavor against the priority of trinitarian theology, echoing a catalytic theme seen earlier through the mid-twentieth-century work in South India (cf. Lesslie Newbigin, Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission, [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006]), though here being an indigenous voice working within the emerging holiness tradition of East Africa.

Gordon Smith starts the final section on the sacraments (chap. 8). Beginning with the ecumenical Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982), he raises the question of the identity of the “actor” in the ordinances. After concluding that it is by the tangible, supernatural acts of grace (i.e., word and sacrament) that one is “incorporated into the life of God” (p. 191), he offers suggestions for cultivating a “truly trinitarian” approach to the Lord’s Supper and baptism, ultimately yielding a “radically christocentric” participation (p. 197). Philip Butin (chap. 9) then draws from Calvin and Barth’s “threefold form of the Word,” arguing that acknowledgment of the trinitarian event of preaching best accounts for divine and human acts taking place during “proclamation” in corporate worship. Leanne Van Dyk (chap. 10) continues the proclamation-theme, suggesting that visible practices of community, service, and faithfulness derive from the inner-life of the Trinity and enable participation in God’s mission in the world. Finally, John Witvliet (chap. 11) suggests ways that the trinitarian renewal can yield trinitarian worship and teaching. While quite rich, this collection of essays may have been different had the original keynote, Miroslav Volf, been able to deliver lectures he was originally tapped for. Instead, the keynote became Vanhoozer, an equally gifted (if not better) theologian, albeit with a topic more than slightly off the beaten path of what Volf might have given as another contribution toward trinitarian theology for the church. Yet Volf’s earlier work “garnered much discussion” at the conference (p. 9n3). The conference seemed similar to the later 2009 meeting of The Society for the Study of Theology on “Trinitarian Theology” (30 March–2 April, The Netherlands) which, while housing social trinitarians and critics of relational models and social analogies (cf. some of these essays forthcoming in International Journal of Systematic Theology 12:1 [Jan 2010]), seemed to evince a growing weakness of relational models for providing an adequate vision of the transcendent Lord (not to mention the seeming absence of the biblical witness). Indeed, social trinitarians wanting social analogies seem to be missing a step that might be located in a proper Christology (perhaps incarnational or in the imago Dei as in Kathryn Tanner, Christ the Key [Cambridge: CUP, 2010]), which seems to be a much better way to access trinitarian dogma.

This volume’s essays left the present reviewer wondering if the recent trend of trinitarian studies is soon becoming weaned from its Moltmannian captivity (cf. Bruce McCormack, “Trinity of Life and Power: The Relevance of Trinitarian Theology in the Contemporary Age,” in Spirit of Truth and Power, ed. David F. Wright [Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2007], pp. 17–38; and Stephen R. Holmes, Christian Doctrines in Historical Perspective: The Holy Trinity [Milton Keynes: Paternoster, forthcoming 2010]). Yet perhaps the major fruit from the recent trinitarian resurgence is to be found primarily in ecclesiology, as Trinitarian Theology for the Churchevinces, and not much further. This may mean that results of recent trends in the latter portion of the twentieth century are not to be eschewed as if only bad fruit resulted. But perhaps this emphasis on the social Trinity and the social analogy simply displays a deficiency, perhaps evidencing and beckoning the giving way of recent trends to, say, a resurgent Christology (?), as something equally promising both for theology and the church’s life.

Jason S. Sexton

Jason Sexton is a licensed minister with the Evangelical Free Church of America and PhD candidate in Systematic Theology at The University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

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