Tag Archives | Trinity

From Pentecost to the Triune God | Steven M. Studebaker

The cover of Studebaker's From Pentecost to the Triune GodIt should go without saying in 2017, but in case you haven’t heard, pentecostal scholarship has come of age. The days when pentecostals only focused on the Luke-Acts canon (as fruitful as it is) are over. From Pentecost to the Triune God is an exemplar of current pentecostal thought. In it, Steven M. Studebaker presents a full-orbed theology of the Trinity that gives the role of the Spirit its proper place.

Experience and the Spirit of Christ

From Pentecost to the Triune God falls into three sections. In section one (chapters 1 and 2), Studebaker argues for the importance of bringing experience to exegesis. “Since the ancient Israelites reflected on their formative religious experiences, so can contemporary Pentecostals (and all Christians)” (19). Next he turns his attention to the overarching role of the Spirit throughout the entire canon. A survey of scripture shows that the Spirit’s activity has three characteristics: liminal, constitutional, and eschatological. Theses three characteristics are exhibited in the three main narrative roles: creation-redemption, the life of Jesus, and Pentecost. This chapter is a must-read for pneumatology students of all stripes.

The array of three characteristics spread across three narrative roles leads to nine sections full of insight into the Spirit. I’ll share one of them in this review: the constitutional role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus. Theologians often describe the Trinity in terms of procession. The Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit proceeds either from the Son or the Father and the Son. This understanding of the Trinity can lead to a Logos Christology which subordinates the Spirit. Studebaker points out that twice in scripture that the Spirit is named the “Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11). The simple genitive construction can have two meanings:

  1. “Of” can mean source—the Spirit which proceeds from Christ. This underscores a Logos Christology.
  2. “Of” can mean origin—the Spirit which is the “source of the incarnation of Jesus Christ” (82). This opens the door for a Spirit Christology to be developed.

The same Spirit which hovered over the surface of the waters and played a constitutive role in creation hovered over Mary’s womb and played a constitutive role in the incarnation. It’s important to note that Studebaker does not develop his Spirit Christology in order to replace Logos theology, the doctrine of processions, or even the mutual love model. His Spirit Christology adds to the richness of our understanding of the Trinity, underscoring the Spirit’s personhood.

Trinitarian Theology Through the Ages

Trinitarian theology has a lengthy pedigree. In the second section (chapters 3-5), Studebaker delves into the history of Trinitarian theology and evaluates various traditions in light of the theology he developed in the second chapter.

Studebaker delves deep. He considers the roots of Eastern and Western Trinitarianism before moving to the Reformation, Evangelicalism, and Charismatic theologies. Using a variety of dialogue partners representative of the various positions, he considers the strengths and weaknesses of the various views before suggesting what his theological vision has contribute.

World Religions and Environmentalism

The final two chapters are a test drive of Studebaker’s freshly envisioned theology. In “The Spirit of Pentecost and Theology of Religions,” he offers a provocative view that will challenge the presuppositions of many pentecostals. Arguing exegetically that the Spirit was indeed poured out upon all flesh (not just believers), it follows that anyone who responds to the Spirit of Christ (regardless of their religion) will be saved.

The scope of the creative-redemptive work of the Spirit of Pentecost is universal. The Spirit is always seeking to initiate people into and to develop in them a fuller experience of the Spirit of Pentecost. (239)

It’s worth noting that Studebaker is not a Universalist. Although the outpouring of the Spirit is universal, human response to the Spirit of Pentecost is not. This understanding of the Spirit will enable Christians to re-envision mission not as a way carry Jesus to places he’s never been, but as a way to participate in the mission of the Spirit of Pentecost.

The final chapter considers creation care. If creation-redemption is one act of the Spirit, then the theological separation of common and special grace is a fiction. “The Spirit’s work does not have two orders—creation and redemption—but one, the redemption of creation” (261). It follows that creation care is a way of participating in the work of the Spirit who filled the liminal space between chaos and order, played a constitutive role in creation-redemption, and brought all things to eschatological fulfilment at Pentecost.

[F]ew Pentecostal and evangelical Christians consider creation care as an arena of the Spirit’s work and, much less, as a form of sanctification and path of discipleship. However, creation care, no less than the traditional disciplines of Christian formation, is a way that Christians can “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). In other words, buying organic fair-trade coffee and turning the heat down may be just as much a way “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as praying, attending church, and fasting ( Phil. 2:12). (262)

From Pentecost to the Triune God is more than theology for Pentecostals—it’s a detailed and inspiring look at the life of the Trinue God from the perspective of its least-recognized person.

Studebaker, Steven M. From Pentecost to the Triune God: A Pentecostal Trinitarian Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012.

The Shadow of the Almighty | Ben Witherington III & Laura M. Ice

The cover of Witherington & Ice's The Shadow of the AlmightyThe Trinity—one God in three persons—is a challenge to understand. To make matters worse, scripture contains no explicit theology of the Trinity. It does, however, speak often of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. This type of biblical language is what Witherington III and Ice study in The Shadow of the Almighty.

The authors argue that “Father” language for God is not prevalent in the Old Testament. God desired to be a Father to Israel, but Israel was unfaithful. It is only when Jesus became incarnate that God was spoken of as Father. He is the unique father of Jesus (who called him my Father). The church, having received adoption into the family of God, now calls God our Father.

The Shadow of the Almighty is a helpful survey of Father, Son, and Spirit language in scripture. The authors help to make a complex topic more accessible.

—Ben Witherington III and Laura M. Ice, The Shadow of the Almighty: Father, Son, and Spirit in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

The Great Dance | C. Baxter Kruger

The cover of Kruger's The Great DanceMany Christians speak of God. A large number of those Christians would affirm that God is Trinity: one being, three persons. Some have learned this from creeds and catechisms, others from hymns. Very few, I suspect, have given sustained thought to what it means that God is Father, Son, and Spirit. This is what C. Baxter Kruger delivers in The Great Dance.

Kruger uses the metaphor of dancing (perhaps picked up from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity?) to describe the life of Father, Son and Spirit. This life is woven through creation like a great river. The goal of God is to draw everyone into this river, this dance.

I used the word “everyone” on purpose. Kruger has left Calvinism with is doctrine of limited atonement (or more generously stated, “definite atonement” or “particular redemption”) behind. He preaches the good news of the great dance like an evangelist:

The Father himself set his love upon you before the foundation of the world and predestined you to be adopted into the very Trinitarian life of God.  And his own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, has come and accomplished his Father’s dreams for you and the human race.  And even now the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit that this is the truth. (from his essay, “Why I Left Calvinism Behind“)

A fully realized doctrine of the Trinity demands a careful understanding of Jesus’ Incarnation, something which Kruger provides with clarity and passion. Drawing on the work of the Torrance brothers, he explains how the Incarnation was the work of God hammering our sin-gnarled humanity back into its original shape. This work began at birth and continued to and including his obedient death.

Kruger does well to sidestep ontological arguments (homooousia, anyone?) and stresses a relational understanding of the Trinity. This is immensely helpful for modern readers. If God chose to reveal himself in relational terms (Father-Son), then why would we want to privilege Greek philosophical categories foreign to scripture?

My only difficulty with this book was the way Kruger handled suffering, a topic reserved for the final chapter. Suffering is the result of believing the lie of the enemy and divorcing yourself from the great dance. While this is true in part, surely there’s more to it than that. Kruger speaks of the “philanthropy of the Triune God” (33)—that joy that runs through ordinary life which we experience in motherhood and fatherhood, gardening and cookouts, carpentry and friendships. How do we explain the lives of people who suffer deeply and constantly precisely for their participation in the great dance? The Apostle Paul spoke about joy in suffering, rejoicing in trials.

That caveat aside, The Great Dance is a rare book that makes deep theological insight readable and enjoyable. The Great Dance is something any Christian could read to deepen their faith in the triune God.

—C. Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited (Victoria, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2000).

1 John 5:6-8 | Spirit, Water, Blood

Trinity

A Russian Icon of the Trinity.

“[fog horn noise] This is your captain speaking. You have been specially selected to receive a free Caribbean Cruise!”

Have you ever received a phone call like that? As ashamed as I am to admit it (and I don’t consider myself to be a very gullible man), I was so excited the first the first I got this call I quickly called my wife. “You’re not going to believe this babe, we’ve won a free cruise!” Of course the cruise wasn’t legitimate. It was a marketing scam used to separate the gullible from their finances by leveraging their greed.

These sort of scams have moved from door-to-door salesmen to letters, to phone calls to internet ads to Facebook profiles. The medium may change, but at least in this case, the message stays the same! The rule of thumb to see through this type of scam is the age-old adage: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
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Like Father, Like Son | Tom Smail

The cover of Smail's Like Father, Like SonWe believe that God is Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. Three persons, one deity. With that in mind, what does it mean to be created in that image? That is the question that Smail tackles in this stimulating book.

Here’s Smail’s argument in a nutshell:

To be authentically human is to reflect in our relationships with one another the initiating love of God the Father, the responsive love of God the Son, and the creative love of God the Spirit, in interpenetration the one with the other. (240)

The persons of the Trinity, while all one deity, have various roles. The Father initiates love, and the Son responds to that love with free obedience. We image those roles when we, like the Father, take the initiative to love each other. We image those roles when we, like the Son, choose to respond in obedient love.

While Smail makes a good case for Father and Son, his role for the Spirit felt forced. To the Spirit he assigns divine creativity which we, in turn, mirror.

Smail, like any good theologian, is well versed in the debates of past theologians. He takes time to carefully set his understanding of Trinity in the Eastern tradition. Augustine doesn’t cut it—he relies on the Eastern idea of perichoresis (that Father, Son, and Spirit live in interpenetration with each other) to ground his thoughts on imago dei.

This wonderfully insightful book had me pausing on almost every page to come to grips with the ramifications of his argument. He presents a thoroughly biblical understanding of just want it means for us to reflect the image of the Trinity.

—Tom Smail, Like Father, Like Son: The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005).

Incarnation by Thomas F. Torrance (Introduction)

The cover of Torrance's Incarnation

I did a little math the other day.

The average Canadian life-span is sitting just shy of 80 years. I’m 38. If I keep reading at my current pace of a book or so per week, I’ll be able to consume just over 2,000 books this side of the great divide.

With that thought in mind, I try to choose the books I read more carefully than I used to. Instead of raiding second hand book shops to fill the shelves of my library with interesting spines, I want to know that a book is substantial enough to spend my time on. Incarnation is one of those substantial books.

Thomas F. Torrance

In case you don’t know much about Thomas F. Torrance (1913-2007), here are some of the reasons I’m drawn to him:

  1. Deep Thinker. Torrance studied with Karl Barth at Basel and translated Barth’s Church Dogmatics into English.
  2. Biblical Knowledge. I like to know that a systematic theologian is first a Biblical theologian. Torrance translated Calvin’s entire Commentaries into English.
  3. Trinitarian. Torrance is known as a “Theologian of the Trinity,” yet it has been said that his Christology volumes contain his developed doctrine of God. I’m intrigued.
  4. Service. Torrance served the church as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland where he worked towards church unity.
  5. Science. One of Torrance’s major fields of study was the dialogue between science and theology.
  6. Academic. Torrance had ample time to refine his Christological understanding as a professor of Christian Dogmatics at New College, Edinburgh for 27 years.

Incarnation: The Book

Incarnation is the first of a two-volume set which comprises Torrance’s Christology lectures to his students at Edinburgh. The lectures were then edited by Robert T. Walker, an Edinburgh trained philosopher and theologian. Walker has unique insight into T. F. Torrance’s thought since he heard the lectures in person and happens to be T. F. Torrance’s nephew.

As you would expect from a systematic theologian, the chapter structure highly detailed, which makes the overall logic of his argument easy to follow. This is good, since the subject matter is quite dense.

As this series of posts continue I’ll be carefully reading, summarizing and interacting with Torrance’s theology. In doing so I hope not only to remember the material, but to integrate it into my own life and ministry.

I welcome any dialogue the online theologs have to offer. Comments are open!

1.0. Preliminary Matters →

Trinity & Community | Thomas F. Torrance

It is the holy and loving relations between the persons of the Trinity that are the ultimate ground and source for the holy and loving life of God’s people.

—Thomas F. Torrance in Elmer M. Colyer, ed., Evangelical Theology in Transition: Theologians in Dialogue with Donald Bloesch, 144.

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