Choosing a Theology Textbook: Life in the Trinity – Part 2

Fairbairn starts the third chapter with a discussion of the Trinity. There are several helpful elements to this. First, he does a great job of recognizing that his audience, if the book is used as he envisions it (as an intro text), will have little to know technical knowledge of the Trinity.  He does an excellent job of explaining technical terms and distinctions, as well as walking the reader through the development of trinitarian dogma. Second, he has patristic quotations interspersed throughout each chapter which he references in his discussion. I think this will be a helpful way to introduce students to some of the key thinkers without over-burdening them with lengthy and arcane readings. Lastly, his discussion of the Trinity is not simply to explain what trinitarian dogma is – but also how it functions. In his development, theosis, being grounded in a patristic reading of the immanent and economic Trinity, orients the theological task and highlights the particularity of Christianity:

Only Christianity affirms that within God there is love and fellowship. Only the Christian God has such fellowship to share with humanity. Thus only Christianity is willing to say that people are and always will be lower than God, but at the same time, we are not meant to be merely servants. We are meant to be Christ’s “friends”…We are meant to remain creatures and thus remain lower than God but at the same time to share in the fellowship and love that have existed from all eternity between the persons of the Trinity” (56-57).

In chapter 4, Fairbairn moves on to address the imago dei, reading it, as you can probably imagine, in light of theosis. Turning to biblical material and Cyril of Alexandria, he argues that the image pertains to humankind’s participation in the Trinity through the inbreathing of the Spirit of God. People are meant to share in the Son’s relationship with the Father, which is not individualistic, but overflows into life together. Fairbairn, understanding the need to give some more concrete answers to his argument, turns to the concept of peace in the Gospel of John. He states, “Victory and peace do not involve eliminating the world or its conflicts, nor do they involve Christians’ stepping out of the world altogether…We can live above the chaos because we are in Christ, just as he can face his closest friends’ abandonment of him because he is in his Father” (72).This leads him into a discussion of the Trinity as a model for our social interaction, with a specific focus on the Father-Son relationship: “To follow is to walk in the footsteps of God the Son, to live out his relationship to the Father. To lead is to walk in the footsteps of God the Father, to live out his relationship to the Son (and the Spirit)” (81).

Chapter 5 outlines the Fall, read in light of theosis, as a breakdown of humankind’s participation in the Father-Son relationship. Because of this specific relational focus, Fairbairn highlights how this outlines the salvation event as wholly alien. The issue is not one of morality, but relationality, and therefore salvation follows the contours of relationship and aims at theosis. I will end with some of Fairbairn’s concluding remarks:

Before the Fall, Adam and Eve shared in the Father-Son relationship, ruled over creation and shared love with one another. Through their pride, they became discontented with their condition as creatures and sought not merely to participate in God through the Spirit but to become like God on their own apart from God’s work…All of Adam and Eve’s descendants have been born spiritually dead, estranged from the Father-Son relationship and related to another in an adversarial way. Furthermore, there is nothing we can do that would bring us back into fellowship with God” (107).

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One thought on “Choosing a Theology Textbook: Life in the Trinity – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Theological Anthropology and Christian Formation « Theology Forum

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