I just returned home after participating in the LA Theology Conference. Here, I want to give some highlights, a general overview, and then pose a question I had after the conference was completed. First, the conference in general was fantastic. Fuller was a great venue, it was run incredibly well, and the event as a whole had a nice overall rhythm to it. In some conferences you feel like you are running around non-stop, but this was full without being overwhelming. It didn’t hurt, of course, that January in So Cal is gorgeous, so sitting outside having a coffee in between sessions was a nice way to decompress. Second, the plenary sessions were great. There was a nice variety, but they built off of each other well without simply patting each other on the back. The one obvious agreement among the plenary speakers was that social trinitarianism is something of a train wreck, but even that was handled in different ways. And finally, ending the conference with a panel discussion really helped tie it all together. It was here where the disagreements came to the surface. There was some question about apophaticism, and along with that, with analogical or univocal predication. There was a general dislike of the immanent/economic distinction, with different individuals accepting it as an imperfect but helpful distinction, and Lewis Ayres claiming it was too broken to salvage. Ultimately, it was all very interesting.
This leads me to a question I asked at the end of the panel discussion. Over and over again at the conference there seemed to be a general disagreement among plenary speakers and certain members of the audience, and this even came up in a couple of the plenary sessions themselves. I was hoping to shed light on what this disagreement was, but I either posed the question poorly or else was simply misunderstood. My goal was to highlight that each plenary had a notion of what you could say about God within himself, and how far one could go to do so. Tom McCall asserted a certain amount of univocal predication concerning God’s life and our own understanding of identity. Fred Sanders talked about the economic imaging the immanent. Steve Holmes, Lewis Ayres and Karen Kilby, on the other hand, took a much more apophatic approach. The question I asked is why. What previous commitment, doctrinal or otherwise, leads one to make this claim? I find it particularly important because what one assumes about this issue will ultimately do an incredible amount of work for them, both in the doctrine of God in general, and in developing an overarching theological hermeneutics. It will, in other words, create a dogmatic structure around it, and it will be at the center fueling the whole enterprise.
This leads me to my worry. I worry that personality ultimately drives much of this. For instance, in the audience there were clearly a handful of analytic theologians, who simply have no problem assuming univocal predication, and so this drives their account. God is controlled by the notion of deity simply because that is where their interests lie. Likewise though, we could make the same assertion with apophaticism, etc. How are we making judgments concerning what God reveals to us, and what it means to assert truth claims about God in himself? Holmes, Kilby and Ayres have the advantage of asserting continuity with and accountability from classical trinitarianism. None of them were seeking to “advance” trinitarian theology beyond a pure retrieval (and then advancing its implications – Kilby was particularly insightful here). I think this question is particularly important for evangelicals, who continually embrace biblicism, and who will, I fear, embrace the heresies that always follow alongside biblicism (always trinitarian and christological). Since we tend not to be grounded in the tradition, the fundamental issue concerning knowledge of God in himself seems left to personality rather than revelation. It strikes me as a particularly important question these days.
All in all, fantastic conference. I just wish we had more time to talk about this particular issue.