Righteousness: Covenant Faithfulness or Metaphysical Attribute?

Paul Helm, following Piper’s critique of Wright, suggests that God’s righteousness cannot be defined as covenant faithfulness (see post here). I want to think out loud a bit about Helm’s argumentation, and would love to hear your thoughts after reading his post and after reading my impressions here. First, Helm states,

I think we need to pause for a moment or two on this claimed identity between righteousness and covenant faithfulness. It means, for one thing, that there is no other way that God could express his righteousness than by way of covenant faithfulness.”

Now, presumably, if Wright is equating God’s righteousness with covenant faithfulness then this statement presupposes its conclusion. Note Helm’s assumption that God must have “righteousness” behind his covenant faithfulness. This seems, in light of the argument, to be both unhelpful and presumptuous. Next, Helm claims,

Yet it is not merely a question of some definition of righteousness not being adequate, of how we are to understand that righteousness. It is also, and more fundamentally, the question of the coherence of any account of divine righteousness that does not begin with who God is. Being, the being of God, must come first; acting is a consequence of being.”

Likewise, with characterological boldness, Helm continues by adding, Continue reading

Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Social Trinitarianism

The next issue I want to highlight in IVP’s volume trinitarian theology for the churchTrinitarian Theology for the Church is the view of social trinitarianism. We are given two specific essays towards this end, the first by John Franke, discussing the social Trinity and the mission of God, and the second by Mark Husbands whose focus is explicit in his title: “The Trinity Is Not Our Social Program.” Franke follows a stream of interpreters (such as Gunton) who pit Augustine against the likes of Richard of St. Victor, creating a dualism between what is seen as a relational model and a psychological model of the Trinity. This is certainly not my area of expertise, but as far as I understand it, this conception of history is universally deemed anachronistic, positivist and overly-simplistic. Franke fails to interact with the likes of Ayres (amongst others), for instance, and therefore fails to do justice to the scholarship available for this kind of account. Continue reading

The Trinity: A Guide for the Perplexed

As many of you will know, I have been on the search for a good introductory book on the Trinity for use in a seminary classroom. perplexedTowards this end, T&T Clark graciously sent me a review copy of Paul M. Collins’ volume, The Trinity: A Guide for the Perplexed. I should say at the outset that I enjoyed this book, but am not sure if it is exactly what I was looking for. Collins offers an introduction that is not simplistic, but assumes a working knowledge of the major issues, debates and questions for trinitarian thought; which is exactly what I was looking for, but then engages, as seen below, in a reasonably advanced discussion of postmodern concepts which he puts to work for ecclesiology. That being said, that last section could easily be left off, and the remainder of the book stays at a introductory but not overly-simplistic level.

Collins shows a great grasp of the tradition and the various streams of trinitarian thought, offering critique and questions when he deems necessary. The book has only five chapters, looking specifically at: 1) Why the Trinity at all?; 2) Moments of interpretation; 3) Expressing the inexpressible?; 4) The reception of revelation; and 5) Trinity: the Other and the Church. In particular, he charts the rise of social trinitarianism as a response to the overall feeling in the church that the Trinity is without relevance for the life of the body. He develops what he calls the “four moments” in the hermeutical history of trinitarian grammar: 1) the de Regnon paradigm; 2) the problem with Socinus; 3) the Schism of 1054; and 4) Arius and Nicene orthodoxy. Continue reading

More on Trinitarian primers

Kyle mentioned his disappointment in his last post that Leupp’s The Renewal in Trinitarian Theology did not turn out to be the primer on developments in trinitarian doctrine that he had hoped.

karkkainentrinityLet me suggest instead Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s book, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (WJK, 2007), as an introductory volume that – while not perfect –  might just fill that category and be a good option for classroom use as well. The book is laid out in five sections encompassing a total of 27 short chapters. Parts one and two look at the Biblical roots of the doctrine of the Trinity and the historical growth of trinitarian doctrine. Part three surveys contemporary trinitarian views from both the European and North American contexts. Included here are short summaries and interactions  with (in typical Kärkkäinen style) the trinitarian theologies of Barth, Pannenberg, Moltmann, Jenson, and LaCugna to name a few. Part four applies the same treatment to non-Western views such as Latin America (Leonardo Boff, Gonzalez), Asia (Jung Young Lee, Raimundo Panikkar), and Africa (C. Nyamiti, Ogbannaya). The final part distills contributions for the future of trinitarian theology.

oxford-handbook-of-systematic-theologyIf I were teaching a class on contemporary trinitarian theology and/or wanted a resource to glean accessible introductions and bibliographic resources for various modern views, then I would certainly consider using this together with, perhaps, Fred Sander’s essay from the Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology (This is a fantastic volume if you can get your hands on it!) and J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines for the developments in trinitarian doctrine related to Nicaea and Chalcedon.

Keep in mind, Kärkkäinen makes interpretive decisions throughout that will surely fail to satisfy everyone. However, for the bibliography alone and the exposure to a multitude of trinitarian views in one place, Kärkkäinen’s book is a handy resource. Any other suggestions?

The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology

As you might be able to tell from my last several posts, I have been looking at various volumes for possible use in the classroom.trinitarian The latest I have perused is The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology: Themes, Patterns & Explorations by Roderick T. Leupp. I was first interested in this volume because I thought it would be helpful to provide students with an introduction to trinitarian theology that maps the various questions, issues and viewpoints. In the end, this was not exactly Leupp’s intention.

In his introduction, Leupp claims that,

Trinitarian theology is practical. It instructs in the way of Christian salvation and is a shorthand of the gospel. Trinitarian theology is also demanding, calling forth the strict exertions of thought and the purposeful resolve of action. Above all, trinitarian theology glows in its own beauty. Practicality and exertion are caught up into pure delight” (18). Continue reading

David Bentley Hart on Trinitarian Being

In Hart’s final section on the Trinity before turning his attention to the doctine of creation (The Beauty of the Infinite), the author unfolds his trinitarian ontology proper. Along the way he takes up several significant conversation partners including Heidegger , Caputo, Scharlemann, Barth, and Jean-Luc Marion.

James’ Quote and Commentary

Against Karl Barth, Hart defends the analogia entis (analogy of being) as the only way to maintain God’s true transcendence:

To state the matter simply, the analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogization of being in the difference between God and creatures; it is as subversive of the notion of a general and univocal category of being as of the equally “totalizing” notion of ontological equivocity, and thus belongs to neither pole of the dialectic intrinsic to metaphysical totality: the savage equivalence of univocity and equivocity, Apollo and Dionysus, pure identity and pure difference (neither of which can open a vantage upon being in its transcendence).

For precisely this reason, the analogia entis is quite incompatible with any naive “natural theology”: if being is univocal, then a direct analogy from essences to “God” (as the supreme substance) is conceivale, but if the primary analogy is one of being, then an infinite analogical interval has been introduced between God and creatures, even as it is affirmed that God is truly declared in creation (for God is, again, infinitely determinate and is himself the distance – the act of distance – of the analogical interval). Thus, the analogia entis renders any simple “essentialist” analogy impossible.

I’m just going to let this stand and invite any defenders of Barth to state their protest.

Kent’s Quote and ‘Commentary’

In light of the birth of our second child this week, I will simply leave you with a quote that points ahead to Hart’s theology of creation:

For a trinitarian theology, Continue reading

David Bentley Hart on Trinitarian Infinity

This, the third post in our series on David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite, brings us to the heart of Hart’s…proposal, the beauty of divine infinity. Again, Kent and I invite your comments and corrections.

Before we proceed, however, we should note that Halden has attempted to locate the difference between Hart and Robert Jenson: the former is protological in orientation whereas the latter, eschatological.

James’ Quote and Commentary

Hart has been developing a trinitarian and therefore dynamic ontology in dialogue with and dependence upon Gregory of Nyssa. Here, he makes the most use of the youngest Cappadocian to the point where his argument is largely an interpretation and recommendation of Gregory’s.

Hart attempts a positive account of divine infinity. It is important to note that this often results in describing divine infinity somewhat indirectly, that is, by explaining how finite creatures are sanctified and deified. Specifically, he examines the relationship between human desire for the beautiful and the infinity of God:

Creation’s “series,” its [akolouthia] (vide infra), is at an infinite distance from the “order” and “succession” of the divine taxis, but that distance is born of God’s boundlessness: the Trinity’s perfect act of difference also opens the possibility of the “ontico-ontological difference,” as the space of the gift of analogous being, imparted to contingent beings who, then, receive this gift as the movement of an ontic deferral. Continue reading

D.B. Hart on Divine Difference & Perfection

There are likely no deeper theological waters in which to swim than those of trinitarian doctrine. Here, theology in all its creaturely limitedness directs humble and careful attention to God’s being in and of himself – the divine life of Father, Son, and Spirit – and to God’s gracious self-giving in the economy of salvation. In other words, the doctrine of the Trinity inquires about how the threefold act of God in history (the Father sending the Son and the Spirit) corresponds to the being of God in eternity.

Why are the waters so deep, so dangerous? As Paul Molnar reminds us, “although we obviously have no alternative but to understand God in the categories available to us in our human experience, it is not anything within our experience or inherent in those categories that prescribes who God is in se and ad extra (Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity, ix).

So, in speaking of God’s being in se, we should caution ourselves against too carelessly reading back into God’s life our concepts and experiences of God – even though these are the only ones we have to work with. Keep this in mind as James and I (Kent) continue our reflections on David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.

Kent’s Quote and Commentary

In the economy of salvation, one sees that the Son receives from the Father the power to impart the Spirit, and that the Spirit receives from the Father the power to communicate the Son, that the Son and the Spirit are both sent and sending Continue reading

David Bentley Hart on the Trinity

Today, we start a new series in which every Friday we will post selections from David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth for discussion. Kent and I (James) will simply provide a quotation followed by a few lines of commentary. Disagreement, correction, or affirmation are all welcome.

If you are not familiar with Hart, you should be. Why? Well consider that his first book received the following commendations: “David Hart is already the best living American systematic theologian” – John Milbank; “A remarkable work…This magnificent and demanding volume should establish David Bentley Hart, around the world no less than in North America, as one of his generation’s leading theologians” – Geoffrey Wainwright; “I can think of no more brilliant work by an American theologian in the past ten years” – William Placher.

 James’ Quote and Commentary

After a sustained critique of Robert Jenson‘s trinitarian theology, Hart arrives at his definition and defense of divine impassibility (apatheia):

God’s impassibility is the utter fullness of an intimate dynamism, the absolutely complete and replete generation of the Son and procession of the Spirit from the Father, the infinite “drama” of God’s joyous act of self-outpouring – which is his being as God.

Within the plenitude of this motion, no contrary motion can fabricate an interval of negation, because it is the infinite possibility of every creaturely motion or act; no pathos is possible for God because a pathos is, by definition, a finite instance of change visited upon a passive subject, actualizing some potential, whereas God’s love is pure positivity and pure activity.

His love is an infinite peace and so needs no violence to shape it, no death over which to triumph: if it did, it would never be ontological peace but only metaphysical armistice (p. 167).


The great strength of this definition, apart from the fact it was penned by David Bentley Hart, of course, Continue reading

Paul Fiddes on Participation in God

When describing the nature of salvation and the Christian life, the conceptual options are many. As of late, one of the more popular has been “participation” (due, in part, to renewed interest among Protestants in Patristic voices such as Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Maximus the Confessor, and Gregory Palamas).

Consider, for example, how Paul Fiddes describes the participation of human persons in God:

We dwell and dance in triune spaces. The room that God makes for us within God’s ownrublev_trinity.jpg self is not a widening of the gap between individual subjects, but the opening up of intervals within the interweaving movements of giving and receiving (p. 54).

The comprehensiveness of Christ as incarnate wisdom consists therefore in his relationship as Son to Father. This relationship in which Christ participates within the communion of God’s life comprehends the infinite aspects of all relations of giving and receiving in God. The filial relationship of this particular human son [Christ] to God exactly corresponds to the movement of relationship within God which is like that between a son and a father; thus, in Christ, human sonship is the same as divine sonship not only in function but in being, since relations in God are more being-full than anything else. Continue reading