Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Vanhoozer Part 2

In this chapter, Vanhoozer continues his look at Scripture by working through Barth and Wolterstorff, merging the “best” of each to “set forth an evangelical, gospel-centered account of the Trinity and Scripture” (51). Initially, Vanhoozer addresses issues related to God and language, claiming that “God both creates and covenants by speaking” (51). Language functions to convey information, but not merely to do so; language establishes relationship. In the incarnation, finite discourse truly does assume the infinite, because God as infinite can assume the finite. In a telling claim, Vanhoozer states:

…by examining the economy, we see that God’s being is in conversing, and whatever we say the Bible is, it must, precisely as the word of this God, relate to this God’s triune conversation. God communicates himself – his love, knowledge and life – through himself. This conversational analogy depicts God’s being as essentially communicative and the three persons as a dialogue between communicative agents” (58).

The way Vanhoozer parses the concept of divine discourse in a trinitarian fashion is by invoking “unified action” with “three dimensions.” This sounds nice, but how does this trinitarian grammar function? First, he focuses on the patristic insight that the external operations of God are undivided. He then moves into an Owenite conception of God’s activity, suggesting, “that God communicates himself in three ways: the Father is the locutor who utters the word; the Son is what is communicated, the content of the Father’s speech; the Spirit is the ‘channel’ (air) that carries the word…The Father initiates communicative action, the Son executes it, and the Spirit carries it to completion” (61).

What do we think about this, what he goes on to call, a rhetorical strategy for talking about the Trinity? He offers some justification for this language from the tradition, but moves quickly to try and show the explanatory power this will have when it comes to a doctrine of Scripture. For the sake of space, here are some bite sized claims:

  • “There is a personal connection between agent and act, speaker and speech, writer and writing.”
  • “The Bible is the God-ordained means of communicating the terms and the reality of the covenant whose content is Jesus Christ.”
  • “The Bible is the verbal medium for communicative acts constitutive of the interpersonal relations that it both establishes and regulates.”
  • “Biblical inspiration refers to the Spirit’s work in catching up the prophets and apostles into the triune communicative action.”

Vanhoozer offers a summary: “Scripture is a work of triune rhetoric whose purpose is to shape the church’s identity and solicit the church’s participation in God’s being-in-conversation. As to form, the Bible is divine communication, with its own ethos, logos and pathos; as to content, the Bible is covenantal discourse whose aim is communion, a becoming one (Jn 17:21)” (67).

In other words, the economy of divine communication is the proper dogmatic location of Scripture, or, in other words, the Bible has both a natural and a supernatural history. Inspiration and illumination find themselves as equally necessary components to a doctrine of Scripture and interpretation. In an important clarification comment, he states, “Interpretation works against the economy when it becomes something readers do to inert texts, as if hermeneutics were a kind of autopsy. On the contrary, to read Scripture in the church is not to operate on a dead text but rather to be caught up into a communicative movement of triune life” (78).

I personally thought that this essay was brilliant, but I would love your thoughts. I had to do some pretty sweeping generalization (Vanhoozer has never been accused of being succinct in his analysis!), but I hope the broad movements are still clear. What do we think about how he develops this and where it takes him?


2 thoughts on “Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Vanhoozer Part 2

    • Hahaha! My use of “essay” was referring to Vanhoozer’s essay and not my own. Although that struck me as so funny that maybe I’ll start adding in commentary on my own work at the end of future posts just to try to build up my self-esteem.

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