I am starting a new blog series based on Kent’s increasingly read post on choosing a theology text. This series will look at various volumes for classroom use, sometimes offering one-off reviews and, such as in this case, more in-depth reviews. Here, I am going to be doing a series of posts looking at Donald Fairbairn’s volume Life in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers. This volume seems like a good place to start, because Fairbairn wrote the text to be used in classrooms as a secondarily theological text (to be used in parallel with primarily doctrinal texts).
Fairbairn starts, in my opinion, exactly where he should – on the bifurcation of theology and the Christian life. In his explication, he makes an important point:
Theologians have unintentionally given the impression that the doctrines, the ideas about God, are the subject of our study [rather than God himself]. As a result, students and others unwittingly substitute truths about God for God” (5).
To remedy the division between God himself and doctrine, Fairbairn suggests a return to theosis as the thread which ties theological grammar to God himself – as language centered around the relationship of Father to Son shared in by believers in the consummation of all things, and known through a glass darkly in our pilgrim existence. The key to the relationship believers can participate in with the Father and the Son is the work of the Holy Spirit: “the Holy Spirit is the link between the Son’s relationship to the Father and the Christian’s relationship to the Son” (24). Fairbairn exposits John 13-17 as a way to talk about this relationship and the task of the theologian, and, in the midst of that exposition, states,
We are to remain in the very same love with which Christ has loved us, which is in fact the very same love with which the Father has loved Christ. Somehow we are called to do more than simply imitate God’s love. We are called to remain in and to carry forward to the world the very love with which the Father has loved his Son from all eternity. The loving relationship between Father and Son, the glorious presence of the Father with the Son, is not simply a model that we are to follow. That relationship is the substance of what Jesus says Christians are to possess” (26-27).
The connection between God’s inter-triune loving and the love Christians are to share is further enlightened by the high priestly prayers in John 17, Fairbairn suggests, where Jesus prayers that believers “might be one as we are one.” This oneness provides the foundation for Fairbairn’s argument concerning theosis as the way to conceive of participation in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). Fairbairn, understanding that many evangelicals will be concerned by theosis – particularly the term divinization – ends the section by emphasizing that there is not a unity of substance shared by the Trinity to believers, but a unity of love and fellowship.
I will continue posting on this volume and will wait to talk about my general thoughts for classroom use and function.