Dr Anthony Lowes most recent series of commentaries, "The church critiqued in the light of Trinity and Kingdom" generated some critique in response. In this new series Anthony argues "Trinitarian dogma may be thought of as lofty theorising, but it yields the most practical of fruits. And for this tangible richness, cannot be shrugged off with a superficial dismissal." Today we bring you Part 2 of his response and because of the delay since part 1 we begin by repeating the last section of Part 1.
Repeating the end of Part 1...
Trinitarianism erupts in the rhetoric, marked as it is by a strong sense of fulfilment and novelty, in a number of ways from the earliest scriptural documents, such as 1 Thessalonians, in which we find simply stated triadic formulas, for example: 1 Th 1:1-5, 2 Th 2:13; Col 1:3-8; Rom 15:30; Phil 3:3ff; Eph 3:14ff. Along with these there are a number of credal or liturgical formulas: Mt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14. Iconic instances such as the baptism of Jesus, for example Mt 3:16ff; the transfiguration passages, as in Mk 9:2-8; instances of Jesus rejoicing in the Spirit, for example: Lk 10:21ff; the ascension narrative, to be found in Lk 24:50-53 and again in Acts 1:6-12. Finally, schematic utterances of the type exemplified in Eph 4:4-6 and John's gospel, climaxing in Jn 17:21 and, more completely in its inclusiveness of the Three, Jn 16:12-16. As Anthony Kelly observes,
In the four centuries to follow, the church will eventually face the major, inherently problematical points in its presentation of God as Father, Son and Spirit. Nonetheless, it is not anachronistic to notice that John is already beginning to face this challenge. If it is all because the Father has so loved the world (Jn 3:16); if the Son is to be confessed as 'My Lord and my God'; if he departs to send the Spirit from the Father, then it requires no imagination to expect the question to arise, how are these divine three related to one another?
The point that Kelly makes of revelation of the Trinity through the New Testament narrative is that the Three become key dramatis personae (characters of the drama) in the great saga of salvation. Besides being enshrined in the rhetoric, they inform the narrative; as revelatory of God, the scriptures are autobiographical.
As to symbolism, Kelly makes a point that is also a centrepiece in Elizabeth Johnson's argument, namely that the trinitarian names are in fact symbols. Such symbols demonstrate a 'dynamic interplay' within the one relational mystery of the divine.
Experience of early church, disciples, Jesus himself...
As to experience, Kelly charts three levels which the New Testament affords: that of the early church, that of the disciples of Jesus and that of Jesus himself. I would remark upon only two of the categories that Kelly employs when attempting to chart the experience of the early church. These two – 'conceptions of the general order of existence' and 'the aura of factuality and unique realism' – touch upon a number of interesting points, which break fresh ground.
The new 'order of existence', which the New Testament describes, is an order in which the Father's intent is to unite all things in Christ [Eph 1:3-14] who is the first born from the dead and the human repository of God's fullness [Col 1:15-20]. The principle effecting Christ's resurrection, and the resurrection of all in and through Christ, is the Spirit [Rom 8:9ff].
The aura of the new 'factuality and unique realism' that pervades the new community is a consciousness of 'being in the Spirit', of a new level of life, of 'breathing a common breath of fresh air, a pervasive atmosphere in which their new being in Christ can grow to its fullest proportions.' The first disciples are conscious of being in the end time in which they have been 'addressed through the "Son" ', in which 'the unheard of Word has been spoken'. This results in a newly found sense of invitation and intimacy with the Abba, no longer tinged with the ambivalence of dread and terrifying transcendence.
Further, when sketching the experience of the disciples, Kelly employs the insights of Sebastian Moore. Moore points (i) to the awakening that Jesus brought to the disciples in which he assisted them to dispel shadow-guilt in regard to God and to focus upon the goodness and beauty of creation and all God's dealings with creation; and to Jesus' death and their subsequent despair which would have been more traumatic than the dark night of the soul (more like the collapse of, death of God); and to how this emptiness made way for (ii) a new centring of God-consciousness in the risen Jesus; and to how this extended to a conviction that (iii) God was in Jesus and that this (iv) released a new cyclic life flow 'a wonderfully new vitality ground(ing) the disciples' awareness of the "Holy Spirit", uniting the Father, Son and themselves.'
Finally, there is the experience of Jesus, the 'telling point' of the divine autobiography. What strikes us about Jesus' consciousness as outlined in the gospels is his close and exclusive communion with God. God is for him 'my Father'.
Even when uniting with the disciples in the solidarity of sonship, through the process of adoption and grace, Jesus is careful to preserve a sense of distinction: 'my Father' and 'your Father', never 'our Father' other than when teaching the disciples a form of prayer acceptable for them [Mt 11:27; Jn 20:17; Lk 6:36; 12:30ff; Mk 11:25; Mt 23:9].
At the same time, Jesus is conscious of being possessed by the Spirit [Lk 4:18]. Both of these poles of consciousness inform his prayer, his healing ministry, his confrontation with the religious authorities, his preaching. As Kelly concludes, 'In this world of limitless grace, Jesus moves with complete assurance and authority.' It is his consciousness of being God's Son, inspired by the eschatological Spirit, which enables him to achieve such assured authority.
Spirit as personal agent...
In John, then, Jesus is unmistakably huios, 'Son', whereas others are tekna, 'begotten of God', and while nowhere in the New Testament is the 'explicit transfer from "Son of God" to "God the Son"' made, nevertheless 'it does provide a matrix for the later church's doing so.' Likewise, the Spirit begins to shape as a distinctive, personal agent, certainly nothing less than 'God acting as a person'. The Spirit leads and interacts with Christ. [Jn 3:34; Mt 1:10; Lk 3:22; Mt 4:1; Lk 4:14]
In these instances, the Spirit is a divine presence and agent acting in the depth of human consciousness, as it does after Christ's death and resurrection in the minds and hearts of believers. In Rev 2:7; 3:6; 14:13, the Spirit addresses the community.
Five times in the gospel of John, the Spirit is named as Paraclete, which is a personal, masculine name attracting to itself a masculine pronoun. This all points towards a bestowal of 'a mysterious autonomy vis-à-vis the Father and the Son.' In fact, Hill's conclusion is bolder in this regard:
The distinct mode of presence [of the Spirit as the 'animating principle of the community of love'] is not arbitrary, but is radicated in a distinctiveness within God himself that is grasped religiously in terms of what answers to common and universal experience of 'personhood'.
In similar fashion, Wolfhart Pannenberg traces the dawning conviction of Jesus' divinity and that of the Spirit. He points to the underlined differentiation between Jesus and the Father in John, especially in passages such as 14:28. This conviction is most evident after the resurrection when Jesus appears as the Son of the Father. From this intuition to the notion of the 'pre-existent' Son and Word there is a relatively easy transition in the light of biblical archetypes already imaged in the case of Wisdom [Prov 8:22] and of the Son of Man [1 Enoch 46:1ff], a title which Jesus himself favoured.
Finally, the use of Kyrios (Lord) of the risen Jesus, in confessions such as Thomas' [Jn 20:28], demonstrates the identification, leaving little room for doubt since Kyrios was used to translate Yahweh in the Septuagint [the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures]. At the same time, this creates a problem, in that, while there is clear identity, there is also distinction between the Father and Jesus.
©2012Dr Anthony Lowes