Saturday, June 24, 2017

Resurrecting the Trinity: A Plea to Recover the Wonder and Meaning of the Triune God, by M. James Sawyer

TrinityWhen I was younger, teaching Sunday School, Bible classes at Christian high schools and, in my early years of teaching Bible classes at PIU, I dutifully taught the Trinity. God was “one what and three who’s” and that was that, because the Bible said it. But, as I began to use the tools for Bible study that a seminary education gave me, I began to see that the Bible told a story of the Trinity that was much more passionate and relational. Creation was an “overflow” of the love from within the Trinity, and God wanted us to have the same kind of relationship with Him that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for all eternity. As I saw this in scripture and began to apply it to myself, I wanted to teach it to my students.

That’s why it is so cool when you find a book that helps you refine these thoughts and says it in the way you wish you could say it. This is what my friend and colleague, Dr. M. James Sawyer, has done with his new book, Resurrecting the Trinity: A Plea to Recover the Wonder and Meaning of the Triune God. Over the last few years he and I have had some great theological conversations about the Trinity, (as in so long that we don’t notice that afternoon has turned into night and we are hungry because we forgot to eat dinner), that have challenged and deepened my thinking. This book incorporates a lot of what we talked about and puts it in a form that is accessible to most Bible students. Jim explains the Trinity from a base of scholarly work in the Bible and historical theology, but makes it real through his own experience along with examples from movies and stories.  I appreciated very much both the theological and relational emphases in the book. (The book is now available for purchase – just click on the cover picture above to go to the Amazon site)

This week I will summarize the first four chapters of the book and throw in a few quotes. Then next week we will cover the rest of the book. By the way, don’t skip the forward by Baxter Krueger. It is pretty good too.

The first chapter is entitled: The Trinity:Why Is It Important? Jim talks about how the Trinity has been deemphasized in Western Christianity because it is hard to understand and to explain. However, he also points to the central importance of this understanding of God…

Trinitarian theology is no less than a return to our theological roots and the basis of our faith. It
involves a commitment to make this foundational doctrine the lens through which all other
doctrines are understood

When it comes to seeing the Trinity in the Old Testament, I believe the most we can say is that the language used there allows for God’s further self-revelation as triune through the Incarnation and Pentecost. 16

In the 2nd chapter, “God and the Boxes He is Put Into,” Jim summarizes the wrong views of God throughout history that keep us from worshiping God “in truth.” We create inadequate theologies of God and build theological “fortresses” to defend them. Several of the common inadequate views, as seen in our culture, of God are discussed,

The goal of God’s self-revelation is not to give us information out of which to construct theological systems in any case. It is relationship with him. 24

I would argue that the lack of an integrated and vital trinitarian understanding of the nature and being of God produces an understanding that is at best a twisted caricature of who God has revealed himself to be in his fullness. 43

The 3rd chapter, Jesus: The Way into the Trinity, reviews the history of how this doctrine developed. From the beginning of the church Jesus was seen as the unique, 100% God, revelation of who YHWH is in this world. The theological development of the Trinity doctrine happened as the church fathers wrestled with the idea that Jesus was eternal God in human form.

We must understand how the New Testament authors did not see monotheism as an obstacle in recognizing the deity of Jesus. The fact that the Word and the Wisdom of God participate in the creative work of God and in God’s sovereignty while belonging intrinsically to God gives us the interpretive key allowing us to understand the way the New Testament texts relate Jesus to Jewish monotheism. 49

So, in the 4th chapter, God, Three–in–One, we get to the question of how to understand God properly. “God is fundamentally tri-personal, existing in self-giving love.” (61) This means that God is, in His essence, is relational and thus, human beings and all creation, reflect that. We must talk about the Trinity, not only in the abstract, but in the “personal and relational” spheres as well. God is best known through our encounter (in scripture, with God’s people and in our daily walk with him) with the crucified-risen, Jesus.

God is personal and relational! We no more learn about the personal nature of God by examining his attributes than we learn about the person and life of the murder victim on the autopsy table by his or her dissection. 68

God’s omnipotence must not be conceived of as what we think he can do, but must be defined by what he has done and continues to do in Jesus Christ. In other words, his almightiness is demonstrated in humility and condescension, particularly in the Incarnation. God’s almighty power is not demonstrated by coercion, by untold legions of angels and mighty armies conquering. It is rather demonstrated in self-emptying, the “foolishness” of the Incarnation and the cross. 75

Because the Father and the Son are eternally and inherently one, we can know God by looking at Jesus. In Jesus we see not just a part or aspect of God, but the totality of what it means to be God. 79

The idea of a hierarchy, where one of the divine persons is “in charge,” introduces the ancient error of subordinationism into our concept of God...If there is hierarchy in the Trinity, then hierarchy is at the foundation and ground of personal existence—inherent in the Godhead and therefore inherent in humanity as bearing God’s image. 85

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