A second theological control is needed. We must control our theologizing about the church so that we remain within the “center” of confessional, indeed biblical Christianity. McFadyen, for example, has criticized overly simplistic construals of the relation of Trinity to humanity. Being created in the image of God does not mean that the divine and human community are merely related as analogans and analogatum. This would leave us “with an entirely static picture of a Platonist universe in which the Triune God’s sociality and communication is restricted to the ideal world of pure forms." Rather, “the dialogical openness within the trinitarian being of God overflows into all God’s external relationships,” which willful gift enables humanity “to join in the fullness of divine life in a manner appropriate to its own creaturely existence” (Alistair I. McFadyen, “The Trinity and Human Individuality: The Conditions for Relevance,” Theology 95 : 12, 15 95 (1992): 12, 15).
What this means for Reformed pastors is that we must be careful to maintain a proper Christological and Pneumatological grounding of our conception of the church along the lines provided for us in the New Testament. Indeed, the perichoretic loving relations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are only known to us “in Christ.” Which is not to say that it is only the love of Christ that we know, but that the love of the Father for Christ, the love of Christ for the Father, and the loving service of the Spirit for Father and Son in all its eternal glory is only revealed in the redemptive economic actions of God for us.
Remembering this will help insure that we don’t “begin” with speculation about the eternal relations apart from or “before” the cross and then attempt to present some idealistic program of communio for our ecclesiastical communities. A pure, idealized imitatio trinitatis is always in danger of marginalizing the cross—the outward turning of eternal divine love for sinful man. Even the cross can be transformed into a cipher for human relationality, as it comes dangerously close to being in the trinitarian theology of Moltmann and LaCugna. Modern trinitarians, like Moltmann, evidence a penchant for transforming biblical and classical theological language that refers to God’s ontologically distinct existence into Hegelian categories. So Moltmann claims that “God” is a retrospective description of “the unity of the dialectical history of Father and Son and Spirit in the cross of Golgotha. . . . In that case ‘God’ is not another nature or a heavenly person or a moral authority, but in fact an ‘event.’” But then there really is no independent Triune existence distinct from human society from which humanity might derive a model. The Trinity and the cross become ciphers for the eschatological end-point of human social evolution, which is always cast in egalitarian form.
Nevertheless, that divine love that is so wonderfully revealed in the cross of Jesus is not merely the love of God simpliciter, that is, an undifferentiated love of “God” ad extra, but is most profoundly presented in the New Testament as the rich interaction of love and service of the Three, one for another in self-effacing service for sinful humanity—a rich, multifaceted love which alone is worthy of the designation “divine love” in the distinctively Christian sense. And it is that Christ-centered, Spirit-enabled trinitarian sense of “love” (no amor incurvatus in se) and not the immanent Trinity in the abstract that ought to be modeled or imaged among believers in their ecclesiastical communities, according to Paul’s own admonition in Philippians 2:5-11:
Adopt this frame of mind in your community—
which indeed [is proper for those who are] in Christ Jesus.
Precisely because He existed in the form of God,
He did not regard equality with God something to be seized.
but poured himself out [unto death, Isa. 53:12],
having taken the form of the Servant [Isa. 52:13; 53:11],
having been made in the likeness of men.
And having been discovered to be a man,
He humbled himself,
becoming obedient unto death—even death on the cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him. . .