Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Trinity & Church III

Continued from Part II

More suspicious associations have also dampened the interests of conservative Presbyterian theologians. Social trinitarianism often appears like a weapon in the hands of those who wage war against confessional Protestantism. Orthodox Protestants are suspicious when they see how these newer social trinitarian theologies have been used to justify and ground philosophies of religious pluralism. Moltmann and LaCugna, for example, appear to dissolve the ontological Trinity into the economic. Radical proposals similar to this are not confined to traditionally liberal circles. More and more Evangelicals are adopting what has been called “open theism” and using social trinitarian arguments as part of their case against classical conceptions of God.

Worse and worse, the theological pioneers responsible for initially formulating a “communio” ecclesiology grounded in the trinitarian communion were mostly Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthdox scholars. I am not here referring to the genesis of modern social trinitarian theology, but to the theological ground-breaking work of Catholic and Orthodox scholars like Rahner, von Balthasar, De Lubac, Congar, Ratzinger, and Zizioulas, who worked to make explicit connections between the inter-personal relations and unity of God, on the one hand, and the life and structure of the Church, on the other. These men laid the foundation for Vatican II’s revised “communio” ecclesiology.” Given confessional Protestantism’s intensely anti-Roman posture, is it any wonder that there is widespread suspicion of trinitarian-based ecclesiological reflection? The fact that trinitarian reflection on the life of the church originated in modern Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox circles does nothing to endear such theologizing to orthodox Protestants.

All of these associations—with ecumenism, socialism, pluralism, heterodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy—no doubt cause the hair on the necks of confessional Reformed and Lutheran theologians to stand up. Surely there are “safer” and much more pressing theological research programs that demand our immediate attention. That may well be. I would not want to argue that theologizing about the Church in the light of the Trinity is somehow a critical necessity for our generation. I want to make a more modest appeal. It seems to me that we could do much worse.

The Church finds herself in deplorable shape. She is divided across confessional, denominational, even cultural lines. She has succumbed to the siren call of individualism and democratized her liturgical and sacramental life, especially in America. Colin Gunton has argued that our the current ecclesiastical malaise cries out for a trinitarian analysis. “. . . the manifest inadequacy of the theology of the church derives from the fact that it has never seriously and consistently been rooted in a conception of the being of God as triune. . . . because [the Trinity] has been neglected, the church has appropriated only a part of its rich store of possibilities for nourishing a genuine theology of community” (The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, p. 57).

I will argue that given all the significant reasons to be cautious about drawing conclusions about how our life together ought to be lived in the church based on our understanding of God’s triune relational life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that it nevertheless ought to be thoughtfully pursued by orthodox confessional Protestants. There are good prima facie reasons for doing so.

Go to Part IV

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