Moving Trinitarian Discussions Forward

Holy Trinity(1) Give attention to Historical Methodology: It would be helpful to have someone offer helpful comments on how to use historical data. “Augustine says this…” Followed by, “Tertullian mentions this…” Rounded off with “According to Calvin…” The geographical separation and the temporal separation of these figures is often ignored and “flattened out” during discussion.

To help clear some of the confusion, sweeping remarks about antiquity may prove unconvincing to very few.

Thus, give attention to historical methodology when entering modern theological debates. Give attention to theological development. Permit 2nd and 3rd century writers to have a different voice than 4th century writers than 5th and 6th century writers. Give attention to dissenting voices so as to know what early Christian orthodoxy seeks to correct.

Give attention to social concerns for the rise of particular councils. Avoid lumping 2nd century writers in with 5th century writers — they have different concerns, different contexts, different theological development, and very often, different Trinitarian language. Avoid a monolithic view of antiquity and history. These items may prove difficult to separate for theological formation.

(2) Give attention to Theological Method: This concern transcends different traditions and different avenues of theological formation. Trinitarian development ought to give concern for tradition, development of tradition, and pay attention to Patristic exegesis.

Theological formation that does not include tradition is verging on biblicism — which is good willed and good intentioned. Yet, biblical interpretation that is not governed by and directed in accordance with the voices of a stable tradition may move in ways to counter the tradition.

Even if a particular Theological Method chooses to opt out of using Tradition, identify that you are doing so and permit a discussion to move forward knowing this is a philosophical difference.

I offer that a protestant, even evangelical, position on Scripture should also include a healthy acceptance and use of ecclesial tradition — the two are not mutually exclusive. Thus, ecumenical councils and creeds are still helpful when reading and interpreting scripture.

(3) Give attention to Ancient Trinitarian Definitions: Given the concern within antiquity, Trinitarian language was used and was very purposeful — often the same word with two meanings from two different writers in two different centuries. Thus, lexical arguments are helpful when followed by a small discussion from a particular early Christian writer.

Moreover, taxis, source, procession, and generation rarely meant a hierarchical structure in early Christian Trinitarian formulation — especially when you compare post 3rd century writers with Origen of Alexandria’s Trinitarian formulation.

If current writers suggest a move from the terms and lexical idea from ancient writers, use language to suggest otherwise rather than argue for symmetry and, then, offer examples to warrant such change. 

(4) Use and Quote Texts: Given the proclivity to want antiquity on one’s side, use texts and quote from ancient sources. To say “Augustine argues ‘such and such’” without quoting texts will fail to win those informed of Trinitarian discussions and students of antiquity.

Those who can present data and offer adequate philosophical interpretation shall offer a better and more compelling position. In order for retrieval theology carry any weight, it first must give careful attention to writers and texts in context.


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