The Task of Trinitarian Theology

Many books on the doctrine of the Trinity begin by decrying the state of Trinitarian theology. Many of these authors believe that the ever so important doctrine of the Trinity has been pushed off to the margins, with many Christians living as functional Unitarians, primarily because the doctrine seems so impractical. In an effort to make it “practical” many Social Trinitarians have begun to show how its practical for our social relationships. Some evangelicals have sought to show how its practical for our understanding of gender roles. These may or may not be good “practical” implications (my money is on the fact that they are not good), but I think that there is a better way to show how “practical” this doctrine is. Fred Sanders hints at this in his essay “What Trinitarian Theology is For: Placing the Doctrine of the Trinity in Christian Theology and Life.” (Advancing Trinitarian Theology)

In this short essay he lays our 5 things that this particular doctrine functions within systematic theology (i.e. shows how its practical for doing theology).

  1. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us summarize the biblical story.
  2. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us articulate the content of divine self-revelation by specifying what has been revealed.
  3. The doctrine of the Trinity orders doctrinal discourse.
  4. The doctrine of the trinity identifies God by the gospel.
  5. The doctrine of the Trinity informs and norms soteriology.

These are all very helpful points. But I especially like what Sanders has to say about points #2 and #4.

Under his discussion of point two he has a fantastic diagram with options for an answer to the question: What do the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit signify about the eternal life of God? The diagram lays out 7 options along a maximal and minimal position.

Under point #4 he says something I though was absolutely fascinating:

The doctrine of the Trinity serves to identify God by the gospel, or to specify the identity of the God of Christian faith. It does so primarily by insisting that God is the author of two central interventions into the course of human history, the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. These two actions, considered not in isolation but as culminating events, mark God as a particular God. The God who sent a Son and a Holy Spirit, because he always already had a Son and a Holy Spirit to send, must be essentially different form a God who could not and did not self-communicate in this way. (39)

Anyway… Fred Sanders is coming in to our Trinity Seminar tomorrow morning and I really look forward to hearing what he has to say.



Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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