Recent Developments in Trinitarian Theology: An International Symposium

A new volume by Fortress has appeared and it is superb.

9781451470406bRecent Developments in Trinitarian Theology explores the major renaissance that Trinitarian theology has undergone in recent decades. Remarkably, all the main Christian denominations have participated in this, and contemporary Trinitarian theology is a discussion that often crosses over confessional boundaries.

English-language theology plays an important role in the renewal of Trinitarian theology and that role is the focus of this symposium. Its purpose is twofold: to gather in an international setting leading thinkers to present the major developments in Trinitarian theology and to show how Trinitarian theology can contribute to new thinking in several contemporary systematic and critical fields, including political theology and the theology of religions.

It contains these essays:

1. Where Do We Stand in Trinitarian Theology?: Resources, Revisions, and Reappraisals—Christoph Schwöbel
2. Trinity, Tradition, and Politics—Karen Kilby
3. The Necessity for Theologia: Thinking the Immanent Trinity in Anglo-Translated Orthodox Theology—Aristotle Papanikolaou
4. The Trinity and the World Religions: Perils and Promise—Gavin D’Costa
5. Colin Gunton on the Trinity and the Divine Attributes—Marc Vial
6. God’s ‘Liveliness’ in Robert W. Jenson’s Trinitarian Thought—Christophe Chalamet
7. Social Trinity: Theological Doctrine as a Foundation for Metaphysics—Mathias Hassenfratz-Coffinet

You can read the introduction and portions of chapter 1 at these links:

A Look into Ch.1

My review of this new book follows:

The question which sets the tone for the book is found in the opening essay by Schwöbel.  That essay is the longest and most developed of the collection and essentially examines whether or not significant progress has been made in trinitarian scholarship since the ‘revival’ of interest in the doctrine of the trinity a couple of decades ago.  As He states it

The interesting question, however, is not whether the metaphor is appropriate but whether the renewed interest in trinitarian theology has produced productive and significant theological developments (p. 12).

The question is important, Schwöbel asserts, because

… without a trinitarian understanding of God, the central Christian practices, Christian worship, the celebration of baptism and the Eucharist, and the Christian life in the Church and society lose their specific profile (p. 16).

Schwöbel then proceeds to explain the sensibility and necessity of the doctrine of the trinity in a very long (64 page) and very technical essay.  Does he prove his point?  Indeed he does.  Doing trinitarian theology is…

… just another name for doing Christian theology (p. 71).

The essay by Kilby which follows wonders aloud if there has in fact been any sort of revival of trinitarian theology.  And her critique has some merit.  She correctly observes

… a fundamental problem [is] that recent trinitarianism has become, quite simply, too knowing (p. 77).

She then turns to her real concern, which is to connect the dots between politics and theology.

The aim of this essay has been to find a path toward quite a different way of relating trinitarian theology to politics than is most often found in the recent literature (p. 86).

She is successful in raising questions, but not in overturning Schwöbel’s contention that trinitarianism has enjoyed a significant reinvigoration.  The editors have, it seems to me, approved Schwöbel’s views by placing his essay first and thus by requiring any essay which follows to forcefully counteract his views (if they are of a different mind).

The third essay concentrates on the doctrine of the trinity in Orthodox thought.  Knowing little to nothing of Orthodox theology, I’ll leave to others a response to this piece.  The essay by D’Costa examining the trinity and world religions too is a bit outside my area (and is more suited to persons engaged in ‘religion’ as a general field rather than Christian theology or biblical interpretation.  I do, however, find it interesting when D’Costa suggests

I want to indicate how recent reflection on the religions has been impoverished when the Trinity is not the guiding light (p. 107).

Specialists in world religions will surely want to see how he enriches our understanding of world religions by means of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Vial’s essay on the work of Colin Gunton is exceedingly interesting and exceptionally well written.  Readers will learn Gunton’s view of the divine attributes and how Vial thinks the matter needs to be moved forward.

Chalamet’s essay does for Robert Jenson what Vial’s does for Gunton; i.e., discuss the thought of one of the leading theologians who has examined and considered deeply the meaning and significance of the dogma.  Chalamet doesn’t simply introduce Jenson’s particular ideas but he also critiques them, like Vial, urging readers to consider moving beyond the work of their predecessors and  thinking both with them and apart from them.

The final essay by Hassenfratz-Coffinet focuses attention on the trinitarian thought of Joseph Bracken (a name, I confess, I have never heard).  Fortunately, H-C briefly describes Bracken’s life and work and notes that he was one of very few Roman Catholic ‘Process Theologians’.  It strikes me as a bit of a surprise that anyone is still talking about Process theology after all these years but evidently H-C finds some merit in it and what it may contribute to our understanding of God.  I am unconvinced, however, that it can. Or does.

The essays, then, here assembled, reflect the wide ranging approaches to trinitarian thought presently in practice and as such are exceedingly important.  They are, each and every one, very technical and it is clear from the outset that this book is intended for theologians and other specialists in dogmatics and religious studies. Such readers will discover much that is useful and many questions both addressed and raised.

This book does not solve the mystery of the trinity.  No book does.  And it doesn’t intend to.  What it intends to do is allow us to think about the subject in a variety of ways so that, as when looking at a diamond and slowly turning it between our fingers, we see brilliant shades reflected from various facets, we can conceive and consider the trinity in different and stunning ways.

Coming Soon in the Old Testament Library…

danielThis November, WJK will release the next volume in the acclaimed Old Testament Library series. Carol A. Newsom offers a fresh study of Daniel in its historical context. Newsom further analyzes Daniel from literary and theological perspectives. With her expert commentary, Newsom’s study will be the definitive commentary on Daniel for many years to come.

I’m not so sure we can call something ‘the definitive commentary’ until it has been widely used and achieves peer acclaim.  But, given Newsom’s skills, I won’t be at all surprised if it’s excellent.

The Biblical Studies Carnival: Special Edition on the Future of Biblical Studies


Troubling events came to light in June related to the University of Sheffield Biblical Studies Department.  That is, as happened several years back in 2009, plans were exposed to do away with the Department, and this in spite of the fact that assurances were given that such an attempt would not be made again.

This resulted in a flurry of postings (and comments- many of which are very engaging, so be sure to read them on the related posts).

Philip Davies
The University Press Release
Philip Davies II
David J.A. Clines
Jim West
Job Description for the Institute
John Lyons
A Citizen of the United Kingdom

Nearly simultaneously, Doug Green was forced out at Westminster Theological Seminary, evidently, and shockingly, at the urging of Greg Beale!

Bryan Bibb offered some observations.
William Evans did too.
So did Mike Bird.
Even Gev had a bit to say.

There is much amiss in these events.  My hope is that the University will come to its senses.  It is, after all, one of the most important and influential Biblical Studies Departments in the world.  Just this month, members of the faculty took part in an international Conference on the Life of Jesus.  That cannot be ignored- because it shows the significance of the Department not just for the life of the University of Sheffield, but for the wider world of Biblical Scholarship.

In short, what Sheffield does affects all of us.  Even if some don’t realize it.

In spite of all of this bad news, there is good news on the biblical studies front, as Tim Bulkeley shows us.  And, indeed, biblical studies is thriving even in the Departments mentioned above.

It seems the only people who really wish biblical studies as an academic discipline would cease are those who would align themselves with the skewered and absurd views of Hector Avalos who, years back, called for the end of biblical studies.  Fortunately, these people are a tiny minority whose voices are completely ignored by sensible souls.  They are the goats who, on the day of judgment, will find themselves excluded from the joy of the Lord.

Let’s hope the powers that be at the University of Sheffield don’t find themselves, ultimately, on the side of the goats.  That would be tragic for them then, and for many now.