Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics

March 12, 2015 — Leave a comment


For the last three years, theologians have gathered in California for the Los Angeles Theology conference. This past year the focal point was the atonement. The first year, it was Christology. Last year it was the Trinity, and thanks to Zondervan, I’ve the published copy of the papers presented.

The opening chapter is by one of the editors/organizers Fred Sanders. He explains what Trinitarian theology is for, and how it interfaces with the Christian life. Because I know you’re curious, here’s what Sanders sees the doctrine of the Trinity doing:

  • It summarizes the biblical story
  • It articulates the content of divine self-revelation by specifying what has been revealed
  • It orders doctrinal discourse
  • It identifies God by the gospel
  • It informs and norms soteriology

More details can be added to this outline, but it would be better for you to take and read anything Sanders has written when it comes to the Trinity (and his book on Wesley on The Christian Life).

Sanders essays is follow by a more philosophical one by Thomas McCall that zeroes in on the doctrine of divine simplicity (known by the cool kids as DDS). This particular doctrine has fallen on hard times in recent years and McCall explores options for articulating the doctrine. He ultimately suggests the case against the doctrine hasn’t been proved decisively (59), but is open to reviewing and revising the doctrine in light of contemporary challenges.

The next three essays did not particularly grab my attention. I’m willing to say the fault is mine and not a design of the authors. Respectively, the essays are on the inseparable operations of the persons of the Trinity (Stephen R. Holmes, whose book was more riveting), an apophatic approach to political applications of the doctrine of the Trinity (Karen Kilby), and thinking more deeply about the nature of the mystery of the Trinity (Lewis Ayres).

The next essay revived my interest, both in the book and the subject. R. Kendall Soulen writes about the divine name, and particularly how Scriptures names the persons of God. He is inadvertently triperspetival when he offers his categories (116):

  • Kinship terms – Father, Son (existential)
  • Common nouns from everyday life – Word, Image, etc. (situational)
  • The Tetragrammaton (normative)

We do well to keep all in mind says Soulen, and after reading this, I’m looking forward to getting a hold of his book on the subject.

The next essay is a discussion of obedience and subordination in Karl Barth’s theology (by Darren O. Sumner). It seems like a fairly significant study, but since I’m still getting my feet wet with Barth, I can’t really comment further. I mentally bookmarked the chapter and may return once I’ve waded through Hunsinger and some other works.

The longest essay comes next and is Kyle Strobel’s look at Jonathan Edwards’s (of course) Trinitarian aesthetic. I’m not sure I fully absorbed everything the first read through so I plan to return at a later time. His main point is that “Edwards’s conception of beauty is fruitful to ground the task of trinitarian theology as a distinctively affective discipline” (147). Or, “Edwards’s trinitarian aesthetics grounds theology as a contemplative discipline, ordered by the God of beauty, for the purpose of beauty.” The rest of the chapter develops and support this claim.

Much like chapters 3-5, I wasn’t incredibly drawn into the discussion in the final chapter. But, if you’re interested the interface of the doctrine of the Trinity and current discussions in missiology, you might find it of more interest (and though this chapter wasn’t attention grabbing for me, some of Jason Sexton’s other work is).

On the whole, this is not a very extensive read, but it’s a worthwhile one. I’m looking forward to the next batch of essays from this year’s conference and will probably procure a copy of the inaugural year’s volume. Everything is more or less stand-alone, but fits together to offer kaleidescopic views of the place of a significant doctrine in current scholarship. Whether you’re interested in constructive dogmatics in general or the doctrine of the Trinity in particular, you ought to check this volume out!

Oliver D. Crisp & Fred Sanders, eds, Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive DogmaticsGrand Rapids: Zondervan, November, 2014. 208 pp. Paperback, $22.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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