Recently, I’ve been working my way through Brian Kay’s Trinitarian Spirituality. In his third chapter, he embarks on a search for a viable Trinitarian spirituality, which as he puts it is one that “should come completely undone if the doctrine of the Trinity were proved untrue” (p. 31).
In order to examine prospective models of spirituality, Kay proposes two criteria:
- Given the long term stability of Trinitarian doctrine, Christian spiritualities can be evaluated on how well they explicitly draw from this doctrinal tradition.
- A thoroughly Trinitarian spirituality will anchor itself in obvious ways to the drama of redemption.
I’ve reworded these slightly so you can better catch what Kay is saying. If a model of Christian spiritualities fails the first criteria, it is because it is in no real way dependent on a interacting with a Trinitarian God. If it fails to meet the second criteria, it is because it is seeking to interact with God, but in an abstract way divorced from how he has Triunely revealed himself in history.
To give you an even better way to evaluate your own approach to your Christian spirituality (or in Kay’s case, to use to evaluate dominant models) here are some sample questions to mull over (pp. 44-45):
- Does the particular model tell you to dwell on the priority of the Father’s electing love and the Son’s saving work rather than your own effort to love God?
- Do you describe God in an adequately personal way rather than as aloof (deism) or as an impersonal Divine Being (pantheism)?
- Are Father and Son relations understood to be between real persons, or are they metaphorical ways of talking about God?
- Do you seek the Spirit in a way that is excessively individualistic rather than through a Spirit-indwelt community?
- Do your dealings with the Spirit adequately center on the Spirit’s central role which is to glorify the Son?
- To you, is God overly transcendent and mysterious or overly immanent and accessible?
- Are you practically a modalist, so that you would have difficulty understanding that salvation involves a human experiencing the glory that the Son had with the Father before the creation of the world?
- Do you have a balanced understanding of eschatology that has an already-not yet dimension for your knowledge and access to God?
- Do you see the Father as both holy and compassionate, just and forgiving, with the cross borne by the Son as the ultimate place where these attributes are resolved?
- Do you see the unity of divine action emphasized by the love of the Father during the crucifixion (not just the Son’s) so that the Father is not interpreted as grudgingly being bought off by the Son’s self-sacrifice?
- Does Christ’s intercessions before the Father make any practical difference to you?
- Do you relate to each divine person uniquely for his role in the economy of salvation?
While admittedly some of these questions may not have transparent answers in your own life, they are at least worth pondering. As Kay summarizes:
These questions assume certain things about how the divine hypostaseis (persons) relate to each other, as well as to events in the earthly history that they have determined. In terms of our criteria, questions like these assume and extend the doctrine of the historic trinitarian formulations (which tend to deal with God’s being) as well as they story-line especially of the Gospels (which explicitly reveals God’s trinitarian external workings).
I think this is a helpful way to work through your own understanding of God and how you relate to him as a Christian. Still, the big question that I’ve got in mind, and you should as well, our own spirituality would fall flat if the Trinity were disproved and if so, how we can work to adjust our approach to God to flow from our doctrinal commitments rather than standing detached from them.
I’m excited to see where Kay is going (though I know his thought leads to John Owen) and am hoping to finish up next week and offer more thoughts on this for you to think over during the Christmas season.