Trinitarian Thoughts

– Barth’s way of thinking about the Trinity is very interesting, because it proceeds after the fact of God’s revelation. God has spoken, so what must be true of God for this to be so? Kevin Davis helpfully noted that the ‘what must be true of God’ bit is given in revelation – Barth basically (in a manner that should be familiar to those who know Barth) makes all the conditions for revelation depend on God. McGrath notes that the Spirit does seem to fare a bit poorly in Barth.

– N.T. Wright’s focus on the ways of speaking about God acting in the world within a Jewish framework is interesting to me (and something I’ve mentioned here before). Wright sees the classical ways of thinking about the Trinity not as wrong but perhaps a bit conceptually confused – persons, nature, essence, substance, etc. Sometimes he plays the ‘greek philosophy’ card a bit too strongly but I think a lot can be said for his overall point – which is, in a nutshell, that Scripture contains a built-on trinitarian grammar or framework. Wright is a bit more strictly biblically focused than most trinitarian formulations in that he sees the ways of thinking about God in the OT and in 2TJ as being fairly prescriptive of how we should think about the Trinity.

– I don’t see a way for social trinitarianism to avoid being tritheistic.

– Analytic philosophy does not make for good trinitarian theology.

8 thoughts on “Trinitarian Thoughts

  1. Kevin Davis April 19, 2014 / 8:54 am

    I am not sure if I agree with McGrath’s criticism of the Holy Spirit in Barth, which has been a fairly common criticism for some time now. Namely, I am not sure what he wants more from Barth. The HS is given extensive treatment throughout the CD, though typically toward the end of the volumes, and certainly a disproportionate distribution is given to christology, as should be the case. My sense is that people want Barth to talk more about anthropology, subjective conditions for faith, and the like — but instead of just saying that, they criticize his pneumatology!

    I am inclined to agree about analytic philosophy, but I have thus far avoided actually reading the recent proponents of “analytic theology” (Oliver Crisp, Thomas McCall, Michael Rae). I really need to see what they are doing. In particular, McCall and Rae have an edited volume with OUP called, Philosophical and Theological Essays on the Trinity, which is entirely essays from analytic philosophers or theologians on the doctrine of the Trinity.


    • whitefrozen April 19, 2014 / 9:02 am

      I find that every time I attempt to read analytic theology about the Trinity, I forget that they are talking about the Trinity and not propositional/modal logic. Blech. Not that I’m anti-analytic (though it’s not my favourite thing in the world to do), but it does have its limits, and this is one of them.

      RE McGrath, he seems to suggest that Barth reduces the Spirit to a mere messenger – that the Spirit is basically only something which makes us able to know Christ/revelation. I guess he sees it as a bit of a reductionism. But I’m only going off what’s in the section on Barth in his ‘Intro to Christian Theology’. It’s a sketch/overview of the position, its distinctives, strengths, weaknesses, not a sustained critique. Part of it is, as I said, Barth never really sits down and concisely says what he thinks about all these things, so it can be difficult to draw conclusions.


      • Kevin Davis April 19, 2014 / 9:29 am

        Barth’s Table Talks is enormously interesting and frequently funny. I know you would enjoy it. It’s the closest thing to succinct definitions as you’ll find from Barth. He does acknowledge that he could have given the HS more extensive treatment and could have even started with the HS (!), but the circumstances of his day required that he start where he did, emphasizing what he emphasized. However, he notes that Schleiermacher’s dogmatics does not have corresponding sections on the Holy Spirit as found in Barth’s own dogmatics, even though Schleiermacher makes the act of faith his starting point.

        I’ll have to check McGrath’s sketch. But my suspicion remains that people want Barth to talk about moral/aesthetic dimensions to the Holy Spirit’s awakening us to faith, but Barth doesn’t want to do that…because he thinks it’s just a guise to talk about oneself instead of God.


        • whitefrozen April 19, 2014 / 9:52 am

          Interesting thought on talking about oneself instead of God. I’ll think about that more.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel April 19, 2014 / 10:57 am

        I’m sure it must be possible for analytic philosophers to say helpful things about the Trinity, but their stuff would be more helpful, I think, if they saw themselves as thinking in continuity with the Church Fathers, rather than just doing something new. I read Swinburne, e.g., and I just have to wonder whether he’s read St Gregory of Nyssa. I know that he’s Eastern Orthodox. One would think that after his conversion he might have stepped back and reevaluated his work; but that doesn’t appear to have happened, as evidenced by his review of Hasker’s big book on the Trinity.


        • whitefrozen April 19, 2014 / 11:02 am

          I have Orthodox friends who speak highly of Swinburne – but yeah, most analytics pretty much seem to not be aware of the 2000 years of dogmatic reflection that the church has done on the Trinity. I’d be interested in seeing if Swinburne would still stand by all of his viewpoints that he held before his conversion.


            • whitefrozen April 20, 2014 / 8:47 am

              It seems that most of the review is behind a paywall, or I’m just limited by being on mobile – but I did read that Hasker skipped over most of the BIblical data on the Trinity, which isn’t a great way to start.


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