Book Review: ‘The Holy Trinity – God for God and God For Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology’

The Holy Trinity – God for God and God For Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology‘, by Chung-Hyun Baik

Pickwick Publications, 234 pp. $20.80

The debate surrounding the immanent/economic Trinity is a hot topic right, and will, in all likelihood, continue to be a hot topic for some time.  Chung-Hyun Baik gives us with this volume a solid lay-of-the-land of the contemporary scene with the goal of providing a constructive ay to move past current impasses. Seven positions are examined by way of eleven contemporary theologians: Barth, Rahner, Moltmann, Pannenberg, Jenson, Leonardo Boff, William Norman Pittenger, Joseph A. Bracken, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki,Catherine Mowry LaCugna and Jung Young Lee.

The book is broken up into six chapters, the first of which is centered on ontology, epistemology and mystery in the contemporary debate. Here a brief look is given at these three topics within the contexts of biblical theology, philosophical theology, systematic theology and historical theology. Some well-known names such as Barth, Rahner, Kant, Grenz, Lossky, Jungel all make appearances here as well as Baik fleshes out the extent to which Trinitarian theology has become the focal point of theological reflection and engagement.

The second chapter focuses on historical and theological contexts, giving an overview of epistemology and ontology in the western tradition. Beginning with presocratics and moving through Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Husserl and tackling Heidegger, Levinas, Foucalt and Derrida in one swoop, Baik gives us a genealogy of movement of ontology to epistemology to post/anti-metaphysical ideas.

The following section (within the same chapter) follows the development of the ideas of the immanent/expressed Logos, processions/missions, dispensation, economy, energy and immanent/economic. Baik takes us through the early church fathers (Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertrullian and Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine) as well as Aquinas as he traces the development and use of the various terms through the thought of the above mentioned figures.

The third chapter is where Baik focuses on the meat of the book: the immanent/economic distinction. This chapter focuses on Barth’s’ mutual correspondence’, Rahner’s ‘identity’, Moltmann, Pannenberg and Jenson’s ‘eschatalogical unity’, and the positions of each regarding the immanent/economic distinction is clearly, concisely and accessibly laid out. No new ground is broken here – this is just exposition, and the critical analysis comes later – and readers familiar with the various theologies under discussion won’t find much new here.

The fourth chapter follows the same pattern as the third, giving a clear and concise layout of the positions of Boff and Pittenger’s ‘much more than’, Bracken’s ‘immersing’, Suchocki and LaCugna’s ‘absorbing’ and Lee’s ‘mutual inclusiveness’. For me, at any rate, there was a lot here I wasn’t familiar with – actually, most of these names I was familiar with in passing only, so I personally learned a great deal from this section. Baik is admirably clear in his writing, and for someone not well-versed in much of the content as well as the form of the theologians in this chapter, this was an enjoyable learning experience.

Chapter five is comprised of critical discussions of each of the seven positions, focusing on the use each position makes of ontology, epistemology, and mystery. The main critique that Baik levels at each (you’ll have to read the book for the juicy details) is that each positions places ontology and epistemology in the foreground, while invoking mystery only when a tension arises between ontology/epistemology.

This criticism forms the basis for the sixth and final chapter, where Baik develops a more constructive use for the category of mystery in Trinitarian theology. Baik sees contemporary uses of mystery as being restricted only or primarily to God the Father, and seeks via biblical exegesis to build a concept of mystery centered on Jesus Christ, placing mystery in the foreground of our theological reflection on the immanent/economic as opposed to placing ontology and epistemology in the foreground.

Here I’ll identify three issues that I had with this volume. The first problem is that the historical excurses are far too brief – the presocratics, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Husserl and all the others each get on average half a paragraph, and while they are accurate half-paragraphs, can justice really be done in such a small space? Given that, after they are mentioned, they are never brought up or interacted with again, I would have preferred Baik to eliminate these excurses entirely and expand on the historical/theological excurses instead, which is some of the strongest writing in the volume.

The second issue I see is that while the expositions, as I said, are clear, concise and tight, the critical analysis is somewhat weaker, and, at times, feels a little bit unbalanced. Barth, for example, is subjected to multiple pages of what seems to me to be fairly hair-splitting criticism (Baik argues that for Barth, an ontological dualism arises between the immanent/economic, when Baik’s own exposition of Barth makes it clear that the immanent has a logical and epistemic priority over the economic, not an ontological), whereas Moltmann and Lee are more or less simply affirmed or exposited again with little substantial critical analysis. It’s not made exactly clear in these cases just what tension Baik sees in Moltmann and Lee, though he asserts that there are.

My third and final criticism has to do with Baik’s own constructive proposals. His entire proposal take up a bare ten pages, and despite some interesting exegesis (which itself is just shy of one page), does very little to let us know what the actual proposal is in any concrete or specific terms. We are told, for example, that a concept of mystery needs to be determinative of our ontology and epistemology – but that’s all we are told. Even with Baik’s exegetical move of locating mystery within Christ as opposed to the Father (which seems to me to be a case of overcorrection – surely God the Father can retain some mystery), he never really says what his proposal would look like in action. Baik maintains that we have to uphold the distinction and unity within and between the immanent and economic, but all Baik has done is present critiques of various other ways of holding these tensions together without showing exactly how we should be holding them together.

Overall, this is a solid overview of the contemporary debate over the immanent and economic Trinity. Baik is superb on the development of theological ideas in the early fathers and Aquinas, and gives clear, concise and fair readings of the major theologians and their positions. Despite the three shortcomings I identified, this is worthy volume for anyone looking to learn the ins and outs of one of the more heated debates in modern theology.

**NOTE** I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review which in no way guaranteed a positive review

3 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘The Holy Trinity – God for God and God For Us: Seven Positions on the Immanent-Economic Trinity Relation in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology’

    • whitefrozen January 30, 2016 / 10:07 am

      It’s definitely worth getting! I definitely plan on interacting with a lot of the material in the book – watch this space


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