Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Trinity: Engaging with the Relational God

The Trinity is a doctrine of God that emerged and developed over time.  It sought to answer the question of God’s identity/presence in relationship to the creation.  There are essentially two ways of approaching this question – one is called the Economic Trinity and the other is the Immanent Trinity.  One focuses on God’s activity and the other on God’s internal identity.   Both ways of approaching the question rely on the same formula.

            The point here is, as Clark Williamson suggests, the Trinity defines the God we meet in the history of Salvation.   The focus is on the roles of God - in creating, redeeming, and sanctifying the creation.  This activity, however, is not sequential – for “in each moment of our lives God creates us anew, redeems us out of the narrowness and stupidity of the past, and calls us forward toward God’s future with all God’s friends.”[1]  In the doctrine of the Trinity, we name the God of Israel who meets us in Jesus Christ, especially as Jesus is known to us on the cross, and is present to us, empowering us, by the Holy Spirit. 

            What is the purpose of the doctrine of the Trinity?  What does it tell us?  Williamson, a Disciple theologian, writes in summary of the economic Trinity:
The doctrine of the Trinity is a symbol that matures over time as a people reflect on their experience with the God of Israel disclosing God’s self to them in Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.[2]
            The economic Trinity speaks to God’s activity in and with the creation, focused on the work of Salvation.  The immanent Trinity speaks to God’s inner life.  Williamson points us to the image in Genesis (18:1-15) of Abraham and Sarah meeting with the three “men” at the Oaks of Mamre.  This image has become an important metaphor for the Trinity, and Williamson, following Catharine Mowry LaCugna, that it suggests the image of hospitality.  Thus, from this analogy, according to Williamson, “the Trinity is a communion of equal persons (coequal, the tradition liked to say), and we are invited into such communion.”  He goes on to say:
We speak of God as one in order to make clear that God is not divided, not double-minded.  We speak of God as three to affirm communion in God.  Life is a blessing and well-being when all relations of domination and oppression are expelled.  Communion among persons is the divine order and the intended human order of well-being.  The fundamental intent of the doctrine of the trinity is to protect an understanding of God as a profound relational communion.  A relationship (not merely a relation) of authentic communion among God, human beings, and all God’s creatures is the aim of God’s work in the world.[3]
The key component in this framework is the reminder that the God we meet in Jesus Christ is a relational God.  The relationship begins within the unity that is God and extends to the creation itself.  The Trinity is not an easy idea to understand, but it does provide us with a way of envisioning God, knowing that God is always beyond our comprehension, that affirms the relationship that exists between God and humanity.

[1]Clark Williamson, Way of Blessing, Way of Life: A Christian Theology, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999), p. 118.
[2]Williamson, Way of Blessing, p. 123.
[3]Williamson, Way of Blessing, pp. 126-127.


Allan R. Bevere said...


Could you explain what Williamson means by his use of the term "symbol"? I sometimes find that folks use that term in a way that can be dismissive, as in "it's merely a symbol." But I want to make sure I understand what he is actually saying here.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Allan, I can't speak for Clark, but I don't think he would intend "mere symbol," but rather that in this word/concept the reality that is God is offered to us.

I'll note that Clark is a Process oriented theologian who studied with Tillich.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks, Bob... helpful...

Allan R. Bevere said...
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