The Spirit and the Trinity

I am in the process of revising my book Unfettered Spirit. As I worked on the revision, I realized I  hadn't included a statement concerning my trinitarian assumptions. So, I've written what follows, which is being added to the revised edition --- whenever it is published. I invite your thoughts. 


When we speak of the Spirit as Christians, this presupposes a trinitarian understanding of God. While this is not the place to delve deeply into that conversation; when I speak of the Spirit I do so as a trinitarian Christian. I also acknowledge that it is impossible to fully define or understand the nature of God. As St. Augustine famously declared of God: “What then brothers are we to say of God? For if you have understood what you want to say, it is not God. If you have been able to understand, you have understood something other than God” (Sermon 52:6). So, when we speak of God as Trinity we should do so with great humility, for our definitions cannot fully comprehend the nature of God. We can speculate as to the internal relations of what is known as the immanent Trinity. However, our understanding of God begins by looking to the way God is revealed in Creation, what is known as the economic Trinity. Catherine Mowry LaCugna puts it this way, “The doctrine of the Trinity is the attempt to understand the eternal mystery of God based on what is revealed about God in the economy of redemption. Theology of God is at the basis, the context, and the final criterion of every statement about God.”[1]  

When we speak of the gifts of the Spirit, we are thinking terms of this economic Trinity, and to speak of the “economic Trinity” is to speak of how God discloses God’s self to us in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, which leads to salvation or the healing of creation. Therefore, when we talk of the economic Trinity, we’re talking about God’s role in the creation, redemption, and sanctification of the created order. These three activities, however, should not be seen as occurring sequentially. Ultimately, when we contemplate God’s activity in the world, we do so with the assumption that it is a reflection of God’s internal relationality.

When we think about the trinitarian nature of God, one of the more intriguing images is that of the three visitors whom Abraham and Sarah encounter at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-15). Theologian Clark Williamson draws on this story that emphasizes hospitality to suggest that “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.[2] There is much more to be said about the Trinity than can be said here, but the God whom we encounter in the Spirit is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things. As we envision the work of the Spirit, in trinitarian terms, perhaps the best way to envision the divine activity in the world is to think in terms of dance. Consider then this vision articulated by Karen Baker-Fletcher:
In the beginning, there was dance. The Spirit of God hovered over the water. The author of all creation danced with the Spirit and the Word, which sang let there be light, let there be...let there be...Divine, everlasting community said let us create adam-earth creature-male and female, in our image, reflecting our creative, communal dance with one another and it was so. An entire interrelational universe freely became through the power of persuasive, divine, creative, loving community, integrating spirit and matter, and it was good.[3]
In receiving gifts that equip us for service we express the empowering presence of the God we know as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Mother of us all,” who are engaged in a dance that ultimately includes creation.

[1] Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity &Christian Life, (San Francsco: HarperOne, 1991), 22.
[2] Clark M. Williamson, Way of Blessing, Way of Life: AChristian Theology, (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1999), 126-127.
[3] Karen Baker-Fletcher. Dancing with God: The Trinity froma Womanist Perspective, (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006), Kindle Edition, 160.


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