The Deep Things Of God: Understanding the Trinity
- Monday, September 20, 2010
A child by the age of five has learned, we are told, an astonishing amount of physical world to which he or she has become spontaneously and intuitively adapted- far more than the child could ever understand if he or she turned out to be the most of physicists. Likewise, I believe, we learn far more about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, into whose Name we have been baptised, within the family and fellowship and living tradition of the Church than we can ever say: it becomes built into the structures of our souls and minds, and we know much more than we can ever tell. This is what happens evangelically and personally to us within the membership of the Church, the Body of Christ in the world, when through the transforming power of his Word and Spirit our minds became inwardly and intuitively adapted to know the living God. We became spiritually and intellectually implicated in patterns of divine order that are beyond our powers fully to articulate in explicit terms, but we are aware of being apprehended by divine Truth as it is in Jesus which steadily presses for increasing realization in our understanding, articulation and confession of faith. That is how Christian history gains its initial impetus, and is then reinforced through constant reading and study of the Bible within the community of the faithful.
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Liturgy. Tradition. And Sacraments. OH MY!
There is widespread agreement among many theologians that Trinitarian theology is so expansive that only a sophisticated approach via tacit awareness is likely to produce effective and productive understanding of it. We have seen the logic of this position and have seen some of its promise for reinvigorating Trinitarian theology. However, at this point we can begin to reapproach the question of inculturating the doctrine of the Trinity into evangelical culture. In doing so, we will part ways with the answers normally given to the question, Where do we locate the tacit awareness of Trinitarianism that can fund explicit understanding of the doctrine? The question is a good one, but the standard answers are less helpful for our purposes. The standard answer is as follows: the tacit dimension of Trinitarian thought, the nonthematic awareness of Trinitarian reality that makes productive understanding possible, is located in the richness of the Christian liturgy, in the profound experience of continuity with tradition, and in the real presence of Christ himself in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The sources, then, are liturgy, tradition, and sacrament. Let us examine each briefly.
Liturgy in the sense intended here is an order of service and a set of practices attached to regular Christian worship. The best liturgies in use in Christian churches are ancient, well-worn compositions permeated with scriptural language skillfully deployed across a series of pastoral pronouncements, prayers, congregational responses, and songs. These are correlated with a series of symbolic actions arranged with equal artfulness to embody the theological commitments of the church. At crucial junctures, select passages of Scripture are read aloud as the word of the Lord for that day in the church calendar. The synergy of the words and actions constitute a worship experience intended to convey the entirety of the Christian message in symbolic form, and all of this takes place in its own liturgical language, regardless of the content of the actual sermon preached that day. Of course a good liturgical homilist will do his best to preach a message that harmonizes with the particular liturgical setting at hand and thus work with the grain of the overall service rather than against it. However, as Gerald Bray points out, the power of a set liturgy is partly in its independence from any particular sermon:
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