The Deep Things Of God: Understanding the Trinity
- Monday, September 20, 2010
In Louth's view, the prioritizing of life over doctrine finds its clearest expression in the epistemological priority of the church as a history-spanning community that provides the tacit dimension on which explicit theological awareness can develop. In this connection he invokes "Polanyi's idea of the importance of a community and of a tradition, within which one learns to perceive and know"45 and praises
it as the inescapable background and framework within which faith is possible. "We come back to the fact that Christianity is not a body of doctrine that can be specified in advance, but a way of life and all that this implies. Tradition is, as it were, the tacit dimension of the life of the Christian: what is proclaimed . . . is only a part of it, and not really the most important part."46
Tradition provides, for theologians like Louth, a sense of fullness and presence, and thus it constitutes, in one of his favorite metaphors,
the fecund silence in which the Word can be spoken and heard:
To hear Jesus, and not just his words, we have to stand within the tradition of the Church; we have to put our trust in those to whom our Lord entrusted his mission, his sending. Part of the stillness that is needed for us to hear the words of Jesus is a sense of presence, and it is this tradition conveys. We become Christians by becomeing members of the Chruch, by trusting our forefathers in the faith. If we cannot trust the Church to have understood Jesus, then we have lost Jesus: and the resources of modern scholarship will not help us to find him.
From this thick account of tradition it is a short step to the third standard answer for where to locate a tacit dimension capable of funding Trinitarian thought. A high view of the sacraments is often invoked in this context. Baptism in the name of the Trinity is not merely a ritual performed as the right formula is spoken (though that is important), but is actually viewed as a mysterious, physical immersion in the life of the triune Godhead via the death and resurrection of Christ, sacramentally mediated to the individual baptized. This experienced reality of the life of the Trinity thus contains in itself the actual content that can later be unpacked or expounded in definite Trinitarian teaching. The sacraments are concrete, while the doctrine is necessarily abstract. This view of the relation between sacrament and doctrine has naturally generated the catechetical practice known as mystagogy, which means teaching that is provided for those who have already been introduced to the mysteries. In a fully sacramental mystagogy, the Christian would receive the thing itself in the sacraments and then learn about it in doctrinal form. Converts make a profession of faith and are admitted to baptism and the Eucharist, which is followed then by teaching and preaching that further explicates in conceptual form the mysteries they have just encountered in experiential form.
Evangelical Resources Already At Hand
What are we to say to these proposals for cultivating the tacit dimension of Trinitarian theology? For some varieties of evangelicals, these relatively high-church resources have been, and continue to be, nourishing sources of Christian life that underwrite the church's ability to think well about the Trinity. Furthermore, we do not need to enter the interminable debate about the essence of evangelicalism, or its true center, by asserting that evangelicalism by definition must be nonliturgical, nontraditional, and nonsacramental. Millions of evangelicals are, of course, and this includes a wide swath from Southern Baptists to Pentecostals in the global south. Nevertheless, the movement as a whole, or certain ecclesial strands within the movement, could certainly grow in the three areas discussed above without losing compromising evangelical identity. A more formal and elaborate use of liturgy, a firmer grasp of the great tradition, and a higher view of the sacraments are all possibilities within some of the churches that make up the evangelical movement. Insofar as they actually help provide a tacit awareness of the reality of the Trinity, they can even be recommended as strategically valuable directions in which the movement could develop. Gerald Bray's remarks about liturgy cited above, for example, are clearly that: a recommendation that evangelicalism could become more Trinitarian by becoming more liturgical.
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