Lately I’ve been reading up on the doctrine of the Trinity as I prepare to deliver the Trinity Sunday homily at St. Luke Lutheran Church. So I was pleased to find that Benjamin Myers of Faith & Theology posted the audio from his excellent summary lecture on St. Augustine’s De Trinitate. He enumerates “lessons from Augustine on the Trinity.” You can listen to the entire lecture on his site, but here I have paraphrased, cut, combined and rearranged the list to give you a little taste.
- The Triune God is an unfathomable, bottomless mystery.
- Because of this, a lot Christians tend to think that the doctrine of the Trinity is really complicated; many avoid it all together. But it is a doctrine, which means it’s meant to be taught. Actually, the doctrine of the Trinity is quite simple for Christians because we have already been baptized into a community who calls God by his proper name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- In the Trinity it is revealed to us that the entire life of God is grace, love and unity (2 Cor 13:14). It is infinite relatedness, sharing, giving, sending out and returning. Some others of the Church fathers describe the life of God as an eternal dance.
- Therefore we encounter the life of the Trinity as redemption and healing. As the earth is drawn into the suns orbit and thereby reflects the suns light to a dark world, so as we are drawn into the divine life we begin to reflect God’s love to the world.
- It is only then, as we experience healing and redemption, that we come to recognize our own sin and brokenness.
- A side note about evangelism: We often take the strategy when we introduce people to the Christian life of talking to them about their sinfulness, but this is the exact of the Trinitarian approach. Instead we should invite people into the love of God expressed in the life of the Trinity. Recognition of sinfulness will then come as a natural discovery. This leads us to the next point.
- There’s a point right at end of Augustine’s De Trinitate—this massive and deeply philosophical tome on what may seem like an obscure point of Christian theology—when Augustine says that it was written for non-believers. So De Trinitate is an appeal to conversion—it’s an attempt to show how attractive Christian faith is! Trinitarian theology, says Meyers, is essentially evangelical. Only when it devolves into intra-Christian nitpicking does the doctrine of the Trinity become stuffy and boring.
- Finally, the doctrine of the Trinity is eschatological. Only when we have been fully drawn into the Trinitarian life will we perfectly reflect God’s love to the world. Until then all of life is a journey deeper into the divine life. Think of life as “cleaning off a dirty mirror.”
“When I was growing up in the faith, I heard a lot about the doctrine of the Trinity,” writes Phillip Cary, professor of philosophy at Eastern University.
[But I] never learned quite what that doctrine was. In high school and college I worshipped in faithful, Biblical churches, in which pastors often affirmed the importance of the Trinity, even preached whole sermons on how important it was, yet never told us what the doctrine actually said.
I think many of us have had this experience. In his twin articles The Logic of Trinitarian Doctrine and Historical Perspectices on Trinitarian Doctrine, Prof. Cary explains what the doctrine of the Trinity actually says, in clear, easy to understand terms.
In his book published January of this year, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, Thomas Oden points out the significant role that Africa has played in he development of Christian theology, and he argues that one of the major challenges faced by theologians of this generation is to re-capture our African heritage. To this end, Oden founded The Center for Early African Christianity (CEAC), housed at Eastern University (my alma mater). It strikes me that there are at least two reasons that this is such an important task.
It has been noted by postmodern theologians that Christian theology has for too long been dominated by rich, white, male voices. By and large the answer to this problem has been the development of contextualized versions of liberation theology (i.e. black theology, feminist theology, womanist theology, queer theology) that leave much to be desired. But if Oden is right, there is no need for us to try and reinvent the wheel—Christianity already has a rich theological tradition from Africa which has laid fallow long enough. A second reason for mining early African Christian sources is to partner with the Church in Africa that is already growing at astronomical rates. Within one generation, Africa will once again be the seedbed of Christanity, and Western theologians of our day have the privilege to be a part of that development. Thus the CEAC states:
Our purpose is not to presume to set a theological agenda for African Christians, but to resource African Christians as they rethink their own agenda using classic African sources. We want to partner with Africa Christian leaders collecting seeds from their past in order to plant a future that provides possible solutions to questions, pressures, challenges Africa faces today and will face tomorrow on the soil of Africa. The resources are already there, waiting to be discovered. The resources are in Africa. The wisdom is in the texts of Africa. The matrix is the soil of Africa. We desire to make these classic sources available in order to equip 21st century Africans to become the leaders of 21st century Christianity, even as they were leaders of early Christianity.