Sunday, 5 February 2012

On the Trinity

Inspired by some postings on the UK  Methodist Facebook group.

The Unitarian and emphasis on the Unipesonality of God traditionally is said to "...completely contradict Christian orthodoxy, which affirms three divine Persons, yet one God." Except that hypostasis=persona does NOT mean Person in the way we would understand the word. There is a very fine line between trinitarianism and tritheism. It has rightly been said that it is impossible to preach on the Trinity without committing heresy. My reading of the Hebrew texts leads me to affirm the Oneness of God much more than the subsequent reflections of the Greek and Latin Fathers.

 "I don't think we can stop at the Hebrew scriptures when talking about the Trinity." Of course not. But they are pat of the darta, and part of the process by which God has revealed himself. The thing for me is what lies behind the text: the Hebrew mind seems to be more poetic, able to hold different themes, almost like different themes in a symphony, while the Greek mind is more mathematical, algebraic, needing to resolve the tensions until a conclusion is reached. That's why the Hebrews produced prophets and psalmists, while the Greeks produced philosophers. When contemplating the nature of God, poetry is more use than philosophy; the Trinity is a true mystery, and resolving it always loses something. God is One. He has been known in three entities, which have been labelled as hypostasis (literally 'mask' or 'face') - orthodoxy has taken a particular set of dogmatic resolutions from that, rejecting such things as Modalism which was just as logical a deduction. The point is that any resolution poses as many problems as it solves, because we are dealing with the mystery of divinity.

 My problem- and I think that of many others too -  is that I have read and heard so much which tries to argue that the Trinity is what God is, as if that gives us a dogmatic box in which to contain him. I cannot buy that, especially when most of the credal statements of the Early Church are written in a language which is not mine and makes philosophical assumptions I don't share. I do not dismiss the Trinity - essentially, it's the best analysis of the biblical experience of God as Father, Son and Spirit - but it feels more to me like a handle by which we grasp the mystery. God is certainly more than the formula can contain. The best explanation of 'Trinity' I can offer is as a way of understanding God and understanding knowledge, awareness and relationship with God and the self:

God the Fatherr = God as Creator; God as "wow"; the all pervasive God in Creation
God the Son = God revealed through human beings, through the writing of prophetic men and women, artists and scientists. God in you and me.
God the Spirit = the inner,"still small voice of calm"; the concscience; the personal God the "inner light" of George Fox.

 Not many of us really understand the Nicene language and concepts (did they?) - I think we're better off handling our theology in an impressionistic way than a pointilist or realist way, if you see what I mean. Nigel is quite right in arguing that there are boundaries - Methodism IS a Trinitarian church, and has established certain doctrinal standards, which means if anyone wants to join the church as a member, they have to sign up to those standards. But the standards are pretty broad, and allow for a great deal of variety within those standards (we include everything from fundamentalist literalists to high Wesleyan sacramentalists and progressive liberals); we also welcome as friends and fellow-worshippers many who do not fit within those standards. The important thing is that we journey together into a closer walk with God - which may or may not mean a deeper understanding! The Kingdom of God is not about doctrinal orthodoxy. God cannot be summed up in a nice set of officially authoriased words. It is about how we live - a way of life - and, more importantly, how we love.

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