Book Reviews

Rediscovering the Triune God

The Trinity in Contemporary Theology

Stanley J. Grenz Minneapolis 2004-04-01

In this book, one of several works on the Trinity by Grenz, he purposes to “narrate the renaissance of interest in the doctrine of the Trinity within the main trajectory of Christian theology since the publication of Barth’s Epistle to the Romans” (p. 3). Grenz says this work is a “prequel” to his multi-volume Matrix of Christian Theology, which he never completed because of his death in 2005. In five major chapters he discusses modern Trinitarian theologians chronologically and thematically.

In chapter one, “The Eclipse of Trinitarian Theology,” Grenz traces the doctrine of the Trinity from its formulation in the early Christian centuries to its deemphasis and rejection both on the radical fringes of the Reformation and later in the deism of the Enlightenment. He focuses on Schleiermacher’s phenomenological Trinitarianism.

Chapter two, “Restoring the Trinitarian Center,” presents Karl Barth’s effort to address both divine unity and plurality by jettisoning the term “persons” in favor of “modes of being.” The second major theologian in the mid-twentieth century to rearticulate the need for fresh Trinitarian thought is Karl Rahner, known for his enigmatic axiom, “The immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity and vice versa.” The interpretation of “Rahner’s Rule” was a watershed in Trinitarian development through the remainder of the twentieth century.

Chapter three, “The Trinity as the Fullness of History,” explores Moltmann’s “theopassian” (i.e., that God suffers) view of Trinitarian relations, notably at the Cross with the separation of the Son from the Father and the mediatorial role of the Holy Spirit. Partial to an Eastern Orthodox social model, Moltmann defends the view that the persons of the Godhead are united through mutual indwelling. Parallel to Moltmann, Pannenberg articulates the case for Trinitarian interdependency, each member giving to and trusting the two other divine persons throughout God’s working in the history of the world.

In chapter four, “The Triumph of Relationality,” Grenz presents views of several contributors of (broadly labeled) social Trinitarianism. Applying an egalitarian view of the Godhead to political systems, liberation theologian Leonardo Boff sees the Trinity as a model for community and a deterrent to patriarchy. Boff also posits an incarnation of the Holy Spirit in Mary and a trans-sexist theology of God as a Maternal Father and Paternal Mother. Eastern Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas argues that the identity of each member of the Godhead is inextricably bound up in the identity of the other two; that is, the triune God is defined by His internal relations, much as human beings are shaped by their external relations. Catherine Mowry LaCugna argues that all one can know of God is the “economic Trinity” (God’s working in salvation history) and that speculation regarding the “immanent Trinity” (transcendent God) is not helpful.

In chapter five, “The Return of the Immanent Trinity,” Grenz presents yet other Trinitarian views, including Elizabeth Johnson’s attempt to terminate biblical male-centeredness by feminizing language about God and Thomas F. Torrance’s understanding that the idea of human personhood must center in one’s relationship with the Creator.

The breadth of Grenz’s work is impressive, even as it presents a re-reading of elements of modern Trinitarian history. For example Grenz raises little evangelical misgiving about Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the deity of Jesus as merely experiential rather than ontological, that is, His God-consciousness rather than His deity in nature. Schleiermacher’s rendition of God as unknowable is interpreted as an attempt “to take [Luther’s] distinction between the revealed God and the hidden God to its logical, orthodox trinitarian conclusion” (p. 23).

Grenz discusses Trinitarianism from the vantage point of each theologian with minimal interaction. When novel views and classical Trinitarianism clash, he remains somewhat distant, inserting the critiques of others but often being noncommittal about his own views. In one sense Grenz’s largely neutral stance may be tacit realization that one’s character and context shape his theological reflection. Rediscovering the Triune God is nonjudgmental toward all, even when some theologies conflict with biblical or historical Trinitarianism.

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J. Scott Horrell
The author of From the Ground Up: New Testament Foundations for the 21st-Century Church, Dr. J. Scott Horrell is professor of Theological Studies at DTS. He has been a theologian in various world cultures including years spent as a missionary in Brazil. Along with cofounding and editing a leading Latin American theological journal, he has written several books in Portuguese and English. He especially loves to introduce students to a global understanding of Christian faith, often taking teams of them with him as he travels.
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