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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

The Use of Doctrine

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A colleague in ministry expressed doubts today about the doctrine of the Trinity. His squabble with it is the way it's used, which he's found to be inevitably heretical. It is very difficult to speak of God as three-in-one, to teach and preach intelligently as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit without lapsing into any number of "misstatements" of God's nature (insert obligatory nod to the provisional character of all of our God speech here; also insert here the qualification that the use of language is only one part of an equation that also includes its truthfulness or faithfulness).

Modalism is the heresy my colleague hears every time Trinity talk takes place. It is inevitable that people will talk about the different "jobs" assigned the unique members of the Godhead (the Spirit empowers; the Son saves; the Father creates; and so on), whereas one of the marks of Orthodox trinitarianism is the maxim that if one member of the Trinity does something, the other two, by participation, also do it.

For my colleague, this hangup is cause to rethink using Trinity language at all. He gets the doctrine. He can explain it to you all day long; he's just tired of having to. My on-the-fly reply was that just because something is difficult to explicate doesn't mean we should abandon it. Perhaps it means we should use it all the more.

I've thought about this throughout the afternoon and evening, now, and it's clear to me that I use lots of theological language not because it speaks to me personally, but because it's what I was taught. My teachers, though, were faithful men and women who had years behind their convictions and had been taught them by faithful teachers who had themselves been taught, and on and on down the line. I'm okay with that. I'm not sure if I should be, but I'm okay with affirming something I can't explain beyond, "That's the church's traditional teaching," or "That's our best understanding of it." I'm programmed to doubt that contemporary humanity could do it any better than the Patristics who hammered it all out so many centuries ago.

I'm not compelled to find different language because what we have is programmed for confusion. Is that a shirking of my ordination vow to "serve the people with . . .imagination . . . and . . . intelligence?"

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posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:41 PM

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