3—Mark Heim’s Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends
4—Amos Yong’s Pneumatological Theology of Religions
5—Jaquees Dupuis’s Christian Theology of Religious Ends
6—Raimundo Panikkar’s Theandric Spirituality
7—Conclusions and Reflections
We’ve been taking a look this week at what I think to be one of the most significant books to come out this year. The book is Keith Johnson’s Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment, and it’s both an examination of four dominant attempts to use the doctrine of the Trunity to accommodate religious pluralism and a critical assessment of those accommodating theological positions using Augustine as a theological dialogue partner. Today we look at Augustine himself with chapter 2, an introduction to his trinitarian theology. A more in-depth understanding of his trinitarianism will come out during our interaction with the four positions, but this chapter presents a good introduction.
Johnson explains that the basic point of reference for Augustine’s trinitarian theology is Latin pro-Nicene theology, which is a particular interpretation of the Council of Nicaea’s trinitarian doctrine that emerged in the 2nd half of the 4th century. Pro-Nicenes affirm the Father-Son-Spirit all share the same power, do the same work, and posses the same nature. The key thought here is the “inseperabel operation” of the divine persons. In other words, Father-Son-Spirit aren’t separate beings, but intimately united and equal in person, work, and nature. This inseperable action is a fundamental element in Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity. (51-53)
Johnsons also wants to make the point that Augustine’s teachings on the Trinity arise out of the Scripture itself, as the 4th century search for the doctrine of God was in large ways about how to rightly read and interpret Scripture. In fact, Johnson says there are over 6800 biblical citations in Augustine’s volume on the Trinity! So this guy was incredibly concerned about a right Scriptural understanding of the nature of God, which in turn was a concern about the nature of Jesus Himself. (53)
Additionally, Johnson argues that the popular claims that Augustine’s (and the Latin/West) theology of the Trinity stood in sharp contrast to the Cappadocian Fathers—Basil of Cesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Naziansus—(and the rest of the Greek/East) is false. He quotes David Bently Hart who joins him in this assessment in maintaining that the East and West operated on different theological positions regarding the Trinity is “a particularly tedious, persistent, and pernicious falsehood.” (54-55) So Augustine’s theology of the Trinity is an orthodox position on the Trinity in that it reflects the consensus of the Church, both East and West.
Finally, Johnson points out that Augustine’s position did develop throughout his lifetime, particularly in the element of unity of operation and divine communion. This means all Augustine’s trinitarian writings must be taken into account in order to discern between the continuity and discontinuity of his positions, which Johnsons accomplishes very well. (55)
From here, Johnson helps orient the reader with a discussion of Augustine’s most significant book on the issue: De Trinitate, which is divided into two sections. Section one examines trinitarian theology from Scripture and logic, countering Arian exegesis along the way of developing his sophisticated trinitarian hermeneutic. In section two, “Augustine searches for reflections of the generation of the Son and procession of the Holy Spirit in the highest functions of the human soul” in order to “lead the reader into deeper knowledge and experience of the triune God.” (56-57) In so doing, the reader sees how central the Trinity is to the redemptive work of Christ and how much Christology, soteriology, and revelation are linked to this foundational doctrine.
Each of these later three issues—Revelation, Christ, Salvation—shape Johnson’s engagement, and shape our own engagement, with these four contemporary theologians who seek to accomodate the Trinity to modern polytheism, because they are incredibly important to the Christian faith. How we understand the person of Jesus Christ, the nature of salvation and revelation are all impacted by ones engagement with and definitions of the Trinity. And because of Augustine’s stature in the Church and signifant engagement with this issue for his own time, it’s entriely appropriate and fitting for Johnson to bring him into our modern discussion of Trinity and religious pluralism for our own time. And because the stakes are extemely high, not only for the doctrinal understands of Christ and salvation but because the real lives of real people are also involed, I am incredibly grateful for his careful study and critical analysis; I think we all should be grateful.
This minor introdction to Augustine’s engagement with the Trinity will serve to set us on our way to engaging our first theologian: Mark Heim, who insists the Trinity itself should arm the church to argue and acknowledge multiple religious ends, of which Christian salvation is only one among many possible ends. Johnson will establish his arguments and use Augustine to help us engage them. Should be a great conversation!