Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Problematic God of Western Theology

Before reading this post, I suggest you read the previous post entitled "The Subordination of the Doctrine of the Trinity."

The following post brings together much of the material that has been presented in previous posts by articulating the problems associated with the Augustinian-Thomist-Western doctrine of God. The post is long but I believe it is vitally important to our understanding of the problems in the Western doctrine of God.

Split Between Faith and Reason

There are a number of serious problems with the Western doctrine of God. The first problem with the Augustinian-Thomist bifurcation of the doctrine of God is a "false disjunction" between faith and reason. While Jesus and the Spirit are known by faith in the apostolic witness revealed in Scripture, the One God, that is, the supreme substance, is known by speculative reason rooted in pagan Greek philosophy (Rahner, 1997:ix).

The Augustinian-Thomist doctrine of God implies that the One God of substantialist metaphysics is the "real" God and is known differently from the Triune God revealed historically in the incarnate Son and the Holy Spirit (oikonomia). As a result, the Augustinian-Thomist tradition has created a split between faith and reason and left the Western Church with two competing sources of knowledge of God, each tending to discredit the other (Gunton, 1990:35). These two versions of God are incompatible, for each posits a distinct but dissimilar view of the nature of God and God's relationship to the world. The One God of the philosophers, that is, the God of reason and natural theology, is the immutable, impassible God of all determining power who is unaffected by the troubles here below. The Triune God revealed in Scripture and known by faith is the God who stoops to interact with creation (cf. Hos 11:4) and whose power is subordinated to his essential nature of love (Pinnock, et al, 1994:18ff).

This split view of God leaves the Church with profound questions: Is the Christian God like the God of the philosophers ‒ remote, aloof, and disengaged? Or is the Christian God the Triune God of grace and mercy revealed in salvation history who freely and lovingly engages creation? In opening an epistemological chasm between the One God and the Triune God, thereby creating a split between faith and reason, the Augustinian-Thomist tradition has left the Western Church with the same question posed to T. F. Torrance (1992:59) by a dying young soldier on the battlefield: "Is God really like Jesus?"

Epistemology and Methodology

As evidenced above, many of the problems in the Augustinian-Thomist bifurcation of the doctrine of God are epistemological and methodological, as can be seen by a comparison to Eastern Patristic theology. The pre-Augustinian Fathers of the Eastern Greek tradition begin their thinking about God with revelation; they do not attempt to describe God ad intra. Rather than offer a "philosophy of being," their primary concern is to explain how we may speak of the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ (Metzger, 2005:52). Whereas the Augustinian-Thomist approach to the doctrine of God begins with an emphasis on the unitary substance of God, only thereafter to consider the Triune Persons, the Eastern theologians of the early Greek-speaking Church begin their doctrine of God by considering first the Triune Persons as revealed in salvation history and only thereafter reflecting on the intradivine substance (ousia) (cf. Gonzales, 1987:335; Grenz, 2004:8, 9). While the Western approach emphasizes nature over person, the Eastern approach emphasizes person over nature (LaCugna, 1991:11).

Moreover, in the Eastern approach to the doctrine of God, the divine persons in relationship among themselves constitute the being (ousia) of God. The being of God is simply what the persons are, one to another; that is, for God to "be" is simply to be the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their intradivine relations to one another (Gunton, 2007:86). On the other hand, Western theologians, who typically begin their articulation of the doctrine of God based on the substantialist metaphysics of natural theology, tend to talk of three "subsistencies" in the divine being, as though the divine persons exist within the being of God rather than constituting that being. To say, however, that the divine Persons are merely subsistencies in the being of God seems to imply that the being of God is different from the persons. In other words, the Western tradition implies that the being of God is something that underlies the divine persons rather than being constituted by them. Thus, in Western theology, following Augustine, the being (ousia) of God appears to be a substratum, a fourth "something," that underlies the Father, Son and Spirit (Gunton, 2007:87). This presents the Church with an epistemological problem: If the essence of God is different from the Triune Persons, that is, if God is different from God's historical self-revelation in Christ and the Spirit, then Christians are faced with the question, "Who (or what) is God and how do we know?"

Another major problem with the Augustinian-Thomist approach is methodological. Because the identity of God is not rooted primarily in the biblical witness to the incarnate Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, but is found in rational speculation on the substance (ousia) of God based on Greek philosophy, the Western practice of describing the unitary substance as "God" is liable to making God's redemptive self-disclosure as Father, Son and Spirit subordinate to the essence (ousia) of God. Because this approach begins with substantialist metaphysics, derived from human ideas of what is appropriate for a perfect being to be (dignum deo) (Sanders, 2007:295, n29), the Western tradition suggests that Jesus and the Spirit are to be interpreted in terms of the pre-understanding of the attributes of the divine essence (e.g., immutability and impassibility) rather than in terms of God's self-emptying love for the world revealed at the cross.

The Significant Influence of Pagan Philosophy

Another problem with the Augustinian-Thomist-Western doctrine of God is the ever-present influence of pagan philosophy. According to Bloesch (1995:205, 206), the history of Western Christian thought is marked by a "biblical-classical synthesis," particularly conspicuous in Augustine and Aquinas, wherein the "ontological categories of Greco-Roman philosophy" have been united with the "personal-dramatic categories of biblical faith." LaCugna (1991:3, 4) accurately asserts that, in many respects, the "Christian" doctrine of God is secular, because it is derived more from philosophy than from God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. She describes the root of this non-soteriological doctrine of God as the "metaphysics of substance": the pursuit of God in his internal, intradivine relations largely considered apart from God's self-revelation in the incarnate Son and the gift of the Spirit. Colin Gunton (2007:39), a rather outspoken critic of Augustine, argues that "Augustine either did not understand the Trinitarian theology of his predecessors, both East and West, or looked at their work with spectacles so strongly tinted with Neoplatonic assumptions that they have distorted his work." Similarly, Moltmann (1993:10-12; 16, 17) is rightly critical of the Thomist emphasis on divine substance derived from Greek philosophy and articulated in the classic "five ways" to knowledge of God (cf. Aquinas, 1989:12ff), wherein the unity of God is given primary consideration with the result that the Trinity is finally explicated only within the framework of the one, divine substance. Moltmann argues that such a rational philosophical approach to the nature of God based on natural theology becomes a "prison" for biblical statements about the nature of God; that is, the scriptural witness to God as revealed in the incarnate Son and the Holy Spirit is constrained by an alien view of God developed from natural philosophy. Moltmann (1993:149) succinctly but accurately summarizes the all-important distinction between the methodological approaches to the doctrine of God: "If the biblical testimony is chosen as point of departure, then we shall have to start from the three persons of the history of Christ. If philosophical logic is made the starting point, then the enquirer proceeds from the One God."

The Compromise of Sola Scriptura

In the Augustinian-Thomist tradition, an alien framework of Greek metaphysics has been given equal place with Scripture in the development of the Western doctrine of God. This syncretic mixture of pagan and biblical thought compromises one of the hallmark principles of the Reformation: sola scriptura. When the doctrine of the One God is separated from the self-revelation of God as Father, Son, and Spirit, then reflection on the nature and character of God becomes merely a matter of philosophical speculation. When theologia is divorced from oikonomia, the biblical witness to God's involvement in the world in the history of Israel and the incarnation of Christ is rendered irrelevant for understanding the transcendent eternal nature of God. This means that rationalist speculative theology on the intradivine nature of God can operate on its own, unsupported by a thorough investigation of Scripture (exegesis). Therefore, while the Reformation principle sola scriptura might still be applied to the divine economy (oikonomia), there is apparently one area where the principal does not apply: "the immanent Trinitarian constitution of the divine being" (Schwöbel, 1995:7).

In the Augustinian-Thomist doctrine of God, natural theology, based on the rational speculation of Greek metaphysics, is the starting point for the doctrine of the One God, while revealed theology, as embraced by the community of faith, is the basis for the doctrine of the Triune God (Torrance, 1980:147, 148). Latin theology has promulgated a union in Western Christian thought between pagan Greek philosophy and biblical revelation that has been taken for granted for centuries, while only recently coming into question. In the Augustinian-Thomist tradition, the biblical revelation of the Father, Son and Spirit is subordinated to a view of God derived from natural philosophy. Consequently, as my friend theologian Robert Lucas notes, the Western Church, while intending to faithfully adhere to the Reformation principle, sola scriptura, at least in its Protestant manifestations, is unconsciously reading Scripture through an alien grid that emphasizes the oneness and unity of God with comparatively little consideration given to the distinctiveness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit or to the communion of fellowship shared among the Triune Persons of the Godhead. The Trinity is removed from the practical concerns of Christian life and worship and is relegated to the status of a puzzling conundrum whose incomprehensibility is taken as axiomatic. Finally, and most importantly, As my friend theologian Baxter Kruger notes, abstract philosophical reflection on the inner nature of God considered apart from the scriptural witness to salvation history means that Jesus Christ ‒ the One by, in, for, and through whom all things exist (Col 1:16, 17) ‒ is left out of the formulation of the doctrine of God.

In summary, the Western doctrine of God arises from a confluence of two very different streams of thought: 1) natural theology largely derived from the substantialist metaphysics of pagan Greek philosophy and 2) revealed theology based on Holy Scripture. According to theologian Robert Lucas, because the scriptural witness of God as Father, incarnate Son and Spirit has been thoroughly polluted by an alien stream of thought, the Western Church for centuries has unconsciously allowed the presuppositions of pagan philosophy to drive its "biblical" understanding of God.

Loss of Relationality in the Doctrine of God

Because the Latin emphasis on the unitary substance seems to portray God as an "isolated, passionless monad," thus obscuring both the inner relationality of the Trinity and God's loving relationship with creation, contemporary Trinitarian theologians largely eschew the Western emphasis on the metaphysics of substance wherein the divine essence is said to "stand under" (L. substantia) the divine Persons (Cunningham, 1998:25).

The emphasis on the unitary substance of God and the concomitant loss of relationality in the Western doctrine of God can be traced to Augustine. Because of his intense sensitivity to the suffering involved in human relationships, Augustine developed a permanent dislike for interpersonal models of the Godhead. Given the Neoplatonic presupposition that God is utterly simple with no shadow of plurality, Augustine has great trouble positing real relationships, that is, diversity, in the Godhead. For Augustine, the Father is God in respect to substance, yet he cannot say that God is Father in respect to substance because that would make relations an aspect of the being of God, an assertion that is in conflict with divine simplicity (Sanders, 2007:83, 84).

Moreover, Augustine fails to properly define "person," understanding the term to mean simply "relation." Constrained by the Aristotelian "substance-accident" dualism, Augustine gives relations in the Godhead secondary place to the divine unity (ousia) so that relations are understood logically but not ontologically, that is, as something that constitutes the being of God (cf. Thompson, 1994:129). Because Augustine is unable to make claims about the being of the particular persons of the Godhead, the Father, Son and Spirit tend to disappear into the all-encompassing oneness of God (Gunton, 1990:44, 45). In short, while Augustine understands the unity of the persons, he fails to sufficiently grasp the diversity, thus bequeathing to the Western Church a doctrine of God that barely masks an underlying modalism (cf. Gunton, 2007:86, 87).

Following in the tradition of Augustine, the Fourth Lateran Council and Thomas Aquinas formalized the Western habit of privileging unitary substance over the diversity of the Triune Persons. In relegating the concepts of person and relationship to secondary status in the doctrine of God, the Western tradition has further contributed to the separation of theologia and oikonomia by subordinating God's tripersonal self-revelation to a substantialist doctrine of God derived from rational presuppositions.

Practical Unitarianism

Closely related to the loss of a relational concept of God is the issue of practical Unitarianism. LaCugna (1991:6) rightly argues that an ontological distinction between God in se and God pro nobis, that is, God in his eternal intradivine nature (theologia) and God for us as revealed in salvation history (oikonomia), is inconsistent not only with the biblical witness to God's redemptive acts in history but also with early Christian Creeds and doxology. This separation of God in his eternal intradivine nature (theologia) from God's threefold self-revelation in salvation history (oikonomia), most particularly obvious in Aquinas' separation of the two treatises, De Deo Uno and De Deo Trino, can only result, she argues, "in a unitarian Christianity, not a Trinitarian monotheism."

In a similar vein, Moltmann (1993:17) sees in the Thomist approach not only an undue emphasis on the unity of God but also a reduction of the triunity of God to the One God. As he rightly asserts, "The representation of the Trinitarian Persons in a homogenous divine substance, presupposed and recognizable from the cosmos, leads unintentionally but inescapably to the disintegration of the doctrine of the Trinity in abstract monotheism." Moltmann seems to suggest that, given the Western emphasis on the ontological priority of unitary substance, the distinct persons of the Triune Godhead disappear into an undifferentiated ontological "soup," leaving the ordinary believer with a Unitarian view of God.

Following LaCugna and Moltmann, we may assert that the Augustinian-Thomist bifurcation of the doctrine of God, wherein God in his inner being (theologia) is considered apart from God as revealed in Christ and the Spirit (oikonomia), is not commensurate with God's self-revelation in Scripture nor with the Apostles' or Nicene Creeds, both of which are set in an unmistakable Trinitarian framework, nor with Christian prayer and worship, wherein Father, Son and Spirit have been historically worshipped as God. In addition, the Augustinian-Thomist emphasis on the unitary substance of God makes the Trinity appear to be a mere addition to the doctrine of God, thus reducing Christian belief and piety to practical Unitarianism, as evidenced by Rahner's (1997:10, 11) lament that the doctrine of the Trinity is irrelevant in the lives of most Christians, who are, in fact, "almost mere 'monotheists.'"

Pastoral Concerns

The Augustinian-Thomist doctrine of the One God has only minimal connection to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In the Western Latin tradition, Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity have been virtually divorced, so that the life and work of Jesus is disconnected from the Trinity. Accordingly, there is only an "accidental relation" between the economy of salvation (oikonomia) as revealed in Scripture and the eternal triune being of God (theologia) (Thompson, 1994:22). There are clear pastoral concerns attached to the separation of theologia and oikonomia when the "bond of being" between the incarnate Son and the Father is torn asunder in our doctrine of God. Any disjunction between the being of Jesus and the being of God disrupts the message of grace contained in the Gospel, introducing anxiety into the hearts of many Christians who fear there may be a dark, inscrutable, arbitrary deity hidden behind the back of Jesus "before whom in our guilty conscience as sinners we cannot but quake and shiver in our souls" (Torrance, et al, 1999:16).

A truly Christian doctrine of God (theologia) must be rooted in the economy (oikonomia) of salvation, particularly the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The vital importance of a Christological approach to the doctrine of God is ably demonstrated by a series of questions posed by T. F. Torrance (1995:134):

What kind of God would we have, then, if Jesus Christ were not the self-revelation or self-communication of God, if God were not inherently and eternally in his own being what the Gospel tells us he is in Jesus Christ? Would "God" then not be someone who does not care to reveal himself to us? Would it not mean that God has not condescended to impart himself to us in Jesus Christ, and that his love has stopped short of becoming one with us? It would surely mean that there is no ontological, and therefore no epistemological connection between the love of Jesus and the love of God ‒ in fact there would be no revelation of the love of God but, on the contrary, something that rather mocks us, for while God is said to manifest his love to us in Jesus, he is not actually that love in himself.

Torrance's questions illustrate the important truth that thinking about God that does not begin with Jesus Christ leaves us uncertain about God's care, concern and love for the world. The Augustinian-Thomist bifurcation of the doctrine of God implies that God in his eternal, inner being may be different from God as revealed in his acts in salvation history. Hence, Christians cannot be certain that God as revealed in the incarnate Son and Holy Spirit is the same as God "really" is in his inner-most being. This immediately raises a soteriological concern for the Church: "Is Jesus' death on the cross really the act of God on our behalf?"

Summary

Contemporary Trinitarian theologians, led by Barth and Rahner, have been highly critical of the Augustinian-Thomist bifurcation of the doctrine of God, wherein the doctrine of the Trinity is separate from and subsequent to the doctrine of the One God. The Western bifurcation of the doctrine of God into a major treatise on the unitary substance (ousia) of God, followed by a relatively minor appendix on the Trinity, makes it appear that everything important to say about God is said in the first treatise, while God's threefold self-revelation in salvation history is subordinated to a position of little importance in the development of the Western doctrine of God. This schizoid split in the doctrine of God has created a false disjunction between faith and reason in the mind of the Western Church, burdening the Church with two competing, incompatible and often confusing versions of God: the immutable, impassible God of substantialist metaphysics and the world-engaging, compassionate God revealed in Jesus. Moreover, the Western emphasis on the unitary substance of God, presupposed by natural theology, has led to the disintegration of the doctrine of the Trinity and created a practical unitarianism or mere monotheism in the worship and practice of many Christians. Finally, the Western emphasis on the unitary substance of God raises the issue of knowability by appearing to make the divine essence the "real" God, while subordinating the Triune Persons to the unitary substance of God. Because the Father, Son and Spirit are interpreted in terms of the pre-understanding of substantialist metaphysics, many Christians are burdened with concerns for their salvation, uncertain that God is really like Jesus.

(Next post circa August 15, 2009.)

References

Aquinas, T. 1989. Summa Theologiæ: A Concise Translation (edited by T.S. McDermott). Allen, TX: Christian Classics. 652pp.

Bloesch, D.G. 1995. God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 329pp.

Cunningham, D.S. 1998. These Three are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. 368pp.

Gonzalez, J.L. 1987. A History of Christian Thought (vol 1). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press. 400pp.

Grenz, S.J. 2004. Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress. 289pp.

Gunton, C. 1990. Augustine, the Trinity and the Theological Crisis of the West. Scottish Journal of Theology, vol 43, pp. 33-58.

Gunton, C.E. 2007. The Barth Lectures (transcribed and edited by P.H. Brazier). London: T & T Clark. 285pp.

LaCugna, C.M. 1991. God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. 434pp.

Metzger, P.L. (ed). 2005. Trinitarian Soundings in Systematic Theology. London: T & T Clark. 225pp.

Moltmann, J. 1993. The Trinity and the Kingdom (translated by M. Kohl). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. 256pp.

Pinnock, C.H. et al. 1994. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 202pp.

Rahner, K. 1997. The Trinity: Introduction, Index, and Glossary by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. New York, NY: Crossroads. 122pp.

Sanders, J. 2007. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 384pp.

Schwöbel, C. (ed). 1995. Trinitarian Theology Today. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 176pp.

Thompson, J.R. 1994. Modern Trinitarian Perspectives. Oxford: OUP. 165pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1980. The Ground and Grammar of Theology: Consonance Between Theology and Science. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 256pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1992. The Mediation of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard. 126pp.

Torrance, T.F. 1995. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. London: T & T Clark. 345pp.

Torrance, T.F. et al. 1999. A Passion for Christ: The Vision That Ignites Ministry (edited by G. Dawson & J. Stein). Edinburgh: Handel Press. 150pp.

The Subordination of the Doctrine of the Trinity

In the last few posts we have examined how the doctrine of the Trinity was relegated to the status of a relatively minor appendix to the doctrine of the One God in Western Christianity. In order to refresh our memories, let's do a quick review to get our bearings and then move on to new material.

As a result of the theological controversies of the 4th century, particularly the Arian controversy (see my posts, "Arians are not Skinheads" and "Athanasius contra Mundi," both from 11/08), theologians began to focus on the eternal, intradivine nature of God (theologia) considered apart from God's self-revelation in the history of Israel, the incarnate Son and the Holy Spirit (oikonomia). To answer their Arian critics, the Fathers were forced to consider the eternal nature of God in order to defend the fully divine nature of the eternal Son. Nevertheless, their focus on God ad intra (God in God's eternal divine nature) resulted in a reduced emphasis on God ad extra (God in relation to the world). In technical terms, a conceptual gap was opened between theologia (the eternal intradivine Being) and oikonomia (God's self-revelation in time and space). After the 4th century, theologians in both the Greek Eastern Church and the Latin Western Church focused more and more attention on theologia so that God's self-revelation in history (oikonomia), particularly in the incarnate Son, became less and less important in the formulation of the Christian doctrine of God. To put it in a raw and simple form, after the 4th century, Jesus, the incarnate Son, was largely left out of the picture in the portrayal of the Christian God, particularly in the Latin West.

Again, to review, here's what happened. Augustine, the Father of Western Christianity, developed an innovative approach to the doctrine of the Trinity. His innovations were related to his inability to grasp the significance of divine relationality as developed in the Cappadocians' doctrine of the Trinity (see my posts "A Cup O' Cappadocian," parts 1 & 2, posted 1/09) as well as his commitment to Neoplatonism (see my post, "The Wedding Cake Cosmos: Augustine & Neoplatonism," posted 2/09). As a Neoplatonist committed to divine simplicity, Augustine had great difficulty in conceiving relationship as an aspect of the Godhead. Hence, Augustine emphasized the unitary essence of God rather than the diversity of persons of the Godhead that had been the focus of Cappadocian trinitarianism. As Colin Gunton has noted, Augustine made divine "substance" the "real" God so that the divine persons were reduced to mere "subsistencies" in the essence of God. The unitarian substance became a "fourth something" that appeared to underlie the divine persons. (Note: "Subsistence" literally means "to stand under."). The Father, Son and Spirit were submerged into a vague and mysterious ontological soup of substance. Because of the anti-material bias of his Neoplatonism (i.e., matter is evil), Augustine turned away from God's self-revelation in time and space to look for "vestiges" of the Trinity in the human mind or soul. In turning inward to the human psyche, Augustine turned away from God's self-revelation in the incarnate Son and Holy Spirit in order to develop his doctrine of God. In short, Augustine separated theologia and oikonomia. He developed his doctrine of God apart from God's redemptive self-revelation in Jesus and the Spirit.

Augustine's emphasis on divine substance considered apart from God's threefold self-revelation in salvation history as Father, Son and Spirit became standard practice in the theology of the Latin West. In the 12th century, Thomas Aquinas, like Augustine, turned away from God's redemptive self-revelation in salvation history to develop his doctrine of God based on the observation of the cosmos. Following Aristotle, he argued that a cause (God) can be known from its effects. Aquinas then took the unprecedented step of dividing his doctrine of God into two parts. First he developed a major treatise on the One God (De Deo Uno) derived from human reason and the observation of empirical phenomena (see my post, "Tommy A. and the Western Split," 3/09). He used various rational methods to arrive at a concept of God as infinite, immutable, impassible, omnipotent, omniscient, etc. (see my post, "How to Make a Western OmeletGod," 4/09). Only after he had developed his doctrine of the One God based on the substantialist metaphysics of Aristotle did Aquinas finally get around to his comparatively minor treatise on the Trinity (De Deo Trino). As the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner is famous for noting, Aquinas makes it appear that everything worth saying about God is said in the treatise on the One God so that the doctrine of the Trinity seems nothing more than a minor, unimportant appendix to a thoroughly developed doctrine of the One God. As Catherine Mowry LaCugna has noted, Aquinas introduced the paradigmatic separation of theologia and oikonomia. Aquinas developed his doctrine of the One God (theologia) apart from God's redemptive self-revelation in salvation history (oikonomia).

In the centuries following Aquinas, medieval Latin Scholasticism focused more and more on the intricacies of the divine substance so that the doctrine of the Trinity was hardly studied in the universities of medieval Europe. Because God's self-revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit was so obscured, coupled with the loss of an appreciation of the full humanity of Jesus, the persons in the pews were compelled to turn to the more human saints for solace.

The medieval bifurcation of theologia and oikonomia was carried on by the Protestant Scholastics of post-Reformation Europe and enshrined in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). T.F. Torrance boldly and rightly declares that the God of Westminster theology is "not distinctively or essentially Christian." To be sure, the God of Westminster theology appears more related to the substantialist metaphysics of Aristotelian paganism than to the biblical God who stoops to save his creation. In the 19th century, Charles Hodge, a well-known Protestant (Calvinist) theologian wrote a three-volume, 2,300 page systematic theology wherein only four pages are dedicated to the doctrine of the Trinity. As is apparent, in Western Latin theology, the doctrine of the Trinity was gradually relegated to the status of an unimportant appendix to the doctrine of the One God (or what Baxter Kruger calls the "omniGod.") This was the state of the Western doctrine of God until the 20th century.

This ends our review. Let's move on from here with new material. I think you will like it!

In the 20th century, Karl Barth (Protestant) and Karl Rahner (Roman Catholic) were the first to launch significant critiques of the Augustinian-Thomist approach to the doctrine of God. Both theologians rejected the centuries-old Western habit, formalized by Thomas Aquinas and developed in post-Reformation Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, of bifurcating the doctrine of God, as though the doctrine of the One God could be explicated rationally, based upon the presuppositions of pagan Greek metaphysics, while the doctrine of the Trinity was developed separately and subsequently on the basis of the biblical witness. Rahner (1997:17, 18) argues that the Augustinian-Thomist method of developing first a treatise based on the "unicity of the divine essence" results in an articulation of the One God that is philosophical, abstract, and hardly refers to salvation history. As Karl Barth argues, this is tantamount "to splitting the fundamental concept of God" (Torrance, 1996:10, 11).

The basic split in the Western concept of God caused Barth to attack the division of theology into "natural" theology and "revealed" theology (Torrance, 1980:147, 148). Barth repeatedly emphasized the inappropriateness of developing a doctrine of God from the speculative metaphysics of natural theology. According to Barth (1959:36):

The God of the Christian Confession is, in distinction from all gods, not a found or invented god or one at the last and at the end discovered by man . . . But we Christians speak of him who completely takes the place of everything that elsewhere is usually called "God," and therefore suppresses and excludes it all, and claims to be alone the truth.

For Barth, we can bring no presuppositions to our knowledge of God, for God is his own presupposition. God is not an object we discover through our own reasoning; God is a subject who, in sovereign freedom, chooses to reveal himself in the incarnate Son and the Holy Spirit (Busch, 2004:67-72; cf. Torrance, 1970:121ff). Barth rightly argues that a doctrine of the One God based on natural theology and a doctrine of the Triune God based on revelation creates a "schizoid state of affairs" in the foundation of theology (Torrance, 1980:148).

Other Trinitarian theologians have followed Barth and Rahner in their critique of the Augustinian-Thomist bifurcation of the doctrine of God. T. F. Torrance (1996:8, 9) argues that separating the doctrine of the One God from the doctrine of the Triune God gives expression to a "deistic disjunction" between God and the world that is far removed from God's self-revelation in both the Old and New Testaments "as the God whose covenant love undergirds the whole creation and embraces all humanity with his mercies." Thompson (1994:20) argues that by starting with the One God derived from abstract speculation, the Augustinian-Thomist tradition subordinates the Trinity to a preconceived understanding of God. Likewise, Gunton (1990:35) asserts, following Rahner (1997:17), that everything worth saying about God appears to be given in the treatise, On the One God. Because the doctrine of the Trinity is relegated to a comparatively minor appendix to the doctrine of the One God, Gunton argues, God's triune self-revelation seems irrelevant to the Western doctrine of God, with the result that God in se (theologia) appears to be conceivably other than the God made known in space and time as Father, Son and Spirit (oikonomia). Finally, and perhaps most persuasively, Schwöbel (1995:5, 6) argues that in the Western Latin approach to the doctrine of God, wherein the Trinity is separate from and subsequent to the doctrine of the One God, Trinitarian reflections appear as an adjunct to a thorough exposition of the One God, leaving the impression that Trinitarian statements are not significant for reflection on the nature and character of God. The threefold self-revelation of God in the economy of salvation (oikonomia) appears to be merely a "complicating factor" or a "mystery" that clouds what is already established about the unity of God. The Thomist separation of the One God from the Triune God leaves the impression that all that is important to be said about God is said in the treatise on the One God, while God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in the history of Israel, as attested in Scripture, seems relatively unimportant in the Latin Western development of the doctrine of God.

Nevertheless, Schwöbel (1995:6, 7) continues, if a Trinitarian understanding of God is to be constitutive for Christian faith, then the doctrine of the Trinity must not be relegated to the status of a mere "appendix" to the doctrine of the One God. Rather, the doctrine of the Trinity must be the "gateway" through which all theological exposition about God must pass, so that all our speech about God, including all our theological doctrines, is grounded in God's triune self-revelation as Father, incarnate Son and Holy Spirit.

References

Barth, K. 1959. Dogmatics in Outline. New York, NY: Harper & Row. 155pp.

Busch, E. 2004. The Great Passion: An Introduction to Karl Barth's Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 302pp.

Rahner, K. 1997. The Trinity: Introduction, Index, and Glossary by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. New York, NY: Crossroads. 122pp.

Schwöbel, C. (ed). 1995. Trinitarian Theology Today. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 176pp.

Thompson, J.R. 1994. Modern Trinitarian Perspectives. Oxford: OUP. 165pp.

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A.S. Radcliff: The Claim of Humanity in Christ (in the Torrance tradition), Post 15

Reference Radcliff, A.S. 2016. The Claim of Humanity in Christ: Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T.F. and J.B. Torrance . ...