We Believe: Theology Proper
Let’s continue with some comments as we go through The Meeting House’s current series We Believe. Next up: theology proper. The original sermon and the After Party are linked below, and most of my thoughts come more from the After Party even though the main sermon was clearly the most important point in discussing theology proper.
Week 3: Theology Proper
I generally don’t get very excited to talk about the Trinity or the various attempts to simplify the Trinity that have been deemed heresy: modalism (1 God, different modes), tritheism (3 gods), or subordinationism (1 god with 2 created subordinates).
Bruxy, as he is very good at doing, focused on the important part, though: God is love. That is the start point, the end point, and every point in between for a good understanding of theology. God is not wrath, although sometimes love looks like wrath. God is not justice, although love does necessitate true world-restoring justice. God is not holiness, although God’s radical love does clearly set him apart as different than us. God is love.
Ok, onto the After Party for some deeper and more complicated things.
Perichoresis and Hierarchy
Bruxy goes into the idea of pericherosis in the Theology After Party, which is an amazing concept. My personal favourite way I’ve heard this said is “the divine dance.” There are more than one persons dancing but they are moving in and out of each other in total unity. Others use the word “interpenetration”. If you’re of the more “logical” mind like me, you still can’t really draw up the diagram of how they relate, but it is a beautiful concept regardless.
That moves nicely into a discussion of whether there is any hierarchy within the Trinity which also came up at our Theology After Party at the Waterloo site. The original question was why the Holy Spirit is so often ignored compared to the other two. We agreed that it was primarily because she makes us uncomfortable. We tend to find it easier to fit the other two into our nice boxes, but we can’t do that with the Spirit for she blows where she wills. (Yes, the Holy Spirit is feminine in the original texts.)
More on gender in the next section, but it is not a coincidence that it is usually those who want gender or other forms of hierarchy who also believe that the Trinity has an inherent hierarchy. In some extreme neo-Reformed cases, it gets very close to subordinationism where the Son and Spirit are clearly much less important than the Father. Most would say that there is hierarchy in terms of who submits to who, but still insist that they are equally valuable and important. Historically the church seemed to start out mostly talking about God the Father on top with Jesus and the Spirit on the next tier down, both submitting to the Father (could be pictured as a triangle). The West split from the East primarily when they moved the Spirit down a tier to also be submitting to Jesus (could be pictured as a line). Pentecostals for the most part have been a vital voice in saying that this way of approaching the Trinity in hierarchy is not helpful or accurate, pointing us back more to a true mutually-submissive pericherosis. Egalitarians are generally much more likely to agree with this, saying that there is no convincing biblical or logical reason to believe that there is any hierarchy in the Trinity either.
Bruxy goes from this idea into the gender of God in his After Party. One minor disagreement I have with Bruxy is that I think it is helpful to sometimes use female language for God. Some of the biblical writers did – no, not direct pronouns but lots of feminine imagery – and there is lots of pastoral reason in that it combats the harmful idea that God is male and therefore men are closer to God. Bruxy generally prefers to stick to male-only pronouns because it is simpler but every once in a while makes sure to point out that God is no more male than female. In our Waterloo After Party, we briefly talked about using other language for the Trinity instead of Father-Son-Spirit, which we interpret as male-male-non-personal, to for example all-neutral terms like Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer which may border toward modalism as it separates God based entirely on role. In short, we don’t really have the language to capture what is going on here: all 3 are immensely personal – not “it” – but also not restricted to a gender binary.
Kenosis and Providence
Bruxy talks about the idea of kenosis: Jesus, in order to fully be human and relate to us as such, had to give up his absolute power. This explains things like how Jesus says he doesn’t even know when he will return, only the Father does (and American televangelists apparently). This does not make Jesus less than fully God because God’s essence is not power. God’s essence is love and in this case love actually means surrendering power, an important lesson for those of us with power.
Bruxy could have also gone into providence: Calvinist vs Arminian vs Open Theist. All he says in his After Party is how the idea of immutability (not only that God’s character doesn’t change but also that he is completely static, unable to change mind or actions or feel emotions) comes from Greek philosophy, not the Bible, which doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong but we definitely shouldn’t jump to assuming it is right either.
To Repeat the Main Point
God is love. All of these other questions have to return to being understood through the lens of a God who is absolute love that looks like Jesus. Whether you have any strong opinions on all of these other questions or not, our goal as followers of Jesus is to always live in this kind of loving relationship with this God and with those who bear his image.