2007 Warfield Lectures - Lecture IV: “Kingdom Come”

Chris has posted his summary of the fourth Warfield lecture, “Kingdom Come.” You can find the link on the index page as well. I recommend checking out his summary. This lecture was the most important in terms of contemporary theological trends. Dr. Tanner demolished social trinitarianism, and in doing so, she has done us all a big favor. I look forward to when her thoughts are finalized in book form. As Dr. Hunsinger said, Tanner was like a suchi chef chopping up social trinitarian theology. An apt metaphor indeed.


Halden said…
Sure, but chopping up Moltmann isn't that hard, nor is he the best representative of social trinitarianism.

But, as I see it Tanner cannot escape her own criticsm. She uses the Trinity as a model for her own social theory all over the place. She does this particularly in her book, Economy of Grace where her argument is that we should model our global economy on the trinitarian life of non-competitive self-giving. How is this different from saying that personaly and political relations should be modeled on it?

What's really driving her, in my opinon is not a conceptually clear trintarianism, but feminism. She's worried about the "subordination" of Christ to the Father translated into human relationships. This whole vision of subordination in the economy of salvation, I would suggest is a rather uncreative reading of the New Testament. I think you can make a perfectly coherent biblical case that the Father subordinate himself to Christ and I think we even have hints of this with the Spirit as well. In other words, I don't think the Scriptures warrant a one-way taxis of subordination among the Triune Persons as Tanner seems to think.
D.W. Congdon said…
You may very well be right about Tanner's feminist convictions being a driving movement. But I think her rejection of social trinitarianism is entirely correct and irrefutable. And it is not reducible to feminist concerns, by no means! The "Barthians" at PTS all agree with her in rejecting social trinitarianism, for all the same reasons -- which are not feminist-based by any means.

Tanner did not only address Moltmann. She spent at least as much time with Volf, if not more. And in the end, it doesn't matter. Any social trinitarian faces the same basic problems: trinitarian relations are not human relations. Period. One of Gunton's greatest errors is to reduce perichoresis to relationality. That is simply untenable, and yet quite indicative of social trinitarianism as a whole. The fact of the matter is, human persons are not divine persons. You can't say, I'm the Father and you are the Son in this relationship! You simply cannot map the divine relations onto human relations; it just doesn't work. In the end, what one has to end, finally, is become a tritheist (as Moltmann clearly is).

The mysterious unity of the divine Godhead is something that cannot be replicated, transfered, or even given by God to humans. There is an ontological asymmetry between the Godhead and humanity. The only bridge between God and humanity is found in the human nature of Christ; he alone is the mediator. And yet, even there, our being united with Christ does not mean that the Godhead becomes immanentized in our human sociality. That is, our participation in God is not something we have access to here and now; our participation in Christ is located in Christ there and then. It is an extra nos participation in the triune being of God. Social trinitarians almost invariably end up positing a separate mediation of the Spirit to do the work which Christ cannot do on his own -- viz., bring us into an immediate participation in the triune life of God. The fact of the matter is, we participate in Christ, and only through him in God.

I could say more, but I'll leave it there for now. I do not think there is any indication that the Father is subordinate to the Son or Spirit. That probably rests on some sketchy exegesis, or at least it is a marginal thought and by no means a prominent view in the NT. Moreover, the worry about subordination in the Trinity cannot and should not be viewed simply as a feminist concern (as if any of us are not feminists!). I think it is precisely the reason why social trinitarianism simply cannot work on biblical grounds. There is clear subordination in the Trinity -- which, by the way, does NOT mean there is subordinationism! Anyone who thinks we can map human social relations from the being of God is a social trinitarian, and the problem here is that this method of reasoning supports both egalitarian and subordinate relations. That is, some can use it to support male-female equality, while others can just as easily use this method to support male-female subordination (both on very shaky theological grounds) -- and the answer cannot be to show that the Father is occasionally subordinate to the Son or Spirit. We need to cut the umbilical cord that such thinkers attempt to erect between God and humanity. The analogy of being must be demolished at this point, and if we wish to bring it back, it must be far more radically christocentric than people like Gunton make it out to be.
Halden said…
Well, I don't see anyone, even Moltmann for that matter saying that human persons are divine persons or that in certain relational contexts I am the Father and you are the Son. That reeks of caricature. The only thing even close to this would be the Orthodox with their hierarchical ecclesiology.

I guess if you mean by social trinitarianism a view that says human persons and divine persons are identical and Trinitarian relations are a univocal model for human relations that we should apply, then certainly it is irrefutably flawed. But frankly that sounds like a straw man. I'll never go to bat for Moltmann, I think he's riddled with conceptual problems, but I've never seen anyone falling into the social trinitarian camp denying that there's an "ontological asymmetry" between God and humanity. Volf especially devoted meticulous detail to the distinctions between human and divine persons and relations in his book on ecclesiology.

As for subordination, I don't think that its a marginal thread at all, particularly in the Johannine accounts. The Father gives all things into the Son's hand, the Father judges no one, but gives all judgment to the Son, etc. What I do think might be shaky exegesis is your assertion that the unity of the Trinity is not something that creatures can be an analogue or image of. Where you're wanting to make seperations, John's Gospel is wanting to make connections. Tanner's take on that passage simply doesn't do it justice at all. John 17 is clearly implying some sort of correspondence between the ecclesial and trinitarian forms of union -- to be sure it is one brought about in Christ, sola gratia.

And I'm curious about the "biblical grounds" for rejecting the social Trinity. What are those? In the biblical narratives the distinction between the Father and Son seem to push the distinctions in the Trinity further than most social trinitarians do! We have Jesus and the Father addressing one another as seemingly seperate centers of consciousness and action, even to the point where the Father knows things that Jesus does not. If we believe that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity, how do we avoid the major contention of social trinitarianism, namely that the Trinity is something like a community of persons in relationship -- albeit a totally primal and ontologically unique form of communion, differnent qualitiatively from human community?

And, finally what vision of the Trinity should we hold? If the social Trinity is out are we back the psychological model -- which I think is much more crude and anthropocentric, not to mention utterly lacking in biblical warrant? Or is it something else entirely?

If all you're saying is that we must always retain the distinction between God and humanity, and that the Triune relationships are fundamentally unique and cannot be woodenly replicated in human relations, then we have no disagreement.

But I think its entirely unproblematic to say that the essence and unity of the Triune God is revealed in Christ as absolute love, and the form of that love, shown to us in Christ should be embodied in our relationships with one another. In so doing we don't imitate the persons of the Trinity in their internal relations, per se. Rather we imitate Jesus whose form of life simply is the life of the Trinity translated into the life of the world. In so doing, I think we, by grace come to bear the image of the Triune God who is love. Would you find any of that problematic?
D.W. Congdon said…
I have no intention of caricaturing social trinitarianism. I'm not convinced that the Father actually subordinates himself to the Son, but that's not finally important.

In the end, I think we need to distinguish between two issues: (1) Is the Trinity a model for human relations? and (2) Is the social model correct on biblical and theological grounds?

The answer to the first, based on your statements, would have to be No. And this immediately removes much of the impulse toward social models of the Trinity, and for some, it entirely deflates the movement. The answer to the second question is much more complex. I think we have to be really wary of viewing the relation between the human Jesus and the Father as paradigmatic for the triune relations -- though of course that is an important witness. In the end, I agree with Bruce McCormack who makes the point that it is social trinitarianism that opens the door to subordinationism -- because subordinationism is only possible between distinct centers of self-consciousness. With Barth and those I would consider more orthodox in their doctrines of the Trinity, the three persons are always one God (not made one by some mechanism like perichoresis), and the one God is ontologically constituted in three modes of being (or persons or members). In such a model, subordinationism is impossible; it would be a subordination to oneself.

I'm open to hearing more about the grounds for positing a true social trinitarianism. In my opinion, though, it turns out to be basically a loose tritheism in which the psychological analogy used by Augustine is now applied to each individual person of the Trinity instead of being applied to the whole. I'm not a big fan of Augustine's doctrine of the Trinity, but it seems rather problematic to view the triune persons as individual centers of self-consciousness. I cannot see how this is either correct or an advantage. It seems to lead almost inevitably into a practical tritheism.
Halden said…
But David, I know I've heard you argue that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity. Now, you're saying that the interaction between Christ and the Father in the economy shouldn't be taken as paradigmatic for who God is as intra. Where then do we come to know who God is ad intra if not in the incarnation of Christ?

It sounds like you've let a deus absconditus in the back door here.
D.W. Congdon said…
I should have been more clear. I most definitely think that the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity and vice versa. I presuppose this as true.

That said, I think the narrated relations between Jesus and the Father are problematic, in that it is not self-evident how to interpret these passages. In other words, just because it seems clear that the Father and Jesus are distinct and separate subjects, there are good theological reasons (primarily soteriological) to seek a different interpretation.

John Drury has addressed some of this issue in one of his "Bible Brain Busters" posts on the statement by Jesus, "The Father is greater than I". You should check it out.
Halden said…
I don't know, I think you're equivocating here. From whence come these "good theological reasons" if not from the economy of salvation? It seems like you've got control beliefs about what the unity of God must ential through which you're interpreting the narrated relations of the Father and Christ, rather than letting the incarnation itself provide the categories.
D.W. Congdon said…
Of course I have control beliefs! We don't approach the Bible without certain hermeneutical presuppositions, and one of those presuppositions has to be that the Son and the Father are one Subject, not two. What the early church meant by "person" is not what we mean by "person" today. Each person of the Trinity is not an independent center of self-consciousness. The more we move in that direction, the more Christianity breaks its ties with Judaism -- and that is a dangerous path to take.

I'm all for understanding the Trinity as a "community of mutual otherness," but that's the limit of our speech about the Trinity. And social trinitarians have this really bad habit of trying to use perichoresis as a means of establishing unity, rather than as a doctrine which is descriptive of the nature of this unity.
Halden said…
I know we all have control beliefs, but I'm just asking where yours come from and if you can accurately ground them in the economy of salvation. You seem to be explicitly applying a previously existing theology about what it means to talk about the unity of God when you examine the interactions of Jesus and the Father in the gospels.

Whatever bounds social trinitarians have overstepped - and I think they have - we have to be able to make theological sense of the interaction between Jesus and the Father recounted in the gospels beyond simply ruling out the apparent sense of the text on the basis of a previously existing theological framework derived from elsewhere.

Either what we see in incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ is absolutely definitive for how we understand the identity and nature of the Godhead, or we have another source of revelation. I would have thought you would have affirmed the latter, but I feel like I'm hearing the former. What would Barth think of this?
MarkC said…
Wow... this is bringing MAJOR flashbacks to a conversation from your old blog, David. Almost two years ago, it was. Moltmann's tritheism, Volf's social trinitarianism, and all sorts of other topics which were discussed then are being discussed here as well. It's fascinating to look back and see how our views have changed in those 2 years.

MarkC said…

I might be able to give you a shortcut to answering Halden's question, too, since a little over a year ago you were asked, and answered, a very similar question.