Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Trinity of the gaps?

Recently I listened to the tail-end of a podcast by apostate Dale Tuggy critiquing Fred Sanders for allegedly concealing a trade secret from lay Christians that he concedes when writing to fellow scholars. Tuggy casts the issue as if the Trinity is like the God-of-the-gaps. Due to the steady march of exegetical theology, the biblical foundations of the Trinity are now in "crisis" because, one after another, traditional prooftexts for the Trinity have been invalidated by "textual scholars". A few brief observations:

1. Tuggy's characterization is deceptive, combining a half truth with a falsehood. To begin with, when it suits his agenda, Tuggy is quick to say there is no one model of the Trinity. Sanders is operating with a Nicene paradigm. And it's true that elements of that paradigm (e.g. eternal generation of the Son, eternal procession of the Spirit) have been threatened by modern exegesis. 

However, that isn't new. As Tuggy knows, Moses Stuart's Letters on the Eternal Generation of the Son of God, challenging that paradigm, were published almost 200 years ago (1822). And Stuart was writing in defense of the Trinity, in response to New England unitarians. 

2. Moreover, there are models of the Trinity that don't operate with the Nicene paradigm (i.e. monarchy of the Father, eternal generation/procession). And these aren't new. Take 17C Dutch-Reformed theologian Herman Alexander Röell. In response to the Remonstrants and Socinians, he defended a consistently autothean model of the Trinity ("in each of the persons the whole idea of deity is involved") by appealing to Cartesian natural theology and perfect being theology. Cf. Brannon Ellis, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 127-36. That's invulnerable to exegetical attacks on eternal generation/procession inasmuch as it eschewed those elements of the Nicene paradigm, preferring an egalitarian model of the Trinity. 

3. Furthermore, while some traditional Trinitarian prooftexts have been retired, newer prooftexts (e.g. Jn 1:18) have been advanced, as well as neglected hermeneutical perspectives. For instance, the work of Alan Segal and Michael Heiser on the second Yahweh tradition in Second Temple theology, the work of Andrew Malone and Rod Elledge on illeism in Scripture, as well as probing studies of Synoptic high Christology, viz. Simon Gathercole, The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Eerdmans 2006), Joshua E. Leim, Matthew's Theological Grammar: The Father and the Son, WUNT 2/402 (Mohr Siebeck 2015). In addition, there's the groundbreaking studies of Richard Bauckham all across NT Christology. So even though some traditional prooftexts have been withdrawn from consideration, that's more than offset by newer lines of evidence.

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