A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)


First John on its Own Terms

For those of us whose theological home base is Paul, pondering First John is wonderful but strange. There’s no contradiction between John & Paul, but the voice is astonishingly different. One major difference: I John is not structured by the “once lost, now saved” schema. Where Paul frequently reminds his readers what they once were, what they left behind, how they have been transformed, what they have now turned to, John doesn’t bring it up. In fact, John doesn’t provide any terms or structures that even invite reflection on these things. That old-vs-new structure is replaced, for the most part, by the dynamic of light vs darkness (which in turn is developed and applied via other categories, like love vs. hate). There’s some salvation history (the darkness is passing), but no ordo salutis or conversion. This Johannine way of thinking takes some getting used…

Read More

Cover Story: Birds at the Fountain

My book Fountain of Salvation: Trinity & Soteriology (Eerdmans, 2021) has a cover that is both beautiful and meaningful. It features a fifth-century mosaic of two birds drinking from a small fountain. The jewel-like mosaic tiles are in rich blues, whites, and greens, with a few orange accents. Part of the power inherent in the medium of mosaics is that each of the colored-glass tesserae, or tiles, catches light slightly differently from those around it. So the colors sparkle and change in response to the slightest movement on the part of the viewer, and no photo can ever quite do them justice. But the photo used on this book is excellent, and is also excellently incorporated into the cover design. The designer (Meg Schmidt) noticed what not every viewer spots: that the fountain rests visually on the lower curve of a descending blue semicircle….

Read More

Two Ways with Divine Emotion

It seems perfectly reasonable to ask about God’s emotions: does he have them, does he feel them, how are they like and unlike our emotions, and so on. In the spiritual life of thoughtful Christians, questions like these come quickly to mind and often feel urgent. But whoever asks such questions immediately finds themselves ensnared in a few difficulties that are linguistic or terminological. This is frustrating, because it makes it harder to get to the actual theological and spiritual question you started out trying to ask. I don’t think there’s any way around the terminology tangle; once the question presents itself in terms of emotion, you’re required to go straight through the middle of it. Does God have emotion? God, as we see in Scripture, loves, hates, rejoices, is angry, is sorry, and expresses a number of related states. Should we batch all…

Read More

One Will in the Trinity (Sketch of an Argument)

One of the stumbling blocks moderns face when they engage with classical trinitarian theology is that the main stream of the tradition resolutely affirms that there is one will in God; that is, one divine will that belongs to the divine nature. It follows from this that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not have three wills, but one. The reason this is difficult for modern readers is that moderns instinctively associate will with person. If that association (will goes with person) were to be axiomatic, then it would indeed follow that there are three wills in God. Fair enough; at this point we might ask what the grounds are for counting wills with persons, and then of course we’d have to offer at least a rough draft of a definition of will before going any further. Good work worth doing; clarity clarity ah…

Read More

Not Just Cooperation: The Action of the Three

When three people work together on a project, each of them does their own part of it. As Gregory of Nyssa describes it, “even if several are engaged in the same form of action, [they] work separately each by himself at the task he has undertaken, having no participation in his individual action with others who are engaged in the same occupation.” There are distances and differences between them: they take turns (distance in time), or work on different parts of the project (distance in space), or come to the project from different angles (again, space). “Each of them is separated from the others within his own environment, according to the special character of his operation.” The reason Nyssa spent time itemizing the nature of cooperation is so he could explain that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit don’t work together in that way:…

Read More

“One Fire: Light, Brightness, and Heat” (Bullinger on the Trinity)

Swiss Reformer Henry Bullinger (1504–1575) concludes his sermon “Of the Holy Ghost” (Decades, IV:7) with a wonderfully clear and compelling recapitulation of “Unity in trinity and Trinity in unity” (interestingly capitalized thus in the ET). His opening gambit is a statement of the way Scripture speaks distinctly of the characteristic workings of the Father, Son, and Spirit: “In the scripture, the beginning of doing, and the flowing fountain and well-spring of all things, is attributed to the Father. Wisdom, counsel, and the very dispensation in doing things, is ascribed to the Son. And the force and effectual power of working, is assigned to the Holy Ghost.” (p. 326) Using this imagery and vocabulary, Bullinger conveys sharp, distinct impressions of the three persons in their work. The Father as beginning and well-spring; the Son as wisdom and dispensation (oikonomia/dispensatio; we might say arrangement or pattern);…

Read More

About This Blog

Notes, quotes, thoughts, trial balloons, reviews, Twitter threads that turned out okay, position papers, miscellanies. Lightly edited theology writing from Fred Sanders.

Explore Blog Categories