A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)

The Promise and Prospects of Retrieval: Recent Developments in Trinitarian Theology

The Zondervan Academic Blog

About twenty years ago when I applied from seminary to graduate school, I sent along as my writing sample a seminar paper on current trends in trinitarian theology. Specifically, I submitted a paper critiquing Augustine’s De Trinitate in light of these more recent insights, and I have to tell you candidly that I was pretty rough on old Augustine. In my judgment, he was insufficiently trinitarian: fixated on divine oneness, captive to platonizing presuppositions, inattentive to the real distinctions among the three persons, unable to do straightforward exegesis, artfully dodging the implications of the economy of salvation, and incapable of showing how the doctrine of God’s triunity had any bearing on Christian life and experience, except by indulging in that disastrous quest for analogies that was his chief legacy.

Reader, I harried him.

I’m glad the paper was never published, and I would not defend it today, but there was something more afoot in that writing sample than just the cocky dudgeon of a student eager to impress by showing himself radical and novel. The arguments, after all, were not my own, but were condensed out of the theological atmosphere of the time. In retrospect, what is striking is the way that so many of the most stimulating thinkers working on the doctrine of the Trinity twenty to twenty-five years ago positioned themselves in opposition to a major historical figure, or even to the central tradition of Christian theology itself. In some ways, the task of trinitarian theology in the past quarter of a century has been to disentangle the remarkable sense of the trinitarian project on the one hand from its counter-traditional articulations on the other.

Two influential examples may suffice….