Sunday, 4 June 2017

Important Trinity article: Women theologians and Jenson's primary vs secondary distinction

Let me please interrupt my series on Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ book to share what for me was an important article recently written for Christianity Today by Fred Sanders: you can read it here. Entitled, We Actually Don’t Need a Trinitarian Revival, it drew my attention to two important points. Firstly, that there have been important contributions made to Trinitarian theology by female theologians of whom I confess to total ignorance; indeed I lament their absence in my manuscript of Mutated Faith & the Triune Hub.

Secondly, Sanders emphasises that there are indeed two distinct stages of trinitarianism, and even refers to Robert Jenson as the possible inaugurator of "primary trinitarianism" vs "secondary trinitarianism" distinctions. Robert Jenson has been described by Dr Stephen Holmes as (my rough paraphrase according to memory) the greatest living theologian. Clearly I have some reading to do - I promise to update the blog in the future about the female contributions (Catherine Mowry LaCugna and Cynthia Bourgeault, maybe others) and precisely how Jenson stakes out this distinction, and (critically) if he attempts to show how primary led to secondary.

Back soon...


  1. I don't think that Sanders used the terminology nor the concept of "two distinct stages of trinitarianism." He speaks of Christians witnessing to the "underlying reality of the presence and work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the life of the church," and one who "testifies" regarding her/his experience of salvation "is fluently speaking primary Trinitarianism. That person is giving an account of the triune structure of salvation history itself in the Bible’s own language." "To theologize on top of that"would be to "begin speaking secondary Trinitarianism." To speak of stages is to posit a chronological sequence, and I don't think that was his intention. "Secondary Trinitarianism is the ability of the redeemed to articulate who God is on the basis of what he has done; it includes doctrinal statements, theological awareness, and church practices by which we respond to God’s grace."

    It is not as though if one thinks about one's Christian faith seriously enough and arrives at language clear enough one has achieved the second stage of Trinitarian faith. On the other hand, if one looks closely enough at the experience of the apostles as expressed in the New Testament and does an historical analysis of how the doctrines Sanders assumes properly communicate the experience of Primary Trinitarianism developed, it seems only reasonable (to me) to conclude that the content expressed in these "two stages" require virtually different dramas to convey how different the content is.

    Sanders, however, is just saying that the content of the two aspects of Trinitarianism is really the same if you define the terms just right; no sense of stages even historically, just terminologically. In his last sentence he says "there is a robust primary Trinitarianism at work [ed.: being expressed in the Bible's own language (his words)] all around us. Good theological work goes about the joyful task of explaining it [ed.: in post- (or non)- biblical 3rd-4th Century concepts and terminology].

  2. OK - thanks for your careful input Richard, always appreciated.


Thanks very much for your feedback, really appreciate the interaction.