Saturday, 5 August 2017

Talking to my Mum

Me and my beautiful Mum (on a separate occasion)

Over a couple of glasses of wine yesterday I had a fantastic opportunity I think we should all consider: explaining our theological passions in ways that make sense to folk who don't focus so much of their energy on theological matters. I am really not good at switching gears in this way, finding good images and illustrations - I really wish I was. But my Mum's interest galvanised me, and I had a go at explaining the Triune Hub hypothesis that I have been working on. She asked me a fantastic, albeit somewhat deflating question, what difference does that Triune Hub view really make?

That is the key question. What difference does our theology really make to believers' lives? What underpins our passion?

As I went to bed last night I felt a fresh passion to make the Trinity meaningful, central and important for regular Christians. The earliest Christians had a mutated religious hub that now included God, the risen and exalted Christ and the individuated eschatological-era-inaugurating-and-people-of-God-empowering Holy Spirit held in new natural balance. Three centuries of debate and an institutionalising church meant a stable structure that would keep these three in balance was needed and produced the Triune God. But ever since the first century, the church has had a reconfigured core of Three. A saddening realisation dawned on me as I had explained to my Mum how intertwined religious belief in Yahweh for Jews was with their social lives, eating, their calendars, relationships and society, and how that continued in its new threefold form in Christianity: modern "privatised" Christianity, whatever its religious hub, be it unitarian, trinitarian or whatever, is simply a lot smaller by virtue of its privatisation. In fact, an increasing number of westerners don't even feel a need for a relationship with a transcendental or divine being - they just get on with life and human relationships.

As I have developed my trinitarian views, I can honestly say that my Christian faith has at last stabilised considerably, and I integrate my belief in Father, Son and Spirit personally into my prayer life daily. I've felt a deep sense of responsibility that if this approach is to be adopted and used to contribute a return to more trinitarian church and faith in individual believers' lives, then I have to model it. I can't just write about it (as much as I enjoy doing that).

I recently shared a link to an important article by Fred Santers (my post here, the article here) whose title continues to challenge me: We Actually Don’t Need a Trinitarian Revival. What I think he is driving at though is not so much that we don't need to be articulating our religious, spiritual, and worldviews around the Father, Son and Spirit in a fresh or renewed way or with greater vigour. He's saying we don't need to do it in some radically redefined way. I believe what this article and my chat with my Mum, combined with my own walk of faith, have helped me realise is that there are some psychological obstacles in believers' paths preventing us from allowing the radical first-century shake-up in which our Christian faith originated to be accessible in a non-specialised context.

Very few modern Christian worship songs integrate the Trinity (and when they do, they sometimes try and do something weird, like squash it into Jesus). It is hardly ever preached as a subject (which may be fine), but still, with a disproportionately low reference rate to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, despite New Testament strong insistence to the contrary, the discrepancy remains flagrant. Although I am now far more sympathetic and understanding of fourth-century "Triune-God Advocacy" than I used to be, I still bear this grudge: that some of the complex notions introduced in order to keep the Father, Son and Holy Spirit co-essential and co-central to the faith in the great ecumenical councils may have contributed to making believers, including leaders, wary about a more natural integration of trinitarian thinking into their prayer lives, their worship and their social engagement.

So that's why I think the Triune Hub matters. Thanks Mum!


  1. Hi John,
    I appreciate you sharing your theological reflections with your Mum, and especially for posting her question "what difference does that Triune Hub view really make?" My mom was more likely to ask "what difference does it make whether I go to church or not?" but she has passed so the question is a bit moot.

    I would love to think that discussing the finer points of trinitarian thinking would be a topic of interest in churches but it only becomes significant if one seems to be challenging an entrenched doctrine relevant to a particular church's statement of faith or commitment to the creedal confessions. Fortunately for you the triune hub hypothesis cum Trinitarian Confession affirmation isn't likely to ruffle any theological feathers. Unfortunately, it isn't likely to generate much theological discussion interest either.

    I've noticed that for even often provocative and popular bloggers raising trinitarian theological concerns rarely induces much response. I'm one of those few quasi-theologian types who has been and is still quite interested in all related questions. From the beginning of my faith-life at the age of 30 till 40 years later I have pursued the question of who the God that called me to faith is.

    Personally, I think more attention needs to be paid to historical analyses like that of Larry Hurtado (there are at least a couple of others reaching similar conclusions) in considering whether there is actually a trinitarian dynamic rather than a binitarian (dyadic being Hurtado's preferred terminology now) devotional pattern to apostolic beliefs and devotional practices.

    I didn't pick up a trinitarian dynamic in my altogether naive reading of the New Testament from the beginning, but it was obvious that orthodox, conservative, and evangelical theologians thought I should--so I've experienced considerable cognitive dissonance in that regard ever since. It still seems relevant to me that there is no evidence in the New Testament that the apostles prayed to or worshiped the Holy Spirit as a distinct entity. It seems to me rather that in conformity to the Old Testament they would understood the Holy Spirit as the active presence of God the Father (of Jesus Christ the Son) rather than as being a co-equal and to be worshiped entity distinct from the Father. Since the Old and New Testaments seem to show this same pattern, the emergence of a trinitarian belief structure in subsequent centuries is the one that still bears the burden of proof. So, all the best with that.

  2. Sorry Richard to hear about your Mum's passing.
    My journey to where I am today certainly has ruffled feathers and it has not been easy to re-establish trust in my present church.

    I admire your life-long pursuit of God! Very much inspired.
    So glad we share the same focus on Hurtado. If I ever make this series a full response, I now realise it will be book-length and may consider releasing it as such, e.g. Hurtado's binitarianism of the primitive church re-examined", or something. You've mentioned before he now prefers "dyadic" to binitarian - could you point me to an example book/interview which shows that swing?

    I totally agree that there is no evidence of a triadic worship in the sense you describe, but what I am doing (or trying to do) is to go a step further than some have done in describing in what the h*** we mean when we say things like "binitarian" or "dyadic" etc. It could be that we are talking about the number of recipients of the monotheistic worship. OK, but for me like you, that doesn't add up in the bigger picture. I'm starting not with ontology but with phenomonology, which does not depend on ontological categories and is more experience-based. There are significant arguments that I will be bringing out at the appropriate times in the Hurtado series about how Jewish Christians felt the need to express their faith in triadic terms *that overlap with the canon we call authoritative*. If that is the case, then we can see later creeds not as threatening corruptions of the truth but as interpretations of earlier traditions.


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