Monday, 14 August 2017

Blog update: what on Earth has John been up to?

HELLO EVERYONE! It seems like a good moment to pause and give readers some insight into this blog and its author’s occupations, hopes.

As the blog description suggests at the top of every post, I have been on quite a theological journey. It has taken me from committed evangelical Trinitarian, via atheism, agnosticism, Biblical Unitarianism, and now back to a form of trinitarianism that I hope resembles something of the first century focus. This has also led me to a lot more tolerance for fourth century squabbles than I had before.

Quick Recap

Quite a big chunk of this journey can be accessed simply by looking back in this blog, as I started in the Autumn (Fall) of 2014 fairly fresh into that scary journey. Over the three years, posts have gotten longer, but I remain proud of my shortest post of all, comprising just nine characters!

In 2015 I wrote a paper to my Christian employer to express that I no longer felt I could sign off on parts of our Faith Statement that were described as crucial when they could be better expressed as interpretative. So I handed over this fairly unsophisticated but lengthy paper. And I wasn’t fired. And the Faith Statement changed. It was mind-blowing.

In 2016, the urgency of the question of the Trinity seem to simmer down with the surprisingly positive outcome of 2015 and I became increasingly curious about the Greek term Kyrios (Lord) used as a translation for the Hebrew name for God, “Yahweh”. I was particularly keen to see if there were differences in the way it was used in the Old Testament to translate Yahweh and how Kyrios was used with Jesus. 

However, for some reason, probably to do with my whole deconstruction-reconstruction faith process, and an overlap with the Septuagint Kyrios project, I fell deeply in love with the Psalms (e.g. here and here). I began to produce a proposed set of meditations based purely on selections from the Psalms ordered according to themes I found running through the Psalter, which I hope to produce in English, French and Arabic (I haven't shared any of this on the blog). There is hidden away inside of me, a real desire to make my theology useful to other people, and this may be one way, especially for people who struggle with their identity, with authenticity, wholeness and presence. For me, what the Psalms were able to help me with that year, was to fight back against what they call in French psychology, morcellement – like a sense of fractured identity, which we can also see nurtured in our society.

Later that year, however, the simmering Trinity continued to develop inside of me. I can remember two key aspects. One of the elders or our church was interested in seeing a copy of my manuscript (that I had already changed quite a bit since 2015), and the second was my developing friendship with Barney Aspray, a Cambridge PhD student who is passionate about a French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur (I first mentioned Barney on the blog in October 2015 - I'm surprised it was that early). In the end, I sent a copy of my much re-worked and honed and proofed chapter 1 of my manuscript to my elder, but I’m not sure if he ever read it.  And with Barney we shared a good number of exchanges about hermeneutics, mainly via email and occasional Skype, which were to have a significant impact on my journey.

Other things were happening in parallel. I had a growing interest in the book of Matthew (which I plan to blog out at some point under a title of Love, Hate & Late). I realised that this gospel contained some crucial components of an earlier trinitarianism that could be traced back to first century Jewish Christianity, especially when placed alongside other early non-canonical sources known as the Didache and the “gnostic” pseudepigraphal Gospel of Thomas. This is not at all the vision I had learned from my Unitarian influences, for the majority of whom the Trinity is a late fourth century fabrication and corruption of the truth in the Scriptures.

Yet I still knew that it was this Jewish Christianity that could assert that God and Jesus needed an “and” to separate them, and whose depiction of the Holy Spirit only very rarely hinted at a distinct person, certainly a country mile from the social Trinitarian sense (see my guest post on Dr Tuggy's blog here). So I was left with nowhere to park my theological vehicle. So I made a choice. To park my faith car faaaaaar away from the theological debates and disagreements.

Personally, I have made it a point to spiritually practice trinitarian devotion as part of my own faith journey, and I tend to avoid words like “Lord” unless I add the clarification of “the Lord Jesus”, and I even avoid “God” mostly. I follow a trinitarian liturgical devotional, Common Prayer: A Liturgy For Ordinary Radicals, which was an amazing gift from my friend Dean (available here on line though for free).

And so my work became increasingly historical and less theological. It became quite clear to me, that like the “Synoptic Problem”, there was also a Trinitarian problem. Nowhere in the Bible is there explicit talk of a tri-personal God. Yet that is what you get from the church before the close of the fourth century. How? Why? Via which intermediary stage(s)? Under the influence of which factors?Unitarians say it was just a late corruption, and those willing to wade in from the Trinitarian side like to say things like "it was always there but they hadn’t got the right linguistic tools to express it yet" – not really a “problem” per se for anyone. Neither of those explanations satisfied me. There definitely was a problem.

At some point, wow, only as recently as May 2017, I first blogged about a Triune Hub in a post entitled Jewish Roots of the Trinity. This is the model that I’m still working on to this day, which I have named the Triune Hub (it’s kinda unlucky, I think, that the extra H needed for “Hypothesis” doesn’t leave you with some cool acronym – oh yeah, the “THH”). Central to this hypothesis was to extend the vocabulary introduced by leading biblical scholars Larry Hurtado, Tom Wright and John Dominic Crossan of “mutation” to the trinity itself, which meant that all the later, less-Jewish stuff, despite its bravado ontological attire, was indeed interpretative of this earlier trinitarian mutation of the religious hub (I’d simply gotten lucky on that point in my 2015 paper).

So while I felt like the nuts and bolts were ready for a book on the subject to tell this story, I began fresh research – firstly on Tom Wright’s use of “mutation” with respect to the Resurrection. That is a definite series to come, but it will not be in the same depth and scope as the current Hurtado series. Secondly then, in Larry Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ, I really found some firm ground that I felt the Triune Hub could benefit from via deeper analysis, and so I wrote a first series of posts on Hurtado's introduction and first chapter, accessible here, which included the hugely-inspiring recommendation from Hurtado himself here. Interactions with blog readers increased around this time, and I am very grateful for them as they often seem to know a lot more than me! A third series will also be necessary on Crossan, although rather than on a whole book, it will focus on the key chapter he wrote about Jesus' understanding of the Kingdom of God shifted and prepared for the sending of the Holy Spirit - a monumental mutation from the interventionist God to the collaborative God.

Other Bits & Pieces

Following further encouragement from Barney, I did a few posts on the hermeneutic circle and Ricoeur – but I think I eventually got a bit out of my depth and besides felt like I had gotten what I needed for now from Ricoeur anyway (although my French is pretty good, I think maybe reading the French version alone was maybe not the best idea).

Most recently, there have been a small string of book publisher rejections, which were disappointing, but have led me to focus more on the blog for now.

Since I used to lead worship in my local church for about ten years, I have a keen sense of the spiritual and theological formation that takes place during the vulnerable and sacred space of worship. As a result, I have at various points attempted to appraise the good, bad and ugly doing the rounds out there (see here for examples, scroll down past the first two Hurtado posts).

Approximately 3% of my posts are in French (click here for the seven posts in French), which mainly reflects my desire to remain open to a French public, some of whom are my friends and have expressed their wish to understand what on Earth I am going on about. The reality, however, is that my hits tend to go down when I do this.

Recent Reading

  • I recently read “The Day the Revolution Began”, by NT Wright, which I don't have specific plans to blog about, but I can definitely recommend.
  • I have very recently made a start on Robert MacEwen's Matthean Posteriority, (yep, it gets the really cool “MPH” acronym). Since it is relevant to my model, I will probably need to do some posts on it later. Strangely, the cheapest way by far to get this was on Google Books, not Amazon.
  • The Unseen Realm has left an indelible mark on my biblical worldview, written by Michael Heiser. For those who appreciate Old Testament theology in particular, I can really recommend not only this book, but also Heiser's The Naked Bible podcast. 
  • During my Kyrios research phase, I read the accessible When God Spoke Greek by Timothy Michael Law, and part way through Invitation to the Septuagint, by Karen H. Jobes  & Moisés Silva
  • Finally, as regular blog readers will know, I also recently read Dale Tuggy’s recent book, What is the Trinity? Following that, he and I began a blog exchange, which so far goes mehimme. More than once he has assured me that he will get round to his next response, but he has a lot going on right now so I’m not hassling him for it.
On the more inspirational side I have recently read:
  • Mike McHargue’s Finding God in the Waves, which is a great book (with whose journey I also sense some resonance),
  • Rob Bell’s Here To Be Here, which helped me at one stage take some pro-active steps on my journey,
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving aF**K, by Mark Manson. Despite its offensive title, I'm glad I followed my Christian friend’s recommendation. However, for Christian readers, you might have to put your cultural filters up to really get the core message of this book which covers some important life topics. If that’s not for you, then there is a short Christian book that The Subtle Art kept on reminding me of by author Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, which I think I read in 2012. By the way, a not well-known fact: in a former life, I enjoyed composing some alternative music, and you can enjoy this song which is on this same theme of breaking out of self-centredness, recorded back in 2002. It’s called Looking Straight Through the Eternal Mirror. Even lesser-known fact: it contains a recording of a whale! 
  •  If you like my alternative music style, then you might also appreciate a mini-album entitled Integrity, available freely here since 2010. 
  • Naked Marriage: Uncovering Who You Are And Who You Can Be Together, by Corey Allen. Really good.
  • The Pressure's Off: Breaking Free from Rules and Performance, by Larry Crabb. Basic but very necessary for me to hear afresh.

How's the blog doing?

So how am I doing in terms of blog visibility? Hmm, not great to be honest. When there is interaction with a more well-known scholar like a Hurtado or a Tuggy, I can just about break into triple figures. Mostly though, I’m typically around the 15-25 visits. In Blogdom, that’s like a virtual non-starter, especially after nearly three years of posting. So I’m curious – can you recommend this blog to anyone? Do you have any recommendations or advice to give me to increase its popularity and access? Is the style too academic? Too informal? I’m working on shorter sentences (my Mum’s repeated request, although even she isn’t a regular reader)…

What next?


  • I don’t know how far I will continue into my coverage of Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ. I feel like there is so much common ground with THH that I have plenty to say on the content of this great book, even if our paths are already set to diverge on certain points, like around his “Q” chapter, which maybe when I bring in MacEwen. It is just possible that if I do go “the full hog”, that I have another stab with the publishers, editing the posts as a response book to Lord Jesus Christ.
  • I haven't painted for decades. But I have inspiration to do a reconfiguration of the reunion described in Jesus parable of the Prodigal Son. I want to capture the moment of reconciliation, but not just with the prodigal and his Father, but also with the Elder Son, who is neither jealous nor resentful, but shares in his Father's joy.
  • I would like to test-run the Psalms meditation proposal with some friends, blog readers, maybe my local church if the leadership accepted.
  • Love, Hate & Late Matthew
  • I have begun writing a brief commentary on the Old Testament book of Joel, which has relevance for my overall work on the Trinity. Rather than piecemeal it into this blog, when it is ready, I plan to provide a link on the blog to my space on where folks can access it and download it if they would like.
  • I may pick up the book project at some point and look at self-publishing if I receive fresh inspiration.
  • I would like to approach Pastor Sean Finnegan to see if he’d be interested in interviewing me on his podcast, Restitutio to tell this story, which I think may be interesting to his show listeners. That may also lead at some point to an invitation from Dale onto the trinities podcast, only time will tell. My problem with Sean is that I simply don’t know how to contact him (can anyone help?)
  • I would love to do a simplified animation of how I see Christianity got its Trinity and put it up on Youtube. That’d be a big job for me and a steep learning curve technologically.
  • I want to re-visit each New Testament book to see how well the THH fares there. I know that systematic theology is always an approximation. We’re always working with “best-fit” models, and so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I recently re-read 1 John, that neither Triune God nor Triune Hub hypotheses seem to thrive there. A more thorough NT survey is definitely required (in my rejected book proposal, this section was going to be entitled “Taking the Triune Hub For A Test-drive”;).
  • I also need to survey all references to John the Baptist, who for me is a key player in the rise of early trinitarianism.
  • I have come to realise that I am more excited about tracing first century developments than second-fourth century stuff, but I guess at some point I’ll also have to dredge through the ancient sources (to which I have good access) and try to trace the formalisation of the TH within the institutionalising church toward the Triune God. What I do look forward to in that project, is to see that it is frequently when the triune hub principle is upset that the church feels the need to respond, correct and clarify as one “unsuccessful mutation” is stamped out after another (even Galatians, in my view, could be an early example of that).
  • If there’s a worship song someone would like my opinion about, I’m always happy to have a listen to it and a good think about the lyrics.
  • If there's a dodgy Christian apologetic argument out there, then I'll happily continue to try blowing it respectfully to pieces!

Thanks very much for stopping by, your presence and participation is shaping my journey and I hope you also continue to travel through your own storms with anchors and harbors of refuge that will see you through when you need it most. Remember, friends are worth far more than the greatest of "insights".


  1. Great summary of a long journey... a road that has not reached its end. Even appreciated the whale music :-)

    1. Thanks so much Dean, no way I could have travelled it alone by the way :)


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