Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Big T Little t: It's time to call in the A-Team!

Remember The A Team? What a great show!

One of the great characters from that 90s classic was Mister T. You don't mess with Mister T!
Today I want to reflect again on Tuggy's dichotomy between little-t big-T, which continues to bug me. I have already blogged on the Jewish Roots of the Trinity and especially in my Responding to Dale Tuggy on Trinitarian Conceptualisation. Dale's amazing at showing distinction where there appears to be just mud. He's a trained analytic philosopher, he's just doing his job and doing it well. But there are problems in applying dichotomies across time and culture, especially with regards to this multi-personal God issue that has provoked so much inquiry in his own life and also in my own.

I've hinted at this before, but I'm going to emphasise it again now. Biblical Unitarians - to whom I owe so much and whom I love, at least those that I have had the privilege of meeting - are fully capable of accepting quite unaware the very fourth-century categories they so firmly oppose. Let me give you an illustration of what I mean. Not so long ago, I blogged quite a successful blog summary (What On Earth Has John Been Up To?) in which I included some of my next goals (one of those was a study on John the Baptist, which is already completed, hurrah). Believe it or not, my intuition about the Restitutio interview seems to have been pretty well dialled in - presenter Pastor Sean Finnegan read my blog summary hyperlinked above and has expressed interest in doing an interview. So, that plug aside (watch this space!), my point is that in preparing to speak to Sean I looked up a debate he did on Youtube way back in 2008ish, up against a Trinitarian. I didn't make it all the way through. It was the sort of debate that just makes you think how do those people even think that fast?! One sentence caught my attention, however, where Sean said something along the lines of: "no, I do not believe that Jesus is of the same essence as the Father". The same essence?

I should be careful here! Sean, you might even be reading this, so in maximum warp-speed 10 respect, please hear me right. I'm just trying to point out that it is very easy for any of us to take our opponents' categories for granted. Perhaps Sean wouldn't say that nine years later, either way, it doesn't matter for the purpose of this example. Back to Small T vs Big T.

Dale Tuggy's point is that "small-t" trinitarian refers to a triad. All "small-t" trinitarians are in fact, according to Dale's tightly defined definitions, biblical Unitarians. That is to say that God himself, remains one individual, no matter how much he and his actions are bound to his Son and his Spirit. Over the past year or so, I have come from a point of curiosity, through scepticism now to rejection on the possibility of some almighty conceptual switch. As I have understood the dichotomy thus far, the radical switch from Point A (God Is A Single Person Deity) to Point C (God Is A Three-Person Deity) shift is too great. As I stressed in my response to Dale, to which his response is still due at some point I hope, there has to be a Point B. That Point B is not adequately described as "biblical Unitarian". I'm sorry, but I find that almost as guilty as the back-projecting as some Trinitarians are in their own apologetics.

In my view, the whole perspective is upside down. It wants to start with ontology, which is precisely where Paul Ricoeur has warned us not to begin. If we begin there and disregard the goals, loyalties, injuries, politics, history and other stakes then we can miss important data - this data is so much more complex and nuanced its complexity and nuance require a more hermeneutic approach. It is this hermeneutic approach that says: how do we perceive? How do we conceptualise the seen realm and the unseen realm? If we do that, and we are able to factor in the historical probability of the first-century Christian mutation of Judaism having started to vocalise, ritualise and (although they did not know it) immortalise its "Triune Hub" via the baptismal rites, then we are released into realising that it is, in fact, the Triune God version of the Trinity that should receive the "small T", since it is interpretative of that which precedes it. It is, therefore, the earlier, Jewish-Christian expression and understanding from which it is developed is that which should truly bear the "Mister T" belt.

According to my own definitions, then, I think that makes me a Capital-T Trinitarian! It might frustrate, however, to realise that it is not in any way an outcome of a one-self or three-self decoding process of the ontology of God, since it begins with the social human psyche.

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