One Great Tri-Personal Book - Part I

I enjoy reading theology and love dialogue. Naturally then, when the two are combined, one fantastic book is the result. Such is the case with the newly released “The Son of God”  published by Wipf and Stock.

One of the wonderful features of a book structured by dialogue such as this is the invitation for the reader to not only be a spectator but to also experience the discussion in a more intimate way as the arguments presented are assessed with either objection, agreement or question.

Dr.Dale Tuggy from Trinities.org did a three part podcast series of interviews with each of these authors, correlating to their segment of the book (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). Even in their disagreement, the tone of honor and respect that pervaded the conversation is to be applauded. As Ace Ventura said, 

“Pride is an abomination. One must forego the self to attain total spiritual creaminess and avoid the chewy chunks of degradation.”

Charles Lee Irons, Danny André Dixon and Dustin R. Smith have written excellent essays, drawing their
readers in by probing the very heart of ancient documents and dialogue with questions and propositions regarding the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. They have challenged, congratulated and clashed with each other as “Iron sharpens…” well, in this case Dixon and Smith.

I have noticed my general blog audience responds better to short posts rather than those “too long didn’t read” posts, therefore, over the course of the next several posts, I will be reviewing this book in small bite-sized snippets. For those of you who can’t stand it, you can access a condensed version of my review here on Amazon.com. I will be examining here however, some of the opinions of the authors and offering some of my own observations as well.

Not unlike other “three view” books, this one is neatly divided into (of course) three segments: Trinitarian, Arian and Socinian, each consisting of 1) one of the three participants presenting their thesis, 2) the other two submitting difficulties, challenging the argument with alternative explanation and exegesis (at times appearing more eisegetical) or seeking clarification regarding a point made and 3) a response by the presenter of the thesis in attempt to clarify the objections or questions raised.

The book begins with a fantastic preface by James McGrath, loaded with perceptive observations as to why this book is a noble endeavor for promoting necessary and too often neglected dialogue. Dr. McGrath writes, 

“many Christians may not even be aware either of the diversity of views held among Christians, or of the scholarship that brings historical knowledge to bear on these questions…Scholarship is a conversation, and the wider public often has only the vaguest sense of how central interaction between viewpoints is to the scholarly endeavor…the individual scholar interacts with the scholarly community through the literature that has been published previously, trying to see just a little bit further standing on our shoulders…the notion of the ‘truth established once for all’ has never reflected the reality” viii, ix.

I have long been weary of the incredibly intolerant disposition of some Christians toward any who disagree with what are often times idiosyncratically envisioned as central tenets of “true Christianity.” This attitude prohibits humane dialogue and any sense of objectivity for considering alternative points of view. It elicited from me resounding concurrence when I read Dr. McGrath’s following words in his final statements of the preface: 

“Christianity has always been diverse, and has long been plagued by a tendency toward reciprocal condemnation and exclusion of others who have different opinions than our own, as we have proved time and again to be unable to apply the demand of Jesus that we love our enemies to those who are ‘enemies’ only of our idea, but not necessarily of ourselves” xi.

There continues to be disagreement and discord among Christians today not unlike the past 2000 years. And while I stand firm on what I believe, it does not mean I have to shut-out or degrade those who do not share my conclusions. Conversation with those who think differently is a healthy part of growth and not to be feared or viewed as a threat.

McGrath made some other noteworthy comments:

“I still recall a friend who was, like me at the time, both a Christian and a PhD student, saying that the process of trying to earn a doctorate pushes you towards heresy. The truth has supposedly already been established, and so new ideas can only represent departures from them. This viewpoint is not uncommon, and is a reason why ordinary people in churches often view scholars and scholarship with suspicion” ix.

There are varying opinions no matter where you turn. Many “ordinary people in churches” who feel they have been taught truth, when questioned in greater detail regarding the truths they defend and hold dear give answers unbefitting of the Orthodoxy they believe themselves to uphold. This is particularly common when dealing with subjects relating to Trinitarianism and Christology. Often the defense of Trinitarianism is closer to that of Modalism (Sabellianism, a condemned heresy) and the defense of Dyophysitism (dual natures, hypo-static union) is more akin to Docetism (another condemned heresy). What a tight rope to walk between Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy, having to be ever so cautious not slip, as one’s eternity "hangs in the balance."

I bring this up in order to show why educating oneself on these matters is of importance. Ignorance can breed intolerance and hatred. McGrath correctly points out that what Christians believe or claim to be doing is often not the reality. He quotes from Tertullian,

“‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ – suggesting that there is a huge gulf between biblical religion and Greek philosophy. And yet it seems clear that Tertullian’s thinking – for instance, in applying the term ‘Trinity’ (threeness to God – was indebted to his background in Stoic philosophy. We cannot ignore the ancient context of the Biblical texts, nor can we ignore the context within which we interpret them. And when we do both those things, we come to see just how it is possible for people with the same shared Scriptures and the same shared Jesus to nonetheless have drawn different conclusions” ix.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love your, McGrath and the authors' general sense of tolerance. HOWEVER, that is not the majority response based on the majority opinion as self-styled apologist head-hunters abound. Not only so but there is NO tolerance taught in a trinitarian environment. I have found only the opposite other than what appeared to be a reasonable trinitarian in this book.