quest-for-the-trinityHolmes, Stephen R. The Quest for the Trinity. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012.

ImageThe Author – Stephen R. Holmes

My Thoughts

This book is a helpful and refreshing counterbalance to my growing bibliography concerning the 20th century Trinitarian conversation in the West. Stephen Holmes is a brilliant scholar from the UK who speaks to this topic from the English Evangelical perspective.

The book itself is essentially an historical survey of the Doctrine of the Trinity in Western theology. What makes it fresh, and relevant to my research, is that Holmes frames his historical survey around the “revival” of Trinitarianism in the late 20th century. He begins there, then traces the big historical landmarks of the doctrinal evolution, and ends with a re-evaluation of the conversation. He is kind, and truly appreciative of this Trinitarian “revival,” but in the end, finds it lacking.

Holmes states his thesis clearly in the introduction:

I argue that the explosion of theological work claiming to recapture the doctrine of the trinity that we have witnessed in recent decades in fact misunderstands and distorts the traditional doctrine so badly that it is unrecognizable. A statement of the doctrine was settled in the fourth century, and was then maintained, with only very minor disagreement or development, by all strands of the church–West and East, Protestant and Catholic–until the modern period. In the twentieth century, there arose a sense that the doctrine had been neglected or lost, and stood in need of recovery. Many brilliant works have been published in the name of that recovery, but I argue here that, methodologically and materially, they are generally thorough-going departures from the older tradition, rather than revivals of it. (xvi)

Holmes recounts the 20th century conversation in familiar foci, with a new twist, for me. These are the familiar clusters of theologians:

Barth: Revisiting Revelation

Rahner and Zizioulas: economy and personhood

Pannengerg, Moltmann, and Jenson: Trinity and History

Boff and Volf: Trinity and the Life of the Church

So far these are familiar clusters of theologians and key points. They are similar to the story the Grenz tells. Holmes’ next move is different than Grenz. His final cluster looks at Plantinga, Leftow, and Rea and their unique iterations of analytic philosophy of religion.

This move surprises me on two levels. First, in all the reading I’ve done on Trinity to date, this is the first time this cluster has come up. This, I’m sure, is due to two things. First, I haven’t read everything, so I should expect to continually add new layers and nuance to my understanding. Second, analytic philosophy of religion is, Holmes admits, is a largely “Anglophone tradition” (30).

The second reason this move surprises me is not so much who he points to, but those voices he leaves out. Most other discussions of the Trinitarian conversation point to Catherine LaCugna and Elizabeth Johnson, at the very least, to address the feminist voice. Holmes mentions Boff and his Liberation Theology, but only primarily in terms of ecclesiology. LaCugna, who is often cited as a major catalyst for the 20th century conversation, is only mentioned in a footnote as an example of one who applied Rahner’s proposition that “the life of God simply is the life of the world.” (11)

I truly appreciate this book in that it a) validates the journey that my research has been taking by naming the conversation similarly to how I have seen it, b) provides a balanced, counter perspective to the direction that I have been heading, c) allows me to hear an intellectual, Evangelical perspective. I do not, however, feel that Holmes makes a strong enough case to disavow the direction I am heading in my research.

The one, helpful corrective, that I have seen elsewhere, is setting the record straight that the West and East traditions were divergent in their Trinitarian doctrine–the West being monorchial and oneness-focused, while the East was Perichoretic and three-ness focused. Holmes further exposes the Regnonian error upon which LaCugna builds much of her argument. ((see my comment here.)) That said, he merely demonstrates that the Trinitarian doctrine of the 4th century remained in tact–East and West–right up to the 20th century, therefore bringing into question whether it needed to be “revived.”

My argument is that he never addresses the dualism that dominated the establishment of the 4th century formation of the orthodox Trinitarian formulation. Yes, it was exegetically based, but the exegesis was heavily Greek-influenced. The conversation in the 21st century must take into account the post-Christendom, post-hermeneutical turn, pluralistic, globalized nature of the theological context in the West and acknowledge that the Trinitarian conversation of the late 20th century is one worth pursuing.

View my Evernote File on this book.

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