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2 Trinity, Tradition, and Politics Karen Kilby A great deal has been written about the Trinity in recent decades. Much of the language used to describe this mass of publication—a flourishing, a flowering, a revival, or a “renaissance”—has distinctly positive connotations, for most of those writing about the phenomenon, or writing from within it, see the outpouring of trinitarian theology as fundamentally a good thing, a moment in which Christian thought is simultaneously returning to its roots to rediscover a distinctive richness, and exhibiting fresh creative power—both going back and moving forward. There is also, however, a more skeptical minority. The doubts are directed, not toward the doctrine of the Trinity itself, but toward the so-called trinitarian revival, or at least a significant portion of it.1 Is this really a revival, a retrieval and development of a key dimension of the tradition, or is it something else—something more like a foreign growth, the flowering of a slightly different plant? The essay that follows will fall into three parts. I will first indicate some of the reasons for this skepticism, giving a brief overview of what we might term the minority position in contemporary trinitarian theology. In the remainder of the essay I will seek to explore and develop the position in two ways. In the second section, I will consider what I take to be a key issue between the minority and majority positions—divine ineffability—in the light of some recent and interesting work by Kendall Soulen. In the third section, I will turn to 1. That there is no lively debate in English-speaking theology about the status of the doctrine is itself a point worth noting. The John Hick and Maurice Wiles who stimulated The Myth of God Incarnate (London: SCM, 1977) debate seem to have no obvious successors in the current generation of theologians. It may be that those with a similar sensibility now tend more toward an engagement with Jacques Derrida and continental philosophy. 73 the relation between Trinity and politics. Although, as we shall see, the way much contemporary trinitarian theology moves from something like a map of the Trinity to the commendation of an overarching ecclesial or sociopolitical program can be very problematic, at the same time this sense of political relevance gives it much of its attraction. In this third section, then, I will try, if not to match this relevance, at least to suggest the possibility of a different way of thinking about the relation of Trinity and politics. 1. Critiques of Social Trinitarianism What criticisms have emerged against the mainstream of recent trinitarian theology? One set of concerns, as already indicated, revolve around the way recent trinitarian theologians, especially social trinitarians, seek to make the Trinity relevant by deriving a politics from it, contrasting, typically, the tendencies of “mere monotheism” to support empire, authoritarian regimes, and patriarchy with the tendency of the doctrine of the Trinity to support equality, mutuality, and the appreciation of diversity. The criticism usually focuses not on what the social trinitarians actually recommend about society or church—that we should be more egalitarian, more loving, that we should positively value difference, that communion or community is important—but on the legitimacy of deriving these conclusions from the doctrine in this way. Kathryn Tanner has recently set out a fairly comprehensive critique of this position. She points out, first of all, the simplistic thinking involved in aligning monotheism with monarchy, and Trinity with more progressive forms of social arrangement: such an alignment is not particularly borne out by history—where the rise of the doctrine of the Trinity and rising Christian support for centralized empire coincide—nor does it take into account that a whole variety of political programs can in fact be correlated with any one kind of belief in God.2 Second, there is the fundamental perversity of trying to get a grip on, as Tanner puts it, “what is difficult to understand—the proper character of human society” on the basis of “what is surely only more obscure—the character of divine community.”3 2. This is a point Tanner has also made at length in her volume The Politics of God: Christian Theologies and Social Justice (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992). 3. Kathryn Tanner, “Social Trinitarianism and its Critics,” in Rethinking Trinitarian Theology: Disputed Questions and Contemporary Issues in Trinitarian Theology, ed. Giulio Maspero and Robert J. Wozniak (London: T&T Clark, 2012), 378. 74 | Recent Developments in Trinitarian Theology...


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