Historical Theology by Gregg Allison – The Trinity

Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian DoctrineTakeaway: Theology requires history and church tradition. 

I already wrote a summary review on Historical Theology.  But I am still using it as background.  I am getting ready to start working on a series of books on the Trinity.  I started reading one book with some friends and was very disappointed with the opening chapter.  So I decided to go back and read the chapter on the Trinity from Historical Theology to give myself some additional historical context.  That is really what this book is for, more than to read straight through from cover to cover.

The Trinity is an interesting doctrine.  Essentially the vast majority of what the church believes was determined by 600 AD.  The first three major creeds of the church spent a lot of time talking about the trinity and only a little has really been added over the years.  The trinity is one area where there is very little difference of opinion between Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Allison works through the early creeds and spends a good bit of time with extended quotes from those creeds.  This was a relatively short chapter and I wish he spent more time talking about they why of the word choices.  The biggest missing area in the chapter is the lack of discussion about why there was a division between the Eastern Orthodox and the Western church that eventually lead to the split about 600 years later.  A very small word was added into the Nicene Creed by Augustine to change the theology from saying that the Spirit proceeded from the Father to say that the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son.  Augustine, and a few others, started talking around 400 about the spirit proceeding from both the Father and the Son.  Eventually in the Niceno-Constantinopilitan Creed at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 language was adopted that said this.  It is only a one word change from the language of the Nicene Creed, but it split the church and in spite of the fact that Allison says he is not dealing with the Orthodox church in this book, I think he should have taken some time to talk about it.

What I did learn is that the concept and emphasis on the trinity as a social relationship is fairly recent.  And it was Aquinas that introduced a hierarchy into the trinity (which is part of what the social relationship of the trinity is attempting to address).  So in the last 1500 years, those are the two major issues.

Another point that I was struck by, although not really dealt with by Allison is that the Trinity is the major doctrine of the church that is primarily been determined by human reason.  Yes there is scripture that talks about the members of the trinity.  But the working out of how the trinity relates and function of the different members of the trinity is more about putting together the puzzle from the hints of scripture than a direct reading.  A strict form of sola scriptura would have a hard time going from the bible to the orthodox view of trinity without the creeds and church tradition to help them along the way.

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A digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review.

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The filioque wasn’t inserted by Augustine. It was inserted “into the Niceno-Constantinopilitan Creed at the Third Council of Toledo in 589” (Augustine died in AD 430). Now, Augustine did stress that the Holy Spirit proceeded “from the Father *and the Son*” alike.

I’m quoting from Donald McKim’s Theological Turning Points, which has a very nice chapter on the Trinity. It might fill in some of the areas that Allison doesn’t address as much as you’d like.

And I should add that you are quite right in your last paragraph. In fact, I was so committed to sola scripture at one point that I intentionally moved away from Trinitarianism (becoming a de facto Arian). But, thanks to our summer reading (Enns, Smith), I can happily call myself a Trinitarian again, and *still* assert that it’s not the most obvious interpretation of the biblical texts themselves (especially set within their cultural context).

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