IVP - Addenda & Errata - Some Things I Learned at the 2008 Wheaton Theology Conference

April 15, 2008

Some Things I Learned at the 2008 Wheaton Theology Conference

Here is a grab bag of thoughts arising from the Wheaton Theology Conference last week (April 10-12, 2008). The topic was “Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry.”

That (as if you hadn’t noticed) trinitarian theology is something everyone is talking about—and has been talking about in recent years—but that few are really able to talk about it with informed precision and agility, but that this conference gathered a good number of them together.

That we need to steep our minds in the sources of trinitarian thinking rather than skim interesting and useful tidbits off the surface of the discussion. This is a warning to myself as much as to others. It occurs to me that someone could provide a service to many by writing a historical guide to Trinitarian thought—one that would introduce and send us to read the sources. In hindsight, I think it would have been a good idea to start the conference with a paper that historically set up the contemporary movement of trinitarian theology.

That Mark Husbands can offer a stinging critique of social trinitarians, and that much of this critique makes good sense to me. Husbands calls "the view that the creaturely fellowship of the Church should correspond to the communion shared by the Father, Son and Spirit" "an almost self-evident axiom of contemporary theology," and "a newly established 'orthodoxy.'" He appealed to the work of Gregory of Nyssa to show how social trinitarians have "misread the tradition." Husbands's paper was put in contrast with John Franke's paper on the social trinity and the mission of God. My colleague Gary Deddo, who is far better versed in these matters than I, tells me that their papers were not really opposed to each other, since "Franke offered insights that would help anyone interested in social trinitarianism not make fundamental theological errors when drawing on the trinitarian nature of God to shed light on our human condition and obligations to one another."

That, my long-term (even passionate) interest in creation care aside, I am not willing to say that “restoring an anadromous fish passage is just as much a work of Christian formation as prayer.” As it stands, I do not find this in tune with what Paul is saying in Romans 8. While environmental concerns have been on my mind since childhood and anadromous fish spawn within a mile of where I sit and their welfare is frequently on my mind, the “just as much . . . as prayer” does not pass the theological test with me (nor, I think, with Paul), even when buttressed with some trinitarian insights. I do think this work can be done prayerfully though, and that it should be viewed within the broadest compass of the missio dei. I could explain further, but suffice it to say that I think there is a cart and there is a horse, and the latter should precede the former. It is a great advance to recognize on theological grounds that creation care is in, or part of, that cart.

That we must be careful to define terms like “economic Trinity” and “immanent Trinity” since folks who are new to the discussion can easily mistake them to mean something else, even the opposite of what they actually mean. In the session I moderated, a person from the audience wanted to know why Trinitarians didn’t speak of the transcendence of the Trinity. It soon became clear that the terminology was leading him astray, and Phil Butin stepped up to the microphone to offer a primer on the terminology, and explain that “immanent” in this case is actually speaking of the transcendent. Thank you, Phil. How easily we become familiar with terms and forget to explain.

That (now that I’ve verified it) my memory is actually better than I often credit it these days, and that “mission is the mother of theology” is to be traced to Martin Kahler (though the point should be obvious from the New Testament). Something similar to this claim was made by Robert Lang’at in his paper, and there was a question calling for clarification. As moderator of that session, I was about to mention Kahler, but hesitated on a wave of uncertainty. So now I am mentioning it.

That Kevin Vanhoozer shows himself again to be an insightful and clever thinker and speaker, and that we should look forward to his publishing more fully his view of the doctrine of Scripture. But in the meantime, I find myself getting a lot of traction out of John Webster’s Holy Scripture, which he also acknowledges as a productive source. (And I should also mention A. T. B. McGowan's forthcoming The Authenticity of Scripture.)

That I wish there had been a paper on the Trinity and the atonement, since I find a trinitarian perspective generally lacking in the present controversy over the atonement in evangelical theology. However, at the conference I bought Anthony Thiselton’s new book, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, and I found that he has a good and wise discussion of the atonement and offers some trinitarian perspective that supports some of my own thinking (which is always nice to discover), including critical appreciation of what Baillie and Moltmann have had to say.

That Gordon Smith has a lot of wisdom to impart, and that his advice to those who are in free-church traditions (and other traditions, frankly) on how to bring trinitarian theology to bear on our worship and our practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper is well worth hearing. I can’t quote it, but it’s advice shaped from his own long experience with his own free church denomination.

Select papers from the conference will be published by IVP-Academic within a year from now. Meanwhile, keep an eye out in the fall for Roderick Leupp’s The Renewal of Trinitarian Theology. And I should also mention that the results of last year’s Wheaton Theology Conference are now published in Ancient Faith for the Church’s Future, edited by Mark Husbands and Jeffrey P. Greenman.

Posted by Dan Reid at April 15, 2008 11:48 AM Bookmark and Share


Thanks for the thoughts. I am sorry to have missed the conference this year but it sounds as though some good things happened so I look forward to the book. The Festival of Faith and Writing was splendid and a worthy substitute for the Wheaton experience this year but it is too bad one has to make choices.

Comment by: Terry Tiessen at April 30, 2008 11:57 AM

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