Trinity For Me, Please

imageMark Sandlin’s post “No Trinity For Me, Please” has been making the rounds with some of my friends. Sandlin makes a few striking claims in regards to the Trinity, including this strong statement:

[B]iblically there is no mention of the Trinity. There are a few places where the Spirit and God are mentioned somewhat closely together but they are few and far between – and even then, the text is far from clear if it is talking about a Trinity. If anything, it seems to be talking about three distinctly different entities. Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quelled some of the early Church’s division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory. A somewhat politically motivated theory at that. And it’s a theory that the Bible puts absolutely no energy toward explaining. I’m not saying the theory of Trinity is wrong. I’m just not saying it’s definitively right, which is exactly what many of its adherents do when they say that if you don’t believe in the Trinity, you can’t be Christian.

I’d like to challenge these sentiments by examining them in light of baptismal practices in Early Christianity. Sandlin states that the Trinity is a “politically motivated theory”, so I am going to assume that he is suspicious of the formation of Trinitarian thought within the Early Church Fathers (2nd - 10th century). He has also stated that he is suspicious of the Gospel of St. John. Therefore, I will limit my discussion to certain passages in the New Testament and the often overlooked work known as The Didache (mid to late 1st century).[1] We have to agree with Sandlin that there is no strict literal mention of the word “Trinity” in Scripture.[2] Are we then limited to a strict theological vocabulary only found in Bible? Is the Trinity “biblical”? Is it necessary for Christians to discuss God in Trinitarian terms?

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Searching for Meaning, Part III: Form Criticism

The third chapter of Paula Gooder’s Searching For Meaning explores Form criticism, another methodology under the umbrella of historical criticism. So what is Form criticism? Gooder explains:

“Form criticism is the study and classification of the literary patterns and typical features of texts (for example, controversy stories, miracle stories) often with the aim of gaining an insight into the context which shaped them.” (21)

The premise underlying this methodology, according to Randolph Tate, is that “early Christian and Israelite traditions circulated as individual oral units”, were collected and compiled, and “eventually became sources for the composition of biblical texts.”[1] The interpreter using this methodology aims “to isolate these small units of tradition and then discover how these units were used within the community.”[2] In New Testament studies, form criticism is often applied to the Synoptic Gospels due to their parallel stories. These parallel stories are assumed to be rooted in the same tradition, but they take different “forms” in each Gospel. By understanding how these same stories are applied and “formed” in each of the Gospels, an interpreter attempts to “elucidate aspects of the community’s life.”[3] However, form criticism does not only focus on the final form of the text in each of the Gospels, it also focuses on “the history of the individual forms, [in other words] the way in which the forms were transmitted and adapted… This means that form criticism attempts to inquire as far back into the form as possible, even to the form’s origin.”[4] Form criticism is an attempt to get behind the text, “the concern to recreate and understand the events that lie behind any given text” (xviii).

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Searching for Meaning, Part II: Social Science Criticism

The next chapter of Paula Gooder’s Searching for Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, covers social science criticism, a specific kind of historical criticism. We must remember that historical criticism aims to “increase our understanding of the social and cultural world of the New Testament” and is not limited to one particular method (5). So what is social science criticism? Gooder states “Social science (social-scientific) criticism attempts to understand New Testament writings using the perspectives of social history and the methods of social or cultural anthropology” (13).

One may notice that the description of social science criticism is very close to that of historical criticism. According to Bruce Chilton, historical criticism “seek[s] to illuminate the text by exploring the world in which the text came into being” (7) by examining the “languages, cultures, customs” and the “social, historic, and economic background” of a text (6). Social-scientific criticism, according to Randolph Tate, “analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of a text and its environment.”[1] Since social-scientific criticism is under the umbrella of historical criticism, it would make sense for the two to share the same goal. Is social-scientific criticism just historical criticism in specific methodological form? It is difficult to distinguish the two, but John H. Elliott has compared each criticism’s respective foci.[2] Social-scientific criticism is concerned with placing texts within “patterns of interrelationship, commonalities, [and] typicalities”, as well as the “social and cultural scripts” of their historical background.[3] In short, social science criticism emphasizes the text’s “social” setting that historical criticism has traditionally overlooked.

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Interviewing Ikons: Daniel M. Bell, Jr.

The Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Bell, Jr., is Professor of Theology and Ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He is an ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church.  A graduate of Stetson University in Florida, he earned the Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School and a Ph.D. (in theology and ethics) from Duke University where he worked with Dr. Stanley Hauerwas. He has authored several books, including  Liberation Theology After the End of History (Routledge, 2001), Just War as Christian Discipleship (Brazos, 2009), andThe Economy of Desire: Christianity and Capitalism in a Postmodern World (Baker Academic, 2012). Dr. Bell is a popular speaker at colleges and universities, campus ministries, and churches on topics such as war and peace, the moral life, stewardship, and mission of the church today. He has presented papers before distinguished organizations such as the Latin American Studies Association International Congress, the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the Irish School of Ecumenics.  His work has appeared in various journals including Christianity Today, The Christian Century, Modern Theology, Journal for Peace and Justice Studies, Communio, Cross-Currents, and Studies in Christians Ethics. 

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Reading Dr. MLK, Jr. in Light of Recent Events

The following is selected sections from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”. I encourage everyone to read this in light of recent events. You can read the entire letter here.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. […]

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Interviewing Ikons: Lynn Cohick

imageLynn Cohick is Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.  She received her Ph.D. in NT/Christian Origins from University of Pennsylvania, 1996.  She is the author of three books: Ephesians in New Covenant Commentary Series (2010), Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (2009), The New Testament in Antiquity (2009, co-author), and a co-editor of Evolution of the Synagogue (1999).  Dr. Cohick also taught overseas at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya, for three years (1998-2000).  Her articles have appeared in numerous articles and books.  She is a member of the North American Patristics Society, Society of Biblical Literature, Evangelical Theological Society, and Institute of Biblical Research.  She is interested in several topics, including how average Jews and Christians lived out their faith in the ancient settings of Hellenism and the Roman Empire, women in the ancient world, especially how they celebrated their religions, the impact of feminist thought on New Testament studies, as well as the Apostle Paul and his epistles within their larger Jewish and Greco-Roman milieu.

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Searching for Meaning, Part I: Historical Criticism

We continue our series on Paula Gooder’s Searching for Meaning: An Introduction to Interpreting the New Testament, by taking our first step into historical criticism. Historical criticism is not a “method”; rather, it encompasses a wide range of methods to illuminate the meaning(s) of a text. Gooder elaborates:

Historical criticism (sometimes also called higher criticism) does not constitute a particular method of study, but includes a range of techniques to increase our understanding of the social and cultural world of the New Testament and further our understanding of the New Testament itself (5).

Hans-Georg Gadamer explains how historians have classically approached texts. The historian “uses other traditionary material to supplement and verify what the texts say” because the true meaning of a text “can be discovered only behind its literal meaning, by comparing it with other data that allow us to estimate its historical value.”[1] The historical approach attempts to “go back behind [the texts] and the meaning they express to inquire into the reality they express involuntarily.”[2] In other words, the methodologies under historical criticism attempt to get “behind the text”, which Gooder states is “the concern to recreate and understand the events that lie behind any given text” (xviii).

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