A most practical doctrine

by Kim on June 18, 2011

A rationalistic trinitarian theology, dysfunctional and divorced from Christian life and ethics, has little practical effect. A revitalized trinitarian theology, however, has strong down-to-earth ramifications. The opening sentence of Catherine LaCugna’s influential study God for Us articulates this surprising claim with vigor: “The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life.” The logic of this assertion is clear. God lives as the mystery of love. Human beings are created in the image of God. Therefore, a life of integrity is impossible unless we also enter the dynamic of love and communion with others.

What practical pattern of life best enables us to do so? La Cugna proposes that the key resides in the reign of God, which Jesus preached and enacted. As glimpsed in his parables and practices, the reign of God is a gracious rule of saving love and communion. As a place where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, it sets up a new kind of community where “the least of these” brothers and sisters are included, a gathering where the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, and the leper are equally at home. In this commuity tyranny is countermanded in the light of God’s self-giving ways; male and female are equal partners, as are Jew and Greek. Justice, peace, and the well-being of all creatures are the goal. If we are not living out the types of relationships that serve this pattern of the truth of the reign of God, then we haven’t a clue about who God is. Knowing God is impossible unless we enter into a life of love and communion with others.

To say that the Trinity is inherently practical is not to imply that this belief gives immediate solutions to war and violence, blueprints to eliminate hunger, or concrete remedies for inequality. Rather, it functions as a source of vision to shape our actions in the world, a criterion to measure the fidelity of our lives, and a basis for resisting every form of oppression that diminshes commuity.

Deeply harmful attitudes and practices have arisen in church and society because one group imagines itself superior to another. The resulting stratification of power, with some dominant, some subordinate, shapes institutions of racism, sexism, ecclesiastical clericalism, and ruination of the earth, among other pernicious sins. The revitalized idea of the Trinity makes clear that, far from exisitng as a monarch ruling from isolated splendor and lording it over others, the living God is an overflowing communon of self- giving love. The practical importance of this notion lies in the way it exposes the perversion of patriarchy, racism, and other sinful patterns.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (New York/London: Continuum, 2007), pp. 222-23.

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Pam 06.18.11 at 11:44 am

The CEOs of many of Australia’s leading companies, powerful and wealthy men and women, slept “rough” a couple of nights ago and in the process raised $A4 million for homeless people (organised by St Vincent de Paul Society). It’s mid-winter here!

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