Monday, 23 March 2015

Salvation & the Trinity (4): Thomas G. Weinandy - The Father’s Spirit of Sonship

In the last few posts, I explored the trinitarian proposals of Moltmann and Pannenberg, for these seem to be promising for a New Wine theology. But I concluded that a refinement of their proposals is sorely needed, if their proposals to understand the substance of salvation from the intratrinitarian perichoresis is to be adopted in a soteriological framework for vindicating the charismatic renewal of New Wine.
A study that really might be helpful at this point, is Thomas G. Weinandy’s The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconceiving the Trinity. Weinandy is a charismatic Catholic scholar. One of the greatest benefits of Weinandy’s concise study is that it clarifies and concretizes the relevance of the doctrine of the Trinity for the individual believer and the life of the church, and that he does so in soteriological terms.

Thomas G. Weinandy: The Father’s Spirit of Sonship

Thomas G. Weinandy is an American Franciscan priest and scholar, who obtained his doctorate in historical theology from King’s College (University of London, 1975) and taught doctrine at the University of Oxford (1991-2005). Since 1976, he has been a member of the Mother of God Community, which grew out of the charismatic renewal. In the Preface of The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconceiving the Trinity[1] , Weinandy relates how he was baptized in the Spirit in 1975, and witnessed “the changed lives of many others who similarly had experienced this baptism” within the charismatic renewal. Through these experiences, he came to a new understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, starting with Romans 8:14-16:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father! it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Weinandy proposes a trinitarian view that comes close to Moltmann, but he does so in a more precise and more balanced exposition, in a quite complete and systematic fashion. Doing so, he comes even more close to Pannenberg.
And where Moltmann’s constructs sometimes seem rather speculative, and Pannenberg’s elaborations tend to be quite philosophical and abstract, Weinandy methodologically takes his starting point in the Biblical narratives. Doing so, he avoids the philosophical problems with Moltmann and Pannenberg, carefully remaining in accordance with the theological tradition.
But one of the greatest benefits of Weinandy’s concise study is that it also clarifies and concretizes the relevance of the doctrine of the Trinity for the individual believer and the life of the church, and that he does so in soteriological terms.

4.1 The Problem of Philosophical, Non-Scriptural Influences

The doctrine of the Trinity needs to be reconsidered, Weinandy agrees with Moltmann and Pannenberg. First of all, because the renewal of Biblical studies revitalized our understanding of the distinctive roles of Father, Son and Spirit within the New Testament kerygma, and this should be processed in systematic theology, giving trinitarian theology a more biblical foundation. Doing so will breathe new life and relevance into the doctrine of the Trinity - which is a good thing, Weinandy argues, for the Trinity, as the central mystery of the Christian faith, must not be deemed “a mere mathematical riddle (the reconciliation of one and three), but rather must sustain and nourish the spiritual, but practical, lives of believers.”[2]
Secondly, the renewal of the liturgy within both the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations “has heightened awareness of the importance and presence of the Trinity in personal prayer and communal worship”.

“The Church gathers as the people of God in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and worships the Father through the Son in the Spirit. The distinctively trinitarian nature of Christian worship has compelled theologians to re-examine the Trinity in light of these liturgical realities.”[3]

Thirdly, the “exceptional growth and development of the Charismatic Renewal within all Christian denominations throughout the world” has fostered a renewed awareness of the believer’s particular relationships with each of the persons of the Trinity, through the experience of baptism in the Spirit. Thus,

“the Charismatic Renewal has both cultivated and provided factual evidence for the spiritual and practical relevance of the Trinity within the Christian’s life.”[4]

Recently efforts to address these issues and renew the doctrine of the Trinity (including Moltmann and Pannenberg), have been inadequate, says Weinandy. The problem lies within the trinitarian parameters being used, he asserts. The historical trinitarian development contains a number of weaknesses which make a true and radical trinitarian enrichment impossible.[5]

Western trinitarian thought (Augustine, Aquinas) envisages the Trinity as: the Father begetting the Son; and the Holy Spirit as their communal love, proceeding then from the Father and the Son. Through the filioque, the West tries to warrant the unique salvific role of the Son.
Eastern Orthodox trinitarian thought perceives the Trinity as: the Father (as the Godhead) begetting the Son, with the Spirit then proceeding from the Father through the Son. Through emphasising that the Father is the sole source of the Son and the Spirit, the East tries to warrant both the monarchy of the Father, and the doctrine of three distinct persons, in a perichoretic community.
However, both the West and the East misunderstand the role of the Spirit. In Western thought the Spirit is passive (being merely the “bond of love” between Father and Son), and it remains unclear why the Spirit should be a person, Weinandy argues. In Eastern thought, both the Spirit and the Son are inactive, and its view is rather linear, in effect undermining its concept of perichoresis (by which the persons are said to co-inhere in one another).
Both weaknesses, says Weinandy, are caused by philosophical, non-Scriptural influences: a Neo-Platonic emanationist sequentialism, holding there is a logical or conceptual priority of the Father over the Son and of the Son over the Spirit. Particularly in the East’s linear view of the Trinity, “middle and Neo-Platonic emanationism still governs the trinitarian conception”, jeopardizing Nicea’s homoousion doctrine. In the West, the logical, sequential priority of the Father and the Son within Latin trinitarian thought is - mistakenly - reinforced by Aristotelian epistemology.
Without denying the “biblical imperative” that the Son and the Spirit depend upon the Father, which both the East and the West desire to uphold, Weinandy regards this sequentialism as detrimental to a true understanding of the Trinity.

“A proper understanding of the Trinity can only be obtained if all three persons, logically and ontologically, spring forth in one simultaneous, nonsequential, eternal act in which each person of the Trinity subsistently defines, and equally is subsistently defined by, the other persons.”[6]

4.2 Thesis and methodology

In his first chapter, Weinandy translates this assertion into his main thesis:
·      The Father begets the Son in, or by, the Spirit
·      The Son is begotten by the Father in, or by, the Spirit
·      Thus the Spirit simultaneously proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten
·      The Son, being begotten in the Spirit, simultaneously loves the Father in the same Spirit by which he himself is begotten.
This concept of the Trinity “finds its distinctiveness in the specific and precise role ascribed to the Holy Spirit within the immanent Trinity”, Weinandy asserts, “conforming” (or: defining, personing) “the Son to be the Son”, and “the Father to be the Father”.
Weinandy’s reconceiving may be subtle, but it claims to overcome the objections that are generally made against social doctrines of the Trinity. The arguments for his thesis are founded on three interconnected presuppositions:
1.       The immanent Trinity is identical to the economic Trinity (the three persons of the Trinity as they reveal themselves in the economy of salvation manifest their inner trinitarian life and relationships).
2.       Functional economic trinitarianism discloses an ontological immanent trinitarianism (the economy of salvation is expressed primarily in functional categories, but inherent within these functional categories lies a trinitarian ontology).
3.       The development of authentic trinitarian doctrine is the coming to perceive this inherent trinitarian ontology from within its scriptural, and so functional, economic expression.[7]

In contrast to Moltmann and Pannenberg, Weinandy does not assert that God’s being occurs in his revelation. Rather, in his revelation God reveals himself as he is in himself.[8] He concurs with Moltmann and Pannenberg that through God’s self-revelation in his acts in history, God’s trinitarian inner being is revealed, but emphasizes with tradition that this is God’s (unchanging) eternal being: there may be development in God’s acting in the world (in that sense, God may also be affected by his relation to the world), but not in the divine essence.

In the subsequent chapters, Weinandy explores both the early and the later proclamation within the New Testament (Chapters 2 and 3), only then to attempt to reconceive, ontologically, the immanent Trinity (Chapter 4). Lastly, he explores the implications of this new conception for ecumenism (Chapter 5) and the lives of Christians (Chapter 6).

4.3 Beginning with the New Testament Kerygma

In his analysis of the early kerygma concerning Jesus’ baptism, death and resurrection as well as the effects of his redemptive work in the lives of believers, Weinandy convincingly discerns a consistent trinitarian pattern. It is important to note that this pattern in the outward actions of the three Persons (the economy of salvation) suggests a pattern in the inward actions - in shorthand, within the immanent Trinity the Son is constituted as Son by the Spirit, and the Father constitutes himself as Father by the same Spirit.
Although Jesus’ resurrection is “the supreme icon of immanent trinitarian life since it embraces and specifies the personal relationships between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, the conversion and subsequent life of the believer offers “an even more exact paradigm”, Weinandy learns from this early proclamation, including the Pauline corpus. The paradigm of Christian conversion illumines and interprets the icon of Jesus’ resurrection.

“When we come to faith and are baptized, we are taken into the very life of the Trinity and establish definable relationships with each of the divine persons (...) The Pauline corpus places before us a Christian life that is integrally trinitarian. We, who are baptized, participate in the same transformation that Christ himself underwent through his death and resurrection (...) we now live a whole new life directly initiated by, and expressly lived in, the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 7:6).”[9]

Moreover, Weinandy argues from Paul, “because of the Spirit dwelling within us, we are assumed into the very depths of God’s inner being - the mystery of God himself” (italics are mine). It is through the Spirit of sonship, that we become sons and daughters of the Father, in Christ. Unquestionably then, Weinandy continues, this new life that we live with the Father in Christ is founded exclusively on the work of the Spirit.

The later proclamation - mostly the Infancy Narratives and the Johannine corpus - reveals a similar trinitarian pattern in both the actions and roles played by the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in the economy of salvation (expressed principally in functional language), illustrating the actions and roles they play within the immanent Trinity (Chapter 3),

“namely that the Father begets the Son in or by the Holy Spirit, and thus that the Spirit proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten.”[10]

4.4 Each of the three Persons is being constituted by the action of the other two Persons

On the basis of the New Testament evidence (and taking into account the theological contributions and concerns of both East and West), Weinandy then arrives at a systematic understanding of the immanent Trinity. Contra Pannenberg, Weinandy doesn’t want to refute the distinction of the divine persons upon origin altogether – thus remaining loyal to the tradition. Yet his aim is the same as Pannenberg’s, namely to avoid that a distinction in terms of origin - as it seeks to warrant the monarchy of the Father - induces a non-trinitarian perception of the Father as the true Godhead.[11]
Weinandy shows how due to Neo-Platonic emanationism, the warranting of the monarchy of the Father in effect has led to perceiving the Father as the true Godhead, from which the Son and Spirit emanate. To correct this defect, the monarchy of the Father must be established and maintained within the one being of the Trinity and not prior to or outside it.[12]

“The Godhead is neither in the Father alone nor is it a solitary substance distinct from the Trinity. The Godhead is the Trinity. The one Godhead is the action of the Father begetting the Son and spirating the Spirit, and so sharing with them the whole of his deity, constituting them as equal divine persons. Thus the monarchy of the Father is maintained, but within the one being of God who is a Trinity of persons”.[13]

The constituting of the three divine Persons takes place within (and not outside of) the one being of God, and requires an active, constituting involvement of all three Persons, mostly so of the Spirit:
    The Son is the Son because He is begotten from the Father in the Spirit.[14]
    The Father is the Father in that He begets the Son in the Spirit.[15]
    The Father exercises his paternity in spirating the Spirit in which the Son is begotten, in the same act by which the Son is begotten.[16]

Thus the Father truly acts as the Father as the fons divinitatis from which come both the Son and the Spirit. The Father is the unbegotten source of the Son (begotten) and the Spirit (spirated, breathed forth). The monarchy of the Father is maintained. But the order within the Trinity

“now completely transcends an emanationist view (Neo-Platonic in origin) which implies not only an order of origin and derivation, but also an order of priority, precedence and sequence, which undermines the eternal nature of the one trinitarian act and thus the divine equality of the persons.”[17]

While the Father is the unbegotten source of both the Son and the Spirit, each of the three Persons is being constituted by the action of the other two Persons. Within this trinitarian dynamic, the Spirit fully is the third divine person.

“While the Spirit ‘persons’ the Father as Father and the Son as Son, he does so only because He is equally and simultaneously ‘personed’ by the Father and the Son, since it is by proceeding from them that the Spirit becomes the Spirit of the Father and the Son.”[18]

Thus not only the monarchy of the Father is warranted, but also the active role and the being-a-person of the Spirit, while at the same time acknowledging the difference in origin and nature between the Son (begotten) and the Spirit (spirated).

In a very careful and precise manner, Weinandy arrives at the dynamic (and indeed revolutionizing, as he rightly claims) concept of a mutual co-inherence or perichoresis of action within the Trinity which makes the Persons be who they distinctively are, and in which all three Persons are active.

“While the Son and the Holy Spirit come forth from the Father, yet in the coming forth all three persons become who they are, and they do so precisely in reciprocally interacting upon one another, simultaneously fashioning one another to be who they are and so becoming who they are in themselves. None of the persons is purely passive; not even the Holy Spirit.”[19]

In earlier accounts of the divine perichoresis, both from the East and the West, the perichoresis was seen as the result of the begetting and spirating. In contrast, Weinandy emphasises the perichoresis of the actions themselves - “the acts of begetting and spiration co-inhere in one another and thus account for why the persons themselves co-inhere. Actually, the persons themselves are the co-inhering acts.”[20] Any suggestion of “tritheism” - or, for that matter, “bitheism”-  thus is refuted.

His reconceiving of the Trinity obtains “a symmetry never before attained”, Weinandy claims. This symmetry is due to the fact that the Spirit now plays an active role within the Trinity. The one act by which the one God is a trinity of Persons is the Father begetting the Son in - or by - the Spirit, in which act both the Father and the Son are conformed to be Father and Son by the Spirit.

4.5 Weinandy and the Five Clusters of Objections

Not only is Weinandy’s careful methodology more convincing than Moltmann’s expositions, and more closely based on the New Testament accounts than Pannenberg’s highly philosophical argument, he also appears to have obviated the shortcomings of both their proposals, invalidating the major objections being made (see previous blog post, Problems with the proposals of Moltmann and Pannenberg).

Cluster 1: Weinandy warrants the unity of the three Persons as each is being constituted as a person only within the Trinity, refuting any suggestion of tritheism (a similar point was made by Pannenberg).

Cluster 2: Weinandy warrants the active role and the “being-a-person” of the Spirit within the Trinity (again, a similar point was made by Pannenberg, however, his account lacked the symmetry we find with Weinandy, and Pannenberg’s philosophical frame of reference seemed to be at odds with a true personhood of the Spirit).

Cluster 3: Weinandy warrants the unique salvific role of the Son, for it is only by being in Christ that we are adopted as sons and daughters of the Father (Pannenberg agrees, yet Weinandy’s emphasis on the Spirit as “the Spirit of sonship” connects the immanent Trinity even more directly and concretely with the economy of salvation than is the case with Pannenberg).
Cluster 4: Weinandy warrants the monarchy of the Father, both internal (within the Trinity) and external (towards creation, through a profoundly transcendent perception of the Trinity, including the Spirit, thereby fencing off inclinations towards relegating the Spirit to a “divine immanence in creation”) (contra the Hegelian propensity in both Moltmann and Pannenberg).

Cluster 5: Weinandy warrants the distinction between the Son’s sharing in the divine trinitarian life, and that of believers. Weinandy may seem to be saying the same thing as Moltmann and Pannenberg here, but in his account – even though he may be using mystical language at points – it is perfectly clear that the believer’s participation in the divine life is not ontological, but must be understood in pneumatological terms. It is through the Spirit of sonship that believers share in the filial relationship of the Son to the Father, as recipients of God’s salvation in Christ. As such, believers share in the divine life and glory.[21]

Weinandy also translates this participation to concrete experiences and practices in the lives of believers, as we will see below.

4.6 A Social Trinity and Salvation

At the beginning of this chapter we observed that the doctrine of the Trinity often remains abstract and apparently of little relevance to the faith of individual believers and the church. Weinandy seems to have presented a proposal that not only “fine-tunes” social trinitarianism, but also succeeds in demonstrating how the doctrine of the Trinity, as professed by the Church in its catholicity, can come to live and be highly relevant to the experience of faith of believers.
This practical relevance of trinitarian theology for the Christian life - and the tight connection between salvation and the inner being of God - becomes clear in Weinandy’s final chapter, aptly titled “Living the life of the Trinity” (Chapter 6).

1. The Economic and the Immanent Trinity: Our Entrance

First of all, our understanding of God’s salvation is renewed and refreshed by Weinandy’s reconceiving of the Trinity - and this Weinandy regards as “the major pastoral and spiritual benefit” of his trinitarian proposal.[22] His study convincingly shows the close alignment between the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity: The economy of salvation expresses who God really is in God-self. Accordingly, the nature of God’s salvation flows from the inner being of God. This inner being of God finds expression in the image of the divine perichoresis. Our salvation, then, is defined by this perichoresis, as believers are enabled to enter into the divine trinitarian life (understood in pneumatological – not ontological – terms).

“By thoroughly patterning the relationships between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit within the immanent Trinity upon their economic missions as portrayed in the New Testament, we can recognize, in an unprecedented manner, that these missions, by which the immanent Trinity is revealed, make possible our entrance into the immanent trinitarian life as the Trinity of persons themselves live it. The revelation of the immanent Trinity within the divine economy is therefore inherently soteriological. Thus there is an intrinsic and indispensable bond between the revelation of the Trinity and our life within in”.[23]

In other words, the actions of the persons of the Trinity in the economy of salvation enable our incorporation into the life of the immanent Trinity. For as the Father begets the Son in the Spirit, so too are we adopted as children of the Father in the Spirit.

2. Grace: Adopted by the Father through the Son in the Spirit

Secondly, “the theology of grace acquires a fresh spiritual realism and practicality”, Weinandy asserts. Grace is first and foremost the presence of the Spirit by which we share in the very life of the Trinity.

“Upon conversion, through faith and baptism, the Spirit comes to dwell in us and transforms or conforms us into adopted sons and daughters of the Father.”[24]

The economic mission of the Spirit as the third divine Person, is – by dwelling in us and transforming us into sons and daughters – to “insert us into the life of the Trinity where the Father becomes our father, and we, in turn, cry out with the Son, ‘Abba!’”.[25] Our relationship to the Father is defined by the Son’s relationship with the Father – we are his sons and daughters only by being in Christ.
Like the Spirit is the “Spirit of sonship” for the Son, so He also is the “Spirit of sonship and daughtership” for the believers, truly uniting us with the Father and the Son and making us share in the eternal love and life of the Trinity. This imparts, Weinandy notes, “new vividness to the biblical truth that we literally share in God’s divine nature (see 2 Pet. 1:4).”[26]

3. Our life with the Trinity: An experienced reality

Thirdly, both the doctrine of the Trinity and our salvation in Christ are now brought to the level of perceptible experience. As salvation is defined by the indwelling of the Spirit, adopting and transforming us as sons and daughters, and making us share in the divine life, salvation can first of all be experienced as we are baptized in the Spirit. Baptism in the Spirit - as witnessed within the Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal - “is nothing more, and nothing less, than the experience of this life within the Trinity.”

“Through Baptism in the Spirit, we experience within our own spirit - that facility or power within us to apprehend God in a discernable and tangible manner - the love of God the Father and our fellowship with Jesus as Lord and Savior.”[27]

Through baptism in the Spirit, “our life within the Trinity moves from the realm of theological doctrine to that of lived experience”. At the same time, through his precise distinction between “our own spirit” and the Spirit of God that is experienced, Weinandy maintains the traditional transcendent understanding of the Spirit, distinct from creaturely existence. With Moltmann and perhaps even more so with Pannenberg, it is difficult to maintain the distinction between the human spirit and the Spirit of God, as the believers consent is the Spirit in them, as the “power of the future” that draws people into God’s future.
Weinandy relates from his personal experience in the Charismatic Renewal since the 1970s, how people - regardless of age, denominational affiliation or theological education -  through baptism in the Spirit came to a lively awareness of the Trinity.

“Where prior to Baptism in the Spirit ‘Charismatic’ Christians were, for the most part, ‘practical monotheists’, after Baptism in the Spirit they manifest an experiential awareness of the distinctive and individual relationships which they possess with each person of the Trinity.”[28]

Baptism in the Spirit then becomes the experiential foundation for the believer’s living contact with the triune God. Through prayer, Scripture, and the sacraments, believers are empowered to receive revelation, Weinandy attests.

“That is, the Father directly speaking to and acting within the person through the Son in the Spirit. Even here on earth the Christian begins to experience, on a daily basis, the heavenly life of the Trinity.”[29]

As these so-called “charismatic experiences” are part of what “salvation” really means, namely being united with the triune God through the indwelling of the Spirit of sonship, they cannot be viewed as an “optional extra”, or as unnecessary to the Christian life, Weinandy argues, but rather as “the paradigm, and thus the norm, for all Christians.”

4. The Church: A dwelling place of God in the Spirit

Contemporary Western culture is strongly marked by individualisation and a desire for individual experiences, and mainstream theology sometimes charges the charismatic renewal to be merely part of this trend. Over against this trend, Weinandy emphasizes that experiencing our life within the Trinity can never merely be an individual experience. Once a person comes to faith, he is inserted into the body of Christ and a fellow citizen of God’s household. By patterning the work of the Spirit within the Trinity upon his work within the world (as Weinandy has been doing throughout his study),

“we are better able to see that the Spirit not only inserts individuals into the life of the Trinity as the Trinity is, but also that the Spirit elevates the whole Church, the body of Christ, into the life of the Trinity as it is.”[30]

Every baptized person now has access “in one Spirit to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). For “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (...) and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). In Christ “the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:21-22).

“Through the Spirit, the Church enters into the heavenly life and worship with all the saints and angels exulting in the Father and the Son as they eternally exult in themselves.”[31]

The believers’ communal inclusion into the life of the Trinity practically translates into trinitarian patterns in church liturgy, in the sacraments, and in the ministries of the Church. In the liturgy, believers worship and thank the Father through the Son in the Spirit - reflecting the eternal intra-trinitarian life. In the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper, believers have a true actual foretaste of their heavenly life with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. And the ministries of the Church reflect the same trinitarian pattern, as God gives ministries and gifts (charismata) to the Church in the Spirit, in order to manifest and advance the gospel.

“Through the Holy Spirit the Father animates all the ministries and gifts within the Church so that the work of the Son may continue.”[32]

These ministries (apostles, preachers, teachers, prophets) and gifts (wisdom, knowledge, miracles, healing, tongues), “allow the Church to experience on earth the heavenly life, that is, our life with the Trinity”.

5. God may be “all in all”

Lastly, Weinandy asserts, his trinitarian proposal clarifies how our present life with the Trinity “truly mirrors and advances the life we will live with the Trinity in heaven.”

“The exact same relationships we have formed with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit here on earth will find their completion and fulfilment in heaven. There is no discrepancy between the two.”[33]

Through faith we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession - to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1: 13-14). When that day comes, God will be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15: 28).

4.7 Reformed and Evangelical Adoption of the Theme of Perichoresis: Tomlin, Piper, Keller, Crump

It is interesting to note that this social trinitarian perspective, including the concept of perichoresis as understood by Weinandy, has been integrated in the theologies of several Reformed and Evangelical theologians, including rather conservative /Evangelical theologians such as Graham Tomlin, John Piper, and Timothy Keller. Tomlin explicitly refers to Weinandy in his The Prodigal Spirit.[34] Keller’s The Reason for God. Belief in an Age of Skepticism (2008) ends with an entire chapter on “the dance of God”, and in King’s Cross (2011) he begins with it.[35] In both cases, Keller integrates the concept while fully maintaining Reformed notions of the sovereignty of God, the centrality of Christ and the doctrine of justification, and the ontological distinction between Creator and creation. Keller describes “the inner life of the triune God” as perichoresis and a divine “dance of love” –

“each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love.”[36]

He then goes on to argue how this triune God created the world not to get “the cosmic, infinite joy of mutual love and glorification”, but “to share it.” Creation, he writes, is a dance with the inner life of the Trinity written all through it.

“We were made to join in the dance. If we will center our lives on him, serving him not out of self-interest, but for the sake of who he is, for the sake of his beauty and glory, we will enter the dance and share in the joy and love he lives in.”[37]

Through the sin of self-centeredness mankind “lost the dance”, but “when Jesus died for you he was, as it were, inviting you into the dance.”[38] And at the eschaton, heaven will descend “into our world” to “unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection”, healing and restoring creation into the divine dance of love and joy.[39]

A perichoretic soteriology

Interestingly, the notion of a perichoretic union of the believer with the Father and the Son in the Spirit, is affirmed by Reformed theologian David Crump (Calvin College, Grand Rapids), who is otherwise highly critical of perichoretic trinitarianism. Social trinitarians typically build their case from the Gospel of John, Crump states, but according to him John describes a mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son, but not of the Spirit. However, Crump analyses, John’s Gospel does describe a third member of a perichoretic trinity: the disciples.
“As surprising as it may initially appear, believers are said to mutually indwell the Son, and to indwell the Father through the Son.”

John thus depicts a
“perichoretic soteriology reminiscent of the Orthodox doctrine of deification. Such divine union is at the heart of Johannine salvation.”[40]

5. In Sum

In the previous chapter I explored the assertions of both Moltmann and Pannenberg that God’s salvation must be understood in terms of God’s messianic reign coming into history, bringing wholeness for earthly life. In the present chapter I looked into their assertion that this understanding of the nature of salvation flows from the inner being of God. So what did we find, and where does this leave us?

Grounding the understanding of salvation as wholeness in a “social” or “relational” doctrine of the Trinity[41], provides us with several benefits.

    Firstly, it interconnects approaches “from above” (maintaining that knowledge of God must come through God’s self-revelation in the Word of God - Karl Barth would say, through God’s self-revelation in Christ as the Word of God, senkrecht von oben[42]) and approaches “from below” (maintaining that human experiences in history can provide knowledge of God), as the triune God deeply commits to his creation in a reciprocal relationship and reveals himself in the unfolding of this history.

    Secondly, the assertions in the previous chapter that salvation must be understood a) eschatologically: coming from God’s future into our history, and b) in terms of the Kingdom of God: his reign coming in the world, bringing wholeness of life, now are grounded in the doctrine of God (and this is where, according to classic Protestant theology, all theology must take its point of departure).

    Thirdly, it allows for a fuller appreciation of the mission of the Spirit of God, in distinction from the mission of Christ (though not apart from it). This is important in order to grasp how God’s future salvation has become present through the mission of Christ (the main focus for Part II of my dissertation). It is also important in order to retrieve participatory notions of salvation: How do believers participate in the presence of God’s future salvation, and how do they participate in mediating this salvation to the world (the main focus for Part III of my dissertation)?

    Fourthly - and this might be theologically the most important move - it helps us to define the content of salvation in pneumatological terms. In the previous chapter we developed the thought that the very substance of salvation is God’s reign bringing wholeness. In this chapter it has been theologically  substantiated that this reign is about God’s indwelling through his Spirit. Salvation entails our being welcomed into the “divine embrace of love”, participating in the trinitarian perichoresis, through the Spirit of sonship.


The proposals of Moltmann and Pannenberg have proven helpful to ground the understanding of salvation as wholeness in the doctrine of God. However, this exploration also brought a number of issues to light that are problematic for Reformed and Evangelical theology. Therefore, their proposal needed to be reconceived in order to contribute to a soteriological framework for vindicating the charismatic renewal of New Wine. For this I turned to Weinandy.
Weinandy not only refined their relational understanding of the Trinity (warranting some main concerns of traditional theology), he also clarified and concretized its relevance for the life of believers and the church. Weinandy did so, by relating Moltmann’s and Pannenberg understanding of salvation as the indwelling of the Spirit with

  • the traditional notion of “adoption as sons and co-heirs in Christ, through the Spirit of sonship” (safeguarding the understanding of participation in the divine life in pneumatological terms, not ontological)
  • the charismatic experiences witnessed within the charismatic renewal.

Our salvation, Weinandy concurred, is defined by the divine trinitarian perichoresis. And it is through baptism in the Spirit (and the experiences that are bound up with it), that the believer’s sharing in the divine trinitarian life “moves from the realm of theological doctrine to that of lived experience.”[43]

The so-called “charismatic experiences” (of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and other ministries and giftings of the Spirit) can no longer be set aside as “optional extra”, or as quaint “phenomena in the margin of Christianity”, Weinandy argued, for they are part of the substance of God’s salvation.



[1] Thomas G. Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship: Reconceiving the Trinity (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2010), previously published by T&T Clark, 1995.
[2] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 2-3.
[3] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 3-4.
[4] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 4.
[5] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 6-15.
[6] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 15.
[7] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 22.
[8] Pannenberg, though, comes close to this, when he argues that at the eschatological consummation, as God’s essence is decided, this essence will turn out to be God’s essence from eternity on. Thus, though there may be a “becoming” in God’s being at the level of the economic Trinity, there is no “development” in the immanent Trinity, Pannenberg stresses, refuting process theology (Mostert, The Future of God, 157-159).
[9] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 33-34.
[10] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 52.
[11] Or, for that matter, a Trinity that is so indiscernible that it factually dissolves in a single Godhead.
[12] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 56.
[13] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 60.
[14] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 65.
[15] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 69.
[16] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 73
[17] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 74.
[18] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 74.
[19] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 78-79.
[20] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 80.
[21] See also Van den Brink and Van der Kooi, Christelijke dogmatiek, 613-616.
[22] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 101.
[23] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 101, 102.
[24] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 103.
[25] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 85.
[26] See also Van den Brink and Van der Kooi, Christelijke dogmatiek, 613-616.
[27] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 105.
[28] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 105.
[29] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 105.
[30] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 106.
[31] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 107.
[32] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 107.
[33] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 108.
[34] Graham Tomlin, The Prodigal Spirit. The Trinity, the Church and the Future of the World (London: SPTC Books, 2011), 22-23, 29.
[35] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God. Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 213-226 (Chapter 14, ‘The Dance of God’); and Keller, King’s Cross. The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011), 3-13 (Chapter 1, ‘The Dance’). Keller refers to (and quotes) Cornelius Plantinga and C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) on these concepts of perichoresis and “divine dance”.
[36] Keller, The Reason for God, 215. Also Keller, King’s Cross, 4-8.
[37] Keller, The Reason for God, 219. Also Keller, King’s Cross, 9-10.
[38] Keller, The Reason for God, 221.
[39] Keller, The Reason for God, 222-223.
[40]David Crump, ‘Re-examining the Johannine Trinity: perichoresis or deification?’, Scottish Journal of Theology, 59:4 (2006), 395-412. It must be noted that neither Pannenberg nor Weinandy builds their case for a perichoretic Trinity merely from the Gospel of John.
[41] It is debatable whether one should speak of a “social” Trinity, or that it is preferable to speak of a “relational” Trinity. I will not further go into this, as at this point our main issue is that God in ‘essence’ is relational, being-in-relation, whether we call this a “social” or a “relational” doctrine of the Trinity. Dutch Reformed theologian Almatine Leene addresses this issue and opts for “relational”. According to Leene, a “relational” understanding does not presuppose the priority of the Three but focuses on the Unity, while in a “social” understanding the “substance of the three Persons is paramount” (my translation), see Leene, Triniteit, Antropologie en Ecclesiologie (Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 2013), 119. Obviously, I do not agree. We must be critical to aspects of Moltmann’s proposal, but we can’t criticize him for giving priority to the “substance” of the three Persons (neither substance nor subject is a proper category here, argues Moltmann). If Leene’s point is that the term “social” suggests three independent Persons, who then enter into relation (tritheism), I agree. Then “relational” might be a more clear term. However, even Moltmann seeks to avoid such an understanding, for it would hold tritheism indeed. Pannenberg warrants Leene’s concern, I would say, while still constructing a “social” doctrine. On the other hand, if Leene means to suggest that we should not take our point of departure in the Three, but in the Unity (and then speak of “relational”), I do not agree either. Not only do I concur with Pannenberg that we should start with the revelation of the Three, but also that we should perceive the three Persons as three distinct centres of action.
[42] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume I/1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975 - 2nd ed.), 118-119, translation of Kirchliche Dogmatik I/1 (Zürich: EVZ, 1932).
[43] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 106.

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