Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trinity and Christology According to Gunton

****For those of you following the saga, I have passed my oral exam. All that now remains is the dissertation proposal, and that small matter of actually writing the dissertation. While I'm worrying about that, please enjoy the following.****
“What, then, is the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to…christology…? Pannenberg has famously said…that the trouble with traditional christologies is that they make the mistake of presupposing the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather, he holds, any doctrine of the Trinity must be the outcome of christological thought. In a sense, the latter is true. A [proper] doctrine of the Trinity…can only be the result of thought about the economy of salvation through Christ and the Spirit. That is the necessary order of knowing: from God’s relatedness to the world, make known in Christ, to a doctrine of his eternal being in relation. But the order of being must take a different orientation. If there is to be talk of the incarnation, it must presuppose the existence of a triune God, for it holds that the one through whom the world was made has become part of that world in order to redeem it from its bondage to decay. In that respect, the two doctrines, of God and of Christ, offer each other mutual support, or, rather, are dependent upon one another. Without a presupposed Trinity, the doctrine of the incarnation becomes an absurdity. With it, the point of the doctrine of the Trinity comes to be further realised, for it can be understood that it is not absurd that the agent of creation, the one through relation to whom it comes to be, by whom it is held in being, and to whom it is directed, should so involve himself in what he has made.”

Colin E. Gunton, Christ and Creation: The Didsbury Lectures, 1990 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005): 75-6.
I’m very sympathetic with a lot of what Gunton writes here. However, I do wonder about his way of parsing the noetic and ontic orders. For Gunton, these orders run parallel but in contrary directions. I’m far more inclined to side with Barth and see them as parallel and running in the same direction. Gunton’s position here is conceptually rather tight, and that is to be admired. But I wonder if he unnecessarily elevates the doctrine of the incarnation to a matter of faith. Now, I don’t mean to imply that I think the doctrine of the incarnation is somehow less than true – I affirm it wholeheartedly. But, it seems to me that such a conception is a conclusion rather than a starting point. The starting point is the faith affirmation and conviction that Jesus is Lord within the 1st century CE Jewish milieu. From there it isn’t too hard to get to a robust two-nature’s Christology as well as a doctrine of the Trinity – as the early church did.

So, while the doctrine of the Trinity is conceptually bound up with the doctrine of the incarnation in the way that Gunton proposes, the noetic order reaches back a little further. Of course, Barth takes this faith affirmation and conviction, seeing the noetic and ontic orders as concurrent rather than counterveiling. This means that there is no sense in which the Trinity relates to creation apart from considerations of Jesus. In other words: Barth is supralapsarian, and Gunton is not.