Project Augustine

Chapter 4: “The Triune God”

    1. Do you think the doctrine of the Trinity has any relevance to the common/average churchgoer today?  Is it relevant to the faith today?  Or is it too esoteric, too abstract to be of any practical use?  As Migliore state on page 67, “Is not this doctrine a paradigm of sterile theological speculation?” (p. 67)  Most churches never even mention or hint at the doctrine of the Trinity, or it is poorly explained or taught there.  Has the Trinity been transformative to you personally?  Why or why not?
        1. “Since, as John Calvin insisted, our knowledge of God and our knowledge of ourselves are always inextricably intertwined, … and the conclusions that we reach in the doctrine of God will profoundly influence everything else we say about Christian faith and life.” (p.64)


    2. On page 65 he writes, “An important critique is advanced by process philosophers and theologians, who argue that traditional doctrines of God are hopelessly inadequate because they view God as absolute and unaffected by the events of history.  They charge that the tradition portrays the relationship of God and the world as unilateral and coercive rather than reciprocal and persuasive.  The traditional view is considered utterly incompatible with the modern experience of reality as dynamic, processive, and relational; it is also said to be insensitive to the enormity of suffering in the world.”
        1.  What are your thoughts about this critique that process philosophers and theologians make?  Do they make a case that the traditional doctrine of God is outdated, or are they just fallen into the prevalent and predominant influence of the Enlightenment in Western culture and thought?


    3. On page 73, he writes about “Distortions in the Doctrine of God” and he names three, what I’d like to call, “pathologies” that develop when one has a deficient understanding of the Trinity.
        1. Utilitarianism of the Creator or first person of the Trinity: ie the God of American civil religion; little awareness of sin and thereby no need for forgiveness, reconciliation,  repentance, or transformation.
        2. Unitarianism of the Redeemer: It’s just Jesus and me; faith becomes distorted into a cozy sentimentality and rampant individualism; no concern for justice and rest of the world.
        3. Unitarianism of the Spirit: Too much emphasis on experiences and gifts of the Holy Spirit; it’s about sensationalism and wonders, and if that isn’t present, then you’re not saved or don’t really know God.
        4. Which pathology or pathologies listed above have you fallen into in the past or are going through right now?  Has a better understanding of the Trinity helped you in remedying some of your distorted images of God?  Have you seen this problem in churches or with church members?


    4. On page 77, he writes “The Trinity is essentially a koinonia of persons in love.  Some 20th century theologians, preeminently Karl Barth and Karl Rahner, are reluctant to speak of three ‘persons’ in God because of modern philosophical conceptions of personhood… The Trinitarian ‘persons’ are not to be understood as separate and autonomous selves.  Instead, they have their personal identity in relationship.  A Trinitarian understanding of personal life questions modern views of personhood that equate personal existence with the self-consciousness and autonomy of the individual.  In such understanding there is no reference to relationship with others as constitutive of personal life… [I]n God ‘persons’ are relational realities and are defined by intersubjectivity, shared consciousness, faithful relationships, and the mutual giving and receiving of love.”
        1. In our post-modern Western, post-Enlightenment world, we champion (and dare I say idolize) individual freedom, personal expression, and personal rights, personal choice, and privacy.  Does his statement here change your perspective on what it means to be a person?  Does it affect your views on church fellowship and being in koinonia with others?
        2. Do we congregate and socialize b/c we’re just social animals that have evolved to crave being in community or is there something different when God is involved?  Does a Trinitarian understanding of personhood challenge or enhance evolutionary concepts of who we are as persons in relation to us being created in God’s image?


    5. On page 81, for the 3rd point he writes, “3.  To confess that God is triune is to affirm that the life of God is essentially self-giving love whose strength embraces vulnerability.”  Furthermore he states, “To have compassion means to suffer with another.  According to the biblical witness, God suffers with and for creatures out of love for them.”
        1. What are your thoughts about a “vulnerable” God who exposes himself up for pain, rejection, and suffering?  Or do you instead prefer to continue to see the majesty of God, the power and omnipotence of God?  Can he be both?  Or are we ascribing too many human attributes to God when we’re describing Him?


    6. On page 85, he writes that “The Triune God has both constancy of purpose and is engaged in ever new and changing actions to fulfill that purpose.  Far more accurate than the term ‘immutable’ is the affirmation that the triune God is constant, steadfast, and faithful in character and purpose even as God does new and unexpected things consistent with the divine character to fulfill the divine purpose.”  Furthermore he says that “An utterly changeless God would not be the living, triune God of Scripture but a dead God.”
        1. Does God change?  Can God be surprised by something?  Can He do or say something that was totally unexpected even to Himself?  How does it make you feel to know that God can change his mind or adjust to the circumstances?


    7. On the bottom of p. 85, he writes “If Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s love, we know that the love of God does not spurn vulnerability and risk.  There is no love with out openness to rejection, suffering, and loss.  To believe in the triune God who does not remain aloof from the world is to believe in a God who is free to be compassionate towards us, free to become vulnerable for our sake, without ceasing to be God.  God’s suffering with and for us is a free act of God whose aim is to bring salvation to those who are lost.  The suffering of the triune God is not a sign of helplessness but a promise of the final victory of compassionate love (Romans 8: 35-39).


    1. On page 88, he makes a serious critique of the prevalent understanding of God’s predestination or election.  He quotes the Westminster Confession where it states that ‘some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.’ (Though a lot of Calvinists deny double predestination, sure sounds like it.)  He goes on that, “Thus stated, the doctrine of election seems to make God an arbitrary tyrant and an enemy of human freedom.  The result of this teaching appears to be virtually indistinguishable from fatalism.  Far from good news, the doctrine that from eternity God has decreed some to salvation and others to damnation is ‘dreadful,’ as Calvin himself described it.”  He then contrasts that with the doctrine of election in trinitarian context where it has “one central purpose: it declares that all the works of God – creation, reconciliation, and redemption – have their beginning and goal in the free grace of God made known supremely in Jesus Christ.”
        1. Do who agree with Migliore’s assessment of the traditional doctrine of predestination?  Does his Trinitarian re-interpretation of election seem more truer or more palpable to the biblical notion?




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