This is an excerpt from an academic book The Triune God, the second volume in Zondervan’s New Studies in Dogmatics series. Within, Fred Sanders seeks to retrieve the riches of the classical doctrine of the Trinity for the sake of a contemporary evangelical audience. Click the title below if you wish to read this article at their book excerpts site. (Don’t be afraid to copy/paste a couple of the words below in your browser to get the meaning — we did two of them for you — Christian Academic books aren’t for the faint of heart!)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be, world without end.
The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).
TURNING THE MIND TO DOXOLOGY
Theology too can be attuned to this praise of glory when it pursues its “proper calling,” which John Webster has identified as “the praise of God by crafting concepts to turn the mind to the divine splendor.”
Trinitarian theology, when conducted rightly, deploys a venerable and copious set of conceptual tools for precisely that task of mind-turning (μετάνοια), because, having heard the word of the one who said “and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” ( John 17:5), it breaks forth in praise that has the character of verbal-conceptual profusion. It names him as only-begotten and the filially proceeding and declares that his prevenient glory is shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit undividedly, consubstantially, and perichoretically, as three persons subsisting in relation. These are just the most historically prominent of the concepts crafted to assist the mind in turning to the glory of the Trinity. Each of them, and the entire corpus of them, directs us to the scriptural witness as the triune God’s self-testimony.
Trinitarian theology is an intellectual Gloria Patri, a reasonable service (λογικὴν λατρείαν, Rom 12:1), an ascription of one glory to three persons then, now, and always. “The doctrine of the Trinity is a doxology using the means of thought,” writes Helmut Thielicke, concluding that for this reason the Gloria Patri “is both formally and materially the most fitting form of the Trinitarian confession.”
The great step forward taken in the Christian doctrine about the triune God is the retrospective recognition that what God manifested to us in Christ is ultimate divine reality, meaning that (in Barth’s words) “He is the Son or Word of God for us because He is so antecedently in Himself.” Athanasius, considering the revelation of God in Christ and the Spirit, drew the necessary conclusion about the antecedent being of God: “There is one Glory of the Holy Triad . . . For if the doctrine of God is now perfect in a Triad, and this is the true and only religion, and this is the good and the truth, it must have been always so, unless the good and the truth be something that came after, and the doctrine of God is completed by additions.”
With the confession that the Son and the Holy Spirit are from the Father and that “it must have been always so,” the doctrine of the Trinity arises like praise from the horizon of salvation history. This insight that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not mere surface phenomena of God’s ways with the world is the insight that must be articulated in order to set the history of salvation in the right context. “The economy of grace in all of its dynamism drives one to say something about its source, its very condition of possibility,” writes Christopher R. J. Holmes. The Son and the Holy Spirit are sent by the Father because they are, together and in person, the source of salvation, and the divine condition of its possibility.
Trinitarian praise points back to that triune source. This is the matrix of Trinitarian theology: wonder, love, and praise that God has done for us and our salvation something that manifests and enacts what he is in himself.
consubstantial = of the same substance or essence
perichoresis = a Greek term used to describe the triune relationship between each person of the Godhead. It can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration.
As we prepared today’s reading, I kept thinking about the Paul Baloche song which begins “In the name of the Father | In the name of the Son | In the name of the Spirit | Lord we come.”