115 February 01

The Triune God, Postmodernity and Bacon

I know what you are thinking. “What in the hell does the Trinity have to do with postmodernity and bacon!?” The answer to this question is “everything.”

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Theology is risky business. One of the risks involved in the task of doing theology is that the theologian is always predisposed to become isolated in the ivory tower of the academy and lack any real/concrete praxis oriented understanding of the nature of faith. It is a constant struggle for the current author to communicate to friends and family why his particular theological discipline, systematic theology, is relevant to the everyday person who is simply seeking to be in communion with God and others.

A prime example of this type of disconnect between the church and the academy emerged in my own home the other night. I asked my wife if she wanted to talk with me about Christology and the communicatio idiomatum…she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Dancing with the stars is on, how bout we watch that?” I do not mention this to belittle my wife in anyway, she is amazingly smart and loves God. The reason I point this out is to critique myself for oftentimes losing touch with reality.

In the following two posts I am going to try and cross the gulf between abstract theoretical theology and practical theology. My goal is to bring to light an esoteric theological concept that I believe has far reaching practical implications for the everyday person of faith. The theological concept that will be cogitated in the following post is the doctrine of the Trinity, and the modern problem that will be identified is the loss of relationality that has resulted from postmodern philosophy.

Postmodernity and the Problem of Bacon

Whether or not one knows or can adequately define what postmodernism is, the fact of the matter is that we are all prone to act and think in ways that could be described as postmodern.

One of the consequences of the philosophy of postmodernism, which historians will identify was initiated by philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, is a culture of skepticism toward interpretations of art, music, literature, and philosophy. As a corollary, postmoderns tend to have an attitude of agnosticism toward any form of metanarrative. Postmodernism is marked by fragmentation. Another salient feature of postmodernity is its loss of relationality.

Those following in the wake of Lyotard have no concept of seeing themselves in light of an epic historical unfolding narrative, one such as the Judeo-Christian account of Heilsgeschichte (“salvation history”). This fragmentation and universal agnosticism is seen predominantly in the widespread individualism ­­– or as some may refer to it, isolationism – the current culture encourages.

I make the connection between a lack of relationality and postmodernism not to point the finger at any person or group in particular, but to point the finger at myself. I have lost interest in being relational. I would rather sit at home, brew beer, read theology books, listen to Bob Marley, and hang out with my wife than go to any type of organized religious service. To be quite honest, I am fragmented and individualistic. My feelings of isolationism are felt most directly on Sunday mornings. For instance, when most people are headed out the door to go to church, I more often than not sit around thinking about bacon.

The Trinity as the Relational Archetype

About the same time postmodernism was coming on the scene of history, and Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction approach to literary criticism was gaining footing, theologian Claude Welch, in 1952, acted as a modern-day John the Baptist proclaiming, “Prepare the way of the doctrine of the Trinity!” Much like Welch did in 1952, I feel called to make the same type of theological proclamation here for the current postmodern generation who seems to have lost any real sense of relationality.

But what does the esoteric doctrine of the Trinity have to do with my specific existential postmodern dilemma and fetish with bacon? What can the archaic doctrine of the Trinity possibly have to say to a bacon enthused postmodern?

A proper understanding of the Triune God’s perichoretical relationship, coupled with a proper understanding of the Triune God’s relationship to the world, will uncover that the fragmentation and lack of relationality in today’s postmodern world is a real problem for those who are trying to live their lives in communion with God and others.

To state my thesis syllogistically: God is relational in the eternal Trinitarian existence, humanity is created in the imago dei, therefore, humanity is called to be relational as well. Or, perhaps one could argue this way: The Triune God operates in shared existence/mutual cooperation within the divine living and never competes with God-self, therefore, we are called to share life with one another and live in ways that are non-competitive too.

The questions: “Who is God?” and “What is God like?” and “How am I to act in relation to God and others?” are answered with a proper doctrine of the Trinity. The intermingling and personal reciprocity involved in the life of the Trinity that serves as a model for humanity is characterized in the following way: The Triune God is relational, self-giving, vulnerable, non-competitive, living and dynamic.

The Trinity is about who God is in the divine community, the ontological Trinity, as well as who God is in the relation to the world, the economic Trinity. The term economic (Gr. οἰκονομία), used in the classical Christian doctrinal context, is a term used to connote “household law.” The early church used this word and applied it to Trinitarian speech to differentiate between God’s acts and God’s being. It was a term used to refer to God’s overarching plan, care, and maintenance of the “household” of the created universe. The household imagery was a helpful way for the early church to think analogically about how the Triune God carried out the divine plan in history as Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer.

As Creator, Reconciler and Redeemer, the Triune God acts as a living, dynamic, relational structure upon which humanity can make the connection between God in God-self (the ontologiclal Trinity) and God in the World (the economic Trinity). More practically speaking, humanity can learn from the perichoretical life of God how our interpersonal relationships are to function and what our correspondence to God and others is.

In closing, I would argue that when the plurality and complexity of the Triune God is understood as existing in mutual relationality and simplicity – Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity – it becomes problematic for the postmodern person of faith to be isolated from God and others, it becomes problematic for one to have an ego and prefer personal needs over the needs of others, and it becomes problematic for one to operate competitively.

In the next post I will continue this conversation and offer a critical reconsideration the notion of divine omnipotence as it relates to the Trinity, bacon and postmodernism. Now, where’s the bacon?