Vickers, Jason E.
Invocation and Assent: The Making and Remaking of Trinitarian Theology
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Pp. xx + 215. Paper. $28.00.
With thanks to Lara Sissell at Eerdmans for this review copy!
In the introduction Vickers is quite right1 to note that:
It is commonplace in Christian theology today to note the widespread resurgence of interest in the Trinity that began in the mid-twentieth century with the work of Karl Barth and Karl Rahner respectively. . . .[but] What is rarely discussed is how the Trinity came to need such a massive retrieval effort on the part of contemporary Christian theologians in the first place.” [p. x]
Vickers’ goal is to discuss this missing component from most works on the Trinity, specifically with regard to the loss of the connection between the Trinity and English Protestant theology. He sees this book as complementing Catherine Mowry LaCugna’s God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life which focused on the same loss for Catholic theology.
In the opening chapter Vickers paints a picture of the Trinity in the early Church as the rule of faith. The Trinity was something to be invoked not assented to; the emphasis was on God in salvation rather than doctrinal orthodoxy. He says:
Clearly, in the context of catechesis and baptism on the one hand, and exorcism on the other, Trinitarian confessional materials are not functioning as a test of orthodoxy or a criterion of identity. Rather, they are functioning to explain how certain things are possible, namely, the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of human nature through baptism and the conquoring and subduing of demons through exorcism. [p. 22]
In the following chapter Vickers traces the shift from the Trinity as the rule of faith in the early Church to Scripture as the rule of faith in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Continental and English Reformations, but he carefully emphasizes that “the Reformers, in breaking with Rome, at no point abandoned the Trinity.” [p. 31] At center was the issue of assurance in salvation. The Reformers insisted that salvation could be assured by appeals to the Scriptures themselves. Their Catholic opponents argued that apart from the Church’s witness throughout history as to the proper interpretation of Scripture they could have no such assurance. Luther’s solution was to appeal to the conscience of the individual; Calvin’s solution was an appeal to the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.
The situation was largely the same among the Magisterial English Reformers, i.e., they had not abandoned the Trinity (especially in the Church of England’s liturgy) but they still “appeal[ed] to Scripture as [the]warrant for the Protestant church and for the Protestant vision of salvation.” [p. 38] In the end the shift in the rule of faith was from a rule that “functioned ontologically” [p. 55] (i.e., in the invocation of the Trinity in baptism, worship, catechesis, etc.) to one that “functioned epistemologically, assisting Christians in the sorting out of true and false beliefs.” [p. 56]
To be continued…
1See e.g., Allan Coppedge, The God Who Is Triune: Revisioning the Christian Doctrine of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy, 2007); Stanley J. Grenz, Rediscovering the Triune God: The Trinity in Contemporary Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004); Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Trinity: Global Perspectives (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2007); Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2004); Roger E. Olson and Christopher A. Hall, The Trinity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).