Our Evangelical Calvinism Book: Thesis 1. “The Holy Trinity is the Absolute Ground and Grammar of all Epistemology, Theology, and Worship.”

*The following represents Thesis #1 from our forthcoming book: Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications. There are a total of 15 Theses in this particular chapter (which happens to be chapter 15 in the book); and they have been co-written by Dr. Myk Habets and myself — some of them represent more of one us (as author) than the other, and some reflect more of a good blend between the both of us. To read more about how I am going to unfold some of these here at the blog, click here. The formatting in the post has all the markings required by the publisher for their type-setting process; I am too lazy to remove those for the blog. We look forward to your feedback!

[A]Thesis One

The Holy Trinity is the absolute ground and grammar of all epistemology, theology, and worship.

Athanasius was fond of saying that it is better to “signify God from the Son and call him Father, than to name God from his works alone and call him Unoriginate.”[1] And he was right. The triune God is known exclusively through the Son of the Father by the Spirit. In Jesus Christ is revealed very God of very God. God is in his own being what he is as God’s revealing Word and saving Act toward us. Through Christ and the Spirit we are given access to God as he is in himself. This access to God is, in part, in the form of knowledge of God as he is in himself, in his internal relations as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The epistemological strength of the homoousios works here with full force for it represents the consubstantial relation between Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and God himself. As the image of God, identical with his reality, knowledge of the Incarnate Son through the Holy Spirit has a unique and controlling finality in knowledge of God.[ext]To know this God, who both condescends to share all that we are and makes us share in all that he is in Jesus Christ, is to be lifted up in his Spirit to share in God’s own self-knowing and self-loving until we are enabled to apprehend him in some real measure in himself beyond anything that we are capable of in ourselves. It is to be lifted out of ourselves, as it were, into God, until we know him and love him and enjoy him in his eternal Reality as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in such a way that the Trinity enters into the fundamental fabric of our thinking of him and constitutes the basic grammar of our worship and knowledge of the One God.[/ext][2]

In order to further explicate such a Trinitarian theology the recent proposal of Thomas Weinandy proves useful. Without denying a biblical sense of the Father’s monarchy, Weinandy argues that a proper understanding of the Trinity can only be attained if all three Persons, logically and ontologically, spring forth in one simultaneous, nonsequential, eternal act in which each person of the Trinity subsistently defines, and equally is subsistently defined, by the other persons.[3] This drives Weinandy to present a thesis that, “may seem subtle, yet [is] one that I believe radically transforms and revolutionizes the Christian understanding of the Trinity.”[4] His thesis is simply that: [EXT]The Father begets the Son in or by the Holy Spirit. The Son is begotten by the Father in the Spirit and thus the Spirit simultaneously proceeds from the Father as the one in whom the Son is begotten. The Son, being begotten in the Spirit, simultaneously loves the Father in the same Spirit by which he himself is begotten (is Loved).[5][/EXT]

This trinitarian construct highlights the Father’s monarchy without any subordinationist tendencies. To do this a mutual coinherence or perichoresis of action within the Trinity must take place whereby the Persons are who they are because of the action of all three. While the Son and the Holy Spirit come forth from the Father this is not some prior ontological action but rather in the coming forth all three persons are who they are, and they are so precisely in reciprocally interacting upon one another, simultaneously fashioning one another as themselves.[6]

It is this God whom we seek to speak of. “In and through the presence of the Holy Spirit supervening upon the revealing and saving events of his incarnate Son, God really does impart himself to us and actually makes himself known to us within the conditions of our creaturely forms of thought and speech, but without any compromise of his sheer Godness or any diminution of the Mystery of his transcendent Being.”[7]

The purpose of life is a transforming relationship with God in which the Spirit calls and enables us to become children of God in and alongside the Son and to join in his self-surrender to the Father. As Clark Pinnock writes, “God has not left us outside the circle of his life. We are invited inside the Trinity as joint heirs together with Christ. By the Spirit we cry ‘Abba’ together with the Son, as we are drawn into the divine filial relationship and begin to participate in God’s life.”[8] McLeod Campbell beautifully describes adoption as “orphans who have found their lost father.”[9] The logic is that believers participate in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, and so participate in that filial relationship in the Son (John 8:19). It is the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son which is communicated to humanity through the Spirit of the Son (Rom 8:29). It is in this sense that we may define salvation as “sonship.”

Worship then must be defined as epiclesis and paraclesis, the invocation of the Paraclete Spirit and his coming to help us. In our worship the Holy Spirit comes from God, uniting us to the response, obedience, faith/fullness, and worship of Jesus Christ (also our Paraclete), and returns to God, raising us up in Jesus to participate in the worship of heaven and in the eternal communion of the Holy Trinity.[10] As James Torrance explains: [ext]When we see that the worship and mission of the church are the gift of participating through the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father and the Son’s mission from the Father to the world, that the unique center of the Bible is Jesus Christ, “the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Heb 3:1), then the doctrines of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, the ministry of the Spirit, Church and sacraments, our understanding of the kingdom, our anthropology and eschatology, all unfold from that center.[11] [/ext] Such is the trinitarian vision we have for theology generally, and for the contents of this little book specifically.

To echo the sentiments of many before us, in thinking and speaking of the Trinity we cannot but clap our hands upon our mouth and fall down before the Lord God in worship. The Holy Trinity is infinitely more to be adored than expressed, so that appropriate and faithful thought and speech about it cannot but break off in sheer wonder, reverence, thanksgiving, and praise.[12]


[1] Athanasius, Contra Arianos, 1.34, cited in Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith, 49, and often elsewhere.

[2] Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology, 155.

[3] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 15. Note the affinities with Calvin’s formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. See Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,” 187–284; Torrance, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,” 41–76; and Letham, The Holy Trinity, 252–268.

[4] Weinandy, The Father’s Spirit of Sonship, 17.

[5] Ibid.

[6] See further in Habets, “Filioque? Nein. A Proposal for Coherent Coinherence,” 161–202.

[7] Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God,” 151.

[8] Pinnock, Flame of Love, 153. Pinnock’s entire chapter on “Spirit and Union” (149-183) shows an obvious but unreferenced reliance upon T.F. Torrance’s theology.

[9] Cited in Kettler, “The Vicarious Repentance of Christ,” 540.

[10] Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, 250.

[11] J.B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 9.

[12] Charles Partee and Gannon Murphy develop a number of these themes in their respective essays earlier in this volume.

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6 comments

  1. I see we have a lot in common. Please take a look at my new book “The Trinity Absolute: a Constructive Interpretation of World Religions and a Metaphysical Blueprint for Peace” currently previewing on the web at trinityabsolute.com.

    The thesis is that Muslims worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the Deity Absolute Primogenitor. Christians and some Hindus worship the first person through the second person, i.e. the Universe Absolute Supreme Being or Oversoul. And many Hindus and some Buddhists venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person, i.e. the Unconditioned Absolute Spirit of All That Is.

    It is argued that world religions reflect the systematic unity of One God in Trinity manifestations, which become almost universal when you consider that some flavours of Buddhism, Confucian-Taoism, and other major religions seem to be psychological permutations or combinations of the first three – all just different personality perspectives on the same God.

    If the purpose of life is to find God and be like him, then the way to do the will of God is to let him live your life with you, helping fuse your personality and spirit in your immortal soul. That immortality may be achieved through participation in the Universe Absolute Oversoul, of which Jesus Christ seems to be the head representative. At the same time, in considering this Universe Supreme Being, Muslims would insist on including Muhammad, and Hindus might suggest Gandhi, etc. At the supposed spirit level of the universe, we can speculate that the corresponding supreme leaders might be Michael, Gabriel, and some unidentified angel(s).

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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  2. Hi Samuel,

    Welcome, and thanks for the comment! With due respect, I think we are on very different planes. From what you are describing I think the fundamental distinction between yours and my approach is that your approach seems to “name” God; the approach I am following has God naming Himself and us for that matter. What you’re describing sounds more at home, maybe, in something like the Bahai Faith versus the Christian Faith; what do you think?

    Would you claim to be a Christian? Would you hold that Jesus, as articulated historically by the Church (like in the Councils: Nicaea, Chalcedon etc) is the only way, truth and life (as he claimed in Jn 14.6) to have a relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit?

    Ultimately, I don’t agree with your claim about Muslims and other religions connection to Jesus in the way you suggest. Muslims, for example, follow an Aristotelian metaphysic in relation to their understanding of God; meaning that they follow an approach that asserts that God is Monadic (or the Unmoved Mover) in mode, and thus this, at a basic level, does not allow for the Christian God who is Triune personal-relational love by definition. This is just one example of the problems, methodologically, I see in what you’re describing, relative to your book.

    I do thank you for the comment.

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  3. I love your emphasis upon the Trinity – helping Christians understand how fundamental relating to God as Trinity is is a passion of mine as well.

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