Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity.
We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity. An Age of Religious Pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - Anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - Anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Blessed are the Poor": Striving for Spiritual Non-Possession of Biblical Interpretation

... the question of how to protect Christian tradition from reification may perhaps find the
most satisfactory but also the most difficult answer: by not allowing it to become our
possession,  either in terms of universalising the past or particularizing the eschatological.
History would thus not be tied down by tradition, and tradition would not be reduced to the historical.

... Normative tradition in this sense would not tie history down, but rather testify an ongoing
possibility to encounter the transcendent and loving God whose victory is ultimately not
dependent on the historical projections of the possible.

- Ivana Noble

How does one link the church's past traditions which-are-always-and-in-every-way being re-interpreted by the human imagination of its historical legacy, towards any future eschatological possibility of the living God / or, living Christ's / presence and sublimation of our historical present that it may become real and transforming?

It is in the continual act of submitting our church traditions to the One who is our Tradition and by not claiming it as our own that we may morph from generation to generation towards the realisation of the Bride of Christ, the Living Church.

A Church which must always be poor in spirit so as to be able to receive the Living Word of the Lord to our heart, our mind, and our activities. Without this humility, this meekness, we are at all times confronted with our need to legalise the Spirit of God who is very Word Himself unscripted by the heart of man. A Word that must transform us if we are to move forward in any eschatological sense of divine realisation within this world of sin and woe.

Here then is the conumdrum. Not that the Word of God is living and renewing to the heart of man but that the heart of man would idolize the very Word of God and make it a static, non-renewing language of the heart desperate for particulars by chaining its weary paths through this hard life onto a golden script. A script idolised but not renewing, nor transforming, when done in such a fashion. This then is the temptation of our age as in any age.

But the living God / living Christ / has provided His very Self as that breakage to our norming heart so that by His living resurrection to our incarnating heart we may, with Him, be raised from the dead to worship this celebrated new life with freedom and Holy Spirit empowerment. This then is the real Apostolic tradition built upon an Apostolic Christ roaring to our hearts His victory over our many willful deaths on this Easter eve.

And it is with engraving worship of this living transformation by the Spirit of God to our hearts that would engrave all things Spirit that the possessing Church may live beyond its own words and traditions to discover the living God / living Christ / so that the generations to come may have hope and not be bounded by death to the sterility of its own legacies. But find within that great legacy a greater victory and living hope within the very God Himself ever and always.

It is thus, to this kind of Living Bible and Living Church we must chain ourselves. Be willing to question every non-renewing tradition with the Spirit of the Living God. Amen.

R.E. Slater
March 29, 2015

* * * * * * * * * * *

History Tied Down by the Normativity of Tradition?

Inversion of Perspective in Orthodox Theology:
Challenges and Problems

Essay Source:

The Shaping of Tradition Context and Normativity

Edited by Colby Dickinson
with the collaboration of Lieven Boeve and Terrence Merrigan


... ultimately done. In living out Christian tradition we do not step intothe past, but into the realm of the Spirit, where we are enlightened fromthe eschatological realm of the Resurrection, where the saints, ourFathers and Mothers, are closer to Christ, the Source of Life, than we are. And yet, with Christ’s and their help and advice we have to act. We need “to accept the new, to comprehend it, to make out precisely what it demands of us.”

In her second lecture on a new monasticism Mother Maria takes a further step. Interpreting the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”(Mt 5:3), she states that the monastic vow of poverty understood as a striving for non-possession should be expanded to “spiritual non-possession.” This “non-possession” can also be applied to our attitudetowards tradition. For Mother Maria the call to live this beatitude andthe search for how to do it involve struggling with two vices, miserlinessand greed. On the one hand we have to face a loss of certainty withregard to our convictions, and this involves the challenge that salvationmay not arrive to us in our way. We cannot give a limit to divine love,according to Mother Maria, not even the limit of our self-preservation.On the other hand we have to struggle against greed for the spiritualriches of the other. Mother Maria states that both of these desires topossess are common in life outside the Church and in distorted under-standings of Christianity.

VI. Conclusion

To summarise, we have seen not only how differently “the permanentreference point” was defined, but also various possibilities of decon-structing its ideological potential. Now let us return to the initial ques-tion of how we can speak about the living tradition as normative forhistory, and see how each of the approaches, refined through criticism,may help us.

In order to keep the tradition as living and not reified, Florovsky’s way forward to the roots needed to include innovation into the very requirement of tradition. With this change, pseudomorphosis of tradition would include either ignoring tradition and replacing it with other views, orignoring this very requirement of the tradition to remain alive. His concept of re-hellenisation, when unpacked, was surprisingly less problematicthen his notion of catholic transfiguration. While the re-hellenisation didnot contribute to building a negative identity against the West, a questionremains as to what degree it was used against the Slavic spiritual traditionas praised by the Slavophiles or the Sophiologists. Catholic transfiguration is, in my view, more vulnerable to what Kalaitzidis calls mythologisation of tradition. Its de-particularisation of Christian Hellenism allowed forowning it at a meta-level as a kind of essence of Orthodoxy. And at thispoint the notion of non-possession, developed in Mother Maria Skobts-ova, may lead us in a slightly different direction, in which what is norma-tive does not have to be present in an essentialist synthesis.

In Schmemann, there were two problems, one that the requirement to adapt to another historical period made a division between higher and lower times in history, underestimating the presence of God in the pre-sent (or in other than pre-Nicene Patristics). The second problem concerned Schmemann’s notion of eschatology as basically closed, and as projected on to us, not leaving space for active and creative participation in the task of transforming this world into a better place for living. Both of these problems stood at odds with Schmemann’s dynamic and all embracing liturgical vision of life in communion with God.

In Meyendorff, we find the problem of reification of the Byzantine tradition, which is supported by his understanding of the visibility of divine providence and the negative synthesis of the West, against which the – in his interpretation, basically hesychast – Orthodox position is spelled out. And yet, if we applied the criticism of the use of essence from Meyendorff’s religious epistemology to his understanding of tradition, its permanence would shift from something that we have to some-thing in which we can participate. The essence/energy distinction applied there would make a non-synthetic approach to tradition, where each instance while related to its source, the living Christ, would be its full representation. There will be no need to compose a neo-patristic or any other synthesis as the abstract (essential) whole in order to be normative for history. The normativity would remain a testimony to the divine non-possessiveness of Christ, through whom we are filled with the non-possessive (and non-reified) life. Meyendorff’s contribution to this, with the critical revision of his notion of destiny and of the negative synthesis of the West, lies in showing how this life can and is to be passed on, in a non-reductive and non-secularised fashion.

In Mother Maria Skobtsova, the question of how to protect Christian tradition from reification may perhaps find the most satisfactory but also the most difficult answer: by not allowing it to become our possession, either in terms of universalising the past or particularizing the eschatological. History would thus not be tied down by tradition, and tradition would not be reduced to the historical. It may, however, cost us security and the comfort of knowing and belonging, and we may need to shift our balance from an overemphasis on the kataphatic to the inclusion of the apophatic expressions of the mysteries of faith. In this sense, it would be paradoxically closest to the source of the tradition, the living Christ. Normative tradition in this sense would not tie history down, but rather testify an ongoing possibility to encounter the transcendent and loving God whose victory is ultimately not dependent on the historical projections of the possible.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What If... ?

What If... ?

make love; not war.

We live in a world,
buried in hate and filled with judgement.
A world covered in fear,
fighting a war because of our greed,
or maybe to try and cure ourselves,
from the fear we feel inside.

Some days I feel so alone,
watching the war for something,
that we can only define as greed.
Some days it feels as though,
the world has forgotten compassion.
We can think of anything else,
but money, greed and our own happiness.

We make reasons,
that change like seasons,
to why we fight,
and why we kill.
First its safety, then change,
then its to help.
but all we're doing is destroying,
and watch as people lose faith.

The world we live in today is nothing simple,
we fear those who aren't like us,
we fear anything that's different.
We push people around,
make them hate themselves for what they're not.
Make them slowly fade away,
because they don't see things our ways.

Just because they're different,
sometimes even because of who they love.
Some days I feel myself losing faith,
wondering if this will ever stop,
wondering if people will just learn to love.

But some days I do find hope,
because not everything in this world is wrong,
maybe if we just remembered a little compassion,
and try ed not to judge so much,
the world would be a little better.

by one second regrets poetry

Bombs Away
Written by Jonathan Thulin and Rachael Lampa

1: The bombs have dropped and I've fallen on my face
I made my decision and I'm feeling disgraced
But I won't stop till it's done
My fire and glow will be fading out soon 
Cause my conscience broke and my heart's out of tune
but I won't stop till it's done, no I won't stop till it's done

Chorus: Bombs away, Bombs away to my heart
To my heart bombs away

2: The devil came knocking at the door of my dreams
I knew it was wrong but my mind felt so free
Now I won't stop till it's done, no I won't stop
Till it's done


Bridge: The battle of me and myself is exploding me
The fire is gaining on me and I'm letting it
I'm searching the heaven's and earth for the end of me
So here I am, here I am

Light the fuse cause my heart's gonna blow

Love Can Change the World
by Aaron Niequist

bridges are more beautiful than bombs are
bridges are more beautiful than bombs
listening is louder than a lecture
listening is louder than a shout

but Love – Love can change the world
oh do we still believe that
Love – Love can change the world
oh do we still believe in

Love – Love
God is Love, our God is Love and
Love can change the world

an open hand is stronger than a fist is
an open hand is stronger than a fist
wonder is more valuable than Wall Street
wonder is more valuable than gold

repeat chorus

may we never stop this dreaming
of a better world
may we never stop believing
in the impossible

Women: God is love
repeat chorus

©2005 AARONieq Music

Brothers & Sisters
A change has come

A change in the way
we look at people and things
a change in the way we feel
are felt
and are seen
To feel beautiful we must become beautiful

Loving ourselves more than we love the lie
You know the one you tell yourself
to feel secure
or the one you told,
just the other day to spare his feelings...
yeah that’s it,
(it didn’t have a thing to do with compromising your security)

the one that bought
a nations love
with terror
the one they sold us
to pimp our fear
to fuel tanks
the one that bought and lost your house
and sent your man to jail

To feel beautiful we must become beautiful
as a nation
as a nation within a nation
as family and community
as humans
not given to fight
until we know
and believe in
what we are fighting for
as lovers & friends
we must choose to
make love, not war

Jessica Holter

Make Love, Not War

You hear shouts “stop the killing”, 
Though people stay so violent, cruel. 
Is there hope for the healing? 
Our nature always has been dual. 

As someone gives you pretty smile, 
The other hides his drowned eyes. 
Where there was no place for guile, 
Now wars break out, heaven cries. 

Men take their homicidal guns, 
Drops of the rain are getting red 
And The Creator dooms his sons 
To strangle in the blood they shed. 

Forgotten of the sense of love, 
They get obsessed and then resigned. 
Eternal fight – it’s not enough, 
Their clemency is left behind. 

But we can love; do you remember? 
It is salvation, perfect cure. 
Frozen hearts get brittle, tender, 
Rid of ice cover that’s impure. 

This is enveloping your skin 
Like ocean caressing shore, 
When everything becomes serene. 
People, let us make love, not war.

6 Products You Should Consider Abandoning

6 Products You Should Consider Abandoning
The price of buying disposable products is often higher than we think.

by Jesse Carey
March 26, 2015

Every day, Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on goods, groceries, clothes and food, often with little thought to the environmental and social costs to our consumerism. Convenience and low-costs may be appealing as customers, but the price of buying disposable products is often higher than we think.

Here’s a look six costly everyday products that you should consider abandoning.


The single-serve coffee pods for Keurig machines are so popular that if you lined up every one sold in 2014 alone, they’d circle the earth more than a dozen times. The problem is that because of the plastic used to make them, they’re resistant to recycling methods, and a fully recyclable version is still years away. Even the inventor of the K-Cup told The Atlantic he thinks the product is a bad idea: “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it … I don't have one. They're kind of expensive to use. Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

Bottled Water

Bottled water isn’t just wasteful. It doesn’t really make sense. With the availability of filters for tap water (which is already held to high health standards; from the Mayo Clinic: “Tap water and bottled water are generally comparable in terms of safety”), purchasing individual, disposable bottles can be bad for your wallet and the environment. Every year, at least 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the bottles—enough to keep gas in a million cars for an entire year. That doesn’t account for the amount of gasoline used to transport it. And, according to one study, 80 percent of the bottles never even get recycled. That means most of those clear plastic bottles end up in landfills, or worse, in the ocean.


Those tiny beads now found in many liquid soaps may be good at “exfoliating” your skin, but their environmental toll is so high, several areas have banned products that contain them. The problem is, the beads are so small that they get past water treatment filters and end up in bodies of water. That means animals—and people—who use those lakes and rivers for drinking water sources run the risk of ingesting them.

Cheap Clothes

Everyone likes low prices. But when it comes to fast fashion, there’s a big cost to cheap clothes. Many garment industry employees in countries like Bangladesh—where a 2013 factory collapse killed 117 workers—have often worked in unsafe conditions for unfair wages. Some of the makers of cheap clothes that are found in many American stores, also have terrible environmental records, especially in countries where loose regulations are easily abused. Though some improvements are being made, avoiding cheap, disposable clothes in favor of brands that have made a commitment to ethical working conditions and sustainable practices in their supply chains can help eliminate the trend of disposable “fast fashion.”

Non-Ethically Sourced Chocolate

Because supply chains are often so complex, even large, well-known brands may be using cocoa that was obtained through the use of unethical labor practices. Child labor, unfair wages and dangerous working conditions are common in the West African chocolate industry, where 70 percent of all cocoa is grown. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to make a difference. As we highlighted in a piece last fall, “Groups like Stop the Traffik and Food Is Power are working to educate consumers through fact sheets and even downloadable apps about how to purchase chocolate that was not produce by child or slave labor.”

Plastic Grocery Bags

From the Worldwatch Institute: “Every year, Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags, which can clog drains, crowd landfills and leave an unsightly blot on the landscape.” Those thin plastic bags you use to carry your groceries are made from petroleum-based materials that drain resources and wreak havoc on wildlife—especially when they end up in the ocean. Durable, reusable fabric bags aren’t just more convenient (each one can carry a bunch of groceries), they are also more cost effective: Many groceries stores now offer discounts to customers who use them.

The Historical Context of the Gospel of Mark's Ending

Turning to the earliest theological traditions of the first century church let us see how its earliest liturgical and doctrinal confessions were interwoven into the very text of the gospel of Mark itself - specifically its ending in chapter 16:9-20. By this handiwork of the church's textual editorialists we may then determine the importance this liturgical confession held for the early church of Jesus Christ. To do this I have chosen James Tabor's article to lead out in this discussion. And though he may use hard language in his analysis we need only to recontextualize his helpful insights of the early church's redactions to see all too plainly for ourselves the importance these ecclesiastical texts held for the earliest Christians regarding Christ's Resurrection and Great Commission.

Nor was this emendation unknown by the church's collegial ranks in its study of the bible's original manuscripts. Nor in today's newer publications which helpfully provide a footnote like to the one we have here from the ESV bible below (which I use as my present bible of choice over my much amended and very dog-earred NASB version I had used in college and seminary. Which itself had replaced the red-lettered KJV bible I grew up with as a boy to read at home, in Sunday School, and VBS).

Moreover, within the proceeding discussion is the idea that theologising God's Word is nothing new. Both the ancient Jews and ancient Christians did the same but with the difference that each group was rehearsing God's former revelation which had come to them by various means and forms, lessons and events. Either personally or as clans, tribes, or people groups. So that within the corpus of the Old and New Testaments we may behold its hymns, psalms, prayers, petitions, and confessions.

However, the difference here is that these teachings were not considered "external" to God's Word as the gospel of Mark's later addition was held by its latter emendation. How this is different is another subject for another time but suffice it to say both the Jewish and Christian faiths were actively engaged in theologising their understanding of God's Word even as we are today as externalising influencers upon its internalized texts that was itself at one time externalised in its initial traditions and revelations. Which should give us pause as to why we shouldn't read the bible literally but literarily. Enough said. Onwards!

R.E. Slater
March 13, 2015

Mark 16
English Standard Version (ESV)

The Resurrection

16 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.][a]

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

9 [[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first toMary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Jesus Appears to Two Disciples

12 After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

The Great Commission

14 Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, becausethey had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]

ESV Footnotes:

Mark 16:9 Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9–20 immediately after verse 8. At least one manuscript inserts additional material after verse 14; some manuscripts include after verse 8 the following: But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. These manuscripts then continue with verses 9–20

The “Strange” Ending of the Gospel of Mark and Why It Makes All the Difference

James Tabor presents a new look at the original text of the earliest Gospel

James Tabor • 02/02/2015

This article was originally published on Dr. James Tabor’s popular Taborblog, a site that discusses and reports on “‘All things biblical’ from the Hebrew Bible to Early Christianity in the Roman World and Beyond.” Bible History Daily first republished the article with consent of the author in April 2013. Visit Taborblog today, or scroll down to read a brief bio of James Tabor below.

"And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and
astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing."

Most general Bible readers have the mistaken impression that Matthew, the opening book of the New Testament, must be our first and earliest Gospel, with Mark, Luke and John following. The assumption is that this order of the Gospels is a chronological one, when in fact it is a theological one.

Scholars and historians are almost universally agreed that Mark is our earliest Gospel–by several decades, and this insight turns out to have profound implications for our understanding of the “Jesus story” and how it was passed down to us in our New Testament Gospel traditions.

The problem with the Gospel of Mark for the final editors of the New Testament was that it was grossly deficient. First it is significantly shorter than the other Gospels–with only 16 chapters compared to Matthew (28), Luke (24) and John (21). But more importantly is how Mark begins his Gospel and how he ends it.

  • He has no account of the virgin birth of Jesus–or for that matter, any birth of Jesus at all. In fact, Joseph, husband of Mary, is never named in Mark’s Gospel at all–and Jesus is called a “son of Mary,” see my previous post on this here.
  • But even more significant is Mark’s strange ending. He has no appearances of Jesus following the visit of the women on Easter morning to the empty tomb!

Like the other three Gospels Mark recounts the visit of Mary Magdalene and her companions to the tomb of Jesus early Sunday morning. Upon arriving they find the blocking stone at the entrance of the tomb removed and a young man–notice–not an angel–tells them:

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing (Mark 16:6-8)

And there the Gospel simply ends!

Mark gives no accounts of anyone seeing Jesus as Matthew, Luke, and John later report. In fact, according to Mark, any future epiphanies or “sightings” of Jesus will be in the north, in Galilee, not in Jerusalem.

This original ending of Mark was viewed by later Christians as so deficient that not only was Mark placed second in order in the New Testament, but various endings were added by editors and copyists in some manuscripts to try to remedy things.

The longest concocted ending, which became Mark 16:9-19, became so treasured that it was included in the King James Version of the Bible, favored for the past 500 years by Protestants, as well as translations of the Latin Vulgate, used by Catholics. This meant that for countless millions of Christians it became sacred scripture–but it is patently bogus. You might check whatever Bible you use and see if the following verses are included–the chances are good they they will be, since the Church, by and large, found Mark’s original ending so lacking.

Here is that forged ending of Mark:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

Even though this ending is patently false, people loved it, and to this day conservative Christians regularly denounce “liberal” scholars who point out this forgery, claiming that they are trying to destroy “God’s word.”

The evidence is clear. This ending is not found in our earliest and most reliable Greek copies of Mark. In A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Bruce Metzger writes: “Clement of Alexandria and Origen [early third century] show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them.”1 The language and style of the Greek is clearly not Markan, and it is pretty evident that what the forger did was take sections of the endings of Matthew, Luke and John (marked respectively in red, blue, and purple above) and simply create a “proper” ending.

Even though this longer ending became the preferred one, there are two other endings, one short and the second an expansion of the longer ending, that also show up in various manuscripts:

[I] But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after these things Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.

[II] This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits [or, does not allow what lies under the unclean spirits to understand the truth and power of God]. Therefore reveal your righteousness now’ – thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, ‘The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was handed over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness that is in heaven.

I trust that the self-evident spuriousness of these additions is obvious to even the most pious readers. One might in fact hope that Christians who are zealous for the “inspired Word of God” would insist that all three of these bogus endings be recognized for what they are–forgeries.

That said, what about the original ending of Mark? Its implications are rather astounding for Christian origins. I have dealt with this issue more generally in my post, “What Really Happened on Easter Morning,” that sets the stage for the following implications.

1. Since Mark is our earliest Gospel, written according to most scholars around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE, or perhaps in the decade before, we have strong textual evidence that the first generation of Jesus followers were perfectly fine with a Gospel account that recounted no appearances of Jesus. We have to assume that the author of Mark’s Gospel did not consider his account deficient in the least and he was either passing on, or faithfully promoting, what he considered to be the authentic Gospel. What most Christians do when they think about Easter is ignore Mark. Since Mark knows nothing of any appearances of Jesus as a resuscitated corpse in Jerusalem, walking about, eating and showing his wounds, as recounted by Matthew, Luke and John, those stories are simply allowed to “fill in” for his assumed deficiency. In other words, no one allows Mark to have a voice. What he lacks, ironically, serves to marginalize and mute him!

2. Alternatively, if we decide to listen to Mark, who is our first gospel witness, what we learn is rather amazing. In Mark, on the last night of Jesus’ life, he told his intimate followers following their meal, “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). What Mark believes is that Jesus has been “lifted up” or “raised up” to the right hand of God and that the disciples would “see” him in Galilee. Mark knows of no accounts of people encountering the revived corpse of Jesus, wounds and all, walking around Jerusalem. His tradition is that the disciples experienced their epiphanies of Jesus once they returned to Galilee after the eight-day Passover festival and had returned to their fishing in despair. This is precisely what we find in the Gospel of Peter, where Peter says:

Now it was the final day of the Unleavened Bread; and many went out returning to their home since the feast was over. But we twelve disciples of the Lord were weeping and sorrowful; and each one, sorrowful because of what had come to pass, departed to his home. But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew, having taken our nets, went off to the sea. And there was with us Levi of Alphaeus whom the Lord …

You can read more about this fascinating “lost” Gospel of Peter here, but this ending, where the text happens to break off, is most revealing. What we see here is precisely parallel to Mark. The disciples returned to their homes in Galilee in despair, resuming their occupations, and only then did they experience “sightings” of Jesus. Strangely, this tradition shows up in an appended ending to the Gospel of John–chapter 21, where a group of disciples are back to their fishing, and Matthew knows the tradition of a strange encounter on a designated mountain in Galilee, where some of the eleven apostles even doubt what they are seeing (Matthew 28:16-17).

Galilee is one of the most evocative locales in the New Testament—the area where Jesus was raised, where many of the Apostles came from, and where Jesus first began to preach. In the FREE eBook The Galilee that Jesus Knew, Bible and archaeology experts will expand your knowledge of this important region, focusing on how Jewish the area was in Jesus’ time, on the ports and the fishing industry that were so central to the region, and on several sites where Jesus likely stayed and preached.

The faith that Mark reflects, namely that Jesus has been “raised up” or lifted up to heaven, is precisely parallel to that of Paul–who is the earliest witness to this understanding of Jesus’ resurrection. You can read my full exposition of Paul’s understanding “the heavenly glorified Christ,” whom he claims to encounter, here. And notably, he parallels his own visionary experience to that of Peter, James and the rest of the apostles. What this means is that when Paul wrote, in the 50s CE, this was the resurrection faith of the early followers of Jesus! Since Matthew, Luke and John come so much later and clearly reflect the period after 70 CE when all of the first witnesses were dead–including Peter, Paul and James the brother of Jesus, they are clearly 2nd generation traditions and should not be given priority.

Mark begins his account with the line “The Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Clearly for him, what he subsequently writes is that “Gospel,” not a deficient version that needs to be supplemented or “fixed” with later alternative traditions about Jesus appearing in a resuscitated body Easter weekend in Jerusalem.

Finally, what we recently discovered in the Talpiot tomb under the condominium building, not 200 feet from the “Jesus family” tomb, offers a powerful testimony to this same kind of early Christian faith in Jesus’ resurrection. On one of the ossuaries, or bone boxes in this tomb, is a four-line Greek inscription which I have translated as: I Wondrous Yehovah lift up–lift up! And this is next to a second ossuary representing the “sign of Jonah” with a large fish expelling the head of a human stick figure, recalling the story of Jonah. In that text Jonah sees himself as having passed into the gates of Sheol or death, from which he utters a prayer of salvation from the belly of the fish: “O Yehovah my God, you lifted up my life from the Pit!” (Jonah 2:6). It is a rare thing when our textual evidence seems to either reflect or correspond to the material evidence and I believe in the case of the two Talpiot tombs, and the early resurrection faith reflected in Paul and Mark, that is precisely what we have.2 That this latest archaeological evidence corresponds so closely to Mark and Paul, our first witnesses to the earliest Christian understanding of Jesus’ resurrection, I find to be most striking.


Dr. James Tabor is a professor of Christian origins and ancient Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Since earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1981, Tabor has combined his work on ancient texts with extensive field work in archaeology in Israel and Jordan, including work at Qumran, Sepphoris, Masada and Wadi el-Yabis in Jordan. Over the past decade he has teamed up with with Shimon Gibson to excavate the “John the Baptist” cave at Suba, the “Tomb of the Shroud” discovered in 2000, Mt Zion and, along with Rami Arav, he has been involved in the re-exploration of two tombs in East Talpiot including the controversial “Jesus tomb.” Tabor is the author of the popular Taborblog, and several of his recent posts have been featured in Bible History Daily as well as the Huffington Post. His latest book, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity has become a immediately popular with specialists and non-specialists alike. You can find links to all of Dr. Tabor’s web pages, books, and projects at


1. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd edition, (Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 123. Metzger also states: “The last twelve verses of the commonly received text of Mark are absent from the two oldest Greek manuscripts (? and B), 20 from the Old Latin codex Bobiensis, the Sinaitic Syriac manuscript, about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, 21 and the two oldest Georgian manuscripts (written a.d. 897 and a.d. 913).”

Correction: In the original publication of this article, Bruce Metzger’s statement “Clement of Alexandria and Origen show no knowledge of the existence of these verses; furthermore Eusebius and Jerome attest that the passage was absent from almost all Greek copies of Mark known to them” (Metzger, 2005, p.123) was not appropriately referenced as a quotation from Metzger. We thank our careful reader James Snapp, Jr., of Curtisville Christian Church in Indiana, for bringing this to our attention. —Ed.

2. We offer a full exposition of these important discoveries in our recent book, The Jesus Discovery. The book is a complete discussion of both Talpiot tombs with full documentation, with full chapters on Mary Magdalene, Paul, the James ossuary, DNA tests, and much more. You can read my preliminary report on these latest “Jonah” related findings at the web site Bible & Interpretation, here, and a good account of the controversy here. During March and April, 2012 I also wrote a dozen or more posts on this blog responding to the academic discussions, see below under “Archives” and you can browse the posts by month.

If God Created the Universe, What Created God?

Many arguments claiming to prove the existence of God have been proposed throughout the centuries. A popular argument is that, since all effects come from causes, there must have been a “first cause” that is outside the material world—an “uncaused cause”. The response to many of these arguments, however, is:

“If God created the world, what created God?

In other words, if everything in the universe has a cause, why does God get a free pass? Don’t we need an explanation for his origin as well?

In order to answer such questions, we first need to clarify what we mean by “God.” If God is just another one of the causes within the system of causes that science explains, then we would need to search for a cause for God as well. But if God is something fundamentally different from the created order (what theologians call "transcendent"), then our demand for a cause of God's being is confused and misapplied.

Modern conceptions of God are often strongly influenced by the “deism” movement of the Enlightenment, which portrayed God as an explanation for the origin of the universe, the moral law, and not much else. The deist God is the gray-haired old man in the “attic”, who doesn’t bother much with us on the lower floors.

But this is wildly at odds with both Scripture and historical Christian theology, which see God as intimately involved with his creation as both creator and sustainer. As Colossians 1:15-17 says of Christ,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

God, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, is not just the explanation for the beginning of the universe, but for the existence of anything at all—whether past, present, or future. All time, space, and matter depend on God’s sustaining power for their existence, in every momentThese things are contingent; that is to say, they don’t have to exist, and so because they do exist, we are right to ask for the causes of their existence.

But Christian theologians have understood God to be a necessary being. Asking for a cause of a necessary being is like asking how much the color blue weighs—it is a category mistake.

The discovery in the past 100 years of strong evidence for a point of beginning for our universe (the “Big Bang”) has had a tremendous impact on this discussion. Many Christians have seen the “Big Bang” as proof that time, space, and matter are temporal, and not eternal—which indeed point to the need for a creator. But we advise Christians to be cautious. God would still be the creator even if the universe did not have an empirically discernible beginning as some current theories (such as those concerning the “multiverse”) suggest.

We should not feel threatened as Christians by any of these theories, because none of them can ever explain why anything exists in the first place. Science is powerless to answer that question, because it can only speak in terms of cause and effect. Every worldview must believe in a cause that itself is uncaused, and Christians understand this uncaused cause as the creator God, maker of heaven and earth.

For further reading ~

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Great Debacle - Did God Kill Jesus? Or, Did Jesus Kill God?

The Great Debacle:
Did God Kill Jesus? OR Did Jesus Kill God? 

[Neither a debate nor a conversation]
with Tony Jones & Peter Rollins

In this most momentous of debacles, two intellectuals will engage in a public display of online streaming rhetoric. Their nimble wit and snarky asides will have viewers pulled back and forth as they wrestle with the meaning of the cross.

  • Why did Jesus die? 
  • Did God kill Jesus? 
  • Did Jesus Kill God? 
  • Did all meaning die on the cross? 
  • Was meaninglessness embraced on the cross? 

These questions and more shall be explored as Tony Jones and Peter Rollins engage in #TheGreatDebacle. Tripp Fuller will moderate and likely explain how they should really just agree with him.

**We will email you the link on the morning of the event.**


Tony Jones is the author of Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution, is theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, and teaches theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Tony serves as a senior acquisitions editor at Fortress Press, curating the Theology for the People line of books. He’s developed an iPhone app called Ordain Thyself.

Peter Rollins is a provocative writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker who has gained an international reputation for overturning traditional notions of religion and forming “churches” that preach the Good News that we can’t be satisfied, that life is difficult, and that we don’t know the secret. His new book is The Divine Magician, and it is better than his other books.

Tripp Fuller is the Homebrewed Christianity Pod-father, audiological provider for the neighborhood theology addict & president of the John Cobb fan club. He is ABD for his PHD in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at Claremont Graduate School and is busy writing what is sure to be his Mom's favorite book on Jesus - The Homebrewed Christianity Guide to Jesus: Liar, Lunatic, Lord or just freaking Awesome.

Peter Rollins and Tony Jones

On Black Saturday Tony Jones and myself will go head to head in an online discussion concerning the significance of the Crucifixion. This will be a theological tussle touching on whether the Crucifixion can be understood within the general framework of theodicy and orthodoxy, or whether it signals the destruction of all such projects, proclaiming the end of religion itself and all overarching frames of meaning.

This is a FREE event

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Is Social Trinitarianism and Panentheism Compatible?

The Social Trinity of God

The Social Trinity is an interpretation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Its central idea is that the Trinity consists of three persons whose unity consists of a loving relationship.[1]

Positively, the traditional teaching emphasizes that God is an inherently social being.[2] Human unity approaches conformity to the image of God's unity through self-giving, empathy, adoration for one another, etc. Such love is a fitting ethical likeness to God - but is in stark contrast to God's unity of being.[3]

Three persons

Orthodox Christian theology asserts that the one God is manifest in three 'persons' (this term was generally used in the Latin West).[5] Social Trinitarian thought argues that the three persons are each distinct realities--this was generally presented in the East with the Greek term 'hypostasis' from the First Council of Nicaea onward. Hypostasis was here employed to denote a specific individual instance of being. So, the Trinity is composed of three distinct 'persons' or 'hypostases' which are in integral relation with one another. The Cappadocian Fathers outlined the traditional set of doctrines describing the relational character of the Trinity: the Father is the Father by virtue of begetting the Son; likewise the Son is the Son precisely by being begotten. These two hypostases do not have their identity first as individual entities that then relate; rather, they are what they are precisely due to their relations. John Zizioulas is perhaps the best-known contemporary proponent of this emphasis in Trinitarian theology, which he labels relational ontology.[6]

Many proponents of the Social Trinity, including John Zizioulas, criticize modern individualism by mapping human relationships onto this relational ontology as well. This suggests that the individual is not constituted over and against other persons. On the contrary, say these proponents, a person's identity and self are deeply constituted by their relationships, such that a person could not be the same person were it not for the relationship - the relationship, in some sense at least, precedes (ontologically, though not necessarily temporally) the person rather than the person preceding the relationship.[7]

Two theological keys to the idea of person found in the Social Trinity are the Trinitarian concept of perichoresis ("interpenetration"--associated most strongly with Saint John of Damascus), and the Christological doctrine of two wills in one person (which was central to Maximus the Confessor's defense of orthodoxy). The doctrine of the two wills of Christ stems from the Council of Chalcedon where the Church affirmed that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, without division and yet without mixing. Thus Jesus is one person, yet with two natures, which two natures yield two wills.[citation needed] This was intended to combat both Nestorius' two-persons approach and themonophysite doctrine of Jesus as being so divine that his humanity was overwhelmed. This allowed the Church to affirm that Jesus was truly one person who both participated in the divine Trinitarian "economy" as well as in the human sphere of material being.

One essence

The three persons of the Trinity must not be confused as three distinct gods, an error that the name 'Trinity' itself was developed to combat: Tri-unity (as first outlined by Tertullian). All three persons/hypostases have one divine nature: their essence ("ousia" in Greek). It was in the development of the Trinity that the Greek terms ousia and hypostasis were fully separated; before the First Council of Nicaea, they had often been used interchangeably[citation needed]. Social Trinitarian thought argues that this one essence can be thought of as the loving relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit. This relationship can be analogized to human loving relationships; however, as mentioned above, it is a complete unity--it does not arise from the three hypostases but is intimately involved in their very ontological constitution. The idea of perichoresis of the persons of the trinity has been cited to provide at least part of this greater unity.[1]

It is important to note that though the Cappadocians, for example, tended to begin with the three persons and from there develop the sense of unity, while Augustine of Hippo more or less began, drawing from the Latin tradition of Tertullian, with the unity and then developed the three distinct persons (along a psychological metaphor), neither the Eastern nor the Western traditions actually see either the 3 or the 1 as ontologically prior to the other: the three are always united in and constituted by the one; the one is always expressed in the three.[8]

* * * * * * * * * *

The Paradox of the Trinity


* * * * * * * * * *

Are the Social Trinity and Panentheism Incommensurable?

by Tony Jones
May 10, 2011

Last week, I wrote about a question at my dissertation defense over which I stumbled. There was one other question that tripped me up.

Stacy Johnson is one of my favorite professors at Princeton, though I never took a class from him. (He is also the author of possibly the very best book on GLBT issues in the church, A Time to Embrace.) Stacy is not, however, a fan of Jurgen Moltmann, my theological muse. And at my defense, he asked me a question that he really has for Moltmann:

How can someone be committed to a social doctrine of the Trinity, in which the godhead is seen as an eternal, interpenetrating relationship of three divine persons, and also a panentheist, in which God is in all things and all things are in God?

It’s a good question, for it would seem that a commitment to the social Trinity requires an understanding of God as sovereign Other, whereas panentheism seems at odds with that commitment.

Moltmann is also committed to the [sectarian] Jewish Kabbalistic belief that God was all before the creation, but God withdrew Godself just enough to make room for a creation that is other than God. This was God’s first act of self-limitation. As a Christian theologian, Moltmann goes on to argue that, as Paul memorializes in the great hymn of Philippians 2, the incarnation/crucifixion event is the ultimate act of self-limitation by God, to the point of humiliation.

So, the Moltmannian answer — and mine — to Stacy’s question is that throughout the “trinitarian history of God,” and most poignantly in the incarnation/crucifixion/resurrection, the eternal relationship that is the Trinity re-embraces all of creation back into Itself. We are ever-invited into this divine, loving relationality.

PS: the thesis of my dissertation is that our church structures should reflect this eternal, egalitarian relationality. They don’t, but they should.

Tripp's Reply as transcribed by R.E. Slater:

The Immanent Trinity – This speaks to who God is in Himself prior to creation, regardless if there was ever any creation, was exists from eternity to eternity.

The Economic Trinity – How the Triune God relates to the world in His activities of creating, redeeming, sustaining, and consummating. And how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit relate to one another as three equalitarian Persons in eternal relationship with one another.

Thus, a Social Trinitarian affirms all of the above while emphasizing the relational or social aspects of the Godship of God within God both to Himself and to His creation.

Now Panentheism is one of those philosophical frameworks used for talking about divine actions, presence, power, and the understanding of God’s presence within-and-to His creation. More specifically it speaks to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. In essence, it speaks to God’s in-breaking of Himself through Jesus into creation itself. This self revelation/imputation/giving may therefore be considered as the divine (or new creation) breaking into all that isn't God (or old creation). It is a paradox because how does God break into something that isn't God? But this is an issue which panentheism through relational-process theology tries to reconcile as versus the more classic understanding of Augustinian theism based upon Greek thought.

To this idea Jurgan Moltmann connects the Immanent and the Economic Trinity with Panentheism so that everything which will keep God’s creation (including us) from participating in His relational activity to all things can now become participants through Jesus Christ. And it is in this incarnate act of God through Jesus that God may now redeem, reconcile, and transform His creation back to Himself.

More specifically, we may now enlarge our concept of the eschaton of God (the future of all things, or eschatology) because now God has broken into the world through the Cross so that the world (or, that which isn't God) may begin participating in the divine life that has always has been present with God’s self. Again, a paradox set within a paradox described in different ways and lenses (cf. Moltmann's attempt in Jone's article above via Jewish sectarian Kabblistism).

And so, it is through the Cross of Christ as He engages with all that it means to be human, with its humanity and suffering and injustice - even its forsakedness from God. So that now everything is radically changed from whom God is and always has been. This is our experience. And it was also Jesus' experience. So that now, through the Cross, humanity and creation may begin to experience and be transformed into the divine life in God. It is through the Cross then that Godself becomes the actionable promise of God to what He will do through Jesus as He brings in the eschaton of His divine life into the very holds of His forsaken and separated creation.

This God who created the world, sustains the world, and now redeems the world, will consummate the world so that the world will come to know precisely the egalitarian, loving, and relational, God whom we have come to know and proclaim as Jesus Christ. God's Redeemer and holy Atonement. That this Social Trinitarian God who has always been, and will always be, through time immemorial, has come into His creation to transform it. And through His Economic Trinity is the story of God’s salvation where the Triune God redeems the world and makes the world new into the divine life and presence of Himself. That this eschaton has now begun in Christ and will culminate to a finality.

Therefore, Moltmann’s main point is that it is precisely this economic relationship of God in His self-revelation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that gives to us the ability to understand who God is in Himself. So that when we look at Jesus’ life and His desire for His disciples to be in Him you see why the social trinity makes sense. And why the economic activity of God ends up revealing Himself gloriously, along with the church's eschatological hope of cohering with the immanent trinity, or Person(s), of God  who is the Triune God of creation that binds and heals, transforms and redeems.

And when you put this all together than its not so crazy at all to be panentheist and a social trinitarian as described in its classical designations because the consummation of creation is a kind of eschatological panentheism when the world finds its place in God, and God becomes all-in-all, and sin and death are ultimately defeated.

- Tripp Fuller

* * * * * * * * * *

Part 3: The Problem of Social Trinitarianism

This is a three part series on “Trinity, Gender, and Subordination,”
which was a contribution to Rachel Held Evans’s Week of Mutuality.

The outline of this series:

Additional Sources:

by David Congdon

by Robert Letham and Kevin Giles

by David Congdon
June 8, 2012

The Problem of Social Trinitarianism

Barth could never have affirmed the complementarian use of his trinitarian doctrine for the simple reason that the complementarian position is premised on certain claims that he firmly rejected. The most important such claim is what we might now call “social trinitarianism.” Social trinitarianism is the doctrine that Father, Son, and Spirit are three independent centers of consciousness with their own distinct intellects, wills, and energies of operation. The three persons of the trinity are united as a perichoretic communion of distinct persons, in contrast to the traditional unity in terms of the one divine nature or substance. The point of a social trinitarian theology is to argue that what is “social” within God can be applied to human society. Social trinitarianism is therefore intrinsically an ethical or political theology. The position was developed in its present form by Jürgen Moltmann in his influential book, The Trinity and the Kingdom, where he places social trinitarianism in opposition to the “abstract monotheism” that he claims has characterized most of Christian theology. While the complementarians share very little with Moltmann in terms of theological commitments, it is the Moltmannian doctrine of social trinitarianism that the complementarians presuppose in making their claims about the trinity and gender relations.

Like social trinitarianism, the complementarian position depends on the ability to map intra-trinitarian relations onto intra-human relations. The relation between Father and Son is supposed to tell us something about the relation between men and women. The logic of this move depends upon viewing each divine “person” as a distinct subject who then relates to the other divine persons the way we relate to other human beings. If the Father, Son, and Spirit constitute a single agent, then any relations between them would be entirely irrelevant for human relations; there would be no point of similarity between God and humanity. The trinitarian relations are thus only significant for human society if each “person” is an independent center of consciousness. Hence, the complementarian position depends upon the social trinitarian doctrine.

Social trinitarianism becomes possible only because of a conceptual fuzziness regarding the word “person.” Because Father and Son (and Spirit) are understood as divine persons, it is assumed that we can learn something from them about how to relate as human persons. This is only possible because, in both cases (divine and human), the word “person” has here been defined in terms of a center of consciousness, an “I,” with intellect and will. However, as Kathryn Tanner rightly points out, “this is to give the trinitarian term ‘person’ (a rather ill-defined placeholder for whatever there might be three of in the trinity) the modern sense of ‘human person’ and then insist on taking it quite literally.”1 In other words, the move from divine person to human person presupposes the prior move from human person to divine person. It is only because the divine person has been defined according to our notion of a human person that the divine relations are then able to inform human relations. Social trinitarianism—and thus also social-trinitarian complementarianism—depends upon projecting upon God what we think a person is, in order then to model ourselves upon this very projection. It is an entirely circular argument. It makes God in our own image in order then to find our image in God. Social trinitarianism, in short, is a form of natural theology.

The problem is that our modern psychological notion of “person” (understood as a “personality”) has nothing in common with what the tradition meant by persona (in Greek, translated initially as prosopon, but much more commonly as hypostasis) in the context of the trinity. The word persona as it was used by the Latin theologians referred to an individual essence (individual substantia), that is, a particular modality of a nature. The ancient Greek theologians recognized that the word hypostasis (often translated into English as “substance” or “essence”) captures the meaning far better than the usual word for “person,” prosopon, which refers to the mask worn by an actor to play a part on stage. Certainly such a meaning cannot be applied to the trinity. In any case, when the Latin persona became translated into the modern word “person” (in German, die Person; in French, personne), it began to be interpreted in light of our modern understanding of the term. The result has been conceptual confusion. Barth is very helpful here:

What is called ‘personality’ in the conceptual vocabulary of the 19th century is distinguished from the patristic and mediaeval persona by the addition of the attribute of self-consciousness. This really complicates the whole issue. One was and is obviously confronted by the choice of either trying to work out the doctrine of the Trinity on the presupposition of the concept of person as thus accentuated or of clinging to the older concept which since this accentuation in usage has become completely obsolete and is now unintelligible outside monastic and a few other studies.2

Barth decides to avoid both options—neither going with the modern meaning of “person” nor trying to rehabilitate the ancient meaning—by instead speaking of “modes of being” (Seinsweisen). The fear that this leads Barth to modalism is unfounded. Modalism is the “heresy” that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are only “modes” of one eternal being as this being appears to us in time and space. God is only trinitarian in the economy. Behind the economy, however, in the immanent nature of God, there is no trinitarian differentiation, only a single divine being. Modalism is thus a split in God’s being between the immanent and the economic, such that what we encounter in the economy is not truly revelatory of who God is in eternity. Barth has no such problem. For him, God is triune “all the way down”; there is no height or depth of God which is not constituted in terms of Father, Son, and Spirit. And that is because there is no height or depth in God that is not determined by God’s self-revelation. There is no God “behind” the trinitarian God we encounter in history. The Father, Son, and Spirit revealed to us simply is God in eternity. Barth, in fact, goes quite a bit further than the ancient Latin theologians, in that he discards the split between the abstract, impersonal divinitas and the concrete trinitarian persons. Barth seeks to overcome entirely the classical substance ontology that conceives of divinity as a general ontological concept that is logically prior to the particular instantiations it takes as Father, Son, and Spirit. There is no abstract divinity-as-such; there is only this eminently concrete and specific reality of the triune God. Barth replaces the language of substance with the more modern and helpful language of subject. God is a “single subject” rather than a “single substance.” His definition of the trinity is therefore a single subject in three modes of being. The trinity is the one God in threefold self-repetition.

The decisive error of social trinitarianism in all its forms is its adoption of the modern notion of person as definitive for what we mean by the “divine persons.” The result of such a move is tritheism. If there are three self-conscious I’s in God, then there are three deities. Social trinitarianism is a disguised form of polytheism. The attempt to make perichoresis do the work of uniting God into a single agent is an impossible use of the concept. It was classically used in a purely analytic sense: it described the unity that already characterized the persons of the trinity. Perichoresis cannot then be used to create a unity that is not already present. Even if such a theological move is attempted, however, the prior definition of Father, Son, and Spirit as three distinct self-conscious agents undermines the very notion of perichoresis from the start. The doctrine of perichoresis refers to the ineffable interpenetration of each divine person in the other two, such that no separation of agency is possible. In other words, it serves to support the Augustinian axiom discussed above—precisely the axiom that social trinitarianism rejects!

In a social trinitarian model, perichoresis is merely a uniting of wills or an intimate communion. Divine unity is reduced to relations of self-giving love. The result is that “the persons of the trinity seem more like separately constituted human persons acting harmoniously together in a jointly agreed upon common project.”3 But here again, the notion of perichoretic unity is being defined by what we understand to be unity among human beings. Our notion of a “common will of the people” has been applied to the will of the trinitarian persons. This is in stark contrast to what the doctrine of the trinity ought to say. The will of the Son corresponds to the will of the Father “because in a significant sense they have only one will. Instead of a fellowship of wills, one finds an identity of will.”4 Once each divine person has been modeled after a human person, however, it’s only natural that divine unity comes to mirror our vision of human unity. Social trinitarianism projects upon God the kind of utopian community—whether hierarchical or egalitarian in nature—that we envision for ourselves. Tanner states the problem well: “the danger of such a strategy is that the trinity fails to do any work; it does not tell one anything one did not already know.”5

What social trinitarianism can never achieve is the notion of God’s single subjectivity. It is irreconcilable with Augustine’s axiom that Father, Son, and Spirit act as a single agent in the economy. There are not three intellects, three wills, three self-consciences in God. There is one self-conscience, one “I,” that acts in a triune way—one God in threefold self-repetition. “Because all the other members of the trinity are in that person, when one person of the trinity acts the others are necessarily acting too.”6 A human person is never dependent for his or her own existence upon the existence of another, such that when one person acts, another person acts as well. And yet this is precisely what the doctrine of the trinity claims regarding God, but in a way that is far more mysterious and incomprehensible. There is no deliberation between Father, Son, and Spirit, as there is with human beings. There is no conflict of interest that Father and Son have to work out between them. Thinking about the trinity along these lines brings us deep into the waters of polytheistic mythology. More disturbing still, it results in an essentially Marcionite break between the Old and New Testaments. The starting-point for any doctrine of the trinity has to be Israel’s belief in YHWH as the Lord. As R. Kendall Soulen puts it, “YHWH is the triune God.”7 Any theology that requires the violation of this identification of Father, Son, and Spirit with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cannot be considered a Christian doctrine.

To reiterate: the complementarian appropriation of trinitarian theology presupposes that the relation between Father and Son is a relation that can inform the relation between men and women. There are many problems with this move—the others I will touch on in the following sections—but the root issue is the assumption that a personal relation within God is similar to a personal relation among human beings. But in order for this analogy between God and humanity to work, one has to univocally (i.e., literally or directly) apply a definition of human personhood to God. By defining God according to humanity, social trinitarian arguments necessarily end up rejecting the radical ontological differentiation between God and humanity. A relation that ought to be indirect and analogous becomes direct and univocal. This brings us to the problem of the divine-human analogy more broadly.


1 Kathryn Tanner, Christ the Key (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 220.

2 Barth, CD I/1, 357.

3 Tanner, Christ the Key, 231.

4 Ibid. Emphasis mine.

5 Ibid., 230.

6 Ibid., 224.

7 R. Kendall Soulen, “YHWH the Triune God,” Modern Theology 15, no. 1 (1999): 25–54.