If Rahner, and others, are correct, and I believe they are, then the reality of God’s being as Father, Son and Spirit in shared Trinitarian life has had no significant influence upon our understanding of the whys and wherefores of creation, or of Israel’s calling, or of Jesus’ incarnation and work, or of the nature of salvation and the coming of the Holy Spirit. So where does that leave us? If our theology, if our understanding of creation and of Israel’s very existence, and of the coming and work of Christ has not been shaped by the apostolic vision of God as Triune, then what vision of God has shaped our theology and of these parts of our theology? It is a simple, but utterly devastating question. How ‘orthodox’ are we? If the doctrine of the Trinity should have to be dropped as false what would have to change? What part of our vision of creation or of Israel’s history; what part of our discussion of Jesus’ coming and his life and death on the cross; what part of understanding of the Holy Spirit’s coming and work would have to change? What would have to be rewritten?
Note carefully this classic Protestant definition of God taken from the revered Westminster Catechism.
Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty; knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.2
Let me go on record as saying that this is the saddest definition of God that any Bible reader could ever state. Where is the Trinity? To be fair, the next question asks, “Are there more Gods than one” and goes on to mention the Father, Son and Spirit, but that begs the question as to why the Trinity—not to mention love—is entirely absent in the definition of God. No doubt there are Scripture verses that can be used to support every word of this definition, but how could anyone who reads the New Testament ever start with the question, “What is God?” Aristotle, not Jesus, would be proud. The question is not ‘what’ but ‘who,’ as my teacher, Professor James B. Torrance always insisted, and what reader of the New Testament, asking the question, “who is God?” would ever come up with any answer that does not begin with Jesus Christ? “He who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Any truly Christian question about God begins with Jesus and with a worshipful allegiance to him of both mind and heart that is determined to allow him to inform us about God. In bowing our minds to Jesus as the true light, we, like the apostles and the early Church, come to his Father, and to his anointing in the Holy Spirit as the deepest truth about the being of God. In Jesus we see that God is fundamentally a relational being, and that there is nothing deeper about God than the stunning and beautiful fellowship of the Father, Son and Spirit. So to the question, “Who is God?” we answer, God is Father, Son and Spirit, three equal persons living in an other-centered love and fellowship that is so deep, so true, so beautiful that they share all things together in utter oneness.
In this light we can rethink everything we thought we knew about God, about creation, about the election of Israel, the coming and work of Christ, the mission of the Spirit, and calling of the Church, heaven and hell—and everything in between. The question is not, “What is God?” but “Who is God?” and “do you have the nerve to ask Jesus, and to let him tell you about his Father and why the Triune God made the world?”
1. Karl Rahner, The Trinity, p. 10. See also Bertrand de Margerie, The Christian Trinity in History, intro., p. xviii; Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God: The Doctrine of God, p. 1 and C. M. LaCugna, “Reconceiving the Trinity as the Mystery of Salvation,” p. 1.
2. “The Larger Catechism” in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Part 1: The Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly, 1991), 7.117.