Trinity and rationality

Ch.2, §1: Polytheism (pp.52–57).

If you’ll forgive the plug, I thought I’d mention that next month will see the publication of my textbook on Christian Doctrine (an SCM Core Text). (NB – Beware if you follow that link; the book description on Amazon is wildly out of date.) Amongst other things, it offers a fairly lengthy discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity.

In that book, just as many other theologians have done, I offer a way of making sense of the doctrine. And, as is the norm with theological discussions like this, the account I give is fully open to rational discussion. That is, you can ask me about any bit of it, ‘Why that word? Why that idea? Why that conclusion?’, you can challenge any bit of it (‘Why not say this instead?’, ‘Does that really follow?’, ‘Surely you’ve conflated x with y?’) and I’ll be happy to respond. And if I am shown that my arguments fail, I’ll abandon them. I won’t necessarily be able to prove my account from basic principles that I and my interlocutor share, but I think I can demonstrate that the basic ideas involved are very simple. And, yes, there will be some kind of appeal to mystery in what I say, but I promise that it will not be one that undercuts what I have just said (i.e., not one that undercuts my willingness always to give reasons for what I have said, and to discuss those reasons openly and with as much clarity as I can muster). The appeal to mystery will, rather, appear as a clarification of kinds of knowledge that I am not laying claim to.

You won’t have to believe in God to follow what I say and decide whether it is cogent or not. Nor will deciding that it is cogent turn you into a believer. All that would happen is that you would end up understanding what this Christian doctrine means, and what is at stake in affirming or denying it. I’d go so far as to say – pace Dawkins – that someone who followed my account and accepted it as cogent (even if based on mistaken starting points) would have a ‘distinct idea of the trinity’, distinct enough for reason to ‘act upon’ it. (Dawkins, p.55, quotes Jefferson’s claim that this is impossible.)

In all this, I think I am behaving like an ordinary academic theologian. And I don’t think I will be being ‘characteristically obscurantist’, putting forward ‘unintelligible propositions’, or spouting the ‘Abracadabra of … mountebanks’.

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