In his book, The Holy Trinity (P&R Publishing: 2004), Robert Letham observes that since the 1970s the western world has developed ‘a generally pessimistic view of human progress… The modern world’s reliance on reason has been replaced by a preference for emotion… The cardinal fault in interpersonal relations now is to hurt someone’s feelings… (p.449).
‘In the vanguard of this new world order,’ Letham continues, ‘are not so much scientists as literary critics. Its root feature is the view that the world is without objective meaning or absolute truth…’ (p.453).
Yet there is an irony: ‘Postmodernism asks us to accept for itself what it denies to everything and to everyone else. It denies and deconstructs absolute truth claims, yet its own claims are absolute, excluded from the relativism that it foists on the assertions of others…’ (p.453).
Further, Letham observes, ‘In terms of instability and diversity, the postmodern world of constant flux is seeing insecurity, breakdown, and the rise of various forms of terrorism. As diversity rules, subgroups are divided against each other… A cult of the victim develops, and responsibility declines. This is a recipe for social breakdown, instability, and the unravelling of any cohesion that once existed’ (p.453).
Letham comments: ‘The problem with Enlightenment rationalism was that it sought unity without diversity. Its glorification of human reason led it to impose order and unity. But set free from the authority of the Word of God, it failed to recognize the diversity that God had placed in creation. Fragmentation was built into its program… Christianity maintains unity in diversity and diversity in unity. God, our Creator, is triune. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in eternal and undivided union as one triune God…’ (p.454).
How then can we live and proclaim God’s good news in today’s world?
We need to draw on the riches of God’s nature and love. Consider for example, what Paul tells us about Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:18-20: He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Too often events around us reveal the tragic results of human attitudes – the massacre at the school in Florida, for example. Self-interest and hatred, pain and death spoil our world. Alienation is a useful word to describe what is happening. But Paul the Apostle speaks, not just of alienation in our human relationships but of our alienation from God.
It’s important that we think this through. God had created us in his image to love him, to honor him and to enjoy him, but we turned our backs on him. We wanted to play ‘god’. God could have written us off and started afresh. But that would have been an admission of defeat by God. It would have implied that he didn’t have the power to overcome the evil that had brought this tragedy about.
However we learn from the biblical narrative that from before time began, God had planned a solution: he would implement a rescue strategy. He would rescue men and women from the consequences of their folly by addressing his own perfect righteousness. He would bring about peace by putting the enmity to death without destroying the enemy. In words that we can only begin to understand and appreciate, Paul tells us that God in Jesus Christ made peace possible when Jesus died on the cross.
In these verses Paul is telling us that Jesus Christ and God are one; God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus. In some extraordinary and incomprehensible way, the cross of Christ involved the complexity of persons that constitute the Trinity, the Godhead. In voluntary obedience to God’s plan and empowered by God’s Spirit, Jesus Christ absorbed within himself the pain and the just anger that our rejection had awakened within God.
As Robert Letham points out, ‘The Trinitarian love is pure and just, good and kind. The persons are distinct, and the union is undivided. There is no conquest of unity by diversity, nor of diversity by unity. The three are one, and the one is three. Here is the theological heart of the Christian faith, and this should be our focus in the postmodern world.
‘In missions of all kinds, it is imperative that we operate with a consistently biblical, Trinitarian doctrine of creation, salvation and the future. The centrality of the Holy Trinity is not only vital to worship and prayer, but also in evangelism to individuals and cultures. At the heart of all this is the way we treat other people, for if God is relational and we are made in his image, at the center of the Christian faith is the way we deal with other human beings who share this image’ (p.456f).
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com