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Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament Paperback – November 27, 2015
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"This important volume is exegetically driven, historically aware, theologically nuanced, pastorally helpful, and worthy of attention." (Christopher W. Morgan, California Baptist University 2015-10-27)
"Professor Durst explores the meaning and significance of five other sequences found in the New Testament, yielding many fascinating new insights." (David M. Howard, Jr., Bethel Seminary 2015-10-27)
"Durst never fails to remind us, properly, that there are practical, liturgical, and prayerful dimensions to the Trinity. For this magnificent and helpful rehearsal of the variety of Trinitarian manifestations in Scripture, we are thankful!" (Malcolm B. Yarnell, III, Southwestern Seminary 2015-10-27)
"This is a book that will teach us again the varied ways in which we can delight in the richness of God's life, and the varied ways in which our lives can reflect God’s life." (Steve Holmes, University of St. Andrews 2015-10-27)
About the Author
Rodrick K. Durst (PhD, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) is professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California. Durst previously served as a pastor in California for 13 years.
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According to Durst, the traditional order we normally associate with trinitarian language, particularly at baptism -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- is but one of six ways in which the persons of the trinity are arranged in New Testament trinitarian formulations, and each of those six ways have very different emphases.
Durst then engages in a survey of the ways in which the early church utilized that diverse trinitarian language in order to enrich its life and work in the world. From the biblical context to the liturgical and missional implications, Durst's argument is richly textured and explores how the particular purpose or movement of each of those six formulations has implications in a variety of areas -- mission, salvation, witness, spiritual formation and ecclesial unity.
Reordering the Trinity is far more than historical theology or exegetical exploration. It's nothing short of a radical (in the best sense of the word) survey of all the ways our trinitarian faith and its language impacts so much of who we Christians are and what we do. Trinitarian theology has the potential to transform our work and worship, and Durst is just the person to lead us through these movements.
I was particularly impressed with the parts of the book that might go unnoticed -- the appendices. The two spiritual formation exercises (pages 325-329) will make Reordering the Trinity a text that I'll require seminary students in my basic theology course to read again and again. And "Explaining the Trinity to Children and Adolescents" (pages 331-335) is one of the best treatments I've seen for leading children and youth in the Church to reclaim our trinitarian language and worship in meaningful ways. Those appendices, alone, make this a book that every pastor needs on their library's shelves.
I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Academic Publications in exchange for my honest review here.
Durst observes that the textual data reveals surprising diversity in the triadic order. His intention is to demonstrate these arrangements are purposeful. His decision to, “move the discussion from multiple to a multitude of New Testament textual witnesses to the Trinity,” is warranted, on grounds that, “this multitude of divine triadic instances occurs so often and in such a spectrum of orders—but each apparently in specific contexts—that it may well constitute a matrix of Trinitarian consciousness.” (18) The strength of Durst’s thesis lies in the data: the triadic order is surprisingly varied, and Durst proceeds to discern the implications.
Throughout Reordering the Trinity, Durst analyzes triadic patterns with a diversity of accessible graphs and charts. Of the 75 triadic instances in the New Testament, only 24% yield the Father-Son-Spirit pattern. The remaining five patterns have a relatively even split. Durst aims to challenge his readers against an unintentional subordinationist understanding of the Trinity. He also hopes the diversity in triadic orders occasions opportunity for vibrancy and dynamism in prayer. He contends that exclusive focus on one economic triad would “produce rigidity and even hierarchy in Christian relations, just as an overfocus on one person of the Trinity can skew our theology and practice.” (289)
In laying the groundwork, Durst argues against the notion of the Trinity as a theological evolutionary development that first appeared in the 3rd century. Throughout the work, Durst will reiterate that “Trinitarian thinking was the default consciousness out of which the New Testament authors wrote, worshipped and ministered.” (61). While the focus of the work is on New Testament texts, Durst gives due attention (pp. 83–155 or roughly 20% of the book) to the Old Testament and the possibility of Trinitarianism within a Jewish monotheistic framework. Durst notes the textual nuance of elohenu as plural, yet signifying the word, God, along with echad signifying oneness in the sense of unity or being unified. “Differentiating monotheism,” means theologizing beyond a rigid monotheism of undifferentiated unitariness. (85) Durst argues that differentiated monotheism permitted the New Testament authors to write in Trinitarian terminology: “Christians were praying and singing Trinity even before concepts like “economic Trinity” and “immanent Trinity” were invented. The New Testament phenomenon or repeatedly, creatively, but ever consistently naming the God of the gospel as three working together as the One God was how Christians learned to pray, praise, and preach.” (126)
Durst shares the sentiment that the doctrine of the Trinity is widely understood as esoteric, and therefore, irrelevant to the average Christian. Rather than lament, Durst presents a demonstrable solution in the form of eight Trinitarian “sermon starters” from Old and New Testament texts. This is a valuable asset for pastors who desire to apply Trinitarian knowledge into practice.
While some conclusions about triadic order would initially appear to clash with Trinitarian orthodoxy, Durst affirms Nicaean Orthodoxy and the Filioque of the Western Tradition. (299) He sees mission of the Son and procession of the Spirit as foundational for the church’s own life and witness. (291–305)
Durst saves criticism for those who advocate a complementarian model of marital relations based on the Trinity—Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem are in mind. The varied triadic orders undermine what Durst sees as subordinationism which can lead to sexism, genderism and racism. The New Testament multiplicity of six triadic orders, from Father-Son-Spirit to Spirit-Son-Father to Son-Spirit-Father etc., demonstrates that God works as One without a hierarchical order, yet with distinctions retained. (297) It would appear Durst is poised to affirm egalitarianism in the church and household. His conclusion, rather, is that “an egalitarianism of sameness fails to reflect that inner differentiation of person and relations in the Godhead. The social Trinitarians go astray when they attempt to develop this approach to the Trinity and the church.” (298). Mission requires submission in time, without subordinating essence of value. (300)
While orthodox evangelicals would certainly reject a subordinationist view of the Trinity—Grudem and Ware included—one is unsure how Durst’s affirmation of subordination in time is not demonstrated in Christ’s incarnation. Christian service is not based on ontological hierarchy, yet gender roles and ecclesiastical leadership involve some degree of submission. Is this not modeled in Christ’s person and work? Moreover, Jesus never ceases to be the eternal Word, co-equal with the Father and the Spirit in his earthly ministry. While the New Testament does not argue for submission in the home from Trinitarian relations, it is modeled by Jesus, and expounded later by the Apostolic authors.
Reordering the Trinity is peppered with a number of pithy and memorable quotes: “We must get beyond the mere “What would Jesus do?” ethics of modernity and into the biblically-based postmodern ethic of “What would the Trinity do?” “A doctrine preached and prayed is a doctrine believed and practiced” (288) and “Submission in function is not subordination in being. Because God serves, so can we. Because God serves, so must we.” (300)
As stated previous, Reordering the Trinity is a valuable resource for pastors—particularly those with academic interest. Durst explains the historical context and terminology in a clear manner. A reader would, however, benefit who has a good grasp on church history—specifically the Patristic era—and is conversant with systematic theology.
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