Exercise on Trinity and Johannine Theology

"John sketches the identity of God through what God does and, even more specifically, primarily through the various ways in which God gives life through the Son and the Spirit. Hence, God is made known through the life and work of the Son, and through the life and work of the Spirit. The God of the Gospel of John is the God of life" (Marianne M. Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John Eerdmans 2001], 229-230).

Hey! That sounds kind of like the Trinity! Yet the later Christian doctrine of the Trinity goes beyond the Gospel of John in using technical language and careful formulas to articulate the identity of God in light of Jesus Christ. Some Christians find that later language superfluous, intimidating, and even hazardous — above all, unbiblical. This is an occasion to test the adequacy of Trinitarian doctrine against one of the texts that most directly informed it: the Gospel of John.

Consider this scenario:

Feeling flush with the knowledge your blood, sweat, toil, and tuition are gaining for you, you drop the word "Trinitarian" in one of your Sunday sermons. After the service, an attendee quietly approaches you to talk about it. He is bothered by theological jargon in sermons and asks why you felt it was necessary to use a non-biblical term in your preaching. You sense that beneath a variety of other issues and questions this person might have (mistrust of theology, mistrust of intellectuals, annoyance at clericalism, fatigue with traditions that have not made much sense up until now, and the like) is a specific concern that the doctrine of the Trinity is not helpful in Christian life. Having just slogged through a slew of technical articles out of the Oxford Companion, you feel unusually sympathetic with this person's reaction. You realize that a general affirmation of the doctrine is not going to assuage his concern. You will have to prove to him, and perhaps a bit to yourself, that Trinitarian language is worth the trouble.

Choose a passage of the Gospel of John. It may be one that Thompson explicitly treats in her book, but that is not required. In light of (Thompson's description of) John's distinct rendering of God's character, explain how the formal doctrine of the Trinity — as described in lectures, assigned articles from the Oxford Companion, Confessing the One Faith, and optionally our other readings — does and/or does not clarify the meaning of that passage for readers. Then show how that passage does and/or does not clarify the meaning of the Trinitarian language that your church or church tradition uses.

You may craft your response either as an analytical essay or as a personal letter to the attendee (footnoting citations and other technical appeals you want to make to me but would not naturally include in such a letter).

Please keep your paper 3-4 pages, double-spaced, and follow the directions in my handout for writing papers. I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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