John, your introduction highlights two significant and related issues of recent theological work on the Christian doctrine of the trinity, both of which are central to the conversations out of which the theme for TTC10 emerged: how does the concept—or reality—of divine multiplicity (in this case, a Christian doctrine of the trinity) function as a site for affirmation of two creaturely arenas of mutual relationality (a) religious pluralism, and (b) just, egalitarian social orderings.
With regard to the former, you note how trinitarianism has recently been retrieved as a “distinctively Christian way of offering a positive resolution to the problem of religious diversity;” such that “Christians can account for substantial differences among the world’s religions as varying but nonetheless legitimate expressions of an encounter with God who will be experienced diversely just because God is not an undifferentiated singularity.” However, you contend that these efforts often remain in “the territory of hierarchical inclusivism in which Christian traditions have nothing to learn or gain from dialogue with other religious traditions,” and so the more radical possibility of religious pluralism and inter-religious dialogue—the “possibility of mutual transformation”—is missed.
As concerns the latter, you note that one major reason for the “resurgence of trinitarianism” in contemporary Christian theology is “the notion that trinity affords a promising resource for social ontology.” You go on: “If to be is to be in relation, then there is no clearer paradigm for that contention than the trinity itself.” However, you note that, despite the breadth of consensus on the significance of the trinity for egalitarian creaturely relations, there is strong disagreement on how to interpret this significance. For example, to what extent should this interpretation be rooted in and governed by “the intentions of the ancients”—i.e., by traditional theological assumptions and sources—or (I’m filling in the blanks here, re: Moltmann, Boff and co.’s rationale) the moral urgency of marginalized peoples’ experience of suffering as thematized in certain contemporary and progressive socio-political theories and analyses?
Your constructive proposal in relation to both of these arenas of conversation is the same (if I’m reading you well). It is to bring trinitarian thinking to these conversations as an open question—via the discourse of comparative theology—rather than as a “finished conception” or “pre-fabricated solution” whose content cannot be substantively altered by an engagement of mutual transformation; an engagement that entails actually including insights from other religious traditions (in the case of religious pluralism) or from non-theological disciplinary analysis of socio-political reality (in the case of social ontology).
In these introductory pages you manage to nicely surface a central thematic concern underlying the entire TTC series: the ontologically constitutive nature of relationality and mutuality—for divinity, and the cosmos, and betwixt the two. I just want to briefly highlight how your introductory framing helpfully raises certain issues and questions of particular interest to me, a Christian systematic theologian trying to think beyond—or otherwise than—the apparent opposition between orthodox doctrinal thinking and progressive commitments to inter-dependent mutuality and egalitarian social ordering.
2. Relatedly, to follow upon your call to leave aside finished and prefabricated theological positions in favor of open, mutually transformative encounter with and inclusion of other religious traditions and voices. Given that this call appears to be driven in some measure by an ethic of non-hierarchical, egalitarian relationality of inter-dependent mutuality, to what extent is this ethical commitment itself relatively finished and prefabricated? Or does a comparative ethics accompany comparative theology, such that the content of said ethical commitment will necessarily be substantively altered in mutual transformative engagement with alternative—e.g, hierarchical, non-egalitarian, monarchical, patriarchal, militaristic, tribal blood feud, warrior code, etc.—ethical commitments organically rooted in and of a piece with other religious traditions?
3. Finally, to what extent does the goal of substantive alteration of trinitarian thinking (or conceptions of God more generally) in mutually transformative engagement with various religious traditions assume that the subject matter of theology and religion is ours to alter? What if the subject matter of theology is—as in certain traditions of Christian thought—not only the ineffable, abyssal essence of divine being experienced immanently in a variety of historically determined creaturely modes, but includes the rather scandalous news of divinity’s concrete and particular action in history in certain times and places. Or is this latter possibility necessarily excluded from the conversation at the outset, as, for example, the kind of over-anthropomorphizing of God into a being among beings that Tillich et al have “demonstrated is a contradiction in terms”? But if this is the case, are we not dealing here with the “self-sufficiency” of a finished and prefabricated philosophical doctrine that regulates what counts as viable religious conception of divinity while itself being immune to “mutual transformation,” having “nothing to learn or gain from dialogue” with those religious confessions and practices excluded and hierarchically marginalized as non-viable by its own regulatory ideal? And how many of the world’s indigenous, tribal religions—or indeed, how many actual practitioners of all religions—could be granted a seat at the table of conversation regulated by said philosophical criteria?
John—and Wesley (and others, as the conversation gets underway)—feel free to respond to one, any or all of these, in any way that is interesting to you, as time and energy permits!