Theology Awakens a Grateful Heart


The words of this blog title are those Katherine Sonderegger uses to begin her book on the doctrine of God (xi). Her study of theology proper seeks to celebrate the Oneness of God, bringing a needed corrective to the contemporary focus on the Triune life of God. She confesses: “We hunger to know the Oneness of God, rest in it, and that hunger is the Spirit’s gift to us, quickening our appetite for divine things, our search into the Mystery of God, the pilgrimage of the Christian life” (23). Her work clearly illustrates a recent turn in theology toward the apophatic: an exploration of the (biblical ) truth that the One true and living God is, in a very real sense, beyond human comprehension. In her second volume, she will turn her attention to the Trinity.  Many are eagerly waiting to see how she integrates her almost shocking (but refreshing) affirmation of the Oneness of God with his Triune self-revelation in the gospel.

Less poetically, Paul Hinlicky states in the introduction to his theology: “the purpose of theology is to know God.” His focus is singularly Trinitarian:  he declares, “we intend that the doctrine of the Trinity permeate the whole presentation” (xxi). Toward the end of this volume, Hinlicky writes (in his typically profuse way; he cannot contain his words), “In Christian faith to know God is daily to die to sin, daily to rise to new life of love seeking justice, living in hope of the promised inheritance of one’s place and time in the eternal life of the Father and the Son in the Spirit in the coming in power and glory of the Beloved Community at the Parousia of Jesus Christ” (865).  Hinlicky’s Beloved Community is a delightful offering of a much more cataphatic approach to the doctrine of God: a celebration of the (biblical truth) that God has abundantly made himself known and knowable through the gospel revelation of his Son in the Spirit.

These two works on theology, published in the same year (2015), could not be more different: one calls for a renewal of the confession of the Oneness of God within the Christian faith, and the other is a mature offering in the more dominant stream of Trinitarian resurgence.

Both passionately call on us to know and enjoy the God of Holy Scripture, the God of the Gospel. Both voices are worth hearing.

For an interesting and helpful essay that explores the recent move toward restraint in our confident explication of the Trinity with its renewed attention to the mystery of God’s Oneness, see E. Jerome Van Kuiken, “‘Ye Worship Ye Know Not What’? The Apophatic Turn and the Trinity.”

Van Kuiken points us to an integrative approach.  He writes, “If apophaticism (i.e., the confession of the mystery of God’s Oneness) and cataphaticism (i.e., the explication of the revelation of God’s Triune life) exist in a dialectic, so too do unity and plurality within God” (22).

Van Kuiken quotes Gregory Nazianzen (d. 390 AD): “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendor of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One . . . .When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light” (22).

Surely, theology of this sort “awakens a grateful heart,” and leaves us delighting in and longing for the coming of the Beloved Community.  Like all proper theology, it leads to worship. As Sonderegger concludes in her preface, “There is no study, no examination nor understanding, without a heart seared by intercession, by repentance, by worship and praise….This is the proper dogmatic form of the doctrine of God: the intellect, bent down, glorified, in prayer” (xxi).  Amen.



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