God (Trinity), Doctrine of

Jump to navigation Jump to search

The doctrine of God is central to Christian theology. In fact, the term theology in the broad sense means the study of God and is not restricted to Christianity. Usually Christian theology is understood more specifically to include reflection on the nature of God, on God's self-disclosure in creation and especially in Christ as witnessed to by the Scriptures, on God's ongoing interaction with the world through the Holy Spirit, and on the consummation of God's purpose beyond time. It is quite appropriate therefore to say that Christian theology begins and ends with the doctrine of God.

A distinction needs to be drawn between a "doctrine" of God and a "concept" of God. The term doctrine denotes a "teaching" (Latin: doctrina) that is handed down by the church in accordance with the Scriptures. The term concept is more individualistic and has a more cognitive, philosophical connotation. It is noteworthy that as one moves into the modern period one tends also to talk about God more in terms of concepts than doctrines. This shift is reflected in this article's concluding discussion of three theologians' notions of God.

For much of modern theology, characterized by the anthropocentric (human-centered) turn that came with the 18th century Enlightenment, the notion of God has become the primary issue or problem. In contemporary life and thought, be it psychological, sociological, political, philosophical, literary or theological, a recognition of the transcendent reality of God can no longer be taken for granted. This has led many Christian theologians, including some Mennonite thinkers, to find ways of reconceiving the concept of God in order to make it more comprehensible for modern people. We will come back to the modern view of God as a problem and various attempts at reinterpreting this doctrine for today.

Here we want merely to say that until the modern age there was no general agnosticism or rejection of the "existence" of God. The Bible itself simply assumed the reality of God (Exodus 3:14: God says to Moses, "I am who I am") and the biblical authors were not explicitly preoccupied with metaphysical or philosophical speculation about the nature of God. Their primary concern was with God's self-revelation and historical action in the lives of people and the appropriate human response.

Implicitly, however, the Bible already raises theological and philosophical issues about who God is and how God can be known. These issues set the agenda for a development of a doctrine of God in the post-biblical period. In the Old Testament, for example, there is the problem of evil which confronts Job, and the fact that God allows the righteous to suffer. How can God be good if God brings about or tolerates such seeming injustice? Further, a variety of anthropomorphic images and metaphors, both masculine and feminine, used in Old Testament references to the divine stimulate the theological imagination to contemplate more fully the nature and attributes of God.

While both the Old and New Testaments are thoroughly monotheistic, new experiences of the acts of God in the New Testament era raise for early Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians much more sharply the issue of the nature of God. The early church's experience of salvation in Christ and divine power through the Holy Spirit poses for early believers the problem of how to reconcile these two phenomena with their unequivocal belief in the one God of the Old Testament.

During the first five centuries after Christ these issues were hotly debated by the Christian church around the question of the Trinity (Nicea, 325; and Constantinople, 380) and Christology (Chalcedon, 451); the former dealing primarily with the relation of Christ to the Father, and the latter with the relation of the divine and the human in the person of Christ himself

The trinitarian controversy is particularly important for us here and has ongoing relevance for any contemporary understanding of God. It revolved around two intrinsically related and archetypal concerns: the nature of God within himself and the nature of God for us. The first has been referred to as the immanent trinity (the threefold nature of God: Father, Son, and Spirit), the second as the economic trinity (God's threefold mode of being for us: as transcendent mystery above us, as historically disclosed to us in Jesus Christ, and immanently present in us and the world through the Holy Spirit).

Unfortunately, we cannot here discuss at greater length the biblical concept of God nor these highly significant debates of the patristic period. It is important, however, to recognize that what occurred already within the Scriptures and continued during the post-biblical period was a development of the doctrine of God that has shaped all later Christian thinking in this regard, including our own.

Medieval theology contributed to this development in a number of important ways. Based particularly on such passages as Romans 1:18-21 and 2:14ff, which suggest that God in some sense reveals himself to believers and nonbelievers alike, a distinction was drawn between what is naturally knowable about God by everyone (sometimes referred to as natural revelation), and what can be known only by special revelation, e.g., the mystery of the Trinity and the incarnation.

Thus, in the Platonic-Augustinian tradition a pre-rational awareness of the reality of God is the condition for the very possibility of the moral and spiritual life. In the more Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition the natural knowledge of God takes a more rational form, reflected in the five arguments for the existence of God, although for Aquinas this rational knowledge was also closely linked to morality and spirituality (Rahner, ed., Concise Sacramentum Mundi, 564-66).

There was another stream of medieval theology concerning God which was especially important for certain segments of 16th-century Anabaptism: the late medieval unio mystica traditions of Meister Eckhardt, John Tauler, and the Theologia Deutsch. While there were differences between the various mystical traditions on how the union between the divine and the human takes place, there was a common emphasis on the immanence of God, and the capacity of human beings for sharing a common nature with God (Packull, Mysticism, pp. 17-34).

Sixteenth-Century Anabaptists

The indebtedness of the Reformers to these various medieval streams concerning the doctrine of God is a highly complex and even controversial topic that cannot be summarized here without doing injustice to the thinkers involved. In general, however, it could be fairly said that the major Reformers, with their emphasis on human sinfulness and the need for a personal experience of justification through faith, tended to be suspicious of both the more rationalistic, scholastic natural theology tradition and the unio mystica theologies. Both Luther and Calvin stressed the transcendent sovereignty of God and the accompanying doctrines of grace and predestination, and tended to accentuate the gulf between the human and the divine. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, rejected predestination (although they did espouse a notion of election) in favor of free will and consequently were less inclined in their theology to emphasize the unbridgeable separation between God and humanity.

In our attempt to understand 16th-century Anabaptist notions of God it is most important to note that what distinguished Anabaptism from its Reformation counterparts--the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican traditions--was the extent of its theological and sociological diversity. It was not one homogeneous mass but a collection of diverse movements spread throughout Europe, defined by local differences which affected each group's theology. Consequently, one cannot assume that there was one Anabaptist doctrine of God. Here as in other theological doctrines there was a dynamic plurality of views, cross-fertilizing each other and undergoing evolution especially during the early period.

Despite this heterogeneity, it is remarkable how similar most of the early Anabaptists were in their concern for practical Christian living as an outgrowth of theological orthodoxy (orthodoxy defined here as fidelity to the traditional teachings of the church concerning Christology and the Trinity). It was not their formal acceptance of the church's historic creed in itself that is interesting but the way the formal confession of a triune God received content and functioned in their theology.

Both Robert Friedmann and John C. Wenger have argued strongly that, while the weight of their concerns was not with doctrine but with discipleship, on the whole, 16th-century Anabaptists were orthodox in their fundamental beliefs, accepting the Apostolic creed, Nicene trinitarianism, and Chalcedon Christology with few exceptions. Friedmann especially has taken care to defend the Anabaptists against the thesis that their theology tended toward Socinian rationalism and antitrinitarianism, and could thus be seen as a source of modern Unitarianism (Friedmann, 1973, pp. 53-57; Friedmann, 1948; Wenger, 1952, pp. 1ff).

Wenger's and Friedmann's claim that the Anabaptists were orthodox in their doctrine of God, but more faithful than other Protestant groups in their obedience to the ethical imperatives of Scripture, contains elements of truth. One needs, however, to guard against defining Anabaptism too narrowly and thus passing over the rich theological diversity that is part of the tradition. While it is true that on the whole the majority of early documents manifest a fidelity to the articles of the Apostles' Creed, for example, much of early Anabaptism exhibits a rather sophisticated reappropriation and reinterpretation of the theological tradition. Although there was a formal acceptance of the creedal affirmations, Anabaptists' preoccupation with the morally regenerated life was not simply an addition to the other doctrines but gave these doctrines, particularly the doctrine of God, a new flavor. The trinitarian nature of God was no abstract speculative doctrine of God but the necessary theological framework for ethics as we shall see. We need only turn to individual and corporate writings and confessions of the 16th century to discover this close link between the primary Anabaptist concern for a regenerated life and the doctrine of God.

We look here at three varieties: (1) the South German-Austrian Anabaptism of Hans Denck and Hans Hut; (2) the Hutterian Anabaptism of Peter Riedemann; and (3) the North German-Dutch Anabaptism of Menno Simons. (The Swiss Schleitheim Confession of 1527, with its seven articles--all concerned with practical matters of Christian life and distinctiveness--is perhaps the least doctrinally-oriented. Even here, however, the cover letter begins with a three-fold invocation of Father, Christ Jesus, and Spirit).

(1) While there were strong mystical elements in many early Anabaptists, it was the South German-Austrian stream, directly influenced by the cross-mysticism of the revolutionary Thomas Müntzer that most clearly reflected the themes of the unio mystica tradition alluded to above: no radical distinction between the natural and the supernatural, the immanence of God within the human soul, the potential capacity of human beings to participate in divine nature, the close identification of justification and sanctification as a single process of gradual deification (Packull, pp. 25-27). There was in this branch of Anabaptism a strong link between the immanence of God (rebirth interpreted as the birth of the Son within the human soul), deification (participation of human nature in divine nature), and moral-ethical perfection (a gradual process of sanctification). This mystically-oriented doctrine of God was in its early phase not sectarian nor quietistic but, as illustrated by Müntzer himself, could be combined with an apocalyptic ideology directed at sociopolitical transformation (Packull, pp. 31ff).

(2) The Hutterian Anabaptism of Austria and Moravia was a later phase of South German-Austrian Anabaptism and reflects a more separatist and internally disciplined spirit, achieved primarily through an imposed communitarian uniformity. As in its earlier phase, the doctrine of God was explicated primarily in terms of its moral and ethical implications for human behavior, but was now more directly framed in terms of the concern for moral perfection within a separate community where all things were to be held in common.

The clearest example of this is Peter Riedemann's, Account of our religion, doctrine and faith (1545). The first part of the book is devoted to a theological commentary on the 12 essentials of the Apostolic Creed with the Anabaptist-Hutterite ethical concerns introduced right into the context of the various classical doctrines. What is remarkable is how each of these doctrines immediately receives practical application.

To confess the first article of the creed--that God is almighty father, creator of heaven and earth--is itself seen to be a moral act for "every sinner who remaineth and continueth in sin, and yet nameth God father, speaketh what is not true...." Further, the whole purpose of confessing the second and third article of the creed--belief in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God and the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and the Son--is to acknowledge that through them we are "grafted... into the divine character and nature." This phrase, or versions of it, e.g., "participation in the nature of Christ (or God)," appears repeatedly in many of the Anabaptist writers and suggests, as we have already seen above, the deification of human nature in a way quite foreign to Luther and Calvin.

Concern for genuine moral regeneration is present in the Account from the start and the Hutterite commitment to Christian communalism is linked to the very immanent plurality within God himself: "Community, however, is naught else than that those who have fellowship have all things in common together, none having aught for himself, but each having all things with the others, even as the Father hath nothing for himself, but all that he hath he hath with the Son, and again, the Son hath nothing for himself, but all that he hath, he hath with the Father and all who have fellowship with him (Riedemann, Account, p. 43)."

(3) In our third representative Anabaptist group--North German-Dutch Anabaptism--we find one of the most explicit and straightforward treatments of the doctrine of God in Menno's " Solemn confession of the triune, eternal, and true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" (1550), written in defense of the orthodoxy of his movement. It was a work intended to counteract the views of Adam Pastor, an Anabaptist bishop who had come to deny the full deity of Christ and was consequently excommunicated by Menno Simons and Dirk Philips, the very ones who had earlier ordained him.

While Menno remains simple, biblical, and non-philosophical in his language, his expression of trinitarian orthodoxy is remarkably classic in outline (although his christology has sometimes been considered docetic--that is, it inadequately recognizes the human side of Christ). God (the Father) is Spirit, the "one and only eternal, omnipotent, incomprehensible, invisible, ineffable, and indescribable God ... not physical and comprehensible but spiritual and incomprehensible." Jesus Christ is not a literal Word but "the eternal wise, Almighty, holy, true, living, and incomprehensible Word, which in the beginning was with God, and was God, by whom all things were made...." This Christ "did in the fulness of time become, according to the unchangeable purpose and faithful promise of the Father, a true, visible, suffering, hungry, thirsty, and mortal man in Mary, the pure virgin, through the operation and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, and so was born of her." In like fashion, Menno confesses the Holy Ghost to be "divine with His divine attributes, proceeding from the Father through the Son, although He ever remains with God and in God, and is never separate from the being of the Father and the Son" (Menno, Writings, 491-492, 496).

In the words of Menno, "these three names, activities, and powers, namely, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (which the fathers called three persons, by which they meant the three, true, divine beings) are one incomprehensible, indescribable, Almighty, holy only, eternal, and sovereign God.... And although they are three, yet in deity, will, power, and works they are one, and can no more be separated from each other than the sun, brightness, and warmth. For the one cannot exist without the other" (Menno, Writings, 496).

What gives Menno's orthodox-sounding language its distinctive quality, as it does with the other Anabaptists, is his concern not so much for doctrinal orthodoxy in its own right as for the ethical function of the doctrine of God. John R. Loeschen gives a persuasive analysis of precisely this characteristic in his fine treatment of various Reformation views of the Trinity, church and ethics, in his The divine community.

Loeschen's thesis is "that the Christian understanding of the church, and hence of ethics, depends upon prior assumptions about God in his trinitarian functions" (p. 97). While all the Reformers were sensitive to the charge of doctrinal novelty, and argued that theirs was a genuine restoration of ancient views, what emerged were in fact new interpretations of Christ and the Trinity. The Holy Spirit received greater emphasis and the Trinity was valued more for its practical implications (the "economic" Trinity) than for its own sake (the "transcendent" or "immanent" Trinity).

This is particularly the case with Menno, who more than Luther or Calvin understood the classic doctrine of the Trinity christologically. His numerous references to the Holy Spirit, for instance, are directly associated with the "Spirit of Christ" (p. 73). His trinitarian theology is derived not from a "transcendental Trinity" but from the "immanent trinity of Christ's nature, Word, and Spirit" (p. 75).

While Menno's writings are full of biblical imagery pointing to the transcendence of God, his thought patterns are not explicitly ontological, metaphysical, or philosophical but historical and narrative. In the words of Loeschen, "Simons' effective trinity is an actual historical trinity of Christ's Word, Spirit and life, and not the transcendental, philosophical Trinity of Father, Logos, and Holy Spirit" (p. 80-81).

With Menno, as with the other Anabaptists, we see how doctrinal theological language, including trinitarian language, is linked to moral-ethical concerns. Trinitarian theology is important not for its own sake but as a necessary framework for the regenerated life. Christ, and more particularly, the Spirit of Christ, is that which unites the Christian with the nature and character of God. This participation in the character of Christ and through him in the very nature of God is one of Menno's most repeated themes; a form of sanctification (or even deification) which can occur only in the context of the visible believing community: the church. Menno's paradigm for this community is not a static one but the dynamic and evolving apostolic church which began at Pentecost and continued through the patristic period, receiving important theological definition in the early creeds, including that of Nicea (Loeschen, pp. 101-2).

Mennonites, Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries

Hans-Jürgen Goertz has recently emphasized the discontinuity between 16th-century Anabaptist confessions, which were primarily individual confessions of faith arising out of widely different situations, and later 17th-century Mennonite confessions which had an ecclesiastical doctrinal character functioning more like mainline Reformation confessional statements. According to Goertz, the Anabaptists saw the whole of life as a confession and rejected what they perceived as the intellectualization and codification of faith by the other Reformers. For them verbal and lived confession was more important than fixed statements of belief. When they did come up with statements of orthodoxy it was usually in response to charges of heresy made against them.

This, maintains Goertz, changed during the 17th century with the conservative reaction to the onset of modernity, and reflects a narrowing of the gap between Mennonites and the Reformed state church. In effect, what developed during this Protestant scholastic period was an authoritarian Mennonite orthodoxy, expressed in such doctrinal statements as the 1632 Dordrecht Confession and the many subsequent confessions, for the purpose of uniting various factions around normative ecclesiastical formulations of belief and thereby guarding against free-thinking subjectivism and nonconformity.

We cannot here trace the rather complex development of doctrine from early Anabaptist origins to later Mennonite confessions nor give a thorough analysis of the many individual church confessions. What we want to do here is simply make a few observations about the doctrine of God as articulated in confessional statements between the 16th and 20th centuries.

First, what is remarkable is the multiplicity of confessions in a tradition that is supposedly non-creedal in orientation. Ironically, Mennonites have throughout their history probably produced more confessions and catechetical statements than any other group. Noteworthy in this regard is the fact both of diversity (each confession arising out of a very particular social, historical and religious context) and unity, reflecting the heterogeneity and homogeneity of Mennonite origins. While there are significant differences between the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCM), Mennonite Church (MC), Mennonite Brethren, and other independent confessions, there are some remarkable common elements, in particular the four-fold axis around which most of the confessions are structured: creator, Christ, church, and consummation, with a particularly weighty emphasis on the life of the church and mission. Further, virtually every confession begins with an article on God, often an extended article or series of articles on the Trinity and revelation.

Second, the Mennonite confessions of the 17th century reflect a church that is beginning to consolidate its theology, christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology as a way of establishing a separate "sectarian" identity. With this comes a greater concern for spelling out in a systematic and orderly fashion the doctrine of a triune God and placing it in the proper sequence in a litany of doctrines. In most cases the chronology of these doctrines parallels the classical confessional and creedal tradition. While some of the confessions are more metaphysically oriented than others, there is a common concern to remain with biblical language as much as possible.

Third, the centrality of ethics and the Christian life (reflected in the weight given to ecclesiology and mission) is evident. The doctrine of God is carefully articulated not for its own sake but as the starting point for the more practically oriented articles that follow, including "free will, conversion, feetwashing, church discipline, Christian life and nonconformity, integrity, and oaths, nonresistance and revenge, the Christian and the state" (Loewen, 36). In this their ethical orientation the later Mennonites manifest a continuity with their early Anabaptist ancestry despite the discontinuities that historians (Goertz) legitimately point out. With the systematization of their various beliefs, including the doctrine of God, there is the increasing danger of intellectualizing faith, and separating ethics into sectarian dogmas held on to rigidly as a means of preserving static denominational purity.

One final observation may be in order before we leave this cursory summary of Mennonite theology prior to the 20th century It would be erroneous to leave the impression that there was a uniform adherence to theological orthodoxy among Mennonites in the post -Reformation period. Friedmann, who takes great pains to point out the orthodox trinitarianism of early Anabaptists and later Swiss and Hutterian Mennonites, does allow that early on there was a softening of confessional orthodoxy among some European Mennonites particularly in The Netherlands, where certain "Dutch Mennonites became rather imbued with the spirit of Socinian [unitarian] rationalism" beginning in the second half of the 17th century. (Friedmann, 1948, 152-53).

Contemporary Mennonite Theology

Ever since the 18th-century Enlightenment the concept of God has become a dominant preoccupation for much of Christian theology. As the relation of grace to nature (or revelation to reason) was a primary theological issue for medieval theology, justification and salvation for Reformation theology, and confessional orthodoxy for 17th-century scholastic theology, so the very possibility of belief in a benevolent transcendent reality (God) has become the problem for 19th and 20th-century theology.

Within modern theology itself there has been a shift. The earlier period, beginning with the Copernican revolution in philosophy associated with the name Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), saw the problem of God mostly in terms of epistemology: how can finite beings have any knowledge of reality that lies beyond sensory observation? Kant has been immensely influential for modern theology and his conclusion that we cannot have rational knowledge of God but that God remains a necessary postulate for ethics continues to surface in various ways in contemporary theology, including certain forms of political and liberation theology.

In the 20th century, marked by the novel experience of total wars, unimaginable atrocities, global environmental crises, growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the specter of a totally administered society, and the threat of the nuclear self-destruction of the human species, attention has shifted away from epistemological concerns to the question of transcendence and theodicy (the problem of good and evil). Is it possible to experience a transcendent reality in our technological age and, if so, how might that be expressed theologically and liturgically? Is it possible to believe in an all-loving and all-powerful God in the face of unmitigated evil and the suffering and annihilation of "innocent" victims throughout history? How might such a God be understood so as to preserve a belief both in God's providential sovereignty and control over the course of creation and the historical freedom of human beings actively to participate in the shaping of their own destiny?

One of the characteristics of contemporary theology is the diversity of answers given to these pressing questions concerning God. Whereas until recently, Mennonites did little explicit "systematic" theological thinking in general, let alone systematic reflection about the nature of God, in the late 20th century they contribute significantly to and reflect the diversity of views in contemporary theological discourse. We can here offer only a brief sampling of this growing literature. We choose three systematic theologies to illustrate three different 20th-century approaches to thinking about God.

Early in the 20th century there was the influential (that is, for Mennonites) systematic work of Daniel Kauffman, who devoted much of his time articulating the fundamentals of the Christian faith, which he preferred to call Bible doctrines. Deeply concerned about the direction of the modern Mennonite church his theology reflects both the influence of Fundamentalism in its fight against modernism (particularly the theory of evolution) and such historic Mennonite concerns as nonconformity to the world and nonresistance. In his major work, Doctrines of the Bible, his lengthy treatment of the doctrine of God resembles both in order and in content the scholastic method of 17th-century Protestantism, so evident in the leading Fundamentalist theologians of his time. He even devotes considerable space to enumerating the various proofs for the existence of God. Daniel Kauffman sought clearly to present biblical doctrines as a bulwark against what he called the "critical age of liberalistic and modernistic tendencies" that he felt distorted modern theology. His theological orientation, while largely eclipsed by the so-called "Recovery of the Anabaptist vision" school of thought, still attracts significant elements of the Mennonite population.

The more recent work of another systematic theologian, Gordon D. Kaufman, represents the other end of the 20th century theological spectrum. For Kaufman the issues raised by modern thought and life become the determinative factors in the theological enterprise. Gordon Kaufman has without a doubt given more attention to the "problem of God" (both in its epistemological and in moral-ethical dimensions) than any other Mennonite thinker. Demonstrating a broad understanding of contemporary philosophical and social thought, he has sought in his many writings to reinterpret traditional doctrines, especially the doctrine of God, from a post-Kantian historicist (non-transcendental) perspective.

His earlier writings, particularly his Systematic theology: a historicist perspective, attempt to bridge traditional trinitarian language about God and biblical revelation with modern philosophical theories of knowledge and with historical and social-scientific views of human development. Becoming increasingly more radical in his dissatisfaction with the theological formulations of the past in his later writings, however, he argues that traditional concepts of God as unchanging and sovereign are no longer adequate to our nuclear age. It is imperative that we reconstruct imaginatively our doctrine of God to reflect our novel freedom as human beings to change fundamentally and even destroy totally our global environment, and to assume fully our responsibility not to do so (summary and critique by Froese, 1988).

The most recent attempt to write a full-length systematic theology from a "Believers Church" perspective but with a strong ecumenical orientation is Thomas Finger's two-volume Christian theology: an eschatological perspective. Finger's theology can be seen as a middle position between Kauffman and Kaufman. it takes contemporary experience seriously while at the same time emphasizes the importance of God's sovereign initiative and the once-and-for-all nature of divine revelation. What is unique about Finger's approach is that he reverses the usual systematic order for presenting Christian doctrines. He begins not with the doctrine of God but concentrates in his first volume on the eschatological themes of the New Testament proclamation, including the resurrection, judgment, heaven and hell, the nature and work of Christ. His system concludes with a consideration of the nature of God.

This method is consciously intended by Finger to highlight first God's activity in the world, and then to infer certain attributes about divine reality itself from the historical data of the church's experiences rather than from metaphysical speculation. Particularly significant is the weight Finger places on a doctrine that has, he admits, received little systematic treatment within the "believers church" tradition: the trinitarian nature of God. Here also, as with the other doctrines, Finger starts "from below" that is, he develops a case for both the dynamic diversity and unity within the godhead from a consideration of the data of the human experience of divine reality and need for community. In this way he manages creatively to accentuate both the transcendence and immanence of God.

These are only three examples of contemporary Mennonites systematically thinking about God. One need only turn to the pages of The Conrad Grebel review in its first six years of publication (1983-88) to discover the plethora of views concerning God within the Mennonite community. These positions range from a defense of classic creedal trinitarianism, to a God perceived in terms of modern process theology, to an Arian antitrinitarianism. A major new and creative impetus for reconceptualizing the doctrine of God has come from feminist theologians who challenge what they consider to be the almost exclusively male-dominated thinking of God as Father. A more comprehensive treatment of contemporary views concerning God would need also to deal with the theological movements arising among non-Western Christian churches.

Whether a synthesis of these various theological positions that are now vying with each other for prominence within the Mennonite communion is possible or even desirable remains to be seen. The theological diversity that is reflected in the historic Mennonite confessions and that is evident in the present is in line not only with the pluralism in contemporary Christian theology in general but is also consistent with the heterogeneity of the early Anabaptist movement itself. It seems clear, however, that historically Mennonites on the whole espoused a high, trinitarian doctrine of God, a doctrine that is in perpetual need of translation and interpretation but, nevertheless, continues to have relevance for every age. More important, however, is the urgency with which the modern challenges in the field of technology, environmental concerns, biomedical ethics, the nuclear threat, and the growing concern for political and economic justice call for a renewed sense of God as transcendent mystery and human beings as accountable stewards of the world. The common Anabaptist concern for a doctrine of God that is intrinsically related to a morally and ethically regenerated life in the context of the church in the world would appear to be a good theological starting point for facing the challenges of the postmodern age.

This heightened moral-ethical consciousness is the particular contribution that the Anabaptist and Mennonite traditions can make to the ecumenical discussion of the doctrine of God. Implicit in this our historic strength is, however, a danger: the danger of reducing the teaching concerning God to a notion of linear, ethical obedience to the historical Jesus alone. The challenge for Mennonites as a Mennonite communion will be to maintain a trinitarian framework for Mennonite ethical, historical, and communal concerns, a trinitarian framework which will guard both the transcendence and the immanence of God.


Brown, Mitchell. "Jesus: Messiah Not God." Conrad Grebel Review 5, no. 3 (Fall 1987): 233-52.

Encyclopedia of Theology: the Concise Sacramentum Mundi, ed., Karl Rahner. New York: Crossroad, 1986.

Swartley, Willard M., ed. Explorations of Systematic Theology: From Mennonite Perspectives, Occasional papers, 7. Elkhart: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1984.

Finger, Thomas N. Christian Theology: an Eschatological Approach, 2 vols. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985, 1989.

Finger, Thomas N. "The Way to Nicea: Reflections From a Mennonite Perspective." Conrad Grebel Review 3 (1985): 231-49.

Friedmann, Robert. "The Encounter of Anabaptists and Mennonites with Anti-Trinitarianism." Mennonite Quarterly Review 22 (1948): 139-62.

Friedmann, Robert. Mennonite Piety Through the Centuries. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1949, 1980.

Friedmann, Robert. The Theology of Anabaptism. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1973.

Froese, H. Victor. "Gordon D. Kaufman's Theology 'Within the Limits of Reason Alone': a Review." Conrad Grebel Review 6 (1988): 1-26.

Goertz, Hans-Jürgen. "Zwischen Zwietracht und Eintracht: Zur Zweideutigkeit täuferischer und mennonitischer Bekenntnisse." Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter 43/44 (1986-87): 16-46.

Kauffman, Daniel. Doctrines of the Bible, 2nd ed. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing Hourse, 1929.

Kaufman, Gordon D. God the Problem. Cambridge: Harvard U. Press, 1972.

Kaufman, Gordon D. Theology for a Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985.

Kaufman, Gordon D. The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept God. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.

Keener, Carl S. "The Darwinian Revolution and Its Implications for a Modern Anabaptist Theology." Conrad Grebel Review 1, no. 1 Winter 1983): 13-32.

Koontz, Gayle Gerber. "The Trajectory of Scripture and Feminist Conviction." Conrad Grebel Review 5 (1987): 201-20.

Loewen, Howard John. One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God: Mennonite Confessions of Faith. Elkhart: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1985.

Loeschen, John R. The Divine Community: Trinity, Church, and Ethics in Reformation Theologies. Kirksville, Missouri, USA): The Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1981.

Packull, Werner O. Mysticism and the Early South German-Austrian Anabaptist Movement 1525-1531. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1977.

Reimer, A. James. "Mennonite Theological Self-understanding, the Crisis of Modern Secularity, and the Challenge of the Mind Millennium," with response by J. Denny Weaver, in Mennonite Identity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Samuel Steiner and Calvin W. Redekop. Lanham, Md.: U. of America Press, 1988.

Reimer, A. James. "The Nature and Possibility of a Mennonite Theology." Conrad Grebel Review 1, no. 1 (Winter 1983): 33-55.

Reimer, A. James. "Theological Method, Modernity and the Role of Tradition," in Prophetic Vision Applied to One's Academic Discipline, Mennonite Graduate Seminar. Elkhart, IN: Mennonite Board of Missions, 1978.

Riedemann, Peter. Account of Our Religion, Doctrine and Faith. London: Hodder and Stoughton, in conjunction with Plough Publishing House, 1938, 1950, 1970.

Simons, Menno. The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, c. 1496-1561, trans. Leonard Verduin, ed. J. C. Wenger. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956.

Weaver, J. Denny. "Perspectives on a Mennonite Theology." Conrad Grebel Review 2 (1984): 189-210.

Wenger, John C. The Doctrines of the Mennonites. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1952.

Author(s) A. James Reimer
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Reimer, A. James. "God (Trinity), Doctrine of." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 2 Mar 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=God_(Trinity),_Doctrine_of&oldid=162876.

APA style

Reimer, A. James. (1989). God (Trinity), Doctrine of. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2 March 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=God_(Trinity),_Doctrine_of&oldid=162876.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 342-348. All rights reserved.

©1996-2024 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.