On Trinity and Politics: Part 4, The Economic Trinity and the Shape of Political Engagement

So, we absorb Kilby's prophetic caution. We should not be too-quick or too-literal in drawing social, relational, or political implications from the Trinity. 

And as Kilby remarks in her talk "Trinity and Politics: An Apophatic Approach" this is actually one political takeaway from her position, that we should be wary of any totalizing political system and ideology. She says,

If one cultivates an awareness of the ungraspability of God, the impossibility of finding an image, or model, or integrating vision of the the Trinity, if one cultivates the capacity to live with questions to which we have no answers, might this be correlated, not with a particular political commitment to one form of socio-economic system or another, to one social vision or another, but with a resistance to an absolute confidence in any system and any social vision? Economic and political regimes do, after all, tend to take on a sacred aura. They tend to demand unconditional commitment, to imagine themselves as the end and goal of history. If Christians are schooled by the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as in other ways, to know that God is not within our grasp, that we possess no concept or overarching understanding of that which is highest, then we are in a sense schooled into suspicion of systems that present themselves with a kind of sacred, all-encompassing necessity.

So might we not imagine that an important political contribution of Christian thinking about God be then, not that it provides us with something like a shortcut to formulating a distinct alternative of our own, but that it helps us call in question, helps relativize, all such systems that we find we might be enticed by? Might there not be a correspondence, in other words, between a resistance to idolatry in relation to God and a resistance to ideology in relation to political systems?

This is excellent, and a much needed reminder. Let us all take it to heart. And yet, it still leaves us with the question about if the Trinity has any positive social, relational, or political implications. 

To explore this, let me go back to Kilby's point at the end of "Perichoresis and Projection." Specifically, she states, correctly, that words like perichoresis give us no window into what the Trinity is in se (Latin for "in itself"). Think of the Trinity like the sun. We can't stare into it directly. We can't ever grasp what the Trinity is in itself. And on this point, I think Kilby is raising a good caution. 

However, this is an observation about the immanent Trinity, God's life in se. But that's not all we have when it comes to the Trinity. We also have the economic Trinity, the revealed and visible actions of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in salvation history. 

In short, I think Kilby is wrong to assume that we are only ever drawing from human models of love and relationality then projecting those onto the Trinity. Of course, whenever we do do that, and we do it a lot, we are in danger of idolatry, making God into the likeness of human beings. But that's not all we are doing. When we think about God we are mostly using the revealed and visible actions of the economic Trinity to understand what the immanent Trinity might be like. To be sure, this is still a fraught process, temptations to idolatry on every side, but when it comes to the Love that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit something of that Love has come into view in both Scripture and, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, into the church. And that Love, I would argue, gives us a glimpse of what perichoresis might be like. Not because it exists in any created thing, but because the Trinity has entered into human history and made itself visible. 

And having made itself visible, one can most definitely say that this Love has relational, social, and political implications. Everywhere in Scripture we are told to emulate and participate in the Love revealed to us in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a Trinitarian politics. 

In fact, if you watch Kilby's entire talk on "Trinity and Politics," this is where she ends up, speaking about the Incarnate Jesus and the political implications of engaging, first hand, with the brokenness and suffering of the world. Kilby's point is subtle, and stays true to her apophatic approach. Jesus' first-hand, personal engagement with the oppressions of the world do not yield concrete policy proposals. Politics at a given time and place are too historically and contextually dependent. But what Jesus' engagement with oppression does reveal, and reveal to us if we follow him to the cross, is a clear vision of what exactly is broken and dislocated in our world. As Kilby points out, when it comes to politics we are never lacking in totalizing systems and high-altitude analyses. Political think tanks abound. Elites always have their answers about how to fix the world. No, the trouble isn't that we don't have political opinions, it's that our opinions lack a honest, gritty engagement with what's really going on in the world, "on the streets" if you will. Following Jesus to the cross keeps us on the streets, close to the suffering, close to the people and stories that aren't taken into consideration in Washington, DC. Phrased simply, our politics is blind without the cross. One could describe Kilby's proposal as an Incarnational politics, a politics that starts with and keeps close to the suffering and pain of the world. Yes, there may be diverse and competing policy proposals about how to ameliorate this suffering, but an Incarnational politics keeps our politics focused on this hurt and perpetually engaged in healing it.  

All that to say, when it comes to politics Kilby also turns to the economic Trinity. There is a Trinitarian politics. And while it's important to note that this politics doesn't offer concrete and specific policy proposals, it does describe the shape of our political engagement in the world. 

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