Recent years have seen a flourishing of new research and reflection upon classical trinitarian theology, producing a large swath of publications on theology proper. This development has most welcomely highlighted areas where Protestant theology had lost its diligence and rigor in listening carefully to Scripture in light of the church’s traditional heritage about the God whom we confess. The new wealth of resources releasing helps us, even those most traditionally minded in the confessionally Reformed churches, to tighten up this theological area where we may have not given as much attention as to those that are more characteristic of only the Reformed tradition.
Adonis Vidu has made a name already within this recovery of classical theism with his impressive work on inseparable operations. His earlier book focused upon how since God is one in essence, the Father, Son, and Spirit must all mutually perform every act that God does concerning creation.1 So, whereas the three persons of the Godhead subsist in the divine essence as opposing relationships, thereby having distinct personal relations of origin or processions that are internal to the divine essence, God’s external works pertaining to creatures are indivisible, meaning that no one divine person can perform that work without the other two also. Vidu’s book explores this topic by showing the biblical, theological, and philosophical rationales needed to explain how the Father, Son, and Spirit can be distinctly perceived in their eternal work and yet perform it inseparably.
Vidu’s new book, Divine Missions, reflects more thoroughly upon the other side of this issue.2 Having considered the nature of the divine processions and how to relate them to God’s indivisible external work, now Vidu takes up how those processions relate more particularly to the divine missions, namely those external works that do become so clearly associated with one divine person in the economy of salvation. This series of posts engages Vidu’s newest book to provide a review of its content but also to seek ways to apply its conclusions about the relationship between the divine processions and missions to a more specific Reformed soteriology. This first post surveys the book’s content.
An Overview of the Book
Vidu’s Divine Missions intends to be an introduction to how God’s external works are related to the personal processions within the Godhead. It should probably be said that this is an informed introduction rather than a basic primer. Nonetheless, it is likely the best focused treatment of these issues that is not bound into the discussion of other topics. Theological monographs and essays will often include brief statements or standalone paragraphs, but mainstream works have not spent much time directly unpacking the issues of first consideration in the relationship between processions and missions. If you already have a grasp of standard trinitarian grammar, however, Vidu’s book is a rich, thought-provoking, and helpful guide to deepen your understanding of the ontological background to the divine missions and strengthen your knowledge of the theological grammar of classical theism in respect to this issue.
Vidu’s basic argument is that the missions that the Father, Son, and Spirit appropriate in the economy of salvation must in some way truly reflect their processions in the divine essence.3 More specifically, a person’s mission extends his procession into a created effect—or perhaps, less technically stated, a result within creation. In Vidu’s words: “As we have seen, the missions extend the processions of the divine persons into the created world. They prolong the internal fruitfulness of the Trinity, the inexhaustible and perfect life of God into the world.”4 Regardless how one might assess some ways that he applied this point to his explanations of soteriology, the thesis itself is immensely valuable, biblically substantiated, grounded in classical theism, and useful given the modern deficiencies in evangelical work on trinitarian doctrine.
That usefulness can be stated in three specific ways that help clarify and preserve classical trinitarian thought in light of modern theological developments. First, Vidu’s thesis maintains the classical doctrines of simplicity, immutability, and impassibility in contrast to so much of recent evangelical thought, which James Dolezal has termed “theistic mutualism,” by not collapsing God’s works in creation entirely into his essence.5 Second, it moves away from Barth’s view of God constituting himself as trinitarian by his decree to act for salvation in Jesus Christ by affirming that God’s processions are truly eternal and natural but ground their created effects that extend from them. Third, it heeds the useful aspects of insight from Rahner’s axiom that the economic Trinity is the ontological Trinity without falling into the trap of insisting that everything about the missions must be said—especially in a univocal sense—of the processions by maintaining that the created effects of the missions cannot exhaust the processions in the divine essence.6 In these respects, Vidu’s argument deserves careful attention, interaction, and use.
The book contains four chapters that unpack various aspects of this main thesis. The first chapter is essentially introductory, staking out the main argument in detail and situating it within trinitarian discussions from both classical and modern thinkers. The second looks at the Son and Spirit’s visible missions—namely those activities that we can see with our eyes during their earthly ministries, specifically the Son’s incarnation and the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost. The third looks at the Son and Spirit’s invisible missions which are to indwell believers throughout their Christian life. The final chapter explores how we might frame the beatific vision in respect to the relationship between divine processions and missions as well as to the limits of created beings, that is the Creator-creature distinction. Each chapter provides richly thought-provoking arguments, fresh biblical insights, and clarifications of how to implement our classical trinitarian grammar, often with helpful illustrations about how to explain the point—indeed Vidu’s illustrations, especially the Flatland narrative, are incredibly perceptive and crystalize very difficult points into accessible pictures.
The remainder of this series seeks to engage Vidu’s thesis in regard to how he applied it to soteriology and his formulation of redemptive history. Markedly, the following sections are not necessarily critiques of his arguments so much as they are attempts to deploy his basic but much appreciated premise in application to a more specifically Reformed construction of the economy, salvation, and eschatology. None of these points of engagements intend to claim that Vidu would disagree with them in any specific way, although he might, but are meant to extend his most important contributions to a more specific construction of fundamental Reformed concerns.
©Harrison Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
1. Adonis Vidu, The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021).
2. Adonis Vidu, The Divine Missions: An Introduction (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021). Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy for this post.
3. The doctrine of appropriations is that although God’s external works are inseparable, specific works are “appropriated” to one person in particular. So, for example, although Father, Son, and Spirit must be involved in the Son’s incarnation in some way, the Son alone appropriates this mission as its trinitarian term.
4. Vidu, Divine Missions, 27. The one statement of this view that is less than satisfying is: “In a mission, a procession finds another creature, which we will call term.” Vidu, Divine Missions, 28 (emphasis added). How a divine person can be said to relate to “another creature” is not clear. Nonetheless, this is likely a misstatement, unclearly formed, within the scope of a wider important argument.
5. James E. Dolezal, All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017).
6. Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Crossroad, 1997), 22.
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