For my final month editing the Spectrum blog I’m reflecting on the 28 fundamental beliefs. In particular I’m asking, is there more to essential Adventist identity than giving mental assent to a belief? Where’s the ethical action? Here’s number two.
There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. He is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation. (Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 14:7.)
This is one of the few fundamental beliefs that includes an action element. Out of this understanding of the trinity Adventists should worship, adore, and serve God.
But whenever the Trinity is discussed our language tends to pick favorite Persons. When’s the last time you heard a sermon about adoring the Holy Spirit or even worshipping Jesus? God the Father gets most of the glory. This asymmetrical reciprocity is common to various forms of Protestant theology. Of course, many early Adventists would not be able to agree with this doctrine as written. I don’t want to get too hung up on the history of the Trinity as an orthodoxy signifier or its support in scripture. Richard Rice and Graham Maxwell, among others, have explored the meaning in helpful ways for the contemporary Adventist. In his Thinking Theologically, Fritz Guy called for an update in our language.
The fact is, our metaphors for God are still too rooted in the language of monarchy. Everytime I hear a song or homily praising the King of kings or about adoring our Lord, I have flashbacks to some weird medieval scene in Game of Thrones.
Our language around the Trinity sounds irrelevant and, honestly, not that spiritual. Much of the world has fought off kingly power. A person who needs constant praising and adoration has an ego problem. We make fun of North Koreans calling their dictators “Dear Leader,” but then we’re fine with collectively calling out collectively “Dear Lord” or “Dear Heavenly Father” in church.
Given our current state of authoritarian power struggles by Adventist leaders, it’s clear that our language about God shapes our ecclesiology. How we talk about God is how we act. I just don’t see God revealed in the Gospels promoting monarchical or autocratic metaphors. In fact, Jesus repeatedly fought against the attempt by the disciples to force him into their kingly mental mold.
Instead, to Jesus, God was an important relative, a father. Calling God “dad” rather than a king in a culture of empire might be as radically meaningful as calling God a mother, grandfather, or friend today.
Much brokenness is caused these days by forceful efforts to fire Adventist science professors who don’t publicly believe/teach everything in another belief. But as one starts to look through each belief, singling out one doctrine or one academic discipline seems capricious and inconsistent. This Trinity doctrine clearly states that God is gendered and He is male. Should we also fire or disfellowship Adventists who use gender neutral or democratic words to describe God?
Many great theologians outside of Adventism have explored the implications of the doctrine of the triune God. Instead of an authoritarian model, some like Jürgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf draw upon Eastern Orthodox understandings of the Social Trinity in which God is relationship or that the church is the image of the Trinity.
Moltmann writes in his The Trinity and the Kingdom of God:
If we search for a concept of unity corresponding to the biblical testimony of the triune God, the God who unites others with himself, then we must dispense with both the concept of the one substance and the concept of the identical subject. All that remains is: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the three Persons with one another, or: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the triune God. For the concept of unitedness is the concept of a unity that can be communicated and is open…(150).
If one believes in the fundamental belief of the triune God the evidence is not mere words. The proof lies in ones ability to prioritize divine commune through relationship. God cared so much about humanity that God self-sacrificed in order to reconcile humanity. That broken body of Christ is the church. Now by communing through the power of the Spirit, the believer participates in the divine commune. Thus, this fundamental belief calls Adventists to prioritize the social meaning of the church as the divine presence on earth. The active Adventist does not seek to divide and expel, but rather participates in atonement by understanding and reconciling through community.