What God Hath Done Together: Defending The Historic Doctrine Of The Inseparable Operations Of The Trinity -- By: Kyle Claunch

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 56:4 (Dec 2013)
Article: What God Hath Done Together: Defending The Historic Doctrine Of The Inseparable Operations Of The Trinity
Author: Kyle Claunch


What God Hath Done Together: Defending The Historic Doctrine Of The Inseparable Operations Of The Trinity

Kyle Claunch*

* Kyle Claunch is a Ph.D. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.

I. Introduction

The anti-Arian polemics of the fourth century eventually gave rise to a consensus Trinitarian grammar, often referred to as pro-Nicene theology,1 by which the unity of God is understood in terms of one divine essence common to all three persons. Understood as a consequence of this account of divine unity, the doctrine of the inseparable operations of the Trinity ad extra contends that all of the works of the Triune God with respect to the creation are works of all three persons of the Godhead.2 This doctrine, often expressed by the Latin axiom, opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa3 has been a staple of orthodox Trinitarian theology for centuries. Statements and defense of the doctrine can be found among the Church fathers of the East (e.g. Athanasius and Gregory of Nyssa) and the West (e.g. Hilary of Poitiers and Augustine) as they engaged in anti-Arian polemical discourse. The doctrine is later expressed and defended by the medieval giant Thomas Aquinas and is fully embraced by the seventeenth-century Reformed Orthodox in their polemical engagement with the Socinians. The nineteenth-century heirs and defenders of Reformed Orthodoxy (e.g. Herman Bavinck and Charles Hodge) also held to this doctrine without wavering.

In recent years, however, Trinitarian theological discourse has taken a so-called “relational turn,”4 and the pro-Nicene account of divine unity has come under attack. As a consequence, the historic doctrine of inseparable operations has

fallen out of vogue in theological discourse. At times, the doctrine has been challenged directly.5 More often, it is simply ignored, being summarily dismissed as a component part of the unfortunate Trinitarian theology of Augustine and the West, with its emphasis on divine unity, which is considered deleterious to a healthy understanding of divine threeness and relationality.

1. Toward a thesis. The doctrine of the inseparable operations of the Trinity ad extra is a difficult one indeed. While the doctrine comports easily with the conviction that God is one, it raises difficult questions concerning the equally significan...

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