How The Trinity Should Govern Our Approach To World Religions -- By: Gerald R. McDermott

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:1 (Mar 2017)
Article: How The Trinity Should Govern Our Approach To World Religions
Author: Gerald R. McDermott


How The Trinity Should Govern Our Approach To World Religions

Gerald R. McDermott*

* Gerald McDermott is Anglican chair of Beeson Divinity School, 800 Lakeshore Dr., Birmingham, AL 35229. He delivered this plenary address at the 68th annual meeting of the ETS in San Antonio, TX on November 16, 2016. He can be contacted at gmcdermo@samford.edu.

Abstract: The Trinity is the distinctive identity of the God we confess, and it is uniquely suited to protect interreligious dialogue and Christian theology of religions from heresy. To put it another way, only by thinking carefully about the Trinity can we be sure that the God to whom we refer is not an idol, a creation of our imagination, and that our comparisons of the Christian God to other gods does not confuse both.

Key words: Trinity, interreligious dialogue, pluralism, Islam

For two thousand years, Christian theologians have been engaging non-Christian religions, but since the Enlightenment they have often dropped the use of the Trinity in their interreligious dialogue. Some today say that bringing the Trinity to the dialogue table would be imperialistic and condescending. Using Christological criteria, they argue, would mute the identity of other religions by silencing the voice of the other. Other Christian theologians suggest that the Trinity is simply our imperfect way of conceptualizing the Divine which is grasped in roughly equally imperfect ways by all the major world religions. So the God behind the Trinity is the same God behind the monikers “Allah” and “Buddha” and so on.

In this article, I will argue that the Trinity is the distinctive identity of the God we confess and that it is uniquely suited to protect interreligious dialogue and Christian theology of religions from heresy. To put it another way, only by thinking carefully about the Trinity can we be sure that the God to whom we refer is not an idol, a creation of our imagination, and that our comparisons of the Christian God to other gods does not confuse both.1

I. Pluralism

The biggest attack on the Trinity in the last half-decade has come in the form of theological pluralism. Its most widely influential version goes back to British philosopher John Hick whose books God Has Many Names (1980) and An Interpretation

of Religion (1989) have had an enormous impact on the last two generations of Westerners trying to figure out who or what is god.

Several times in the first book Hick makes explicit a basic assumption that is at the heart of reli...

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