November 16, 2008

Allan Coppedge, The God Who Is Triune

In The God Who Is Triune, subtitled Revisioning the Christian Doctrine of God, Coppedge undertakes a systematic exposition of the doctrine of God. The key to the book, though, as its title makes clear, is that Coppedge draws on the triunity of God as the key for his reconstruction. The book opens with two chapters laying out the New Testament evidence, larger biblical "frame," and early theological developments toward understanding God as triune, making a case that understanding God as three in one and one in three, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is essential to understanding who God is. He then goes on to construct a fuller doctrine of God, covering the classic themes of God's attributes, creation, and providence, but he does it all after laying the trinitarian groundwork and in light of these fundamental insights. This makes Coppedge's book a valuable contribution to the field.

Coppedge's material on the Trinity is very well done, and I think he lays out very clearly and helpfully the essentials necessary for constrcting a theology of the Trinity. He shows much sympathy toward an Eastern approach to the Trinity that starts more from God's threeness and goes on to assert God's unity, though he also shows sympathies toward the more Western, Augistinian approach of starting from God's unity. Overall, though, this Eastern trend helps give the trinitarian drama to his whole presentation, as it keeps the vibrant interrelational life of God center stage as moves on to discuss God's being and attributes and God's relation to creation.

One of the defining insights of the book is that a Trinitiarian starting point means that when one moves to discussing God, the traditional four categories of attributes are still discussed--personal, moral, relative, and absolute--but they are approached in a different order. Coppedge begins with God's personal attributes (discussing attributes such as God's social nature, life, heart, moral capacity, freedom, creativity, and responsibility) and moral attributes. Only then does he move on to God's relative and absolute attributes. This means that God's sociality, will, freedom, and righteousness come before and exercise a controling role over attributes such as omnipotence. The result of this is that a picture of a vibrant, alive, relating God comes to the fore. This doesn't lessen God's glory or holiness, or diminish God's transcendence, but it means that who God is isn't lost in discussions of what God is capable of. Instead of focusing on God's being in himself, with a focus on God's unity as the omnipotent and omnipresent being above and beyond the universe one meets God as Father, Son, and Spirit, forever relating as living, loving, active beings who come to meet us in holiness and invite us to enter into their trine life. That, to me, is the refreshing aspect of this book. The Doctrine of God doesn't become abstract philosophical discussions about categories of being, though it does contain that, but it focuses instead on God as he makes himself known in a personal way. The focus is thereby supremely on God as made known in Jesus Christ, who becomes the key for our understanding of who God is.

I found Coppedge's expositon of the entire doctrine of God based on a trinitarian starting point to be supremely helpful. It helps to illumine all of theology by adding a relational element to God's very existence. It also points Coppedge (a Weslyan) toward an understanding of providence and freedom that entails God inviting human persons to enter into genuine relations with God and each other in true freedom. In short, I think it is one of the most helpful defenses I have read of a Weslyan (that is, essentially an Arminian) understanding of providence and free will, drawing as it does on God's very nature as the ground for its theological reasoning.

I highly recommend this book as a great resource on the doctrine of the Trinity, but more than that, I think it is essential reading for an example of how Trinity matters to all of Christian life and thought, instead of being a mere appendix to the doctrine of God to set it apart from other non-Christian expositions of theism. Not only did I benefit from it, but I enjoyed reading it. And further more, I was drawn closer to God through it, by being reminded that God isn't an amorphous being up there but is instead chooses to be known as Father, Son, and Spirit: in short, God lets us know who he is, and that's a lot more intimate than focusing on what or that God is.

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