I just finished reading an excellent book, a published dissertation, by Eric Flett. Flett is Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at Eastern University, St. Davids, Pennsylvania. The book is entitled “Persons, Powers, and Pluralities: Toward a Trinitarian Theology of Culture”. I wrote a review of this book that hopefully will be published in an upcoming edition of Missiology: An International Review. Without repeating what will be published there, I want to share some of the ideas offered in the book.
The argument of the book, in my terms, is that the best way to understand reality, or to understand culture, is through the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity, that is one God (one ousia or essence) in three persons (three hypostases), is eternally and internally coequally ordered and correlated (perichoresis). When God creates, as Father, Son, and Spirit, He confers both this order and relationship 0nto the universe, particularly seen in human culture. While this order and relationship is distorted by the fall, that is, sin affects both the cosmos and the human condition–in the Father sending the Son, the world, in its God-given beauty and grand diversity, is redeemed, and in the sending of the Spirit, the world is reoriented towards its designed end (telos), the worship and glory of God, and also sanctified. Because the son became a particular, culturally embedded man, and because the Spirit indwells such culturally embedded persons, humanity in its grand ethnic and cultural diversity is shown to have ultimate value.
The problem is that disorder caused by the fall has not yet been fully restored. Because of disorder, cultures have developed cultural, religious, moral, scientific systems that separate people from objective reality. Ways of thinking and living are not oriented towards the triune God. Because people are created in God’s image, they have rational, ordered faculties and the mechanisms for relating with others and with God, but because they are other than God, unless God reveals Himself to them, they would not be able to reason and find God. Thus, God revealed Himself triune-ly to His creation and chose humanity as His “priests of creation”, His priests of order. The triune God has chosen to restore this broken order through the sending of the church. The church participates in this ministry by calling fallen humanity to faith in the Triune God. This is a cultural exercise since the Church is an “embodiment and expression of truth” and a “transforming matrix” for “engag[ing] and transform[ing] every culture and cultural sphere it comes into contact with” (217). As Paul says, “in Him we live and move and have our being”–God is the very foundation of reality.
As God’s freely chosen instrument of restoring creational order through the power and agency of the Holy Spirit, it is important that the church sees human culture, in its grand diversity, as a good thing to both restore and develop. Having redeemed minds, albeit within a critical realist epistemology, the church breaks down faulty human cultural systems by restoring an objective point of reference, the triune God as revealed in the Scriptures, and the church builds up cultural systems that bring glory and honor to the truine God by reflecting His relational creational order.
What are your thoughts on this argument and calling?
Personally, I think this approach towards culture holds a lot of promise. I would challenge you to pursue an in-depth study of Trinitarian thought if you haven’t already. Also, I would challenge you to begin to form a theology of culture.
So, should you read this book? Perhaps. If you are an academic, or have in interest in either Trinitarian thought or culture, this is a book for you; in fact, for you it is a must-read. Be forewarned, this book traces a highly technical theological argument through the works of T.F. Torrance, so this book is not written for the person without some background study under their belt. If you are a practitioner or a layman, start by reading “Creation Regained” by Al Wolters, then a decent introduction on the trinity and perhaps a theology of mission with Trinitarian overtones such as “The Open Secret” by Lesslie Newbigin. Another helpful work would be Paul Hiebert’s “Missiological Implications of Epistemological Shifts” . Ask me for more books if you are interested.