IV. Doctrines and practices

TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY: The Spirit and the fellowship of the triune God

Since the fourth century, the Trinity has been a central Christian doctrine. Among the early Pentecostals, however, the Trinity was a point of contention and division that gave rise to Oneness and trinitarian Pentecostal trajectories (see Chapter 18). The focus of this chapter is on Pentecostal contributions to trinitarian theology. Many Pentecostals are confessional, but not functional trinitarians (Tapper 2017, 1—7). In other words, even among trinitarian Pentecostals, the Trinity, though a point of confession, is often of little further consequence. The problem is not limited to the church but has also characterized formal Pentecostal theologies (see Pearlman 1937, 68—77; McRoberts 1995, 145—77). Until the end of the twentieth century, Pentecostal theologians more or less adopted the primary content of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan creed (Menzies and Horton 2000, 55). They gave little effort to considering what a Pentecostal perspective might contribute to trinitarian theology, much less to developing a genuinely Pentecostal trinitarian theology (Karkkainen 2002, 97, 103; Warrington 2008, 30). That situation began to change only in the early twenty-first century. In this chapter, I argue that Pentecostal trinitarian theology develops from a pneumatological reading of Scripture. 1 begin by outlining current Pentecostal engagement with the Trinity and then turn to develop a Pentecostal trinitarian theology based on biblical pneumatology to show that the Spirit of Pentecost plays a summative role in the history of redemption, which indicates that the Spirit fulfills the fellowship of the trinitarian God. 1 conclude with bringing this Pentecostal trinitarian theology into conversation with wider trinitarian traditions.

Pentecostal engagement with the Trinity

The emergence of Pentecostal trinitarian theology has taken three directions. First, Pentecostal theologians turned to the Trinity as resource for constructive work in other areas of theology. Simon Chan’s (1998, 40—55) Pentecostal contribution to Christian spirituality is an early work in this genre of theology (see Chapter 3). Frank Macchia’s (2006, 2010) work is an exemplar of this approach. He draws on the Trinity to revise the traditional Pentecostal theology of Spirit baptism (see Chapter 23) and to propose a Pentecostal theology of justification. Athanasius and Augustine are key resources for Macchia. The result is a fruitful integration of these figures and a trinitarian vision of Spirit baptism and justification. Developing a Pentecostal account of the Trinity, however, is not (yet) his dominant focus.

Second, Pentecostal theologians supplemented traditional trinitarian theologies with Pentecostal insights. Here the works of Amos Yong and Kilian McDonnell are important. Although Yong’s primary subject is theological hermeneutics, a pneumatological trinitarian theology grounds it. Beginning with biblical pneumatology, Yong (2002) identifies three characteristics of the Spirit—relationality, rationality, and power—on the basis of the Spirit’s work in mediating the grace of Christ, creating the world, and giving life. He brings these pneumatological points into dialogue with Eastern and Western trinitarian theologies. The result is a pneumatological trinitarianism: not a Pentecostal trinitarianism per se, but a re-visioning of traditional trinitarian theologies on the basis of Pentecostal and biblical pneumatology. Catholic charismatic theologian, Kilian McDonnell (2003) maintains that the Trinity shapes both pneumatology and Christology. His goal is to integrate the roles of Christ and the Holy Spirit in the work of redemption in place of the traditional tendencies to separate their missions or to subordinate the Spirit to Christ. Although McDonnell effectively gives Christ and the Spirit distinct roles, he continues Western theology’s Christocentrism, making the Spirit’s role instrumental for accessing Christ’s revelation and redemption. Yong’s is the more significant work for Pentecostals because it operates more consistently from pneumatological insights and, thus, provides more constructive contributions toward a Pentecostal trinitarian theology.

Developing a genuine “Pentecostal” theology of the Trinity is the third direction. This work is more preliminary. Although recent years saw Pentecostals engage trinitarian theology more than their predecessors, developing a Pentecostal theology of the Trinity as such remains rare. The challenge for Pentecostal theology is to articulate a theology of the Trinity derived from the Pentecostal tradition and to engage the alternative trinitarian traditions with a distinct Pentecostal voice. My own work (Studebaker 2012), followed by William P. Atkinson (2013), are important steps toward this goal. The following sections provide the basic contours of this agenda by drawing primarily on my own work yet representing emphases found in Atkinson, Macchia, and Yong.

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