A Response to Kevin J. Bidwell

I was surprised and honored to see one of the contributors to Engaging With Keller leave a comment on this blog.  Kevin J. Bidwell communicated some concerns over my review of his chapter on Keller’s metaphor of ‘dance’ for the Trinity.  I thought it would be helpful to respond to Kevin in a new blog post and to keep the dialogue going.  I am more than happy for Kevin to be a guest blogger and get the final word.  Kevin’s words are in bold while mine are generic.

ewk

Dear Daniel, I do not believe that I have met you before but I thought it would be helpful to give you a little context that lays behind my chapter on the Trinity. Dr Keller’s “dance” imagery was brought to my attention in 2009, toward the end of a PhD that I completed on systematics. The title was “The Church as the Image of the Trinity” and my supervisor was Dr Robert Letham.

I’m a big Letham fan.  I haven’t read his book on the Trinity, though.  Many folks have told me his book on the Westminster Assembly is a must have.

My work on this chapter has involved arduous labour and my primary motive has been to stimulate a recovery of a historic and orthodox understanding of the Trinity, most especially for the reformed church. Tim Keller provides a popular springboard for this topic and he very unhelpfully in my view, promotes “dance” imagery for his doctrine of the Trinity. This has neither biblical warrant nor historic precedent.

I mentioned in my review of Kevin’s chapter how he wasn’t always clear as how one should categorize Keller’s imagery of ‘dance’ for the Trinity (motif or metaphor?).  I read (and hear) Keller employing ‘dance’ as a metaphor for the doctrine of perichoresis in terms of Trinity’s relational unity.

In certain comments I have read regarding this book “Engaging with Keller” in different places, some well-meaning, but mis-directed Christians seem to think critical evaluation of doctrines being taught is “out-of-bounds”. I cannot think of a more unbiblical position. The apostle Paul warned that we must “test everything; hold fast what is good” 1 Thessalonians 5:21. My intention is not to attack Tim Keller personally, but to evaluate whether his chosen means of explaining the Trinity is valid.

I have yet to read any review of Engaging With Keller which makes the claim that critical evaluation of doctrine is “out-of-bounds”. I would like Kevin to point me to such comments, as such a claim would be unbiblical.  I’m also glad that Kevin and the majority of the contributors to the book were brotherly in their engagement with Keller.

My impression in reading your comments are two-fold. Firstly, you appear to simply attempt to defend Tim Keller rather than evaluating the historic doctrine of the Trinity theologically. You clearly are passionate, but I wonder as to how qualified you are as a philosophy major to give a reasoned evaluation of the Trinity, after you have only read the chapter days before. Perhaps you could clarify for myself and others who may read this blog, as to your previous study of the Trinity at a theological level, so that we can judge whether you have really given yourself adequate time to handle this subject competently.

Kevin is right to point out that I defend Keller, but that is somewhat misleading.  I state at the end of my review that I an not necessarily endorsing Keller’s metaphor of ‘divine dance’ since endorsing a poetic theological description seems strange to me.  I simply made the case that Keller’s analogy doesn’t undermine or contradict the ecumenical creeds.

I am not offended that Kevin questions my qualification to give a reasoned evaluation on the Trinity (though some of my friends were a bit peeved with Kevin’s comment).  I have a B.A. from Erskine College in Philosophy as well as Bible & Religion in a Theological Studies track (w/ honors).  I also have an M.Div from Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte where I studied under one of the world’s top experts in Trinitarian studies, Douglas Kelly.

In addition, I have been examined and licensed by Catawba Presbytery in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  So, I hope that my ministry in a local church gives me another perspective as to how we may communicate doctrine.

Secondly, as a fellow Christian brother, I am compelled to make a further comment. You conclude your evaluation of my chapter with a theological error. You assert: “Ultimately, I think it is okay for me to teach my children, my church, or an unbeliever about the Trinity by pointing to an aspect of creation and use it as an analogy for the Godhead (so long as it is intelligible)”. Now this is plain wrong. It is very postmodern to assert “I think it is okay”, but Paul the apostle asks a crucial question in Romans 4:3: “For what does the Scripture say?”.

The Lord Jesus teaches that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” John 4:24 and the Lord of glory declares in Isaiah 40:18 “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”. I sincerely believe that you have not sufficiently thought through the assertion that you make.

I’m not sure if Kevin actually disagrees with me or if he misunderstands me.  I confess to not understanding his use of the word postmodern. Surely, not everything ‘postmodern’ is bad, especially if it corrects an error of modernity.  Kevin would not be accurate to say that my claim is ‘postmodern’ in terms of subjectivism and relativism.  I submit to the authority of Scripture (and creeds, secondarily).

My point was that it isn’t unbiblical to appeal to general revelation or some other aspect of creation to describe God and his attributes. Scripture itself appeals to creation to describe God and his attributes (Ps 19:1; Rom 1:18-20).  Obviously there are faithful and unfaithful ways to describe God and his attributes through creation, hence my caveat that such analogies are to be ‘intelligible’.  (Aren’t I being a faithful Van Tilian in employing ‘analogical reasoning’?)

Kevin’s comment also baffles me in that even the ecumenical creeds use culturally-dependent (i.e. non-biblical) language to prescribe our doctrine.  The Bible doesn’t specifically use the term ‘homoousios’.  These philosophical terms were used and seen as adequate to describe the mysterious but biblical doctrine of the Godhead.  Even if Nicean terminology doesn’t solve every conceptual issue (see James Anderson’s Paradox in Christian Theology), that doesn’t mean such language is unfaithful or unbiblical though they are contextual. (I would recommend J.N.D Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines and Douglas Kelly’s Systematic Theology Vol 1 as helpful resources demonstrating the complexities of this matter.)

I finally note that I wish Kevin would have responded to my actual points in reviewing his chapter.  My main contention is that Keller sees ‘divine dance’ as a metaphor/analogy for the doctrine of perichoresis, and that Keller is not claiming that this metaphor is the basis for God’s ontological unity.  After that, Kevin is free to argue where the ‘divine dance’ analogy breaks down (as is the case with any analogy).  Yet, if we toss Keller under the bus because his analogy breaks down, we must toss him under with Augustine as well.

 

 
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9 thoughts on “A Response to Kevin J. Bidwell

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jason.

      I would point out that the Reformers were split over Augustine’s psychological analogies of the Trinity. See Doug Kelly’s Systematic Theology Vol 1

  1. Daniel, you are being very brave to tackle this review and these ‘experts’ of higher learning . . . and are doing a good job of it.

    I contend that one can study something and dissect it too much and lose true and foundational meaning. The Word is pretty clear if you trust the language translater. Why do we ‘worship’ people with advanced degrees and pompous words. Such have given us really distorted and ultimately destructive worldviews. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) should apply in religion as well as writing.

    I’m a non-expert nobody in this debate, but I trust you.

  2. Daniel,

    I am not persuaded that you have read my chapter “Losing the Dance” sufficiently well, with respect to the historic understanding of the Trinity. I have posted a comment on my own blog with the title: “Are Analogies for the Trinity Useful, Biblical or Helpful?”. You assert that it is ok to use analogies from Creation to teach the Trinity and I do not believe that you have thought through your comment before posting it on your blog. I refute the use of three common analogies: an egg, water, or a man with three different roles.

    I leave it with you to examine your position on this matter and I recommend that you do not write further blogs insisting on these matters until you give yourself time to think, pray and read more on the Trinity. The book by Robert Letham on “The Holy Trinity” which you admit you have not read, would be a great starting point. I hope that you read it and enjoy it.

    May we all remain humble and teachable, and let us pray for each other in this matter.
    Yours for the recovery of the historic doctrine of the Trinity,

    Kevin B

    The link to this specific blog post is http://kevinbidwell.blogspot.co.uk

    1. Hey Kevin. It’s good to hear from you again, and thank you for your comment.

      It’s been a busy day for me, but I will check out your blog post this week and put down some thoughts.

      Even if we disagree on the particular question before us, I’m glad we agree that we adhere to the historic, orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

      Blessings,
      Daniel

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