Unity Diversity and Alterity

Both Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Colin Gunton formulate their Trinitarian reflections within the problem field of unity and diversity. Both are concerned with conceiving of relationality and alterity. In the background is their concern that neither modernism nor postmodernism has succeeded in actually affirming alterity. Where modernism constantly tries to constrict the Other into uniform, objectivizing correspondence, postmodernism negates the Other by its refusal to differentiate, so that even here, the final result is equalization. Relativism without differentiation cannot provide a solution. The counterpart, also called "foundationalism," is a misstep inasmuch as this position—in a kind of intellectual Pelagianism—thinks that it can establish a universally valid, eternal truth exclusively through the efforts of human rational activities.29 Vanhoozer wants to make the doctrine of the Trinity useful for a theology of religion by attempting to show that an identity of God that is understood to be Trinitarian enables both exclusivistic, as well as pluralistic and inclusivistic, thinking. If the Trinity is made the transcendent condition of interreligious dialogue, then, Vanhoozer says, there is no danger of reducing the Other to the "same."30 Gavin D'Costa thinks similarly when—following, among others, Lévinas and Derrida—he attempts to create an open eschatological and Trinitarian inclusivism. With the aid of this, he thinks that it is possible to have a theology that does not subject other religions to a leveling process or push them into a negative al-terity.31

Vanhoozer bases his concept of identity on Ricoeur's distinction of Idem-Identity (memetelsameness) and Ipse-Identity (ipse'itelselfhood).31 The Idem-Identity corresponds to the God of the philosophers, a perennially identical God who, according to the Greek model, reduces the alterity of the Other in an ontology without narrativity. The ipse-identical God, by contrast, is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who, in faithfulness, proves to be the same over the course of time. Identity thus conceived aims at a relationship to an Other. It is identity that must be understood narratively. The biblical stories ascribe to God a "dynamic identity." This has significance for God's relationship to time and eternity, for "it is the narrative figuration of the economic Trinity—that is, the story of the temporal missions of Jesus and the Spirit—that alone configures God's eternity."33 Here, the unity of God is not understood as a presupposition, but is rather derived from the Trinitarian self-manifestation of God in history. Ontology is secondary to narration.34 While Idem-Identity only has room for God's unity, the focus of Ipse-Identity includes also the Trinity. This makes it possible to express both difference and relation in interreligious dialogue.

Just as enthusiastically, Gunton describes the potential of the doctrine of the Trinity to formulate an appropriate theology of creation:

It is the trinitarian formulation of a doctrine of creation that allows God to be God, the world to be the world, distinct beings and yet personally related by personal mediation as creator and creation. . . . [T]he plurality in unity of the triune revelation enables us to do justice to the diversity, richness, and openness of the world without denying its unity in relativist versions of pluralism. It is that vision that trinitarian theology has to offer the fragmented modern world.35

Trinity does not merely mean that three persons enter into relationships with one another, but rather that the persons mutually constitute one another within the relationships. A distinction between being and relating is possible only in theoretical thinking. Viewed ontologically, there is no difference. Being and relating are "part of the one ontological dynamic."36

Under the motto "relation and relativity," Gunton attempts to form a bridge between Trinitarian theology and modern science.37 He argues to the effect that the key Trinitarian concepts of freedom, energy, and relation have a certain similarity to their scientific counterparts. With this argument, he surely goes much further than most theologians and scientists would be willing to go:

Indeed, what I want to suggest is that some modern scientific theories look as though they are the result of a process almost of intellectual evolution, from static theories owing more to Greek than to Christian influences to a dynamism reflecting the more eschatological emphasis of a doctrine that pays due attention to the role of the Holy Spirit.38

Even if the development from statics to dynamics is scientifically verifiable, as chapter 3 shows, one cannot automatically draw a line from here all the way to eschatology. If, in spite of this fact, such is the case in Gunton, then this points less to a good understanding of scientific theories than to theological appropriation or overestimation of such theories. Gun-ton's manner of argumentation is reminiscent of Newton. Thus, as in Newton, absolute God and absolute space and absolute time corresponded to one another, in Gunton dynamic Trinity and a universe that is understood as "a perichoresis of interrelated dynamic systems"39 belong together. It even seems to him that the development of modern field theories have led "inexorably to the conceptual echo of trinitarian theology in relativity theory and its developments."40 Despite enthusiasm for dynamics and relationality, one must still expressly emphasize the distinction between scientific and theological theory formation because this distinction is important for guaranteeing the understanding of theories in their respective contexts and protecting each from mutual appropriation. Gunton's assumption, that Trinitarian theology could have contributed to the development of the concepts that aided modern science in discovering the relationality, contingency, and dynamism of the universe,41 appears rather naive to me, in view of chapter 3. I do share his viewpoint, however, that it is a task of theology to ask questions that go beyond science.

The mutually constituting persons of the Trinity, dynamics and relationality in the universe and in God—to be sure, these notions are inspiring. Nevertheless, something essential has been omitted. If the essence of the Trinitarian God is love, then how can relation be conceived without autonomy? If God is transcendent, then how can God's identity be used as a model for interreligious dialogue or for a theology of nature? Is it not precisely God's alterity that is again violated in such a project? Is not the appropriate frui of the relationship with God replaced by an uti that is subject to human categories? Regardless of how stimulating Trinitarian reflections may appear to be within the context of the weaknesses of modernism and postmodernism and in view of the formulation of modern physical theories, it should always remain clear that we are dealing here with an inspiring analogy in the broadest sense and not with an identification of one with the other.

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