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God Unknown: The Trinity in Contemporary Spirituality by Ian Mobsby

July 24, 2017

I have picked up and put down this book so often at conference bookstalls that, finally, I thought I’d better read it.

I am glad that I did because it has the best rationale for mission that I have read in a long time.

The doctrine of the Trinity has the power to resonate with us deeply. Its focus on unity and community speaks with great prophetic challenge to both the world and the church. In God Unknown, Ian Mobsby shows how the Trinity’s divine unity, open-endedness and refusal to be bound by fixed meanings can illuminate our mission, worship and spirituality today. Weaving together Trinitarian theology, cultural exegesis and new monastic spirituality, he issues a timely call to the church to become a more authentic, effective expression of God’s love in an individualist, consumerist culture.


the writers of the Hebrew scriptures were wary of us­ing nouns for God. For example, they were careful when using the term ‘Saviour’. Brueggemann gives a convincing argument for why this is so. The use of nouns closes down the meaning and naming of God out of experience, and creates a closed or fixed interpretation.

One of the first heretics, Arius, made appeal to scripture for the support of his idea that Jesus was not fully human.

tension between the East and West. Unfortunately Augustine took this further with the inclusion of the filioque clause, added in the West to the Nicene Creed.

He claimed, as others had before him, that the Holy Spirit pro­ceeds from the Father ‘and the Son’. This was not in the original Nicene Creed, and it portrayed the Holy Spirit as subservient to the Son. He failed to see the Holy Spirit as a full person, and there­fore as not equal to the Father and the Son. Photius (c. 820-893 CE) talked of this as a ‘downgrading’ of the Holy Spirit, which made the Spirit more of a receiver than an equal person.35 Colin Gunton (1941-2003) has argued that this downplaying of the per­son of the Holy Spirit has created a weakness peculiar to Western theology.

The resultant beliefs inerrancy of the Bible, and the idea that we do not need any revelation from God as we have all we need in the Bible sometimes called the cessation of revelation in Christ) are very difficult to account for in contemporary society. This assumes we know everything, and that God cannot do anything new.

the gospel can be understood to live within us, as our lives become part of the continually unfolding canon of scripture. We must have confidence in the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us into all wisdom, not to contradict scripture, but to bring new interpretations to light. The Spirit will provide ongo­ing wisdom and understanding with regard to the many areas the Bible does not make direct reference to, and to the few it does. So rather than living in fear, we should have confidence, in all we do, that God is before us, behind us, above us and below us, and that ultimately, our calling is to catch up with what God is already doing.

Value One: following Christ as a model of discipleship. This con­notes the sense of human becoming, discipleship, and church as a group of disciples seeking to live out together what Christ called us to.

Value Two: the transformative pouring out of God from the sacred into the ordinary. The Church reflects this call to worship God and in so doing pours out itself in loving action, mixing up the sacred and secular in the pursuit of transformation drawn from the love of God.

Value Three: as God lives in perichoresis, belonging and love, so the Church is called to express community, belonging and mu­tual love.

Value Four: practising hospitality. As the Holy Trinity seeks to draw people into relationship with the Divine, so should the Church seek to love and draw into relationship those outside of itself.

Value Five: as the perichoretic Triune God interpenetrates the God-self in participation, love and inclusion, so the Church should be a generous, sharing community.

Value Six: as with God’s perichoretic nature, where the three per­sons participate in God’s oneness, so should the Church par­ticipate and include everyone as an expression of the Church’s oneness.

Value Seven: as God creates and sustains the cosmos and inspires human development, so the Church should encourage creativ­ity and development in all those involved.

Value Eight: as the Trinity models unity in diversity, where all three persons are co-equal, so should the Church reflect the sense of being a body of co-equal persons in one community.

Value Nine: as the Holy Trinity playfully and dynamically engages with the cosmos, so the Church should in its togetherness host spiritual activities.

the doctrine of the texts of the Bible are the results not of heavenly dictation, but of the struggles of women and men of faith to make sense out of that faith in the midst of lives where God’s presence was often less than self-evident. Rather than a list of doctrines to be believed, the Bible — and to some extent the Christian tradition — presents various valid ways of wrestling with faith and doing grace. This false teaching justifies the think­ing of fundamentalist Christians and has effectively wrecked the spiritual and social lives of many people. The research I conducted for my previous book has convinced me that this approach to the Christian faith has successfully de-churched a great many people. The shame it creates often causes people to walk away from God, and to limit the power of the infinite love of God. No human being has the right to define who is in and who is out, when the love of God is concerned. Such beliefs must be challenged by those pre­pared to model alternative expressions of Christian community

At the point after the resurrection the Trinity is re-gathered, and then God the Holy Spirit is sent to be the perfect Counsellor and Sustainer for the Church until the consummation of all things, when God draws all things back into restored relationship at the end of time. So the stoiy of God is centred on the rhythm of gather­ing of the divine persons in love, participation and justice and then the sending of divine persons to express this love, participa­tion and justice to the cosmos and humanity. This gathering and sending has something to say about the nature of church as the body of Christ, which is to share in this divine nature of gather­ing.

participants of the Church, are sent out to be apostles ourselves — to express self-giving love to people and to creation.

The building of a vibrant community life, there­fore, where real sharing, mutuality, justice, and solidarity take place.’

Mission is only really possible when we are not deluded by personal greed, fear and anger. We remember that at the heart of a market society are the idols of greed, power and self-centredness. So the exponents of the monastic, mission-centred, Trinitarian and counter-cultural model are found throughout the history of the Church.

Cosmology teaches us that everything is related to every thing else at all times, in all circumstances . . . It is important that we recuperate attitudes of respect and adoration of the Earth.

salvation is about God enabling us to be free from the thoughts that distort us, to live virtuously here and now, with the thoughts that give us life.

It cannot be the task of leaders, ordained or not, to do everything in the church them­selves. This would lead to hypertrophy of this one member of the body of Christ and to the fateful atrophy of all other mem­bers. The task of leaders is first to animate all the members of the church to engage their pluriform charismatic activities, and then to coordinate these activities.’

Unsurprisingly this is not such a problem in the East, where priests are seen as servants of the Church, and otherwise normal people who can marry and have families. Bishops are seen as the wise grandees of the Church, respected and listened to, but without the power that is invested in Western bishops. It is important to remem­ber that less than four hundred years ago, bishops in the Church of England often had their own private armies!

Postmodern people are more likely to come to faith through ex­perience which leads to understanding of doctrine than through prior intellectual assent. But one of the tragedies of today is that some elements of the Church are now so firmly secularized in their disbelief in the supernatural that they have nothing to say to a culture which increasingly takes spirituality and the super­natural for granted.

Those within the emerging conversation find unity not by a type of cloning which all Christians are encouraged to believe the same thing . . . speaking of God is but only ever speaking about our understanding of God . . . this approach diligently maintains a conceptual distance between ourselves and God

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