Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Trinitarian Ontology of Missions

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Trinitarian Ontology of Missions

Article excerpt


Based on the premise that nature and action are inextricably linked, it is contended that any construal of missional theology as the church's participation in the missio Dei, cannot disregard the doctrine of the immanent Trinity. Four images of the Trinity are appropriated as theological maps for a critical and "thick" description of missions. The trinitarian paradigms characterising the three divine Persons as Source, Word and Love (emphasised by the Greek, Protestant and Latin traditions respectively) are used to counterbalance the contemporary bias toward a social Trinity, which draws its inspiration from the classical doctrine of perichoresis. In the processional model, God's transcendence secures a theocentric missiology, while the reciprocity of the Son and Spirit is correlated to incarnational and charismatic ministry. The linguistical paradigm points to our participation in the mission of the Word that demands both proclamation and action; the eternal dialogue within God prompts our continual hearing and speaking, in relation to God and the world. The dispositional image highlights the Spirit of love, who brings about missional spirituality, humility and unity, even as the loving embrace of the Father and Son leads as to participate in the sufferings of those at the margins. Finally, the perichoretic model of the Trinity points to the inseparability of the missio Dei and the imago Dei, being and doing, the self and the Other. The oneness of the divine mission implies an integral missional praxis that is rooted in the worship of this triune God.


In Karl Rahner's groundbreaking treatise The Trinity, he observes that the "monotheistic" character of much practical, Christian piety betrays the church's orthodox confession of its trinitarian God. (1) One might extrapolate his insight to include much of our practical Christian missions. Nevertheless, the future of missions seems hopeful judging from the current renaissance of trinitarian discourse within contemporary, academic theology. With its strong ecumenical foundations in biblical, patristic and credal sources, this doctrine has reshaped many of the most recent denominational and ecumenical missiological treatises.

Such is the present theological climate that the necessity to ground our missional theory and practice within a trinitarian framework needs no further justification. However, this paper is not an apologia for a purely functional trinitarian theology of missions. Rather, its premise is that an inseparable link between the economic Trinity and immanent Trinity is crucial, if not necessary, to any trinitarian discourse. Its goal is to allow for a full description of our missions as participation in the mission and nature of the triune God. This allows us to embed the Christian missionary vocation not only within the recta-narrative of God's historicity, but in his very being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Specifically, four paradigms of the Trinity will be examined in this exercise: the processional, revelational, dispositional and social. Each of the first three sections will highlight (1) a unitive property attributed to a particular divine Person, and (2) a correlative, relational pattern between the other two. By highlighting the particularities of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the plurality of their relational configurations, specific missiological issues will be defended and/or critiqued where appropriate. The final section, as a counterpoint to the previous three, will focus on the fundamental unity and inter-relatedness between the nature and work of the Trinity, and its implications for Christian missions.

The eternal God, who is Spirit and truth (processional model) The Father, the source of divinity

As an import from Dionysius of Alexandria, the portrayal of the Father as the "source of divinity" is evidenced in the writings of the Greek and Latin Fathers, the great scholastic theologians and in contemporary Catholic theologians like Karl Rahner and Leonardo Boff. …

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