Stephen Pardue - "The Trinity Among the Nations"
1:42PM Jun 29, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
We are delighted today to be talking with Dr. Steven Pardue assistant professor of theology at Asia Graduate School of Theology in the Philippines and co editor of one of several books. The book that we'll be discussing today is The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World. Dr. Pardue thank you for being with us today.
Thank you for having me.
Dr. Pardo as we begin, would you be willing just to explain a little bit about your journey? What brought you from Wheaton now to the Philippines?
Yeah, so actually, my journey starts in the Philippines. I grew up in the southern Philippines. From the time I was a baby, and actually just moved to Wheaton when it was time for university and settled there. hopped around, bounced around a little and ended up back there. For my doctoral work, and then was delighted to be able to come back.
Great. Would you be willing to share with our viewers? What is the nature of your doctoral research?
Sure, yeah, I worked on the issue of humility and early Christian thought. So I was very interested in how humility shapes, several theologians and their approach to theology. So focused on a Gustin and Gregory of Nyssa and then engage them with more contemporary theological discussions about humility and its impact on
how we should do theology and what we can say about God.
Great, thank you very much. Dr. Purdue. This text that we're discussing today, the Trinity among the nations is second in a series of texts you've already published along with your co editors, Jean green and kk Yo, you've already published them. Jesus without borders, which is a volume on Christology, and also the volume on new mythology, the spirit over the earth has just appeared. And we are looking forward to another volume yet appearing so great a salvation a volume on soteriology. What do you see is the distinctive features of this series?
Yeah, great question. So the series is actually first started as an idea. I and a few other Wheaton colleagues were involved in discussions consistently throughout my program there about what it meant, what world Christianity means for the way that we do theology and Biblical Studies. And we thought, wouldn't it be neat to actually have an annual gathering where we could all discuss that question with folks from around the globe. And we ended up starting a consultation at the evangelical theological society and then another one at the Institute for Biblical research. And each year we gather for theologians and for Biblical scholars from all over the globe. And the conversation was dynamic and interesting. And something we hadn't really seen before. And our admins was happy to put it into print. So each year we've put a book out, usually takes a couple years to get all the way through the production process. So actually, I think the latest book should be out it should have come out in December of last year, so should be on the shelves now. I haven't gotten my author copies here in the Philippines yet though.
Dr. Purdue, would you be willing to speak to that a little bit. We are well aware here in the West that there's a tremendous shift going on in world Christianity, the so called center of gravity. Some commentators use that language the so called center of gravity is shifted to the global south. Now the question is, what does that mean for the composition of World Christianity, maybe just at the level of method, what does that mean for the way we construct our theology? What have you learned?
Yeah, great question. So
I don't First of all, I don't I think it is important to
state that it's not obvious that just because the demographics of Christianity have changed. theology is not necessarily a democratic enterprise, right? It's not one in which each person gets a vote about what's true or what's not. So that's certainly not the idea that we are kind of working from here. But it is, essentially I think there's a two fold impact for Christian theology. Number one,
Christian theology is
vastly or very significantly influenced by what questions you ask. That's what often drives the systematic theology and The reality is that as the composition of the of Christianity changes, the questions that Christians are asking are just different. And that doesn't make the old questions bad. It just makes them different from the ones that really Christians in the representing the majority of the faith are asking. So that that's the first way that I think the that change in composition really should affect Christian theology. The Second Reality is one that I think is also exciting, and I would think of it as a very positive development, which is, if we think of the Holy Spirit as speaking through the church to the church, as moving among many members with different functions, that all need one another. This is an attempt to discern what the Spirit is saying in in through the content majority world church. As we have worked on this series, one of the things that we have assumed from the beginning and felt confirmed in as we've moved through the process is that we learn new things when Christianity crosses new cultural barriers. Andrew walls is the guy who really put that idea on the map. By studying second Christian second century Christianity, and noting how every time Christianity moved into a new place, there were new accents on the faith. And those shaped the way we understood God. And they also opened up new aspects of the gospel. And he saw the same thing happening in contemporary Africa, as Christianity exploded there in the 80s and 90s and 2000s. And so that's the The second way that I think this series is trying to push us to think about, okay. What aspects of the gospel have we ignored in the 20th century? In the west? What aspects of God's identity have we downplayed? Which ones have we exaggerated? And the goal is really to get us toward a more balanced and I would use the word Catholic understanding of Christian doctrine.
Dr. Purdue, we're very interested in learning from your experience, as you've put together this collaborative project to bring scholars from different parts of the world together to publish texts. What are some of the things that you've learned about simply doing and constructing global theology?
Hmm. Yeah, that's a great question. So I mean, first of all, the logistics are hard. This is not a simple enterprise to try to get people from all over the globe, all in one spot, all ready to discuss and then there's the language barriers. There's cultural understandings, then there denominational issues. So I guess maybe the first thing we've learned is that it's difficult that that's probably obvious to most people who think about it.
one thing that I've wouldn't place where I've sort of changed my mind a bit is that at the beginning of this process, I think I would have used the phrase global theology more frequently, and thinking that, okay, this is an attempt to sort of develop a single explanation of Christian doctrine that is maximally true and maximally, like I used a few minutes ago balanced. I think the way I would talk about it now is more that probably there are going to be various expressions of the faith That are contextually suitable in various places, and that we're not necessarily aiming for one thing. We are aiming for one thing in the sense of looking for creedal unity. And that's actually one of the things we found very useful in this series is for every volume, we have tried to direct authors to a particular creedal statement. So that was easy for the Christology volume and the Trinity volume. We pointed them to the in Well, actually in the first case to Cal Seaton and then the second case to nicea. And nicea has been kind of our anchor point for new mythology and salvation as well. And I think one of the things we've learned is that we can rally around those, for the most part, or all, almost all of our authors and participants have said those are actually really good contextual experts. Russians have the faith for Hellenistic Greek society. And we can gain a lot from them. But the trick is trying to translate them in a contextually sensitive and appropriate way. And by which I don't just mean translating the words but actually doing the similar kinds of thinking that Athanasius and others had to do, trying to come up with concepts from within a culture that can be stretched to accommodate the work of the Triune God, which is, of course, never really perfectly describable by any human language.
Dr. Pardew thank you for that. you've alluded to the fact that Andrew was developed some of his theological principles from analogies to the church fathers and I noticed that you are also a specialist in the early church. What resources do the earliest centuries of Christianity perhaps bring to the contemporary project of constructing a Global theology or global theologies? Huh?
Okay. Yeah, great question. So this is something as a teacher of theology that I think about all the time and encourage my students to really reflect on because I think Andrew walls really hit the nail on the head here. So, the early church was a church that was often persecuted. Just as the majority world church is often a minority. So that's true, particularly here in Asia. Aside from the Philippines, in every other nation in Asia, Christianity is a minority religion and often a persecuted one. So there are similarities, similar experiences there in terms of thinking about how do we deal with persecution? How do we respond to governments that are unjust? How do we deal with Christians who have lapsed and who want back in What accommodations Can we make to oppressive governments? At what point are we rendering unto Caesar? what is Caesar's? And at what point? Are we actually making a compromise and putting Caesar in the place of, of Christ. So that would be sort of one bucket of things that we can gain from the early church. Andrew walls is also highlighted, as I mentioned earlier that the early church was consistently dealing with cultural cross cultural experiences. And I think that's a critical area for us to gain. I mean, the first and foremost, the thing is that early Christians never had an Islamic style view of language and culture. There was never this idea that when you bring Christianity you bring Greek or or maybe Hebrew. You You you translate scripture you translate liturgy. And all of that comes with complications. It comes with significant challenges in terms of trying to enforce orthodoxy and find limits. But you embrace that challenge because that is part and parcel of the Christian faith, it's in our DNA. So that's actually one of the biggest things that I emphasize in when I teach this both in the West and here in in Asia. Because especially in the conservative strain of evangelical Christianity, the tendency can be to desire, homogeneity or orthodoxy. To the degree that we are really unwilling to accommodate any what what has come to be called contextual ization or something, you know, I don't know if that's the right word, but I would say contextual accommodations The view is often that all of those are just syncretism. Those are just all mistakes. The early church shows us that's just not true. There's not such a simplistic answer to this. I think maybe one more way that the early church informs a majority world expressions of Christianity is tied up with questions of unity. So, the early church, I don't think anyone even the most hagiographic Christian historians would say that we always got unity in the right ways. Often, there were political machinations. There were, you know, powerful people, quashing uprisings and dissent and I think taking a good hard look That is actually extremely insightful, especially when you're in a church that's rapidly expanding, in which there are lots of little offshoot movements here or there. You think about the African initiated churches and Africa, for example, and similar indigenous movements here in in Asia and Latin America to the complexity of the early churches. Dealing with how to how to find unity in the right things and how to let the other things go, I think is actually a very helpful it's a it's a helpful tutor, for how to deal with those same challenges in an emerging world. Church.
Thank you so much for your comments. I'm finding this extraordinarily insightful and helpful. Dr. Purdue, the rise of world Christianity demands that we rethink certain elements of our faith, but we presume also that there are certain elements that in an a priori fashion we can come to the table and assume are also closed or sent. The problem of knowing so called secondary and primary doctrinal differences, even in a familiar denominational context can be trying now and so much broader context, it must be all the more trying what what advice or guidance Have you followed in trying to sort these things out? Thank you.
Okay, so it's a great question, and it's not one on which I really have a settled answer. So, of all the doctrines, the two that we picked for the first two volumes here, Christology and Trinity, are probably the ones that we would most quickly presume, have sort of universal acceptance, right? I mean, at least the three co editors me and my co editors all agree that Look, if you're not affirming the Nicene Creed, you probably are not really in the stream of Christianity as we know it. And so that can raise the question well, why have such a dialogue? I mean, if we already know, the Nicene Creed has done it, what's left? On the other side? There are many theologians in the majority world church who would say precisely the opposite. He would say, Look, I'm I'm with you in terms of one one person to nature's one God, one essence three persons. But the language of those Creed's is just so far from anything that has any point of contact with our culture. It's really not useful. And some would even go further and say look, it's actually a Kind of cultural hegemony to try to foist these Creed's that are, yes, they're from Greek culture, and you're an American. But at the same time, they're all part of this Western, Judeo Christian way of thinking. And that's just not where we are. And in fact, to try to require a litmus test of Orthodoxy in these places that are far from those cultures doesn't make a lot of sense.
So, in the book, we actually have a couple of essays that take on nicea a bit.
There is one essay in particular by a Native American author Randall Woodley, who argues that, look, these categories just start helpful. We also have authors, both Western and majority world who are arguing on the other side, you were saying, Look, they see it as actually extremely useful. As a rubric by which to measure any new contextual expression of the faith. And so I don't presume to be the judge of that discussion, particularly I because I think the the locus of that discussion and the locus of authority for that discussion is with majority world church leaders. I do think if if someone asked me sort of personally, what's closed and what's open? I think maybe one of the best answers I've heard to that question is, Kevin Van hooser is attempt to answer that question in the first volume. And Gerald Bray, I think takes a similar approach in the second volume, but then his or puts it this way. He says, look, the language of Nicea, you don't have to mimic that right. We we translated all the time we translated into English There's imperfections in that translation and so on. And even the concepts of Nicea, you can actually get rid of even you could get rid of the idea of Homo who see us as a concept, especially if you're in a culture that doesn't have who sia as a concept, right? Like if there's no language for being what are you going to do, but the the judgments that are expressed in that concept, the sort of a
of that kind of those concepts has to be translated in some way. It has to come through. So if you're going to find another concept, it has to be faithful to those underlying judgments. The critique of that view is well then what are the judgments right and who gets to say, how those judgments are defined? And every time you try to express a judgment, you're going to do it in a language with Cultural freight.
And so I think
this is kind of an inescapable problem. There's not
there is no non cultural approach to the Trinity. At the same time, I think what we can affirm is that there are there is a there is a thumbprint or a fingerprint, or a DNA pattern or something for real Christianity at every place and every time and it has something to do with the Trinity and Christology and there are some other things there too, that that DNA gets expressed in a variety of ways, but you can sort of recognize the red thread that ties it all together. There may be a sort of a linguistically inexpressible ability to say, that's it. That's what Christianity is. That's a Christian rapper. To the doctrine of God, that is not necessarily sort of, you can't necessarily nail it down, because every time you nail it down, you're nailing it to a particular culture and a particular set of of language limitations and so on.
Do that that is helpful and given our previous allusions to Andrew walls work. I wonder what is your opinion is the is the framing of the question by a dolphin harnack, the 19th and 20th century church historian is is in some ways these categories are they still useful for us today. harnack of course very famously said that when Jewish when Jewish Christianity this teaching of Jesus arrived on Greek soil and grew there and Greek philosophical concepts began to be the way of dressing up the doctrine that's when it really changed into something different than the teachings of Jesus. 100 100 years, almost after the death of her neck. What is your view on heart on the legitimacy of her next categorizations of the changing process of Christianity?
I'm not sure that I get to her nice view. I think if you have that view, you're going to be very suspicious of any contextual expression of Christianity, you're going to see all of it as sort of a, as a dirty accommodation, sort of deal with the devil that you're making with a culture. And I think that's, that's exactly wrong, actually, that for the most part, and I would say, especially in the Nicene Creed, what I see is not the hellenization of Christianity, but the christianization of Hellenism, that's a Robert Lewis welcome phrase. And by which in my context, what that means is that people Christians were doing savvy cultural expression of their faith. They were taking concepts that, yes, Greek philosophers and thinkers use them in this way to talk about their gods, but they actually just turn them around and stretch them out a bit and made them fit the Triune God. And that is a scary process. It's fraught with danger. But it's inescapable. It's unless you're going to really take the Muslim line where you're just not going to translate things and sort of transfer your whole culture everywhere with you. And that's just not the Christian way. So the Christian ways to take the risk, and to, to find resources within a culture that are not a perfect fit for the gospel. They're never going to be because culture is a part of a framework that is marred by sin and all kinds of other things. But nevertheless, we take that risk, and we try to safeguard that process and various ways, but we we make the leap. We and so, yeah, I would say I think you need exactly the opposite of our next approach to actually think well about the transfer of Christianity into these so called non biblical cultures, cultures that don't have contact with the Judeo Christian worldview in the past.
That could argue this is very, very helpful. If I can close with a question that we've been asking all of our guests on that this program and that is this, what would it mean for the church today to be united? How would we recognize this unity and what is it that we can do to pursue the unity of the church?
It's a great question. And, you know, one, one way of answering that question, and this may feel like a cop out is to just narrate my experience. So every year when we have Have these gatherings of majority world and Western scholars, we have our academic sessions. But then we also have a lunch. And we all gather at a restaurant, usually after the discussions have happened, or midway between them, and we just chat. We have food we drink, and we discuss. We talk about each other's families, but we also talk about the doctrinal issues that are at stake. To me, those meals are probably the best expression of unity that we get to have there the times when we actually recognize one another's common, common humanity, common experiences, and we get to, you know, understand one another one another even better than we can in an academic context. Now, that's not to say I don't love the academic discussions that we have later. And beforehand, they those are wonderful and enlivening and illuminating for sure. But I do think it points to sort of a practical reality that if you want the church to unite, especially across cultural and geographical boundaries, you actually need to share the same space and share the same table
to give a less
and get more to the substance of what these books are trying to do. I do think that a key aspect of unity at the moment
is unity across
not only denominational boundaries, which has been a major focus in the western church, which I'm happy about, and I guess denomination isn't quite strong enough to say but actually unity across Tradition differences in terms of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox. I think those are all laudable goals. And and they're important aspects of trying to make the church one and an expression of fulfillment of what Jesus prayed for in john 17. However, I would also I think what is often underplayed is unity across geography, geographical and cultural boundaries. And I think in some ways that is both easier and harder than the other kinds of discussions. It's harder, it's hard logistically right. In the US or probably wherever you live, there are both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches and you can have some discussions there. But of course, if you're going to actually go and form a relationship with a Christian car, aggregation in India or in Uganda, or in Brazil, you're going to have to go there, or they're going to have to come to you or you're going to have to meet in the middle. And also just hermeneutic Lee, it can be extremely hard to have a wide enough perspective to be able to recognize the aspects of your faith that are coming from your culture that really have just very little to do with the Bible and the gospel. And it can be emotionally difficult to let those things go and to say no, that's not that's not the marker of Christianity that we need to all unite or divide around. Whether it's as silly as the hymns util you like to sing, or whether it's a serious as the way you like to describe a particular doctrine. Those are hard things to let go of. And as I said earlier, there's inherent danger in that process. And so the easier thing is always both because of the the geography and the, the emotional sort of inertia, the easier thing is to just remain close to stay within your own circles and so on. The upside, at least in the West, is that there's a lot of opportunity to engage with other cultures. Right now, there are Christians fleeing persecution, and just migrating to the west. And it's, it's actually easier than it's ever been. If you're an American to find a church that is different from you in cultural or in terms of its geographical origin. And I think what people will find if they find connections there is that they're going to learn things about their faith that they didn't recognize before and that They will be a part of a mutual edification process. That's the way that the Spirit has designed our interactions to work.
Better. I'm delighted today to be speaking with Dr. Steven Pardew assistant professor of theology at Asia Graduate School of Theology in the Philippines and co editor of the texts that we've been discussing today, the Trinity among the nations the doctrine of God in the majority world. Dr. Purdue, thank you so much for your insights and your willingness to share
with us today.
Thank you for having me.