Friday, 12 December 2008

Athanasius and the development of Trinitarian doctrine

Yesterday the UCCF North West had a good team day on Athanasius and Trinitarian debate led by the very knowledgeable Donald Allister. It was an interesting and heart-warming time, particularly poignant at this time of year when we think about Jesus' incarnation.

Athanasius has been one of my heroes for quite a while. Donald's 'warts and all' exposure of how things developed during the 4th Century didn't really change that (although they did make me appreciate much more the kind of pressure that many Christian leaders were under at that time). The other thing that really stood out was that the Arian heresy was far more subtle than often caricatured today. We briefly considered Arian interpretations of Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-6.

One of the interesting things to ponder was that Donald suggested that he believed that there would be many 4th Century Arians that would prove to be saved. He suggested that many people were Arian at that time simply because theology hadn't developed enough for the case to be otherwise. And so whilst Athanasius saw Trinitarian theology to be of salvation importance (because only God can reconcile humanity to God), perhaps many who did not have the blessing of this reality could still be saved. I've thought a bit about the 'eschatological' element to doctrine a bit before (that we should expect doctrine to be constantly rendered more clearly over time, yet never contradicting previous true Biblical insight), but I'd like to do some more thinking on this. Any thoughts or good things to read?

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