Home | Downloads | About CWI | Donate | Site Map | Contact
Covenant Worldview Institute Home



Nozomu Miyahira's
Towards a Theology of the Concord of God

A Review by
Rev. Ralph Allan Smith

Two Major Problems


But linguistics is not the only major problem. Miyahira follows Charles Kraft's approach to what is called "contextualization."[7] The idea is that Tertullian and Augustine, together with the early Church in general "contextualized" theology in their construction of the doctrine of the Trinity. Barth with his Hegelian method is presented as a modern example of contextualization. Since, Miyahira argues, every one else is "contextualizing" according to the time and culture in which they live, Japanese theologians should, too.

There are numerous problems with this whole approach. To begin with, the notion of "contextualization" itself is controversial. One would think that a doctoral dissertation that relies so heavily on the assertion that the ancient Church Fathers "contextualized" would have a great deal more to say about the whole subject. What, for example, does "contextualization" mean? Since there are significant differences in the answer to this question, we would expect some discussion of the different answers and justification for the usage that Miyahira prefers. We would also expect some serious attempt to demonstrate, not simply presuppose, that the notion is legitimately applicable to the ancient Church.

If Miyahira had adequately considered those questions, I think he might have dropped his whole project. Perhaps not. At least it would have been greatly modified. For the fact is that what is called contextualization is not some easily identifiable, invariable, or simple procedure. Which is to say, not all the Church Fathers have done the same kind of "contextualization." Moreover, what Augustine and Tertullian did in the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity is arguably very different from what Barth did in his reformulation.

It seems to me that Miyahira has missed the very heart of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. I am not saying that he is a poor scholar. I am saying that I think he has specialized in depth on a few issues while missing the larger picture of development, especially as that relates to a matter of central concern to his theses. What I am asserting is that in connection with the complex notion of "contextualization," Miyahira has missed the general flow of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. What I believe we see in the early Church is that in the earlier fathers there is a great deal of cultural and philosophical compromise with Greek ideas of the "logos." Origen is the perfect example here. But the Nicene trinitarianism is very different from Origen's ideas and may be described as what Harvey Conn called "decontextualization," the elimination of foreign cultural elements from theology.

To be brief, scholars like R. P. C. Hanson, T. F. Torrance, and J. N. D. Kelly, though they disagree with one another on various details, certainly do not describe the growth and development of the doctrine of the Trinity in terms of the "contextualization" model. Where they make comments that are relevant, they seem to point in the opposite direction, a doctrine that borrows terms, but radically changes the fundamental meaning of the words as compared with the general or philosophical usage. Above all, the last thing we find in the Church Fathers is an attempt to accommodate their theology to the language of the surrounding culture. Rather, men like Athanasius directed their energy entirely to finding means to express the Biblical truth as accurately as possible in the language available.

If Kraft's notion of "contextualization" does not apply to what the early Fathers did — even if it may be appropriate to describe Barth's theology — then Miyahira's own suggestions for revising the doctrine cannot be justified as an imitation of their sort of theologizing. Indeed the very legitimacy of "contextualizing" as an attempt to conform doctrinal statements to a particular culture is thrown into doubt. It is one thing to observe that we are inescapably creatures of context who can only communicate with words that make sense in particular cultures. It is something altogether different, however, to claim that the fact of man's inescapable contextuality legitimizes a self-conscious effort to mold theological expression into the forms of a particular culture.

Is it not clear that the basic question is whether or not the Biblical worldview offers a sufficiently complex and comprehensive framework for a theological reconstruction of culture according to the standards of Christian teaching? Why, for example, should Christians be forced to cull through cultural resources for theological language, when experts in the computer world make up new words in order to communicate the precise technical meaning they wish to convey? If the Bible gives Christians a distinct metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, should not Christians attempt to become ever more faithful to the teaching of the Scriptures, molding culture in the direction of the Biblical worldview, rather than the other way around?

There is another question of fundamental import. Does Miyahira's proposed terminology actually help Japanese people understand the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity? Even if the foundations of his approach were considered theologically weak, if Miyahira suggested an approach to the doctrine of the Trinity that enabled Japanese people to obtain a deeper grasp of Biblical truth, there may be significant merit in it.

The problem, however, is that Miyahira attempts to communicate truth about the totally personal God by multiplying impersonal and abstract terms. In a land in which Buddhists believe that the ultimate reality cannot possibly be personal and Shintoists tend to erase or minimize fundamental distinctions between non-personal and personal reality, one might think that the most important issue on the agenda of trinitarian theology would be the development of an approach that emphasizes that God is totally personal. Why, under the cultural circumstances in which Miyahira labors, should one probe the tenebrous recesses of the Japanese mentality to extract terms even more esoteric than those of the Middle Ages? How can such supererogatory labors really enable Japanese Christians to better understand the personal God?

Social trinitarians, by highlighting the reality of interpersonal relationships in God, opened the way for a deeper appreciation for God's love — though their approach is not altogether historically new. Already Richard of St. Victor in the 12th century argued for a relational view of the Trinity in his doctrine of God as three Persons devoted to one another in love. In the Reformed tradition, Abraham Kuyper recognized the importance of the Reformed idea of a pactum salutis, but, unlike most Reformed theologians, did not limit the idea to soteriology. Kuyper argued that the only way to truly take into account the full personhood of Father, Son, and Spirit, while at the same time, avoiding any tendency toward tritheism is to acknowledge the covenantal relationship of the Persons as an eternal aspect of God's being. The concord of God is the covenant oneness of three Persons who mutually indwell one another and share a fullness of covenantal life and love.

If Evangelical trinitarianism is going to make a serious contribution to trinitarian discussion, it must, like its ancient Fathers, apply itself to serious exegesis and creative effort to escape the limits of non-Christian thought. Miyahira rather than offering a helpful approach to understanding the Trinity instead accosts the Japanese believer with the kind of befuddling words and concepts that may delight scholars by their abstruseness, but will hardly lead the man or woman in the pew to bow down before God with a deeper appreciation of who He is or what it means to worship and serve Him.

That, at least, is my own non-Japanese opinion of the practical value of his approach. Perhaps Japanese Christians will find Miyahira's doctrine more helpful than foreign speakers of the language. However that may be, the problem of impersonal language remains. Add to this other fundamental questions about his whole approach, and I can only conclude that Miyahira is heading in the wrong direction. That he intends to express the doctrine of the Trinity so that Japanese people can understand it is commendable. I hope that he will be open to the possibility that he needs to fundamentally rethink his work.


[7] See page 136 ff. and the notes on p. 159. Kraft's approach is presupposed throughout the discussion.

Table of Contents

 site design and maintenance
BERITH.ORG  —  Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Allan Smith.  All rights reserved.