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Peters, Ted. “The Trinity In and Beyond Time."

The central concern of Ted Peters’ paper is how an eternal God can act, and be acted upon, in a temporal universe. Classical theology made the problem particularly difficult by formulating the distinction between time and eternity as a “polar opposition.” Peters’ fundamental move is to presuppose a Trinitarian doctrine of God, thus including relationality and dynamism within the divine. By relating the economic and the immanent Trinity we take the temporality of the world into the divine life of God. To substantiate this move, Peters turns to the understanding of temporality in physics and cosmology. His overall aim is to show that the Trinitarian doctrine of God leads us to expect that the temporality of the world will be taken up eschatologically into God’s eternity.

According to Peters, Scripture depicts God in temporal terms. With the theology of Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and Boethius, however, divine agency was understood as timeless, a view which came to pervade traditional Christian thought down to the present situation. Might contemporary physics shed any light on this issue? Peters’ cites Eleonore Stump, Norman Kretzmann, Ian Barbour and Holmes Rolston, each of whom suggest ways in which God might relate to the temporality of the cosmos. Still Peters claims that, to the extent that their proposals conceive of eternity as timeless, they all fail to solve the underlying problem posed by God’s eternal experience of a temporal universe. Can we instead conceive of God as “enveloping time,” transcending its beginning and its end and taking it up into the divine eternity? According to Peters, Hawking would answer “no” to this question, for Hawking’s cosmology has no beginning and challenges the temporality of the universe as such. Indeed Hawking draws “anti-theological” implications from his work: with no initial singularity there is no need whatsoever for God. Peters is critical of Hawking’s “anti-religious agenda” and points out that the God whom Hawking attacks is the God of deism, not the God of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Moreover an alternate interpretation of the Hawking cosmology has been offered by Isham, who shows how God can be thought of as present to and active in all events of the universe even if there were no initial event.

Peters then returns to the problem of reconceptualizing the divine eternity. He is appreciative and yet critical of the thought of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who draws on holistic principles to interpret eschatology. Such principles have important scientific as well as theological warrant. Proleptic eschatology adds to the whole/part dialectic of science the claim that the whole is present as one part among others. This theme is developed by Robert Jenson, who stresses that Yahweh’s eternity is “faithfulness through time,” and by Jürgen Moltmann, who turns to Christology and the dynamics of shared suffering to connect eternity and temporality. This results in Moltmann’s modification of Rahner’s Rule: the identification of the economic and the immanent Trinity will only be achieved eschatologically.

Peters concludes by pointing to new directions for future research. The doctrine of God might be required to explain the temporality of the world, including the arrow of time. Moreover the movement between economic and immanent Trinity, through creation, incarnation, spiration and consummation, could be seen as bringing the history of creation into the life of God.

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