Trinity, history – and discernment?

  • Dirkie Smit


The paper is an edited version of a public address during a consultation celebrating the life and work of CW (Coenie) Burger. The theme was discernment and this essay reflects on some possible implications of the doctrine of the Trinity for practical discernment in the so-called missional church today. In a first section, a controversial South African incident serves as reminder of the difficulties and dangers involved in claims discerning God’s presence and work in human history. Sections two to four successively call to mind three major proposals regarding discernment based on the presence of the living God (Richard Niebuhr), the revelation of God in the Crucified Jesus (Bram van de Beek) and the work of the Triune God (Michael Welker). A final section briefly considers the recent contribution of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who argues that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity indeed provides the only proper background against which to understand Western developments in politics and the economy.