third article theology

Back in march, in my post renewing theology, I highlighted Third Article Theology (known as TAT) as a source for developing a greater trinitarian focus, that would provide a good theological foundation as we follow the Holy Spirit into the future that he has for our faith communities.  I was first introduced to TAT by a student I was working with a few years ago.  I felt an immediate resonance with its approach and so have read bits and pieces about it since then, but my knowledge of it remains limited.  This is partly due to the fact that it hasn’t yet made it out of the Theological Colleges and into a layperson-friendly form, the books available tend to be theologically dense and I have found them a bit hard going.

It still resonates with what the church needs for its future growth and I thought it deserved a post of its own, even though I didn’t have the knowledge to write it.  I e-mailed Dr Myk Habets of Carey Baptist College (NZ) and asked him if he could write an introduction for us.  Today’s post introducing TAT is my edited version of his reply to my e-mail and some information from the introduction he wrote to an edited book on TAT.

Theology needs renewal.

Perhaps one of the reasons that TAT has resonated with me, is that it starts from a position of stating that theology needs a review from time to time.  Myk Habets uses the term “christomonostic myopia” to describe previous approaches to theology which focus on the work of Jesus and then only include a small section on the work of the spirit.  I thought that was a wonderful term to describe the tendencies of traditional evangelicalism to focus solely on the work of Christ, almost to the point of exclusion of the Holy Spirit.

TAT also seems to take into consideration the importance of contexualisation of the theology that we do, another element that resonates with me.  Myk Habets states that we need to look at how we are articulating the core beliefs of our faith, particularly in relation to cultural changes.  He goes on to say “one thinker has said, “it is time the church grew up and began to act its age.” By that comment he meant the church needs to stop being a weather vane for the latest fads, flopping left then right at the whim of the popular, and instead, penetrate beneath the presenting cultural issues to the deeper realities of life that drive human behaviour and address those issues in richly biblical and theological ways. Third Article Theology is one attempt to overhaul theology in such a way.

What is Third Article Theology (TAT)?

I am still trying to understand this theology myself but it seems that at it’s most basic it is a methodological approach that looks through the Spirit, rather than looking at the Spirit.   Myk Habets expands by saying “the basic conviction of this approach to theology (and it is more a method than anything else) is that in the post-modern West, it is thought best to start with S/spirit in our thinking about the faith. With the Nicene Creed (325/381 AD) dictating its language, with its three main clauses, “I believe in” … “God, the Father” and in “Jesus Christ” and in the “Holy Spirit,” it is the last in our creed which should now be first in our discourse, the Spirit.”

Why is TAT important today?

Myk Habets describes the relevance of TAT in the following way “Our culture craves connection, and the Spirit provides that. Our culture is searching for meaning in concrete realities, not in abstract theories, and the Spirit provides that. And our culture wants to see a Christianity that cares as much as Christ does, that looks after the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast, and the Spirit provides that. Finally, people want to see the church being the church; a counter-cultural and revolutionary force for the Kingdom of God amidst the turmoil of the world, and the Spirit provides that (think of Eph 4.1-16 for a start). Third Article Theology (or TAT) is one attempt to do theology in an applied and grounded way, without abandoning the rigorous theological and philosophical articulation of the faith that is still necessary. Deeply traditional and deeply contextual, a TAT looks to what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world, in Scripture, in Christ, and in the Church, to resource our articulation and practice of the faith.”

What does TAT look like for an ordinary Christian?

Theology doesn’t just stay in the academic setting, it needs to make its way down to the everyday life of Christians so I asked Myk Habets to give an example of TAT being applied in our lives.  “One area in which TAT takes form in everyday life concerns ethics; that not so small matter of how to live well each day. A First Article Theology, one that starts with God the Father, would emphasise law and commands. And Scripture is replete with them of course, so that is not an incorrect path, but many of us already know the limitation legal codes have on our lives. They are externally motivated and often don’t result in real change.

A Second Article Theology, one which starts with Christ, on the other hand, might emphasize the fact that in Christ all is of grace and that tolerance and compassion should take the lead. This form of a love ethic too is not incorrect, but if it is the basis of our morality then it inevitably leads to agnosticism and relativism. By contrast, a TAT says that both approaches to the moral life are appropriate but only if their foundation is one which starts from the Spirit. The Spirit, we read continually in Scripture, creates in us a heart for Christ, the mind of Christ, and the virtues of Christ (Col 3.12-17 is but one instance). Here it is just as important who we are (a virtue ethic) as it is what we do (deontological ethics) and the decisions we make (ontological and teleological ethics). And so the law of the Spirit comes to rule our lives and upon that foundation, the Lordship and love of Christ rules in our hearts and the commands of the Father are gladly obeyed. Such is the vision of TAT.”

I am aware that this was a very brief outline of a complex theology I would love to hear your questions, meanwhile you may want to reflect on these questions:

Pentecost is Sunday 4th June, how does your church celebrate Pentecost?

How could we start to explain some of the principles of TAT to others in our churches/faith communities?

What change to how you view scripture would it make to be looking with and through the Holy Spirit rather than at the Holy Spirit?

How do we follow the Holy Spirit in reshaping the church and ourselves, to become more Christlike?

For those of you who wish to explore Third Article Theology in more detail. Myk Habets recommends the following book:   Third Article Theology: A Pneumatological Dogmatics.Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016


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