The Trinity and Progressive Revelation

Writing about the way God reveals his Triune nature over time, Geoffrey Wainwright, professor of theology at Duke, cites  Gregory Nazianzus and Irenaeus, in the Dictionary of Theological Interpretation of the Bible (817)Consider first Gregory Nazianzus:

The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely; the New manifested the Son, and suggested the deity of the Spirit; now the Spirit himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of himself (Gregory Nazianzus in his Fifth Theological Oration 26 [SC 250:326-27]). 

God has revealed himself progressively, beginning with his oneness clearly and his threeness more subtly.  Gregory’s comment affirms this distinction, but his language could lead to a misunderstanding. First, the New Testament itself gives ample revelation for discerning the Spirit as the third member of the Trinity (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 5:3-4; and all references that designate the “Spirit of God” or the “spirit of Christ”).  We are not left seeking later revelation, the Scripture’s is sufficient.  Even if the early church required many years and disagreements to approximate this doctrinal formulation, Pneumatology is derived from the Bible and not later experience. 

Second, the Bible also teaches us that the Spirit does not “demonstrate himself” as Gregory Nazianzus indicates.  Rather, the Spirit testifies of Christ and reveals to us the Father and the Son (cf. John 15:26; 16:13); amazingly, he does not glorify himself through self-revelation.  Thus, it is not appropriate to say that the Spirit has been showing himself off during the church age.  His operations in the church age are to exalt Christ, who in turn glorifies the Father.

More precisely, Irenaeus picks up the relationship between the Trinity and the progress of revelation when he writes:

[God] having been seen in bygone days through the Spirit prophetically, and then seen through the Son adoptively, shall be seen in the kingdom paternally, the Spirit preparing man for the Son of God, the Son leading to the Father, and the Father giving him the incorruptibility and eternal life that come from the vision of God (Irenaeus in Against Heresies 4.20.5 [SC 100:638-41]).

To know God prophetically, adoptively, and paternally… Wow! Consider the wisdom and benevolence of God to send the Spirit to inspire men to prophesy and prepare us for the Son, then the Son to come and manifest himself in the flesh in order to make provision for redemption and access to the Father, so that in the age to come we might enter into the presence of the Father, through the Son, in the power and purity of the Spirit.  (By the way this should not deny the complementary truth that the Father and Son also prepared the way for the Son; just as the Spirit, sent from Father and Son, prepares us to encounter God at the eschaton).

Jonah 2:9 says, “salvation belongs to our God,” and considering the biblical storyline shows us without a doubt, that our salvation is a Trinitarian work.  He has coordinated his redemptive acts and faith-producing revelation in such a way that when we come to understand salvation truly we  realize that we encounter the Triune God (cf. Eph. 1:1-4; Rom. 8:28ff).  The Father architects.  The Son accomplishes.  The Holy Spirit applies.  There is no other salvation; there is no God: true salvation is Trinitarian and the true God in perfect unison to save.

What an amazing God!  What an amazing salvation!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss