Deep in the Burbs is a story of the Triune God. The research question asks “How might an increased awareness of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations?” It might be easy to think of this as if the social Trinity was a chunk of knowledge that could be presented to the Research Team for objective evaluation and ultimate acceptance or rejection. This idea is (a) not congruent with my pedagogy, ((I will posit a communicative pedagogy in the Spiritual Formation Frame.)) and (b) contrary to the nature of the Triune God. The research was conducted in the understanding that God is not an object that can be studied or a concept to be considered, but that God is the ground of being itself from which all life springs forth. ((David Kelsey posits that all knowledge of God is secondary knowledge, and that, to understand God truly, the researcher must observe the activities of the local congregation in its specific context. Thus, the participatory action research methodology used in this research is, in itself, a theological inquiry into the mystery of the Triune God.)) All human speech about God is, at best, an analogy, metaphor, or simile. All theology is a human construction of symbols—models—that point to the unknowable God, but can never define or explain God. ((William C. Placher, The Triune God: An Essay in Postliberal Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 40-41.; see Peters on symbol. Ted Peters, God–the World’s Future : Systematic Theology for a New Era, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).and Grenz on the use of model.Grenz and Olson, Who Needs Theology? : An Invitation to the Study of God.)) Therefore, this is a question that wonders (a) whether the models of the Triune God that we have inherited from our Western Theological predecessors are adequate and helpful for the current context in which the church finds itself, ((Here I am referring to the much rehearsed history of Athanasius’ victory over Arius at the Council of Nicea in which he demonstrated that God is three in person, but one in essence. His Immanent model of God as three-in-one within Godself has been reduced, over time, to monarchial modalism, at best, in Western, modern theology. The Immanent trinity, then, is the transcendent God of divine substance that is separated from the material world in the tradition of Platonic dualism.)) and (b) if an alternate model of the Trinity might provide more space for a missional imagination of spiritual formation in the local congregation.
The Deep in the Burbs Research Project is a story of a particular place in Midwest suburbia. It was necessary to pursue this research in a specific location, through participatory action research within three neighboring congregations, because it is my assumption that a reasonably adequate Christian theology is done in, with, under, against, and for the local congregation. ((I am indebted to Dr. Patrick Keifert for this important understanding of the nature of theology. This is his modification of David Kelsey’s assertion that theological education—To Understand God Truly—is done about, against, and for the local congregation. Kelsey.)) To know anything truly, especially how God is at work in the world, is to study the particularities of it. ((This asserts an Aristotelean vs. Platonic approach to knowledge. It also denotes the nominalism of Jon Scotus Duns who believed that we can only know the incarnation within the particulars of creation, not in the abstract universal ideals. Further, it takes a phenomenological understanding that all knowledge is bracketed by the experience of the perceiver and communicatively interpreted.)) This research project asks how an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity might impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations. This implies, and I assert, that it might have far different effects on people in different contexts. Therefore, I must limit my inquiry to a specific group of people in a specific place. There are two classifications in which I will describe the people in this study and frame the question. ((In spite of the particularist nature of this inquiry, classifications are still helpful for communication.)) The first is suburban. The second is Lutheran.
Yep, it’s hard to believe, but I finished writing the entire dissertation (240 pages). This cold day when all activities were cancelled was a real blessing for me. I’ve been working since 6am (it is now 8:20pm) and I just sent the first draft of the dissertation to my reading team.
This doesn’t mean I’m finished, but it does mean that I have it written. Now I have to go through and fine-tooth edit the beast. I hope to turn in the final draft by the end of the month.
Pray that it makes sense and will allow me to pass!