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The Trinity in the Reformed Tradition

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The essay considers the question whether it is possible to distinguish a specific Reformed perspective regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. Considering twentieth century investigations of Calvin's views together with recent studies and interpretations, it argues that at least five dominant motifs are regularly presented as characteristic of the Reformed understanding of the Trinity. All five have even been attributed to Calvin's own position, although all these claims are controversial in scholarly circles. All five, however, repeatedly receive influential and popular articulations by well-known and representative Reformed theologians. They include claims that the doctrine is an attempt to speak about God following the rules of biblical grammar; represents an effort to portray God as Living God; makes a 'trinitarian spread' possible, describing God's work in rich and complex ways; serves soteriological, even pastoral purposes; and provides a practical pattern for ecclesiology, life, and mission. Although all these claims, together with their implications, remain disputed, it is concluded that, given the nature of the Reformed faith and tradition, it is not coincidental that representative Reformed theologians all regarded the doctrine, understood in these particular ways, as central to their work.

Affiliations: 1: Theology Faculty Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa;, Email:


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