The life of the mind—including the life of the theological mind—experiences rhythms in which attention waxes and wanes. At one moment a significant plurality of thinkers will be focused upon some particular topic, but at a later moment their focus will have shifted to a different theme. Those who work with their minds instead of their hands will find that these ebbs and flows determine at least a part of their task. Whatever one’s discipline, one constantly feels the pressure to respond to the questions that are being asked at the moment. For the most part, even theologians are not free simply to ignore the immediate in favor of more remote personal interests.
The present moment is especially propitious for theologians who wish to think about the Trinity. Through its brief history, American evangelicalism (including fundamentalism) has produced few minds that have given themselves to understanding Trinitarianism. More typical have been those who, like J. Oliver Buswell, were willing to jettison certain aspects of the traditional doctrine that they perceived as meaningless. For his part, Buswell tried to dispense with the eternal generation of the Son, even though he acknowledged that his proposal was “somewhat revolutionary” (Systematic Theology 1:111). One wonders at the “somewhat.”
While Buswell serves as a convenient illustration, he is hardly alone. During his generation, the greatest challenges to orthodox Trinitarianism came either from theological liberalism (which pantheized God and divinized humanity) or else the unreconstructed Arianism of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both approaches represented a direct and immediate threat to the deity of Christ. In those days, reflection upon the Trinity occurred primarily in the context of defending the deity of Christ. Other Trinitarian questions tended to fade in importance.