One of the things that is strking about Herbert McCabe’s trinitarian theology is the way in which it is at once radically classical and radically biblical. For McCabe the story of Jesus simply is the immanent triune life of God projected onto human history. McCabe, better than nearly anyone else I have ever read is able to affirm with utter sincerity and emphasis the othernes of God from the world, always resisting reducing God to a mere inhabitant of the universe, while simultaneously understanding the triune God’s involvment with the world in the most radical and Christocentric terms possible.
Here’s one of his great statements of the doctrine of the Trinity vis á vis Jesus:
“The story of Jesus is nothing other than the triune life of God projected onto our history, or enacted sacramentally in our history, so that it becomes story. I use the world ‘projected’ in the sense that we project a film onto a screen. If it is a smooth silver screen you see the film simply in itself. If the screen is twisted in some way, you get a systematically distorted image of the film. Now imagine a film projected not on a screen but on a rubbish dump. The story of Jesus — which in its full extent is the entire Bible — is the projections of the trinitarian life of God on the rubbish dump we have made of the world. The historical mission of Jesus is nothing other than the eternal mission of the Son from the Father; the historical outpouring of the Spirit in virtue of the passion, death, and ascension of Jesus is nothing but the eternal outpouring of the Spirit from the Father through the Son. Watching, so to say, the story of Jesus, we are watching the processions of the Trinity” (God Matters, 48).
On this point, McCabe is in many ways as one with thinkers like Robert Jenson, Bruce McCormack, Eberhard Jüngel, and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the relationship between Jesus and the immannent Trinity. As McCabe points out “The mission of Jesus is nothing other than the eternal generation of the Son. That the Trinity looks like a story of (is a story of) rejection, torture and murder but also of reconciliation is because it is projected on, lived out on, our rubbish tip; it is because of the sin of the world” (God Matters, 49).
A corollary of this point is that for McCabe, the doctrine of the “preexistence of Christ” has to be abandoned. Not, however because the Son of the Father is not eternal, but rather because “There was, from the point of view of God’s life, no such thing as a moment at which the eternal Son of God was not Jesus of Nazareth.” This is because God is not a demigod, an inhabitant of the universe like the idols of Israel’s neighbors. “There could not be any moments in God’s life. The eternal life of Jesus as such cold not precede, follow or be simultaneous with his human life. There is no story of God ‘before’ the story of Jesus” (God Matters, 49-50). Thus, McCabe tells us that he “would be much happier in an odd way with the notion of a ‘preexistent Jesus’” (God Matters, 51). I for one feel much the same.