The doctrine of the Trinity? Why?


(George Brooks) #1

When I was a contractor stationed in Kuwait, I attended a “roof top congregation” on weekly basis. And when discussing the Islamic view of Christianity, we both confessed (< yes, I wrote that intentionally) how difficult it was to present the Trinity to a Muslim audience in a way that made any sense to them.

They don’t see how a Trinity helps salvation in any way, nor why God would want to be presented as a triune reality.

Naturally, my being a Unitarian certainly gave me a very strong sympathy for their incredulity over the Christian insistence of a Triple God.

While Christians are raised to consider the Triune nature of God to be “jolly good mystery” - - it would be nice if there was a way to describe the necessity of the Trinitarian view in a way that makes sense to most every culture … instead of just the culture in which one was raised.

Thoughts?


Not sure what to believe any more
(Phil) #2

George, I see it as a human construct to approximate and help us understand what we conceive God to be, knowing that it is imperfect and inadequate to describe an infinite God.


(Christy Hemphill) #3

I don’t think the Trinity necessarily “makes sense” in any culture. It was a doctrine developed to try to explain revelation and unify other doctrines.


(George Brooks) #4

Now that is a fascinating observation.

It would be great if you named at least one of these doctrines, so that I can “Behold, and be amazed”!!!

Truly . . . it’s never been clear in my head - - and your comments suggest you might be just the one to bring me in for a metaphysical landing! (after all these years).


(Christy Hemphill) #5

I don’t know that you will be amazed.

Christology based on the apostles’ teaching said Jesus was fully God and fully man. God incarnate. But also the Son of God. Existing with God since the creation of the word and the means through which creation was created (Col. 1:16). Seated at the right hand of the Father, given authority over every dominion. (i.e. separate somehow from the Father, but equal in authority and honor). So, that’s a bit of a conundrum.


(Curtis Henderson) #6

As a long time Baptist, the Trinity was always very strongly emphasized. The “go-to example” was Jesus’s baptism, where Jesus was being baptized, the dove (Holy Spirit) came down from heaven, and the Father spoke. Yes, all very confusing so the “jolly good mystery” was always my take on it… Some good conversation here would be great!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Wasn’t the “trinity” developed as a concept to address early heresies that tried falsely to tease apart different aspects of Christ / God or (in Christ’s case) ended up emphasizing either humanity or divinity, one at the expense of the other? Real scholars can correct any details I get wrong here, but we have the early written testimonies about Jesus speaking about God the Father, and not always saying “well, now – and that’s really just me you know;” but then also dropping those heavy hints often enough to make the Jews feel an occasional need to stone him for heresy. He always left room for doubt about his unity with God, dancing just on that edge of nearly getting himself stoned before his time, but also not making the easy requisite denial of his Godly status that would have made the Jews oh so happy to hear. Then Jesus goes on to teach his disciples that the spirit (His spirit no less) would come --but won’t come until Jesus has left. So how to put all that together! Is it Jesus or his spirit that you have with you now? Or God? Well – you have the latter two (since Jesus in the flesh presumably isn’t physically present here at the moment.) It may not help to see how Jesus and God are the same, but maybe this is one way to imagine the spirit part. A child is talking with his dad on the phone. And his mother tells him: “Now please listen to what your dad says!” The child gets a confused look on his face and says: “shall I obey my dad or the voice on the phone? Which one? Are they the same?” Maybe that’s a bit like Jesus and his Spirit. Jesus taught us things … and his Spirit keeps reminding us of those things. So in the end the child can remember his dad’s words, voice, and instructions without fussing over whether he should consider those things as distinct from his actual dad in person. They were all the same as far as their relationship is concerned. There. Does that get you 2/3 of the way there?


(Matthew Pevarnik) #8

I think that the trinity is mainly there to get our brains properly evolved so we can start to understand how interconnected our universe truly is. Thousands of years of wrestling with the question with no answer in sight, countless dissertations and book written with no agreement or definiteness… what good comes out of it besides perhaps an ‘eternal mystery’ (eternal mysteries don’t make for good theology or science- https://www.peteenns.com/always-taught-bible-says-x-just-dont-see/)?

Note that the trinity has been a stumbling block for many coming to the Christian faith yet the only true stumbling block ought to be the cross and resurrection of Christ. So I’ve been thinking about other good things that have come out of the trinity and my best hypothesis is our brains are now better fit to understand the universe. I am of course being partially facetious, but how might the trinity shed insight into the interconnectivenss of the universe?

Let’s start with tiny quantum fluctuations existing before our universe’s inflation event. After inflation, these quantum fluctuations were effectively frozen in space which are visible as anisotropies shown on the CMB which led to galaxies and our remarkable place surrounded by 100-200 dwarf galaxies in the local group which help sustain our spiral structure. Our planet was ultimately shaped by a large series of events that depend upon one another.

Or perhaps the trinity question is helping us see how many things go into making a habitable :earth_americas:. This paper was a pretty neat paper that goes into resolving Fermi’s Paradox, exploring habitable zones, and looks at the hypothesis that life is easy to begin from scratch, just hard to sustain (http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~aditya/pubs/ChopraLineweaver2016.pdf).


#9

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/index.html
and
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/trinity-history.html

…might be useful references.


(GJDS) #10

The Gospel teaches us of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. These matters are there in the NT for all to see, and the early Christians turned to the Apostles, and Apostolic teaching (authority) to understand the revelation of God by Jesus Christ.

Later on, as Christianity grew, many brought in novelties and various views that were often contrary to Apostolic teachings. From these times, Christians endeavoured to show how they differed from heretical views, by adopting a creed (a statement they all had in common). This continued and was formalised by the doctrine of the Trinity.

My take on current controversies and opinions made against the doctrine is centered on the extraordinary way terms such as “person” or “self” are used. My reading indicates that this begins with “self” as we would speak of another human being (that we can identify as “like my self”), followed by statements that would at the very least, mean self as entities in the Trinity. This is a modern version of pagan ideas of gods (gods similar to us but more so, or greater power) and such like. I add a portion of the introduction to this subject given in the Stanford quote above:

"Trinitarians hold this revelation of the one God as a great self to have been either supplemented or superceded by later revelation which shows the one God in some sense to be three “persons.” (Greek: hypostaseis or prosopa, Latin: personae) But if these divine “persons” are selves, then the claim is that there are three divine selves, which is to say, three gods. Some Trinity theories understand the “persons” to be selves,


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #12

@gbrooks9

George, there is no way a perfect God can relate to imperfect human beings.

In the OT God told humans what God expected of them and they utterly failed to meet these expectations.

Jesus Christ was the Messiah of YHWH Who showed humans that they are not supposed to obey God Laws, but to live in relationship with YHWH through Grace and the Holy Spirit. This is not accomplished by human effort but through the power of God, the Trinity, God the Father, Son, and Spirit.

God brings humans into relationship to Godself by transforming them through God’s Word and Spirit.


(George Brooks) #13

@Relates

I find it difficult to believe that Trinitarianism is the ideal solution to humanity’s inability to grasp the nature of the Divine.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #14

Trinitarianism is not the ideal solution, Jesus Christ is. However the Trinitarian view grows out of God revelation of Godself through Jesus Christ.

Try it, you might like it.


(George L. Murphy) #15

To deal adequately with the idea of the Trinity, one may need to get rid of some initial assumptions.
1st, the doctrine of the Trinity is not a kind of mysterious arithmetic in which 3 = 1.

2d, there is no “doctrine of the Trinity” in the the Bible - i.e., no clearly worked out statement that the 3 persons (or identities, or “subsistent relations”, etc.), Father, Son and Spirit, are one God. There are certainly trinitarian images and language in various NT passages, but not a fully developed “doctrine.” One has to be willing to accept some concept of development of doctrine.

3d, while the Trinity itself, the inner life of God, is a “mystery” and beyond our full comprehension, doctrines of the Trinity, as human attempts at “faith in search of understanding”, should make sense. “It’s a mystery” is not an excuse for sloppiness.

4th, while there is a basic “dogma of the Trinity”, there are different legitimate “doctrines of the Trinity”. Think of it as being on a road, where if you fall of the right side you’re a modalist (just one God under three forms), and if you fall off on the left you’re a tri-theist (3 Gods). As long as you stay on the road you’re OK.

5th, all analogies for the Trinity (shamrock, water-ice-steam, &c) are somewhat misleading, some to the point of heresy.

Doctrines of the Trinity are attempts to say clearly that Jesus Christ is God, and the one he prayed to as Father is God, and their Spirit is God, yet “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God is one LORD.”

OR - not as something fundamentally different but another way of saying it: The claim in 1 John that “God is love” means that God in God’s own life is relational. God would be love even if there were nothing “outside” God for God to love.

There are a lot of books about the Trinity. If you want to get into it at a sophisticated level, you could do worse than Ted Peters’ God as Trinity: Relationality and Temporality in the Divine Life (Westminster/John Knox, 1993) for a survey. _


#16

Being of Celtic heritage (although its probably diluted to nearly nothing by now), I thought I might mention St. Patrick’s use of the shamrock to explain the Trinity, where you have one leaf with three lobes. It is also worth noting that St. Patrick had the same difficult task you have, explaining the Trinity to a bunch of people (pagans in the case of St. Patrick) who had no knowledge of Christian theology.


(Aaron Yilmaz) #17

The best resource I have found to fully understand this doctrine is from Dr. William Lane Craig’s Defenders podcast. There is audio, video, and a transcript here of the very engaging and enjoyable eight part series: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/s5

Here are some relevant excerpts that address the OPs main questions:

This doctrine of the Trinity is unfortunately often obscured by Christians in mystery.1 Very often they will simply say that the doctrine of the Trinity is incomprehensible and no one can understand it; it is a mystery and thereby they excuse themselves from having to explain it or think about it. But I think that this is an unfortunate tendency because the doctrine of the Trinity is really not in any way logically incoherent or mysterious. The doctrine of the Trinity is not the doctrine that three Gods are somehow one God. That would be clearly self-contradictory – to say there are three Gods, and these are one God. Neither is it the claim that there are three persons who are somehow one person. That, again, would be self-contradictory – to assert that there are three persons who are all one person. But the doctrine of the Trinity does not assert that there are three Gods that are one God or three persons that are one person, but it asserts that there is one God who is tri-personal. It is one God who is three persons, or, to put it another way, there is one God who has three centers of self-consciousness: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I think it is unfortunate that very often Christians will appeal to inadequate analogies to try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. There is really no reason to expect that there would be any analogy to the doctrine of the Trinity. There is no reason to think that there has to be some created thing that would so reflect the nature of God that it would be a good analogy. Most of the analogies that are suggested are inadequate. For example, here is one popular analogy for the Trinity: One man can be a father, a son, and a husband. That is like the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit being one God. I am one man, but I am a father, I am a son, and I am a husband. So I am three-in-one. Well, that is not an adequate analogy for the Trinity because that one man simply has these three different roles, but there is only one person involved there. That is not the doctrine of the Trinity – that there is one person who functions in these three different roles. That is a heresy; that is not what the doctrine asserts. Sometimes it is said that water (H2O) can take the form of either liquid, steam, or ice. It can be either a liquid, a gas, or a solid. That is the way the Trinity is – the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same in essence, like H2O, which can be in these three different forms – liquid, steam, or gas. Again, the problem is that the liquid, the steam, and the gas are simply different states of the same substance successively. You can have water being in these different states, but that is not the doctrine of the Trinity. This again is a form of what is called “modalism.” So I personally think that it is better just to eschew any of these analogies. I don’t think we need to have analogies to the Trinity. The doctrine is clear and logically coherent in what it states; namely, that there are three persons who constitute one God.

The way I like to think of it is in terms of self-consciousness. My being supports one center of self-consciousness which I call “I” – that is how I refer to myself. I am one being who is one person. I have this one center of self-consciousness. God is a being with three centers of self-consciousness – three “I”s. There is the Father, there is the Son, and there is the Holy Spirit. So just as I am one being with one center of self-consciousness, God is one being, but with three centers of self-consciousness. I think that is the easiest way to think about what the Trinity is. We will say more about this. This is just by way of introduction. But I want us to get a handle on what the doctrine of the Trinity affirms rather than what it does not.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not something that is explicitly taught in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity is a systematic summary of the biblical material concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.2 Theologians take the raw data of Scripture and reflect on it and systematize it. The doctrine of the Trinity is the result of that reflective systematization of the raw material of Scripture. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter whether or not the word “Trinity” is found in the Bible. The name just isn’t germane. The question is whether the doctrine is one that is biblically faithful. Is this a faithful systematic summary of the biblical doctrine (whatever you call it)? If you didn’t call it “Trinity”, maybe you could have called it “Uni-Triad” or something. You could have had some other name. The name isn’t important, and therefore it is of little relevance whether or not the word “Trinity” is found in the Scripture. What is important is, does the doctrine faithfully represent and systematize the teaching of Scripture concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s5-1#ixzz4ke8Id8fT


(Vlad K. I'm an Agnostic Atheist) #18

Trinity that I’ve studied when I was a believer was an eternal sonship of Christ. Look up Christ the logos and wisdom of God. In a nutshell, in some Jewish thought, word of God was a mechanism by which God (otherwise unapproachable) dealt with humanity. So logos/word/wisdom was that link to humans. It explains subordination (word must follow speaker) and equality (word perfectly represents speaker). There was a guy arguing with Mormons (tectonics.org) you can check out


(Neal Heires) #19

Aaron,
Very good explanation.
I might add one other point, and that is that God could not be God without being a triune God.
Some may suggest why not just have one God in one person that is our God.
God has to see all times and possible events and decide by His will what is to happen. (The Father)
God also has to have all knowledge and truth telling us what we need to hear, (The Son)
God also has to deliver it to all of us and the world everywhere (The Holy Spirit)
The Father’s will, the Son’s wisdom and knowledge, the Holy Spirit’s delivering it.
One God can do this but via three centers of consciousness. Can’t be done any other way!
When talking to Muslims about the doctrine of Trinity, might ask them how a single consciousness God can do this in three separate roles while being Omni-present in all times and space.


(G Ack) #20

I’m not sure if this will resonate with a Muslim community; however I have always looked at Gods creation of man in his image as an example, and if this is to be true, then how would I divide a man into three equal parts: (not literally) all parts being different, yet all being the same?
The only concept I could develop was the relation to mind, body, soul.
Our mind, is part of who we are our memories, personality, and a decision center within our bodies. If we were able to upload the thoughts of our mind into a computer, to form a picture of ourself, it would look similar enough for people to recognize who you are. Logics, math, structural workings all reflect God the creator, and it all happens in the mind that is housed in the brain.
The body is also who you are probably more so than the mind for most. If someone sees you they know it’s you. The body is God in the flesh; The Christ, how we would be most likely to recognize him.
And last the soul. This is the connection that most difficult because it’s the most perfect image of who you are. It’s you, but slightly different. For God I believe is similar, and broader, because it allows a holy connection with our creator.
The difference is that God can separate the three, have them exist on their own, work on their own, yet all work as one. Something we are not able, and will probably never be capable of doing.
That’s how I have always viewed it. It’s not completely fleshed in theory but I hope it helps.

Also, I’m new to biologos forum. As a side note I’m always delicate when speaking about the the Holy Spirit, if any of this is sacrilegious, please someone correct my ignorance. I’m quick to apologize, and eager to learn.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #21

The problem that Muslims have is that they believe that God is Simple.

If Allah is Simple, how does Allah communicate His will to humans? The usual answer is that Allah communicated His Word to His people through the Quran, Which according to Muslim theology is Eternal and Immutable.

The problem with this is 1) The Quran is not simple. It is contradictory and unclear. 2) While Muslim law which is the center of Muslim life is based in part on the Quran, it is often based on tradition centered on Muhammad. 3) While Muhamad never claims to be God, his person holds a place in Islam akin to Jesus in Christianity. 4) There is no Holy Spirit in Islam, but the Sufism plays an important role, Sufism emphasize the spiritual nature of faith as opposed the legalism of traditional Islam.