“Most orthodox Christians claim to be “biblical” in doctrine yet also “Trinitarian”. Many share the view expressed by Whitely and by Kelly that the Pauline texts embody “traces of a Trinitarian ground-plan”. It is certainly the case that Paul unambiguously expresses the Christian belief in one God (1 Cor. 8:6), and that in many passages, both associations and distinctions are drawn between God as Father, Christ as Lord, and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:14; Rom 8:11, 14-16; Col. 1:15).Continue reading “Why Trinity?”
1. The Trinity is not an optional doctrine, it is essential. God’s unity is not behind God’s threeness, God’s unity is in God’s threeness. This is not speculative mathematics, it is a descriptive theology of revelation.
2. The Trinity is not an academic doctrine thought up by clever scholars, rather it grew out of the Christian experience of worship, i.e. it expressed the early church’s pattern of prayer tothe Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.
3. The driving force of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity was Christological and soteriological, i.e. it served to articulate the Christian experience of salvation in Christ. The first Christians already knew God; through Jesus they came to know God as Jesus’ Father and Jesus as God’s Son; while in the Spirit Jesus continued to be present to them, forming a family of prayer to the Father and building a community of witness to Christ.
I. HOW TO AVOID TRINITARIAN HERESY
#1. Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain the Trinity
#2. Teach children to make the sign of the cross when they say the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
#3. When someone offers to tell you the practical implications of the doctrine, just smile and move along
#4. Have you come up with a really helpful analogy of the trinity? Well done! Now please don’t tell anyone about it, ever
#5. The doctrine is not a mystery. It is simple & precise. The reality it points to is the mystery
#6. Don’t try to get rid of the biblical words. Don’t try to stick to them exclusively either
#7. In this doctrine every word is used in a very limited way. Even the numbers 1 and 3 can’t be taken literally
#8. Don’t partake in meaningless debates about whether “oneness” or “threeness” is more important (see #7)
II. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY, EAST AND WEST
#9. Don’t worry about whether you prefer Augustine or the Greeks. You don’t have to pick a favourite, it’s not Masterchef.
I’ve been re-reading Mike Reeves’ brilliant little book on the Trinity called ‘The Good God, enjoying Father, Son and Spirit’ (just check out the reviews on Amazon for proof). His conclusion is short and succinct enough to warrant popping it here, in the hope that people will be inspired enough to get his book, read it and enjoy God afresh. I’ve added the pictures. When the book launched, Mike allowed me to take thirty copies back to my church in the hope of selling a few – they all went….
“What is your Christian life like? What is the shape of your gospel, your faith? In the end, it will depend on what you think God is like. Who God is drives everything.
So what is the human problem?
Is it merely that we have strayed from a moral code?
Or is it something worse: that we have strayed from him?
What is salvation? Is it merely that we are brought back as law-abiding citizens?
Or is it something better: that we are brought back as beloved children?
What is the Christian life about? Mere behaviour? Or something deeper: enjoying God?
And then there’s what our churches are like, our marriages, our relationships, our mission: all are moulded in the deepest way by what we think of God.
In the early fourth century, Arius went for a pre-cooked God, ready-baked in his mind. Ignoring the way, the truth and life, he defined God without the Son, and the fallout was catastrophic: without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father; thus alone, he is not truly love. Thus he can have no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him. Arius was left with very thin gruel: a life of self-dependent effort under the all-seeing eye of his distant and loveless God.
The tragedy is that we all think like Arius every day (my emphasis). We think of God without the Son. We think of ‘God’, and not the Father of the Son. But from there it doesn’t really take long before you find that you are just a whole lot more interesting than this ‘God’. And could you but see yourself, you would notice that you are fast becoming like this ‘God’: all inward-looking and fruitless.
The twentieth-century Russian theologian, Vladimir Lossky, put it like this: ‘If we reject the Trinity as the sole ground of all reality and all thought, we are committed to a road that leads nowhere; we end in an aporia (a despair), in folly, in the disintegration of our being, in spiritual death. Between the Trinity and hell there lies no other choice.’
However, starting with Jesus, Athanasius found himself with a God who could not have been more different from the God of Arius. It wasn’t that he found himself with some extra small-print in his description of God (‘the Trinity’): Athanasius had a God of love, a kind Father who draws us to share him eternal love and fellowship.
The choice remains: which God will we have? Which God will we proclaim? Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know that God is truly a loving Father. Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know him as our loving Father. But as Luther discovered, through Jesus we may know that God is a Father, and ‘we may look into his fatherly heart and sense how boundlessly He loves us. That would warm our hearts, setting them aglow’.
Yes it would, and more: it would bring about reformation.
Michael Reeves, The Good God, pg. 106-7
“Now, the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” Athanasian Creed
Robin Parry writes, “We can’t make proper sense of our conversion, of our baptism, of our experiences of God, of our place in the church, of mission, Bible reading or the eternal life God has given us unless we understand them in a Trinitarian way…[Our] prayer and worship [must be likewise shaped Trintarianly]….Thinking of the Christian life without Father, Son and Spirit makes about as much sense as thinking of a sentence without words or of a square without four sides. A Christian life without the Trinity is not a Christian life at all.”
Worshipping Trinity, p.66
A Latin hymn from the thirteenth century
Come, thou Holy Spirit, come:
And from thy celestial home send thy light and brilliancy.
Come, thou father of the poor,
Come, who givest all our store,
Come, the soul’s true radiancy.
Come, of comforters the best, of the soul the sweetest guest, sweetly and refreshingly.
Come in labour rest most sweet,
shade and coolness in the heat, comfort in adversity.
Thou who art the light most blest,
come, fulfil their inmost breast, who believe most faithfully.
For without thy Godhead’s dower,
man hath nothing in his power, save to work iniquity.
What is filthy make thou pure, what is wounded work its cure, water what is parched and dry.
Gently bend the stubborn will, warm to life the heart that’s chill, guide who goeth erringly.
Fill thy faithful who adore, and confess thee evermore, with thy seven-fold mystery.
Here thy grace and virtue send,
grant salvation in the end, and in heaven felicity. Amen.
The Holy Spirit is certainly the weak link in the chain of Evangelical theology. With the stress on Christology, we can miss so much more of the Trinity’s treasure. Maybe we want to avoid some of the silliness and excesses of Pentecostalism, but boy have we needed much of Pentecostalism to remind us what we’re missing! Yet tragically, instead of enjoying the fathomless glory of pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit), we actually succumb to pneumaphobia! And that is an evangelical train-wreck waiting to happen.
Another point of note, is that the Holy Spirit is suspect because he does not pander or subscribe to our denominational or theological structures. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is a free-agent, a maverick. Jesus did say the wind blows where it will! He breaks rank, crosses over the other side, He will not be “owned” by us, by anyone; He is as free in Himself as the Son is free in the Father and the Father in the Son. Blessed Trinity!
He is impossible to outwit, outsmart, predict or predetermine, and will not be bottled and bagged by any church, Christian, denomination, nation or whatever! He does not bow to any theologian or “school of thought”, and is totally free, going wherever and whenever He wishes. Mission, evangelism, faithfulness, wisdom, wholeness, true spirituality, life itself, are all to be found in Him.
Too many churches are passionate for the Father’s glory, absolutely determined in their Christ-centered faith (and rightly so), but err big time and languish in a spiritual impoverishment of biblical, cosmic and cataclysmic proportions by neglecting the Holy Spirit. Remember, it is the role of the Holy Spirit to point us to Jesus, and it is Jesus who shows us the Father.
Read the Latin Hymn again as a prayer. Pray it. Come, thou Holy Spirit, come.