What comes to mind when you hear (or in this case read!) someone referring to the doctrine of the Trinity? For many of us as Christians the answers are usually different and not uniform, which is very unfortunate. This leads to many Christians getting really put to shame when speaking to non-Christian groups about this foundational doctrine. Another unfortunate side effect is that when non-Christians hear us contradicting one another when answering the question it seems as though this essential and core doctrine is incoherent and could (as far as they are concerned anyway) give them another reason to reject Christianity. Fortunately, the problem doesn’t have much at all to do with the doctrine itself as it mostly stems from our not ever having studied it at all or failing to articulate it properly. In this article I seek to help us remedy that, at least at an introductory level, by giving an overview of this important/vital doctrine. I will have to divide this up into three separate posts, this of course being Part I. Over the course of this brief study we will examine the following issues:
Part I will consist of this introduction which you are now reading, followed by stating what the doctrine of the Trinity actually is. After that we will examine sayings like “The Trinity is above logic, etc.” and show that they are really unnecessary and that just because we can not fully explain something that doesn’t mean it is logically impossible or inconsistent.
Part II will be important because we will examine two major errors that one will be wise to avoid. After that we will look at the danger of trying to use analogies by examining a few of the more popular one’s that I also have (unfortunately) used in the past.
In Part III we will look briefly at some of the most important Scriptural data (certainly not all of the data, but I do hope to steer you in the right direction) concerning the doctrine of the Trinity and then draw a conclusion based on the information we covered in all three posts and try to encourage you to grow in your knowledge of this vital doctrine. I will also conclude the third post by giving a list of valuable resources to assist you in your studies on the Trinity. They will range widely from beginner to advanced, as well as from free to expensive, that way all of us who are at differing levels of experience can benefit.
Stating the Doctrine of the Trinity
The Doctrine of the Trinity is best defined as “a systematic summary of the biblical material concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.1” We can summarize it in three simple steps as follows2:
|1. God is three persons.|
|2. Each person is fully God.|
|3. There is one God.|
Now, in light of this simple summary many have made statements that imply the doctrine has problems such as being logically incoherent, or that it is a mystery we can never comprehend. I find that the words of Dr. William Lane Craig are very helpful here:
“This doctrine of the Trinity is unfortunately often obscured by Christians in mystery. 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.3“
What Dr. Craig mentions about thinking of the God as having three centers of self consciousness is very helpful. For example, we are each one being with one center of self consciousness. God however is so complete in His being that He has three centers of self consciousness. This emphasis on the distinctness of the persons within the God-head is called social Trinitarianism. The school of thought that lays a greater emphasis upon the oneness of God’s being is called anti-social Trinitarianism (also called Latin Trinitarianism)4. I hope you are beginning to see why this doctrine is so important to be able to learn, defend and articulate properly. Join us in one week when I will post Part II of Just What Is the Doctrine of the Trinity? where we will examine two major errors we want to avoid and then examine the danger of using analogies and look at a few of the more common examples that are often given.