Unity in Diversity.
The ongoing Trinity Story as applied today.
Deut 6:1 – 20 esp vs4.
‘In 1967, Karl Rahner famously drew attention to the then widespread neglect of the Trinity, claiming that “should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged”.’
Letham then goes on to quote Augustine in his De Trinitate: ‘in no subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.’
Rob Bell, in his book “Velvet Elvis” suggested that doctrine was like a wall made of bricks. If this were so, a few may be removed, and the wall would still stand - this is such dangerous thinking. Even when Bell then goes on to say that Doctrine should be more like a trampoline, flexible, expandable, stretchable, he is simply putting into words what so many believers grapple with-namely how important is all this anyway. Whilst he attempted to clarify these notions later, they did reflect the mind of many, especially when discussing the Trinity. Most believers have a Sunday School grasp of this most essential of doctrines.
- Based on poor, limiting metaphors / analogies, [candle, tree, man,3 leaf clover…],
- Dramatically and dangerously over simplified,
- Little text or theological study,
- Without regard for the historical journey,
- Certainly not reflected on for its weight and influence on all else.
Actually I want to argue that, the Trinity is the focus of all doctrine. If this is treated lightly or is subtly dismissed as of little importance, we are in serious danger of building a Leaning Tower of Pisa – a building founded on a poor foundation that became a monument of human stupidity rather than a facility of long standing life.
I eagerly await Prof Fred Sanders new book: ‘The Trinity changes everything’
Why then do we study the Trinity?
- Unfolds to us, daily the wonder, mystery, complexity, extravagance of who our God really is – and how we are to partner with Him,
- Reveals to us who we are, why we desire what we do and what can only fully satisfy the longings of our heart,
- Exposes and prevents the drift toward heresies with all the devastation that that brings,
- Places at the hub of life the central piece of divinity around which everything spins or spokes outward,
- Without the Trinity we have no true and complete atonement, there is then no salvation to take away the sins of the world with the full personal life transformation that it brings,
- He / they provide the template for all of life – “the Trinity is the first community and the ideal for all communities… the Trinity is the ideal community in every way.” Be it marriage, family, church, leadership, businesses, nations…
If I may stay with Robert Letham’s book for just a little longer, here is something of note that he argues:
‘The East [church] early on faced the danger of subordination, viewing the Son and the Spirit as something derivative, with their divine status not precisely clear… the east has sometimes tended to see the Father as the source not only of the personal subsistence of the Son and the Spirit but also of their deity. In this way, it is easy to see how the Son could be viewed as a little less divine than the Father, his deity by derivation rather than of himself…the recent awakening of interest in Eastern theology in the West, a social model of the Trinity has arisen in the West that focuses on the distinctiveness of the three persons often tending toward loose tritheism…
The West, for its part, has fallen more toward modalism. By this is meant the blurring or eclipsing of the eternal personal distinctions. This can come about either by treating God’s self-revelation as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as merely successive modes by which the one unipersonal God revealed himself… Western Trinitarianism has been based on the priority of the one divine essence and has had some difficulty doing justice to the distinctions of the three persons.”
Whilst to some, this may appear to simply reflect a theological / philosophical discussion that really has no daily relevance, the opposite could not be truer. So many Christian movements in the west honestly believe that they have the “right’ to choose which person of the Trinity they emphasize. This they do with
- The use of selective texts,
- Testimony accounts,
- Using highly emotive language and
- The ‘evidence’ of God’s blessing to legitimize their stance.
Tragedy. All of this is earthed in a poor Trinitarian understanding and revelation that leads to a ‘legitimate’ form of ‘modalism’. Lets look at these realities: [I am aware of the dangers of generalizations]
- Father God – the therapeutic movement has latched onto the healing Father [often in quite a generic form] almost exclusively,
- The Son – the new reformed emergence, has placed enormous [almost exclusive] weight and emphasis on the Son, the cross, the tomb,
- The Spirit – the ‘kingdom now’ theology, often strongly loaded by an Armenian bias, has drifted to a Spirit-exclusive encounter-based journey.
My appeal for us is to posture ourselves with humility around this glorious conversation – The Trinity. We surrender our right of choice [not that we have one]. There remains an ongoing commitment to mine these truths, to keep building on the solid rock of “a God who is one, who is three equally distinctive, with all three uncreated and eternally God”.
AW Tozer as so often is the case, says it the best - “Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity, must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.” He adds later: “We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper ‘mystery’”.