Tag Archives: trinity


Frustrated Trinitarian

I am a frustrated Trinitarian. Let me explain.


As you may know, the mantra “know what you believe and why you believe it” is a staple of thinking evangelical culture. I agree with it. It’s a needed corrective to a whole host of shortcomings.


Unfortunately, the mantra has its problems. It ultimately perpetuates some of the shortcomings it sets out to combat. The reason – it doesn’t go far enough.


The “what you believe”, it turns out, is typically the body of knowledge that informs a particular tradition’s beliefs. And it’s not actually questioned. It’s assumed.


This means the call to know “why you believe it” is not an invitation to critically engage with a tradition’s beliefs. It’s a call to acquaint oneself with the historical content of a tradition’s beliefs. Big difference.


For some of us…this is not enough.


We realize that to critically engage with our beliefs – to truly know why we believe them – requires us to go behind them. Examine their assumptions. Find their origin. Understand their development. But which ones?


Some are captivated by the paradox of the incarnation, provoked by the implications of atonement theories, enthralled by new ideas about Paul, or invigorated by ancient Near Eastern readings of creation. Me? I was frustrated by a myriad of issues surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity.


“Frustrated by the Trinity?”, one might ask. “It’s foundational to orthodox Christian belief. All one has to do is read the New Testament. The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit show up everywhere. How can one be frustrated by the Trinity? There would be no Gospel without it!”


“Oh. Wait. Is the Trinity an ‘it’ or a ‘him’? The Father, Son and Spirit are ‘hims’…that’s right…so the Trinity has to be an ‘it’? Wait…that doesn’t sound right. God’s not a thing. God’s a person…uh…three persons. This stuff is confusing!”


Let me help. The Trinity is not an “it”. The Trinity is a “him”. Specifically, The-one-simple-God-in-three-eternal-modalities-that-are-the-hypostatic-acts-Father-Son-and-Holy-Spirit-whose-only-distinction-are-their-internal-relations.


This is doctrinal language. It is a way we can speak of our tri-personal God with technical precision. A language and precision absent from the Bible. A language that reveals a disconnect between bible and doctrine.


Given this disconnect, scholar Scott Swain has no choice but to concede, “The Trinity does not present himself to us in the Holy Scripture in the form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.” Same goes for scholar Fred Sanders when he admits, the doctrine is a “less revealed doctrine” requiring “some assembly.”


To be fair, they both argue the Trinity is a biblically revealed doctrine. Sanders will speak of the “biblical pressure” or “raw material” for the doctrine. Sometimes He’ll spit-and-shine the disconnect with a distinction between a “Primary Trinitarianism” and “Secondary Trinitarianism.”


But in their academically aimed writings, they release the reigns a bit on the problems presented by the disconnect issue.


In Sanders’ book The Triune God, he makes the following refreshingly frank admission: “Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity stands today at a point of crisis with regard to its ability to demonstrate its exegetical foundation. Theologians once approached this doctrine with a host of biblical proofs, but one by one, many of those venerable old arguments have been removed from the realm of plausibility.”


This disconnect between Bible and doctrine is where my frustration takes root. A frustration fomented by a significant amount of current Trinitarian scholarship.


My frustrations can be summarized around the following doctrinal issues (a partial list):

  • Development Issues
  • Exegetical Issues
  • Coherence Issues
  • Historical Issues
  • Doctrinal Content Issues
  • Trinitarian Glossing Syndrome


It might be helpful to briefly comment on one – development issues. For the average Christian – the kind I teach – much of this will likely be new.


Orthodoxy’s first full blown Trinitarian creed was in 381. The years that led up to that were crammed with political, theological, philosophical, and polemical discourse on God the Father and his relationship to the Son.


During these years there were many brilliant Christians who were not Trinitarians (there still are). Many simply believed that the one God was the Father. Debate often centered around how the Son was “related” to the Father.


Christian bishops and thinkers argued over whether the Son was: from the will of the Father; from the “ousia” of the Father; “in” the Father; or the “likeness” of the Father. As late as the 350’s Basil of Ancyra argued that the Son is “like” the Father not of the “same essence” (being). This is not a Trinitarian friendly view.


During these years, we have Greek philosophical influences exerting pressure on how Christianity wrestled with concepts like “God”, “Logos”, “divine simplicity”, “nature”, “being”, and “person.”


We have top down political pressure being exerted on the Church in order bring unity to the Byzantine empire. Alongside this we have political alliances being formed within the Church to help advance one position over another. The famous church Father Athanasius incited violence against the “opposition”. Some stocked creeds with specific language intended to stick it to the other side.


We have a variety of other factors that are often ignored. Scholar Sarah Coakley points out that the development of the doctrine is set, “within a constellation of considerations – spiritual, ascetical, sexual, social – which the dominant modern textbook tradition has tended either to ignore, or to sideline…”


And shockingly, we have very little discussion on the status of the Holy Spirit who, for a variety of reasons, was given a back seat. One reason, cited by Coakley, was that the Holy Spirit was seen as inciting sexual desires (I’m not making this stuff up).


My frustration arises in a number of ways within the quick sketch provided.


I’m frustrated that in popular level books on the Trinity there is no hint of the severity and breadth of disagreement, nor of the developmental complexity that attended the doctrine. I’m frustrated that some creeds are completely ignored, while others are spun as nirvana experiences of Trinitarian ecstasy. James White says of the Nicaea Creed of 325, “[its] words were the result of the greatest church council ever convened.”


Scholar Lewis Ayres provides a more realistic view of 325: There was a “temporary victory of one side in early fourth-century debate over ouisa language [how the Son is related to the Father], but it does not demonstrate any substantial advance towards a resolution of that debate.”


Even more telling (from Ayres): “The idea that the creed would serve as a universal and precise marker of Christian faith was unlikely to have occurred to anyone at Nicaea simply because the idea that any creed might so serve was yet unheard of. All the bishops at Nicaea would have understood their local ‘baptismal’ creed to be a sufficient definition of Christian belief…”


The creed was essentially ignored for the next 20+ years. And like John 1:1c, was just as easily deployed to support “non-Trinitarian” views as “Trinitarian” ones (I use quotes around these terms because even in the 320’s, a doctrinal view of the Trinity did not exist).


These are but a few of the frustrations that arise out of the issues surrounding the doctrine’s development. Shielding the average Christian from these issues is not a way to foster thinking Christians. It’s not a way to encourage a sincere embrace of the mantra, “know what you believe and why you believe it.” Quite the opposite. It’s a way to endorse ignorance as a virtue, foment frustrated Trinitarians…or worse.


Scott Swain Misrepresents Larry Hurtado in JETS?



I’ve been studying the doctrine of the Trinity for two plus years. I’m obsessed with it. Can’t imagine a more engaging subject. It’s a topic that overlaps many disciplines – patristic studies, church history, biblical theology, dogmatics and philosophy. I love it. It’s a challenge.


My pursuit of the Trinity has included authors as diverse as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, GNaz, Dale Tuggy, Fred Sanders, James White, James Anderson, Thomas McCall, Scott Swain, William Hasker, Keith Ward, Luke Stamps, Larry Hurtado, Michael Heiser, Alan Segal, Richard Bauckham, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Michael Rea, Sarah Coakley, George Karamanolis, Kavin Rowe, WLC, and more.


To that end, I recently read an article in the March 2017 edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Society. The article is written by Scott Swain, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. The title: “The Bible and the Trinity in Recent Thought: Review, Analysis, and Constructive Proposal”.


In a section dealing with “the mode of the Trinity’s presence in the Bible,” Swain makes this point:

The Trinity does not present himself to us in Holy Scripture in the form of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Some, of course, claim this as evidence that the Trinity does not present himself to us in any form in the Bible and that the church’s Trinitarian dogma is the product of later, extrabiblical influences on its thinking, life, and liturgy. Wilhelm Bousset argued that it was only when the church had forgotten its Jewish monotheistic roots that it could, under the influences of its Hellenistic context, affirm the deity of Jesus Christ. The church’s Trinitarian dogma, according to this view, is “a work of the Greek Spirit on the soil of the Gospel,” to use Adolf Von Harnack’s famous description. Martin Hengel and others have undermined Bousset’s sharp distinction between an early Palestinian form of Christianity and a later Hellenized form.


Swain then cites scholars Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado as having “further discredited” Bousset’s view:

Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado, representatives of what Hengel dubbed the “new history of religions school,” have further discredited Bousset’s theory, demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel.




What concerns me here is Swain’s representation of Larry Hurtado’s work. Along with Bauckham, Swain cites Hurtado as, “demonstrating that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. (I’m not dealing here with Swain’s larger point about the work of Bousset).


At the time, this representation of Hurtado struck me as wrong. I’ve read a number of his books, scores of his blog posts, and listened to him multiple times on assorted podcasts. I was certain he never endorsed or espoused this “Jesus is God” view in his published work.


But to be sure, I decided to go straight to the source – Hurtado himself. I contacted him with the following question:

I just read in the March issue of JETS a Scott Swain article. He cites you as demonstrating, and I quote, “that the early church identified Jesus with and worshipped Jesus as the one true God of Israel”. Now, unless I’m mistaken, I’ve never read or heard you make such a claim. Have you ever claimed this in your writings? If so, where? I need to reread the appropriate sections if I have overlooked this.


Hurtado did not disappoint. His answer to my question was clear and precise:

Corby: I too don’t recall making the claim that the early church identified Jesus “as the one true God of Israel.” I’ve noted that the earliest evidence shows the glorified/risen Jesus treated as uniquely linked with God, and as sharing the divine throne, divine name and glory, but also regularly distinguished from “God”. The application of OT “YHWH texts” to Jesus is remarkable (as David Capes showed in his book on the topic). But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement that you cite.


Hurtado confirmed my suspicions.


But more than that, he actually undercuts the “Jesus as God” point Swain attributes to Hurtado. Hurtado says, “But I myself don’t think that this justifies the sort of statement you cite”. What statement? Jesus is identified “as the one true God of Israel”.


Here is my concern: It appears to me that a highly respected scholar in Trinitarian studies misrepresented the work of another scholar in order to give an additional appearance of credibility to his argument. This is a serious problem.




At this point in the story, I decided to  contact Scott Swain directly. He was gracious enough to private message with me and hear my concerns. He disagreed with my take on his use of Hurtado. And yes, I sent him Hurtado’s response.


I pressed Swain further on the issue and he ended the conversation. I did have a glimmer of hope, however. He said he would seek the opinion of Hurtado directly. I asked him to keep me in the loop. If I am wrong on this, I want to know. I never heard back from him.


Did Swain misrepresent Hurtado? If you think he did, how would you characterize the severity of Swain’s misrepresentation? If you think he didn’t, where have I gone wrong?


Dale Tuggy’s Trilemma – The Tip of the Iceberg



Jesus died.

Jesus was fully divine.

No fully divine being has ever died.


Can an orthodox, creedal affirming Christian (what I call a Creedonian) deny anyone of these? No. All three would have to be affirmed.


So what? What’s the problem? All this God stuff is a mystery anyway.


The problem is that we’re left with a contradiction. The problem is we have to explain how a fully divine being – who is essentially and necessarily immortal – can die. I suppose we can ignore the problem, but Scripture elevates knowing. It doesn’t favor blind allegiance.


We can, of course, avoid the contradiction by denying one of the statements. But then we would lose our Creedonian membership card.


So what are we to do?


We’ll start with the easy bit. The Bible is clear that God can’t die. God’s divine nature renders Him incapable of death. Call it a perk of the job.


How about the “Jesus is fully divine” bit? For sake of brevity, we’ll go with the customary interpretations of all the relevant Biblical passages. Give a nod to Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Augustine, Karl Barth. Affirm this one without the benefit of argument, and move on.


So that leaves us with, “Jesus died”.


Now we have a problem. Based on what we just affirmed, we’re in a pickle. How do we get out?


There are only two ways, as far as I can see. Appeal to mystery, using all the intellectual vigor we can muster. Or, employ the language and concepts of the creeds.


We’ll avoid the mystery card and take the second approach. Doing so means we’ll have to make some adjustments to the trilemma. Specifically, we’ll have to rephrase the “Jesus died” statement to accommodate our Creedonian beliefs.


This changing of the statement means, obviously, that the trilemma as given will be ignored.


So the “right” statement might look something like this – the “One-God’s-eternal-modality-that-is-the-so-distinguished-hypostatic-act-Son’s-assumed-human-nature” died.


Now, we can talk about how the hypostatic union both unifies and distinguishes the “hypostatic-act-Son’s” divine and human nature. We can talk about how the concept of communicatio idiomatum demonstrates how the two natures of Christ communicate properties with each other.


We can talk about the difference between concrete and abstract natures. We can make “qua” distinctions between human and divine natures. We can talk about the difference between a person in the modern sense and a person in the “hypostatic-act-Son” sense.


Now, when I say “we”, I mean somebody else. I’ve been reading on these things for two years and I still can’t explain them.


So when the “we” have finished explaining all of this, does it solve our problem? I’ll leave that for you to discern.


But I will say this. Each road taken to answer this trilemma seems to always dead end with more questions. And eventually, like-mindedness between scholars evaporates, as we travel further into the weeds. Ultimately…the mystery card comes out.


So where does this leave us?


Personally, I think the doctrine of the Trinity is in crisis. I lay the blame at the feet of Trinitarian scholars.


The disconnect between a plain reading of the Bible, and the language and concepts employed by Trinitarian scholarship is massive. As lay folk, like me, are compelled to dive deeper and deeper into a Biblical search for the presence and coherent formulation of the Trinity, the disconnect becomes more and more obvious. Trinitarian language is not Biblical language.


Only the Trinitarian scholar has the chops to find a better way – to find better and more compelling language – to bridge the divide. But too many spend their energy on defending the continued use of this disconnected language. Too many opt for Latin over lucidity. Too many pride themselves on loyalty to Patristics over pastoring the flock.


No doubt, they think this is a false dilemma. They would see their loyalty as a form of pastoring the flock. But this misses the point.


Language and concepts like “communicatio idiomatum” are not inspired. They are not, in any Biblical sense, sanctifying. The truth they contain manifests not within a Biblical context, but within a specific historical setting.


It might help to illustrate my point. I’m not denying the engine. I’m pointing out that language like “carburetor” is becoming obsolete. Fuel injection is not heresy.


I’m suggesting it’s time to employ language and concepts that are more effective at communicating and defending the Doctrine of the Trinity at this time in Church history. This is…after all…what the Church Fathers did so well. They spoke into their historical setting with the tools their setting provided. To honor the work of the Church Fathers, is to do precisely what they did.


But sadly, in fact, when some new field does come along to try and do this very thing – like analytic theology – it’s ostracized by many of those in the systematics and patristics fields. It’s smugly labeled as being “novel”.


Dale Tuggy’s trilemma is the least of the Trinitarian’s concerns. It’s merely the tip of the iceberg.




Romans 8:2-4 – According to the Spirit and Trinitarian Gospel

Romans 8:2–4 (ESV) — 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.



Last week we looked at the “therefore” in verse 1.

  • We saw it contained history – the man Adam, and the man Jesus with His one act.
  • We saw that it also contained theology – the application of the history; the meat on the bones of history; the thing that gave the history meaning.
  • We also briefly explored union with Christ.



In our verses today, Paul gives us more theology.

  • Specifically, the “what” that the history, the theology and union with Christ do for the believer.
  • In effect, Paul describes some of the results of our union with Christ.



Verse 2:

He sets it up in verse 2.

  • For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.


For those “in Christ Jesus”…

  • the law of the Spirit of life”…
  • Has set the believer free from “the law of sin and death”.


So what are these two “laws”?


I am with Douglas Moo on this one.

  • Paul isn’t talking about the Mosaic law in verse 2.
  • He is referring to law as a “binding authority” or “power”.


We have seen him do this before.

  • Romans 3:27 (ESV) — 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
  • Romans 7:23 (ESV) — 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.


So the two laws are:

  • The power and authority of the Spirit of life…
  • The power and authority of sin and death.


This means what we have in Romans 8:2 is this:

  • The authority and power of the Spirit – found in Christ…
  • Has set the believer free from the authority and power of sin and death.


What does the power of sin and death bring?

  • Why would one want to be set free from it?


BTW – to tie this back to Paul’s dominion theology:

  • Where does the power and authority of the Spirit of life operate?
    • The domain of grace – “under grace”.
  • Where does the power and authority of sin and death operate?
    • The domain of sin – “under sin”.



Holy Spirit:

We have to take special notice of something hugely significant in verse 2.

  • Paul establishes the necessity of the work of the Spirit.


Doug Moo says Paul’s citation of the Spirit…

Introduces, “the Spirit as a key agent of liberation from the old realm of sin and death” – Doug Moo.


And importantly Paul also establishes cooperation between the person and work of Christ…

  • The “therefore” from 8:1…
  • And the liberating work of the Spirit…


“The Spirit’s liberating work takes place only within the situation created by Christ” – Doug Moo.

  • As Paul says, the power and authority of the Spirit sets us free in Christ.
  • The Spirit plays a role in the believer’s address change.


BTW – This should remind us of what we learned in 1 Corinthians 8:6.

  • There we saw how the Father and Son were coworkers in creation.
  • Here, Christ and the Spirit both work to provide freedom.


So, by virtue of union with Christ…

  • The power and authority of the Spirit has set us free from sin and death.



Verses 3-4:

In verses 3-4, Paul then tells us how it is the Spirit sets us free in Christ.

  • It is basically a play-by-play description of exactly how the history and theology set the believer free.
  • For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.


Before we unpack Paul’s play-by-play…

  • I want us to notice two things.


First, notice that it is all God!

  • God has done
  • Sending his own Son…He condemned sin
  • According to the Spirit


Second, notice that Paul’s play-by-play…

  • Highlights the work of all three persons of the Trinity in securing the believer’s freedom.
  • God, Son and Spirit.
  • So we see the Trinitarian Gospel.


Now, let’s unpack the details of how Father, Son and Spirit set the believer free.

  • Let’s unpack the Trinitarian Gospel.



The Father:

(1) “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh [“this-worldly orientation”], could not do.

  • As we have seen in previous lessons on the law (here the Mosaic law)…
  • It is “incapable of rescuing people from the domain of sin and death” – Doug Moo.


In fact, in the domain of “under sin” where all are “in Adam”…

  • The law actually “strengthens the power of sin” – Doug Moo.


Tom Schreiner puts it this way:

  • “Without the Spirit the law only produces death. But for those who have the Spirit the law plays a positive role” – Tom Schreiner.


Remember – the law was never the problem.

  • Paul never threw the law under the bus.
  • One’s address – under sin – and the power of sin and death is the problem.


BTW – this means that one of the many things the Gospel does is…

  • Provide the proper address, or context, for God’s law to work as intended.


So God, obviously knowing the problem that the law presents in the domain of sin…

  • Sends His Son.
  • John 3:16 (ESV) — 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.



The Son:

(2) “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”


When Paul says God condemned sin in Jesus’ flesh, three verses really help us get at the meaning.

  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) — 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Galatians 3:13 (ESV) — 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
  • Romans 3:25 (ESV) — 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.


These three verses hit on various dimensions of Paul’s words.

  • The sinless Son of God took our sin upon Himself.
  • As our substitute, He became a curse “for us”.
  • The Father could then condemn and bring His judging righteousness upon our sin without killing us.
    • Because, the history and theology of the Son’s and Spirit’s work separated us from our sin.


Tom Wright puts it this way:

  • In Christ, our sin was executed – Tom Wright.
  • Sin was condemned, not Jesus – Wright.


How was it that Jesus could do this for us?


If He were a mere human being – a divinely appointed human agent – there would be some problems.

  • He would be “in Adam”, born in Garden Exile (outside of God’s Garden blessing, presence and life) and be under sin and death.
  • He would be powerless before the authority of sin and death.
  • He would be a sinner Himself…in need of a remedy.


But wouldn’t the Virgin Birth have remedied this?

  • Perhaps, if one thought, as Augustine, that the sin nature was transmitted through the “seed”.
  • But as we know, this view of the Fall is virtually non-existent now.


So, how is it that Jesus could be a human but not be in Garden Exile – subject to the domain of sin?

  • He somehow had to be share in the divine nature of the Father…
  • While at the same time taking on humanity.
  • The God-Man who came in the “likeness of sinful flesh”.


What does this phrase mean?

  • “Total identity” with – Tom Schreiner.
  • “Mere similarity” with – Tom Schreiner.


Both Schreiner, Moo, and just about all of Christendom opt for the first.

  • So Paul intends us to know that Christ did not come in “superficial or outward similarity, but inward and real participation” in our sinful flesh.


What does it mean that Christ fully participated in our sinful flesh?


I really like how Tom Schreiner answers this question.

  • It means that Jesus’ “body was not immune to the powers of the old age: sickness and death”.
  • “His body was subject to the disease, death, and weakness of the old order, yet the Son himself was not sinful, nor did he ever sin” – Tom Schreiner.
    • As Paul affirms in 2 Cor. 5:21.


But isn’t being “subject to…death” an indication of being in Adam and in Garden Exile?

“Paul is walking a fine line here. On the one hand, he wants to insist that Christ fully entered into the human condition, became ‘in-fleshed’ (in-carnis), and, as such, exposed himself to the power of sin (cf. 6:8–10). On the other hand, he must avoid suggesting that Christ so participated in this realm that he became imprisoned ‘in the flesh’ (cf. the negative use of this phrase in 7:5 and 8:8, 9) and became, thus, so subject to sin that he could be personally guilty of it” – Doug Moo.

  • Bottom line – we don’t have all the answers.


One more very important thing to notice about this “likeness of sinful flesh” language:

  • Paul certainly understands Jesus to be a man…
  • But maintains a very strong distinction between Jesus’ humanity and everyone else’s humanity.


Jesus came from the Father – as in existed with and was sent from there to us.

  • And Jesus’ flesh was “in the likeness” of ours.


If Jesus were only human, why say this?

  • It would be very awkward indeed, for example…
  • To describe Moses, a divinely appointed human agent of God, as being “the likeness of sinful flesh”.


Couple this with the association that Paul makes…

  • Between the Father and the Son in 1 Corinthians 8:6…
  • And we see yet another piece of the Trinity puzzle.


So God sent…

  • And in Christ, the believer’s sin was condemned.
  • So what about the Spirit?



The Spirit:

(3) “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.


In the interplay between God’s judging righteousness and His holiness…

  • There exists a righteous requirement…
  • One that must be met in order to enter back into His life, presence and blessing.
  • Specifically, the requirement is perfect love, obedience and righteousness – Moo.


This requirement is met in the believer – fulfilled in us – by Christ’s work on the cross.

  • And Paul links this fulfillment to the Holy Spirit.
  • This requirement is met in the context of walking not “according to the flesh”…
    • e., in rebellion to God.
  • But those who walk “according to the Spirit”.
    • Life in our new domain.


The transfer out of sin and into grace…

  • Is achieved by the work of Christ…
  • And applied by the Holy Spirit.


So why does the theology and history of the “therefore” from verse 1 bring no condemnation?

  • God’s sending…
  • And Jesus’ work on the cross…
  • Freed the sinner from the law of sin…
  • And put us under the life of the Spirit


We will dig deeper into the life of the Spirit next time.


Exploration of the Trinity – Introduction

Why Teach Trinity in Sunday School?

Dude…it’s the framework!

  • “Trinitarianism is the encompassing framework within which all Christian thought takes place…Trinity makes possible incarnation, which makes possible atonement” – Fred Sanders.
  • “The Trinity is not one doctrine among others; rather, the Trinity is our interpretive framework for all Scripture and doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity…shapes and structures Christian faith and practice in every way” – Michael Horton.


Michael Bird puts it this way:

“The Trinity is not simply a convoluted debate about theology but comprises the essential fabric of Christian talk about God. The meaning of salvation, the identity of Jesus Christ, the nature of the church, and a whole lot more stuff rides on the operation and being of God as Trinity. So it is crucial that Christians get some kind of grip on the Trinity as part of their faith in God and as part of their attempt to know God better” – Michael Bird.



The Plan:

To hopefully show why Michael Bird is correct in his above assessment (and if the Trinity is a framework), we will:

  • Survey the relevant Biblical and 2nd Temple Jewish landscape.
    • Including Monotheism.
    • Including Christology.
    • And specific relevant Biblical passages (contrasting Trinitarian and Unitarian takes).
  • Survey recent philosophical attempts to make sense of how one God can be three persons.
    • Mysterian Trinitarianism (MT).
    • Latin Trinitarianism (LT).
    • Social Trinitarianism (ST).
    • And a few others.
  • Demonstrate the significance of the Trinity to the Christian life.


My hope is that, when we are done, we will demonstrate the following to be wrong.

  • “When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life” – Kevin DeYoung.


Let’s begin with various descriptions of the Doctrine of the Trinity.

  • These will lay the foundation we will build upon throughout this series.



The Trinity Described:

The first place we find a formalized view of the Trinity is in the Nicene Creeds.


The Nicene Creeds – from 325 and then modified in 381 – describe the Trinity as follows (edited):

  • “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
  • “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
  • “And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.”


Some centuries later a creed affiliated with Athanasius popped up…summarized as follows:

“As the venerable Athanasian Creed puts it, ‘So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God.’ Belief in both the distinctness and divinity of the three persons, on one hand, and belief in the oneness or unity of God, on the other hand, are essential to orthodox Christian belief” – Thomas McCall.


The creedal beliefs described above are often presented in the form of a septad.

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


We will refer to this septad frequently throughout this series.



Modern Descriptions of the Trinity:

Michael Horton describes the Trinity this way:

  • “God as one in essence and three in person” – Pilgrim Theology.


Michael Bird says this:

  • “God is a Triune God and always has been a Triune God—a God who is three-in-one, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all equally divine but fully distinguished persons” – Evangelical Theology.


James White puts it this way:

  • “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” – Forgotten Trinity.


Justin Taylor, on Desiring God, echoes the above language, and then adds:

  • “We are saying that the Trinity has one What and three Who’s” – Trinity 101.
  • Remember the “one-what”; about to use it again.



So, Why all the Confusion?

All this sounds simple enough.

  • God is one essence, substance, or being and three persons.
  • God is “one-what” and three who’s.


In fact, as Matt Perman argues on Desiring God (What is the doctrine of the Trinity?):

  • “It is not a contradiction for God to be both three and one because He is not three and one in the same way. He is three in a different way than He is one…This is very important: God is one and three at the same time, but not in the same way”.


James White agrees:

  • “We are not saying there are three Beings that are one Being, or three persons that are one person. Such would be self-contradictory” – Forgotten Trinity.


Well, not so fast!

  • We need to look at the septad again.


Trinitarian Septad:

  • (P1) God is one.
  • (P2) The Father is God.
  • (P3) The Son is God.
  • (P4) The Holy Spirit is God.
  • (P5) The Father is not the Son.
  • (P6) The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
  • (P7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father.


We need to own up to some basic logic entailing the transitive property of equality.


The transitive property is simply this:

  • If A=B and B=C, then A=C.
  • “Equals” here means, “is identical to”.
  • It is an “is” of identity not predication (more on this later).


An illustration will help us here.

  • Let’s say we have a person, Mark Twain (A).
  • Let’s say we have a “one-what”, “author of Tom Sawyer” (B).
  • And, let’s say we have a person, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C).


We can then run this through the transitive property.

  • If Mark Twain (A) is identical to “author of Tom Sawyer” (B), and “author of Tom Sawyer” (B) is identical to Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C), then Mark Twain (A) is identical to Samuel Langhorne Clemens (C).


Yep…sounds right.

  • And it certainly wouldn’t make sense here to say, “Mark Twain is not Samuel Langhorne Clemens”.


So, lets run P2 and P3 of the Trinity septad through the transitive property.

  • If the Father (A) is identical to God (B), and God (B) is identical to the Son (C), then the Father (A) is identical to the Son (C).
  • And, as we saw above with Mark Twain, it would make no sense to say, “The Father is not the Son”.


Whoa! This is not what we want.

  • And with this, we begin to see the problem.


To further clarify, look at it this way (using the God as “one what” idea).

  • The Father is a person who is identical to “one-what” – and he is fully “one-what”.
  • But, Jesus is also a person who is identical to “one-what” – and he is fully “one-what”.
  • If they are each fully “one-what”, then they are the same person – “one-what”.
  • And, like Mark Twain and Samuel Langhorne Clemens, “one-what” has different names.


And consider this line of reasoning from Dale Tuggy.

  • We affirm that Jesus is God.
  • But, aren’t there things true of Jesus that aren’t true of God?
  • For example, “God is a Trinity. Jesus is not a Trinity.”


Well then, if Jesus is God, shouldn’t he be Trinity?

  • If God is something that Jesus is not, Jesus is not God.



Hold Up!

Obviously, all of this is something we can’t accept as Trinitarians.

  • We need to find some resolution to these problems.
  • And if the Trinity is true (which I believe it is), the solution can’t be to deny that Jesus is fully God.


And as if the logic of the Trinity isn’t confusing enough…

  • The Bible itself says things that seem to be confusing when we have the Trinity in mind.
  • We will hit on some of these in the coming weeks.


So where does this honest examination of the problems of the Trinity leave us?

  • It leaves us in the position of deconstructing our unexamined beliefs about the Trinity and rebuilding them.
  • It leaves us in the position of having to give good reasons for affirming the Trinity.
  • But…we will have to dig deep to get them.



Not Easy:

And it ain’t gonna be easy!

“Immanuel Kant famously concluded that the dogma of the Trinity was inconceivable as a concept and irrelevant to practical religion” – Scott R. Swain.


And even those who are a bit more optimistic readily admit that it is a “mysterious reality” (William Hasker).

  • “If the doctrine of the Trinity is true…we should hardly be surprised that it is mysterious” – Thomas McCall.
  • “There are only three great mysteries at the very heart of Christianity: the atonement, the incarnation, and the Trinity” – Fred Sanders.



The Mystery:

But what does it mean to call the Trinity a mystery?

  • On a topic like this, it is a huge temptation to appeal to mystery at almost every step of the way.
  • When we do so we need to be clear about what we are doing or saying.



Dale Tuggy says there are 4 kinds of appeal to mystery when faced with the problems we just raised.

  • (1) Redirection
  • (2) Restraint
  • (3) Resolution
  • (4) Resistance



(1) Redirection:

Appealing to this version of mystery is to just ignore the problems and change the subject.

  • Something like, “I’ll leave that to God it doesn’t really concern me”.
  • “I don’t really care”.


Redirection is an approach to be avoided.

  • It comes across as a cop out and avoidance of the issue.
  • It comes across as intellectually lazy.
  • It comes across as showing contempt for understanding the things of God.


Peter would have a problem with this approach.

  • 2 Peter 3:18a (ESV) — 18a But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


Fortunately, the appeals to mystery that are left are a bit more intellectually honest.

  • They concede that special pleading (ignoring the problems) doesn’t make them go away.
  • “Able and responsible thinkers squarely face the appearance of contradiction, and seek to deal with it” – Dale Tuggy.


Who doesn’t want to be an “able and responsible [Christian] thinker”?



(2) Restraint:

The one who appeals to this version of mystery faces up to the problems and…

  • Will admit, “that a certain way of understanding the doctrine of the Trinity seems inconsistent” – Dale Tuggy.
  • But, nevertheless, this person will remain “committed to the truth” of the Trinity – Dale Tuggy.


And a reason for doing so is simply this:

  • Certainly, “Smarter, or more informed…” folks, from Athanasius, to Leibniz, to William Lane Craig, have all “…understood it” (Dale Tuggy).
  • So I defer to them; I piggy back on them.
  • Tuggy sees this view as a stalling tactic, which will ultimately have to be abandoned.



(3) Resolution:

Those who appeal to this version of mystery also face up to the problems…

  • And they deal with them, “by reinterpreting or revising the doctrines in question” – James Anderson.
  • In other words, the mystery arises because the creeds weren’t precise enough, or maybe too precise, or maybe got something wrong, or had poor presuppositions, etc.
  • Fix the creeds and we fix the problem.



(4) Resistance:

Those who appeal to this version of mystery also face up to the problems…

  • And they do so by believing “that the reasonable response is to learn to live with them” – Dale Tuggy.


In other words…

  • “We may not be able to banish the [problems], but we can at least tolerate them without sacrificing our rationality in the process” – James Anderson.
  • This is the “Mysterian Trinitarianism” mentioned earlier and which we will cover later.
  • It argues that the contradictions are merely apparent and not real.


Now, I said Tuggy gives 4 appeals to mystery.

  • But, I think we need to add one more…just for fun.
  • We will call it “Relational”.
  • Even though I think, at the end of the day, it is just a form of the “Redirect” approach.



(5) Relational:

This approach seems to flatten out the problems altogether.

  • “…God’s Mystery is not marked out by a realm that lies beyond our knowing…” And it does not, “lie beyond the finite limits of our intellect. Rather God is Real in our encounter with Him, and in just this way, is exceeding Mystery…” – Katherine Sonderegger.


This approach is rather shocking.


It doesn’t source the mystery to:

  • God’s transcendence.
  • Or, our creaturely brainpower.
  • Or, problematic propositions.


Mystery, on this approach, turns out to be:

  • Just who God is.
  • God is Mystery like Mark Twain is Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
  • So to encounter God is to encounter Mystery.
  • (Not to sure about this one folks.)



Mystery Wrap-Up:

So whatever we do going forward we have to avoid the first approach – Redirection.

  • Too much is at stake.
  • The Trinity informs our view of Jesus and the Incarnation.
  • It impacts our witness to Jews.
  • It impacts our witness to Muslims.
  • And on and on…


Next week, we begin to cover the Biblical landscape that informs the doctrine of the Trinity.