The Trinity: The Beauty of the Trinity

The Shield of the Trinity

In this series on the Trinity I have tried to make the biblical teaching that God is the Father, Son, and Spirit as accessible as possible. The doctrine of the Trinity is simple enough – there is one God, and this God is Father, Son, and Spirit. But models and explanations of how the one God exists as Father, Son, and Spirit require entering into some deep waters. This is what we should expect when trying to catch a glimpse of the inner life of God who is beyond comparison (Isaiah 40:18).

But it is worthwhile to contemplate that which exceeds comprehension. Deep water is also beautiful water, and the scuba diver enjoys exploring it not because she thinks she will master the deep, but rather because experiencing the deep makes her appreciate its grandeur all the more. So you might say that over the last few weeks we have been in theological waters that are way over our head – and as a result we are even more awestruck by the grandeur of God. Continue reading

The Trinity: The Spirit and the Son

In previous posts about the Trinity we have looked at the biblical basis for the doctrine, the biblical importance of the doctrine, and the biblical analogies of the doctrine. In this post I want to address a question posed to me by a good friend regarding the relationship of Jesus and the Spirit. The Bible says that the Son proceeds from the Father (John 8:42), and that the Spirit also proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). On the basis of passages like these, the classical tradition has suggested that the Father eternally “begets” the Son and eternally “breathes” the Spirit. But what about the relationship between the Son and the Spirit?

Continue reading

Trinity Tuesday – An Ancient Analogy for the Trinity (Part 2)

One of my favorite definitions of the Trinity comes from Mike Reeves, who says that the Trinity is the Father, Son, and Spirit loving each other forever. It is beautiful, and it is simple. And from one point of view, the claim that the one true God is the Father, Son, and Spirit is a very straightforward teaching. It is complicated only when we try to harmonize the oneness of the doctrine (“one God”) with the threeness of the doctrine (“Father, Son, and Spirit”). But the fact that we may wrestle with just how it is that God’s inner life is this way doesn’t really present a major problem. After all, why would we ever think that we as limited and finite beings would ever fully grasp any aspect of the infinite and eternal God’s inner life? “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted” (Isaiah 12:4). Continue reading

Trinity Tuesday (a day late!) – An Ancient Analogy for the Trinity (Part 1)

(My apologies for being a day late – yesterday was a treatment day for my wife, and that tends to throw the week off for us a bit).

The Shield of the Trinity

The Bible teaches that God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This teaching, commonly called the Trinity, is vital to the Christian faith. But since it deals with the inner life of the incomparable God, it is also beyond human comprehension. Just as the other characteristics of God’s nature boggle our imagination – His eternity, His omnipotence, His omniscience – the eternal love of the Father, Son, and Spirit as one God also stretches far beyond our limited capacity to fully understand.

In my previous post on the Trinity I cautioned against the use of analogies. It is only natural for us to try to understand God by relating Him to something in our experience. Scripture is full of analogies like this – God is a shepherd, God is a husband, God is a rock. And so long as we remember that these descriptions are analogies, images that picture God in terms similar to but not identical with our experience, they serve a great purpose.

But the problem with most analogies of the Trinity is that they rely on material objects (apples, eggs, water) to illustrate relationships that are immaterial. God doesn’t have a physical body, and He is not composed of parts. So the attempt to portray the Trinity in material terms inevitably distorts the Father, Son, and Spirit into fractions of God.

The ancient thinkers understood this problem. Yet, like us, they sought for a way to illustrate the Trinity in terms that made the doctrine easier to grasp. If only there was something in the human experience that was not material that could illustrate what the biblical text says about the Father, Son, and Spirit. Guess what – there is! It is the mind. Continue reading

Trinity Tuesdays: What the Trinity Is Not (or, Don’t Be a Heretic!)

The Shield of the Trinity

The Bibles teaches that God is the Father, Son, and Spirit, and that this is a very important teaching, at the heart of the gospel itself. But it is also very hard to conceptualize. How can one God be three persons?

This difficulty in grasping the nature of God is not limited to discussions of the Trinity. As limited, finite, imperfect creatures, we are simply incapable of fully comprehending anything about God’s nature.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

There is a great gulf fixed between creature and Creator. I don’t mean that we are unable to know anything about God. God has bridged this gap by describing Himself in terms that we can understand. We just need to remember that this language, by its very nature, is “dumbed down” to our level.

This is especially true of a word I used in the first paragraph – person. I am a person, my wife is a person, my Granny was a person. My usage of this word normally refers to human beings. But when used of God, it obviously means something much different, something significantly – infinitely – greater. But it is the best we can do to conceive of the relationship that exists between the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Because of our creaturely limitations, it is often much easier to say what we know God is not rather than what God is. Many of the classical theological terms used to describe God are words that express a negative. He is infinite, not finite. He is immaterial, not material. He is immutable, not mutable or changing. And even when we make positive declarations about God, such as “God is love” (1 John 4:8), we need to remember that what we are saying about God is similar to but at the same time vastly superior to what we normally mean when we use the same words. I love my wife, and God loves my wife, but my love is only a pale reflection of His.

In the previous post in this series I drew attention to this conceptual gap between us and God as it related to analogies of the Trinity. As Fred Sanders likes to say, such analogies offer a murky view of the Trinity, but they offer a crystal clear picture of certain heresies! Last week I discussed one of the heresies, the notion that God is made up of parts.Since “isms” are bad, let’s call this inadequate view partialism. But God is Creator, and this means that He is not composed of parts, otherwise those parts would have preexisted Him and would have been assembled by someone or something other than Him. Consequently, analogies of the Trinity that reduce the Father, Son, and Spirit to parts of God, such as the egg or the apple, are seriously defective.

Another common illustration of the Trinity that is crucially deficient is the comparison between the three persons of the Trinity and the three roles of wife/mother/sister (or husband/father/brother). For instance, I am a son, a husband, and an uncle, just like God is Father, Son, and Spirit – right?  Well, no. This is not at all what the Bible has in mind. Just think of how different this analogy is from this event in the life of Jesus:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Shane the uncle doesn’t anoint Shane the husband who tells Shane the Son, “I am really pleased with you!” That’s because Shane is one person, and the roles of husband, son, and uncle are different modes of action by the same person. But the biblical portrayal is one God who is eternally three persons, Father, Son and Spirit (bearing in mind that “person” in this confession is a much greater sort of thing than we can ever know).

The view that Father/Son/Spirit are just three roles or modes of what God does is an ancient heresy called modalism. It distorts the truth that the one God is three persons into meaning there is one person who plays three roles. Its heretical mirror image is the idea that the three persons are three gods, tritheism.

“So it sounds like you are saying we should avoid analogies!?” Well, yes! At least, we should be very careful to emphasize the inevitable limitations of all analogies of God’s inner life. And we should avoid analogies that illustrate heresies. And if you ask me, anytime we talk about God and avoid being a heretic, that’s a good day’s work.

Trinity Tuesdays: Why the Trinity is Not Like an Egg or an Apple (or, God Is Way Awesomer Than Us)

The Shield of the Trinity

The Bible teaches that God is the Father, Son and Spirit. And this is not a trivial matter. It is vital to understanding who Jesus is, what God’s love is, and what the gospel is all about.

But the concept of the Trinity is not easy to comprehend. There is oneness – one God; and there is threeness – Father, Son, and Spirit. How are we supposed to reconcile this oneness and threeness? Continue reading

Review: Delighting in the Trinity, by Michael Reeves

“God is love” (1 John 4:8).

From this simple, yet profound, statement about the nature of God, British theologian Michael Reeves draws a beautiful portrait of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity in Delighting in the Trinity, An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2012). As the subtitle of the book suggests, a proper understanding of the Trinity shapes the entirety of Christian faith and practice. Reeves explores these ramifications regarding God’s identity as Father, Son and Spirit (chapter 1), creation (chapter 2), salvation (chapter 3), the Christian life (chapter 4), and the nature of God (chapter 5).

Why begin with the notion that “God is love”? Because “God could not be love if there was nobody to love” (p. 26). If love is truly essential to God’s nature, then God did not start loving after He created the world. He has always been a God of love. But if that is the case, who was God loving before there was a universe? Continue reading

Trinity Tuesdays – The Importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity

My blog platform enables me to see how many times my posts are viewed. Let’s just say that last week’s initial post in a new series about the Trinity did not set any records! I think I understand why. To a lot of people, the very term, Trinity, evokes images of medieval monks chanting in Latin. Perhaps it doesn’t seem like a very practical subject to spend much time thinking about.

But I believe the biblical teaching that God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is vitally important. And here are three simple reasons why: Continue reading

Trinity Tuesdays – The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

The Shield of the Trinity From Wikimedia Commons

The foundational doctrine of the Bible is that there is one true and living God. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This prayer, called the Shema (from the Hebrew word for “hear”), was the central confession of Israel.

But just as surely as the Bible teaches there is one God, it also teaches that there is a three-ness to God – that God is the Father, Son, and Spirit. Astonishingly, one of the primary proof texts for this claim is Israel’s ancient creed in Deuteronomy 6:4.   In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, the apostle Paul says:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

According to Paul, the “LORD our God” refers to the Father (“one God”) and also to Jesus Christ” (“one LORD”). This elaboration of the Shema is profound. It says that the one LORD who is God that Israel has always worshiped is the Father and the Son. Continue reading