12 January 2009

The Trinity (The Theist)

The Theist
Thinking about the Trinity
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
December 26, 2009

Perhaps, dear reader, you’re a Christian considering New Year's resolutions. Let me suggest a resolution to reflect more on theology to which you are committed. Trinity theories (there are many) are attempts to reconcile an apparently inconsistent set of four claims many readers find in the Bible: There is only one God, the one Jesus calls Father is God, Jesus is God, and Jesus is not his Father. From any three of these, it seems to logically follow that the fourth is false. (Go ahead - try out all the combinations.)

There is an official answer to this difficulty, dating from the late fourth century: God is one "being" or "essence" containing three "persons" - the Father and Jesus being two (the third being the Holy Spirit). Thus the above four statements are, properly understood, consistent. In order, they mean: There's only one divine being, the one Jesus calls his Father is a person in God, Jesus is a person in God, and Jesus is not the same person in God as his Father. Thus the official answer is to distinguish "persons" is God from the one "being" or "essence" of God - there are three of the former, but just one of the latter.

Yet this official answer is itself a head-scratcher. What are these three "persons"? Some trinitarians think of them as personalities of the one God. Here we have undisputed monotheism, but it is hard to square with the picture of Jesus and his Father in the Bible. Are we to understand seemingly interpersonal relationship as God, in one personality, interacting with himself in another personality? On the other hand, some trinitarians think of the three "persons" as selves, divine selves, each of which has all the divine attributes (being all-knowing, being all-powerful, etc.). But what is this, if not belief in three gods, that is, not monotheism but tritheism? This flies in the face of the Bible, which emphasizes monotheism. Some have replied that the one God is the society, the group of the Three. But this is hard to square with the Bible, which portrays God not as a group, but as a perfect, non-bodily, personal agent.

There are essentially four ways out of this pickle. First, the Ostrich approach - head in the sand. What does all this have to do with loving my neighbor anyway? And isn't this just some sort of attack on the faith?

Second, embrace the mystery. Some gladly avow that they have no idea what a "person" is in the official answer - it's just a label for a distinction within God which we don't understand at all. Others argue that we should expect to run up against apparent inconsistencies which thinking about such a Transcendent being, something so wonderfully beyond us.

Third, break out some fancy philosophical moves. Perhaps there's a way past the dilemma for the official answer above (that whether the "persons" are personalities or selves, the theory is unacceptable). Let’s not be hasty - perhaps there's a third way to understand what the "persons" of the Trinity are. (A number of well-known Christian philosophers have recently attempted this feat in different ways.)

Fourth, one can accept that the four claims we started with really are inconsistent. So to remain consistent, one denies one of them - the most popular candidate being the third.

Each approach comes with its own challenges. Why isn't the first mere intellectual irresponsibility? Why isn't the second a perverse obscurantism, a disingenuous attempt to spin an incoherence as a profundity? As to the third - what exactly are these newfound distinctions, and are they theologically kosher? As to the fourth, is this heresy, or fighting against the Bible, rather than discovering the best interpretation of it?

There are no easy answers, but I believe that there are answers available to the diligent. I can only commend the recent work of many of my fellow Christian philosophy and theology professors, who have recently written much on this issue, in conjunction with a careful re-examination of what the Bible does and doesn’t say. Much of this work has been reviewed and summarized, in dozens of postings going back to 2006, at my blog, which attempts (not always successfully) to straddle the divide between the professionals and ordinary thinking Christians. (http://trinities.org/blog)

A word of caution: life is too short to waste on bad books. Go with recommendations, rather than grabbing the first book you find on the subject of the Trinity, for a randomly chosen book is likely to be both confused and confusing, and likely headache inducing as well.

I counsel avoiding the Ostrich approach. This is a serious discussion between Christians, not an external attack by hostile outsiders. Ignoring these difficulties won’t make them go away. Moreover, shouldn’t lovers of God want to think correctly about him? Quick: What does Jesus say is the first and greatest commandment, one even ahead of the command to love your neighbor? Right - "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Wait – there’s one clause missing: "and with all your mind." People tend to overlook that last bit.

1 comment:

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Dale Tuggy

Here's my two cents' worth:

1)There is only one God
[Deut 6.4; 1 Cor 8.4,6]

2) The one Jesus calls Father is God
AMEN! [John 17.3, 5.44]

3) Jesus is God
If you mean is Jesus the ONE GOD of the Bible? NO!!

Is he 'God' in the context and sense that Moses was called 'God'?
[Exo 4.16, 7.1];
the judges were called 'God'?
[Exo 21.6, 22.8-9, 28, Psa 82.6];
the King of Israel was called 'God'?
[Psa 45.6]

The answer is YES INDEED!
Jesus Christ has been exalted
by the ONE GOD and made,
both "Lord & Christ" [Acts 2.36],
"Lord of all" [Acts 10.36];
and been anointed above all
the aforementioned elohim
by GOD Almighty, his GOD.
[Heb 1.9]

So in that sense he can be called "God"
(hence John 20.28, Heb 1.8);
nevertheless Jesus is subject & subordinate
to his GOD, the ONE GOD, the Father.
[1 Cor 11.3, 1 Cor 15.27, Rev 3.12, John 20.17]

In other words,
the Lord Jesus is "second"
only to the ONE GOD, his Father
(it is manifest that HE is excepted, which did put all things under him).

4) Jesus is not his Father.

So, that's my take and the following video nicely summarizes why:

The Human Jesus

Mr. Tuggy, take a couple of hours to watch the video, and please let me know your thoughts.

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor