By Ernesto Tinajero
One of the doctrines of the church that seems to be ignored is the Trinity. You won’t find many sermons on the Trinity on YouTube or at your local church. Apologetics devotes little space to defend the Trinity. Taking up the sword to defend the faith from atheists and other secularists seems more about upholding the social position of the church. Defending the Christian understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is far down on the list. Strange.
The common churchgoer most likely lacks a basic understanding of the Trinity and is given very misleading metaphors for the Trinity. In fact, a prominent preacher like TD Jakes can deny some of the basic tenets of the Orthodox Trinitarian doctrine with very little outcry. What does it say about the modern church that Rob Bell meets a thunderous attack for questioning the existence of Hell, but celebrity pastors can deny the Christian doctrine about the very nature of God with nary a peep of protest?
Any claim on sexual morality by an evangelical celebrity pastor would bring a groundswell of controversy, but a pastor can pretty much preach anything about the very nature of God without fear or controversy. Prophecy and prophetic speculation generate bestsellers and many Christians fill their bookshelves with dubious books speculating about the end time scenarios, being an effective Christian parent or even losing weight by harnessing the power of the Gospel. Books on the Trinity and the very nature of God and what that means in the living our lives will be missing from Christian homes and bookstores. Strange.
The nature of the Christian God, one would assume, would be the very doctrines in which Christians would be most passionate about. Who is God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Who is Jesus? These question, one would think, would be the very heart of the Christian faith and indeed it was. Not only within the early church, but down throughout the history of the church, the very nature of who God is was and should be dominant. Books about who Jesus is and how to imitate his life, once were the rage in a time when giving our lives to service was a Christian ideal. Maybe because the pattern of life that held up is more inline with the templated life of a middle class America, (get a good job, get married, raise a family in a nice suburban neighborhood and be successful by hard work) differs so radically from the one Jesus actually lived (a life of service and sacrifice) that the hard work of understanding the nature of God has become passé.
So the mystery is why the Trinity merits little on modern evangelical thought and practice.Has the Kantian God of morality so overtaken the Christian imagination as to bury the Biblical witness of God. Any thoughts?
Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.
I heard one of the best sermons on the Trinity in a Nazarene Church, and they are evangelical. I guess it really depends on the local pastor. Certainly in our UCC church we discuss it at least one Sunday every year: Trinity Sunday.
We’ve been holding seven spiritual growth modules at our small independent Bible church for about 4 years now. I’ve been blessed to lead the Fundamentals of Faith introductory module for the last 3 years. We use the curriculum offered by Grace Community Church by the same name, which is 13 weeks, 3 of which are devoted to exploring what scripture has to say about the Trinity, one Person at a time. It has been a great experience for me and I think for all the participants as well. Part of the problem is with the connotation of the term “fundamental”. It has, for the most part, been wrongly portrayed as some wild-eyed, hate monger, intolerant, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. The love and acceptance, faith and confidence it has been building in our fellowship has been a blessing from God.
Undeniably, the Trinity and our understanding of the Triune God, that He Himself has revealed to us in the Bible, is a fundamental understanding. It is a doctrine that has been attacked since the writing of the New Testament, and it will continue. As you say, Ernesto, it is up to us who love and believe it, to courageously teach it and defend it. What a privilege that is!
One can stretch some passages from the Bible, but , taken in their original context and what writer probably meant, there is little justification beyond “nice idea>” to their truthfulness or being anything Jesus was talking about. They weren’t widely accepter until centuries later. But, what I can’t understand, is why stop with divinizing just three? Why not include other abstractions, such as perception, social acceptability’ etc.? The trinity might be a productive image, but the danger is that the idea of god in not very useful ontologically today, we often ignore the historical Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is often tossed in to close down any disagreement, and to justify the speaker’s biases and ideas, making them sound as if they came from some mind higher that his or hers. I can claim that the Holy Spirit gave me any idea, and it really adds nothing to the discussion, usually being nothing more than a way not to look closer to what I’m saying.
I’d rather dialogue about the situational merit of an idea rather than some unsupportable and unknowable source it might have had. We’d learn more, and probably achieve more justice. Is the trinity a very good metaphor these days?
Erest, a good question. I don’t put much energy into the theology of the trinity. It, and the Christian explanation of the incarnation, which is the reason that the doctrine was developed, just don’t make sense. First, Jesus never talks of it. His own view of sonship was traditionally Jewish: a term used for individual who was part of creation – another person, at most, a fellow practicing and righteous Jew. Never meant to signified the genealogical son of God. It is doubtful he would have liked the pagan idea of being born of a union of God and a woman without the biological participation of a male human. The two genealogies do not have Yahweh in their list.
To justify the idea of the fatherhood of Yahweh, the theory of the virgin birth was developed. That used a mistranslation of the term for young woman that the writers of the Septuagint, writing in Latin, used for the original Hebrew. The Gospel writers just did not know their Greek. Gramatically the term could have meant virgin in other contexts, but not the one being translated.. At most, the prophet was talking about a young woman who was already pregnant , therefore ready to give birth, and that her son would be under the protection of Yahweh, so the King didn’t have to worry. Matthew was saying at most that Mary and Joseph didn’t have to worry, go ahead and get married. Robert J. Miller, the Professor of Religious Studies at Juniata College in Penn., in his book, Born Divine: The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God, has much good textural and linguistic analysis showing it is a late doctrine never considered by Jesus and probably not very much by the Gospel writers, and is based on a mistranslation and the penchant of the Orthodox authorities to give up one of the strongest justifications of their authority. It is the (false) doctrine that justifies thinking Jesus ad either God or divine. I just can’t get behind it.
Miller has a recent article in The Fourth R I’ll loan you, if you’re interested. Very readable, and rather convincing. Of course you could choose to accept the scholarship and still find meaning in the doctrine.