The Trinity

Greg Strand – August 6, 2014 10 Comments

The doctrine of the Trinity is the heart of Christianity and the Christian faith. There is a an increasing biblical illiteracy and an emphasis on loving Jesus but not doctrine. This cuts to the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity. For example, the statement is often made “Jesus unites; doctrine divides.” It is intended to emphasize Jesus but it downplays doctrine, and in doing that it compromises both. This means that when this sentiment exists, both Christianity and the Christian faith suffer.

Added to this is the rise of Islam that denies the Trinity. This has implications in two directions. First, how do we biblically and theologically articulate the doctrine of the Trinity? Second, how do we defend the doctrine of the Trinity when questioned, undermined or denied? The two go together because one must know something before one can articulate or defend something. As I often say, many Evangelicals could not fight/defend their way out of a Trinitarian paper bag.

Fred Sanders is one who is doing some great work on the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote the book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, some of which he taught at our preconference to last year’s EFCA Theology Conference. He continues to study this doctrine in preparation for another book, The Triune God in a new series New Studies in Dogmatics, which looks to be excellent.

As a part of his present research, Sanders ponders the unique way the doctrine of the Trinity was revealed, which is not like other doctrines. He believes the way in which the truth of the Trinity was revealed has implications for how the doctrine is taught. Here are the guidelines he has developed to support his thesis: Theses on the Revelation of the Trinity I simply list the theses with an encouragement to read his brief explanations.

1. The Revelation of the Trinity is Bundled With The Revelation of the Gospel.

2. The Revelation of the Trinity Accompanies Salvation.

3. The Revelation of the Trinity is Revelation of God’s Own Heart.

4. The Revelation of the Trinity Must Be Self-Revelation.

5. The Revelation of the Trinity Came When the Son and the Spirit Came in Person.

6. New Testament Texts About the Trinity Tend to Be Allusions Rather than Announcements.

7. The Revelation of the Trinity Required Words to Accompany It.

8. The Revelation of the Trinity is the Extending of a Conversation Already Happening.

9. The Revelation of the Trinity Occurs Across the Two Testaments of the Canon.

10. The Revelation of the Trinity in Scripture is Perfect.

11. Systematic Theology’s Account of the Trinity Should Serve the Revelation of the Trinity in Scripture.

A few questions to ponder:

  • Do you agree with my sense of how some Evangelicals regard doctrine, generally, and the truth of the Trinity, specifically?
  • What do you think of Sanders’ theses?
  • How do you help God’s people to understand the importance of both, which affects both life and doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16)?

Another book on the Trinity to be released this fall in the Counterpoints series is Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity edited by Jason Sexton. It should also be an excellent contribution to this important discussion.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA’s Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

10 responses to The Trinity

  1. Daniel Holmquist August 6, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I will often those Christians who downplay doctrine: “Who is Jesus?” “Is He God?” “How so?”

    And then of course we get right into the discussions of the early church and taking a closer look at Scripture together. The importance of doctrine, and especially this doctrine, comes to life during these conversations.

  2. A couple of observations. First, in 2004, an interim pastor (recommended by our EFCA district superintendent) presented a video which several times repeated the mantra “doctrine divides”. (Transformations II– The Glory Spreads)

    Second, much of the music sung in our worship services doesn’t seem to be self-consciously trinitarian.

  3. Just got a copy of this one today! http://amzn.com/0310498120

  4. Daniel, I agree. As soon as you say “Jesus,” you must ask “who is he?,” “why did he come?”, etc., which is theology/doctrine.

    Bob, regarding music and preaching, it is challenging to teach/preach or sing in equal ways the work of each of the Persons of the Godhead. I grant that. But if the foundational teaching is laid, then if one focuses on the work of Christ, for example, one knows that one is doing so functionally (or economic), not ontologically (or immanent), but it will push one back to the broader foundation of Trinitarian truth.

    Jason, thanks for editing the book and pointing out the link! It is now live in the post.

  5. Thanks, Greg.

    My plea is for our pastors and musicians to intentionally factor in the Trinity to proclamation and worship.

    • I concur. If it is not Trinitarian, it is not Christian.

    • Tried to find songs about the Spirit that don’t imply a “second blessing,’ 2 weeks ago. Closed the service with “Holy, Holy, Holy!”

      • That is a wonderful Trinitarian hymn. It captures the doctrinal truth of the Trinity in a brief, concise way: God in three Persons, Blessed Trinity.

  6. Thanks for this Greg. The link to Fred’s article “Theses on the Revelation of the Trinity” must be broken. I’d love to read it.

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