Trinitarian Witness

Currently, the doctrine I wrestle with the most is the doctrine of the Trinity. This may seem odd because this is such a central and distinctive tenet to the Christian faith. I guess my wrestlings with this doctrine began last fall in my systematics course in seminary. We were studying the doctrine of God and had to do a book review of The Doctrine of God by Gerald Bray. In it, there was a long discussion on the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. In my book review, I argued that the language and philosophy of the culture provided the means in which Christians could articulate their understanding of a Trinitarian God. I did not deny that their understanding was based on Scripture but rather that the Trinity was enculturated in our expression of it. I did not think this was a controversial argument (after all, all theology is enculturated inasmuch as it utilizes the language of specific cultures to communicate itself). The professor, however, thought I was arguing that the Trinity was only based on the culture and was not biblically grounded. Not particularly liking scathing reviews, I decided to look into the Bible more and think about the Trinity more. And all it does is confuse me. The Trinity is such a mystery and yet, some people claim to know so much about it (especially in light of the limited testimony that the Bible offers).

More recently, I read a critique written by a conservative biblical scholar of a theologian who asserted that whenever we read “God” in the Bible, we should always have in mind Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The biblical scholar strongly disagreed, noting that Paul would have never thought of the Trinity as we would today. Yes, Paul does reference the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but never articulates a doctrine of the Trinity. The biblical scholar suggested that we too often read into the Bible the doctrine of the Trinity which the early church developed from the biblical witness but that the biblical writers never intended. For example, where does the idea of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being equal derive? The Bible? The creeds? Here’s what Barth says on the topic: “The Bible lacks the express declaration that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of equal essence and therefore in an equal sense God Himself. And the other express declaration is also lacking, that God is God thus and only thus, i.e. as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These two express declarations, which go beyond the witness of the Bible, are the twofold content of the Church doctrine of the Trinity” (Church Dogmatics, I, i, p. 437). And yet, Barth does not reject the doctrine of the Trinity. He does note that these assertions are implicit in Scripture and attempts to reformulate the doctrine in his own language while maintaining Christian orthodoxy. This is getting too long . . . maybe I’ll pick up the conversation in a few days.

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