The Trinity: Not from the Bible Alone

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 8.52.47 AMIn spite of the claim of many, the doctrine of the Trinity — so Kevin Giles, in The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity — cannot be derived simply from the Bible, and this he contends is why the complementarian theologians who formed their own Trinity theology got into troubles.

It’s the issue of how one does theology.

When Christian Smith wrote The Bible Made Impossible it seemed to me then, and even more now, that he could have focused more on Grudem as the paradigmatic example of how so many do theology today. What Smith didn’t do is done more by Giles, and here’s what he says:

He says “it is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the Bible teach us today about any given topic’ … Because, for Grudem, the Bible gives the content of the great doctrines, he excludes on principle the idea that doctrines develop and take shape in history, and that there can be objective advances on what is said explicitly in Scripture in the “doing” of theology. … Grudem says he works with just two presuppositions: “(1) that the Bible is true and that it is, in fact, our only absolute standard of truth; (2) that the God who is spoken of in the Bible exists, and he is who the Bible says he is: the creator of heaven and earth and all things in them.”

The possibility that other presuppositions may impinge on his interpretation and systematizing of Scripture and on his theological conclusions is not seen as a possibility. The implication is that if you affirm that the Bible is inerrant you will be able to give inerrant accounts of any doctrine by appeal to the Bible alone. Our fallen nature will be saved from itself. 68

Giles presses his point hard:

It is this understanding of theology that has undone complementarian theology. Following this methodology, complementarian theologians led the evangelical world into heresy on the foundational doctrine of the Christian faith, the Trinity. It is heart-warming for evangelicals to be told that what is being taught comes directly from the Bible and to denigrate creeds and confessions and ignore the contribution of the theologians, but in the end it is disastrous. It results in evangelicals becoming a sect of Christianity with their own distinctive doctrines.

An acerbic evaluation of the claim that “my theology comes directly from Scripture” is given by the great Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper. He calls such assertions “unscientific,” “grotesque,” and “utterly objectionable.’ 69

Giles knows that theology as we know it and do believe it, that is the Trinity, cannot be found simply by sticking to the Bible. He knows we do theology by Scripture, by tradition, and by reason. So what is it?

Let me make crystal clear what I am arguing. I am putting the case that theology, specifically evangelical theology, is always more than just systematizing what is explicitly said in Scripture. Rather, it develops in history, almost always in conflict and debate, and almost always what in Scripture answers the question before the church at any particular time is at first unclear and disputed. Coming to a common mind as to what in Scripture answers the question before the church usually involves giving more weight to some comments in Scripture than others and often demands making inferences or deductions, on the basis of what is said in Scripture because the Scriptures do not directly address the matter in dispute. In this communal exercise focused on the Scriptures, what the ancient church decided these Scriptures are saying is invaluable to us, and must not be ignored if codified in creeds and confessions. In this complex, interactive, and communal enterprise, the theologians with the best minds make the biggest and most important contribution. I am also arguing that in this historical and organic process objective advances are made in theological articulation that go beyond anything explicitly said in Scripture, and yet the Christian community comes to agree that what is concluded captures the trajectory that Scripture itself implies. 79-80

The mistake of complementarian hypotheses about the Trinity made was to ignore deep study of the church’s tradition on the Trinity.

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