How Important Is the Doctrine of the Trinity?

 

How Important Is the Doctrine of the Trinity?

            Here is a quote from Rowan Williams: “Trinitarian theology, in so far as it is concerned with what ‘kind’ of God Christians worship, is far from being a luxury indulged in solely by remote and ineffectual dons; it is of cardinal importance for spirituality and liturgy, for ethics, for the whole of Christian self-understanding.” (Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology, p. 142) This statement appears near the end of a magisterial discussion of Karl Barth’s doctrine of the Trinity that is equally complimentary and critical. But I lift it out here as a stand-alone statement, independent of the context, because it expresses a kind of over-arching evaluation of the doctrine of the Trinity or “trinitarian hermeneutics.” For Williams, as for Barth, as for numerous other Christian theologians past and present, the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial, essential, indispensable to a robust and healthy Christian view of God.

            The problem is, of course, that many, perhaps most, Christians have little or no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. And they couldn’t care less. I once was a member of a church with the word “Trinity” in its name. During the eight years I attended there faithfully I don’t think I heard a single sermon on the Trinity. And I am almost sure that had I polled the congregation few would have been able to express, let alone explain, the doctrine of the Trinity.

            But I don’t want to be too hard on the perplexed. The doctrine of the Trinity is perplexing. Augustine said that anyone who denies the Trinity loses his salvation but that anyone who tries to understand it loses his mind. And he said that he did not use the word “persons” (of the trinitarian three) because he wanted to but because there is no alternative.

            I have known many devout Christian believers in and followers of Jesus Christ who struggled with the doctrine of the Trinity. I don’t fault them. At least they struggle with it.

            Let me interrupt myself for a moment to say this: believing in the doctrine of the Trinity is not really the point; the point is to worship the triune God. However, the doctrine of the Trinity, while it cannot replace the triune God in our hearts, must have a place in our minds or else we end up in confusion about who God is.

            Not all orthodox Christian theologians have agreed with Williams (and Barth) about the centrality of the doctrine of the Trinity for right understanding of God. Emil Brunner, Barth’s counterpart in Switzerland and the formation of “dialectical theology,” argued that the doctrine of the Trinity is not the gospel and is not something to preach. He rejected the idea that it is a revealed datum or the structure of revelation (a la Barth). For Brunner, the doctrine of the Trinity is a “defensive dogma”—a human creation intended to protect the deity of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit while maintaining their distinctness from the Father. In other words, it’s a secondary language of faith, not primary.

            John Wesley believed strongly in the doctrine of the Trinity, but he did not insist on belief in it for recognizing someone as a Christian. He knew it perplexed many sincere and devout Christians such as John Milton and many other nonconformists (e.g., Isaac Newton!).

            I would not be as generous as Wesley perhaps was with regard to Arians, those who deny the deity of Jesus Christ. My struggle is with modalists (Sabellians) many of who seem genuinely confused about the doctrine of the Trinity. Some of them I know simply cannot seem to grasp how the doctrine of the Trinity is not belief in three gods. I do not have that problem. My problem is with understanding how a one-person God could be eternally love by nature and even how such a “monadic God” would not need a world for self-realization.

            Back to the main point here. What exactly is the status of the doctrine of the Trinity? Is it an essential of Christian faith such that anyone who does not confess it is not a Christian?

            I remember when I first started teaching theology, a student objected that I had not “explained the Trinity.” I tried to explain to him (and have ever since to numerous students) that one cannot “explain the Trinity.” But one can, and should try to understand and explain the doctrine of the Trinity. We must make a clear distinction between trinitarian dogma and the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sure, there’s a connection, but it has to be a tenuous one or else we fall into confusing our ideas about God with God himself.

            But how necessary is the doctrine of the Trinity?

            First, what is the doctrine of the Trinity? Without getting into waters too deep, let’s define it ecumenically and very generally. It is that God is one God eternally existing inseparably and equally as three “persons” (hypostases). But we must immediately qualify that by saying that “person” here, in this doctrine, does not mean what “person” means in everyday American English. Our culture is so individualistic that to us “person” almost automatically connotes “separate self as individual center of consciousness and will.” With Dr. Seuss, we believe the job of a “person” is not to “fit in” but to “stand out.” That creates havoc with the doctrine of God! We must explain that when we say three “persons” we do not mean “person” in the common, American cultural, individualistic sense. What we do mean is not clear.

            One way I express the doctrine of the Trinity to beginning theology students is that God is “one what and three whos.” Inadequate—yes. But a place to start. Actually, all expressions of the Trinity are inadequate. At their very best they differ only in degrees of technical precision. Technically, the classical doctrine of the Trinity is that God is “one ousia and three hypostases.” That’s usually translated “one substance and three subsistences” or “one substance and three persons.” (“Subsistence” is perhaps a better translation of “hypostasis” than “person” but the latter, if explained correctly, avoids the idea that the three are only relations or manifestations.”

            Who can blame someone for struggling with this seemingly arid formula applied to God? And yet who can blame the early Christians for inventing it as a rule to rule out false doctrines of God (such as Arianism and modalism)?

            Much to some perhaps more conservative folks’ chagrin, with Wesley I do not insist on affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity for authentic Christianity.  It is a clumsy doctrine, no matter how it’s expressed. So is the hypostatic union doctrine of the Person of Christ. I see both as necessary for a correct understanding of revelation and am convinced that most, if not all, God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians actually do believe something like them even if in very confused ways. To be very specific, while I consider modalism a heresy, I consider it a minor one and am convinced that the vast majority of Christians who seem to believe it do not really understand its implications or the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. I have this sneaking suspicion that if I could sit down with them for an hour and talk it over I could dissuade them from their modalism and get them to affirm something like the doctrine of the Trinity even if not its formal language.

            Here I’m agreeing with both Barth (and Williams’ quote above) and Brunner. With Brunner I affirm that the doctrine of the Trinity is not “gospel.” Nor is it part of the gospel we preach. It is a human construct and a defensive one. That God is triune, however, is necessarily implied by the gospel we preach. The biblical story necessarily includes the existence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the unity of God as one God. Anyone who denies the doctrine of the Trinity but affirms the gospel has some explaining to do. I personally don’t think they’ll succeed without affirming the doctrine of the Trinity. But not everyone has arrived there yet. If they are truly God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians (i.e., gospel people who view reality through the biblical story and message) and keep on thinking about it long and hard enough, they will.

Postscript:

Some years ago I spoke on this subject to a group of Christian college presidents. Afterwards, one of them (very well-known conservative evangelical) took my president aside and advised him to “investigate” me with a view to possibly firing me–not for denying the Trinity but for arguing that the DOCTRINE of the Trinity is less than essential for being a Christian. Now there’s a good example of what I consider fundamentalism–not only insisting that a person believe correct doctrine but that he exclude others who don’t believe correct doctrine in the same way. Fortunately my president did not agree.

           

           

  • James Petticrew

    I studied at Asbury with Dr Steve Seamands, his book MINISTRY IN THE IMAGE OF GOD revoutionanised understanding of the implications of the Trinity and to me now it was one of the most practical doctrines of the Christian faith. It really has changed the way I view the church, mission, spiritual maturity, what it means to be human to name but a few areas.

    Having said all of that I don’t think a detailed, in depth understanding of the Trinity as taught in the Creeds is necessary for salvation if it is was anyone between Pentecost and Chalcedon really saved ?

    • rogereolson

      Right. I’ve already, long ago, concluded that belief in the Trinity is not necessary for salvation. Surely God doesn’t judge us as to our salvation or not based on doctrines. What I’m wrestling with here (in the post about the Trinity) is whether I can call someone a “Christian” who doesn’t yet affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. I’m there now–depending on where I think they’re headed and whether I think they do actually believe in the Trinity implicitly if not explicitly in the doctrine of the Trinity.

      • James Petticrew

        So here is where it gets personal, can I call a JW or a Jesus Only Pentecostal a Christian brother / sister due to their rejection of the Trinity. Hard one, God’s grace is aways bigger than our creeds I suspect. However, I would probably say no to the JW over the issue of Christology and yes to the Jesus only Pentie because they probably do believe in the divinity of Christ, so they have a form of Trinitarian belief but it’s confused in a Modalistic way

        • rogereolson

          You’re making my point exactly. Thanks.

  • Rick

    You wrote:
    “Anyone who denies the doctrine of the Trinity but affirms the gospel has some explaining to do. I personally don’t think they’ll succeed without affirming the doctrine of the Trinity. But not everyone has arrived there yet. If they are truly God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians (i.e., gospel people who view reality through the biblical story and message) and keep on thinking about it long and hard enough, they will.”

    I agree that people will come to that understanding if they truly are worshipping God, but I struggle with those who do not fully recognize that aspect of God, compared to those who outright deny the Trinity. This distinction is importance because it matters who we think God is. When does ones belief on this cross the line from being an incomplete understanding of the concept, to a worshipping of a false God because you deny it?

    • rogereolson

      What I’m saying is that I think there are people whose minds are befuddled by the doctrine of the Trinity which is admittedly difficult to comprehend. They aren’t necessarily denying Father, Son and Holy Spirit; they just can’t conceive how they are one God and also three “person.” You talk about people who outright deny the Trinity; I was talking about people who outright deny the doctrine of the Trinity. That’s the distinction I’m trying to make.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Roger,
    You say some very brave things in this post. I guess that to reject the doctrine of the Trinity is (usually) to reject the divinity of Jesus, and that’s far enough from orthodoxy for me to consider them outside the Church. That one believe specific definitional constructions about the Trinity … I can hardly make sense of my own. The idea that The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit are both divine and unified such that we can say that God is One – that passes for Trinitarian as I see it.
    Tim

    • rogereolson

      I know many people who affirm the deity of Jesus Christ but don’t affirm the doctrine of the Trinity. They’re the ones I can accept as fully Christian even if not yet fully understanding the implications of what they believe.

      • David

        Why? I met someone in Mexico last week who actually described the doctrine of the Trinity accurately but made it so that Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, and Jesus is the Holy Spirit. That is difficult for me to categorize. Any help?

        David

        • rogereolson

          That wouldn’t be describing the doctrine of the Trinity accurately.That is called “Oneness Pentecostalism,” a modern form of modalism/Sabellianism.

  • Ben

    The Trinity, though, is the one of the first roadblocks a Muslim has towards accepting Christ. What’s a good answer to an imam? or even a sincere seeker?

    • rogereolson

      Well, first a person has to accept that Christ is God incarnate. Without that belief first, the doctrine of the Trinity will make no sense at all. Once one accepts Jesus as God and Savior, a trinitarian view of God becomes reasonable belief.

  • http://senseinaworldofnonsense.wordpress.com Louis

    the only way that I’ve been able to conceive of the doctrine of the Trinity is as a single nature and will with three functions.

    • rogereolson

      But to reduce Father, Son and Holy Spirit to “functions” is to make it impossible to understand much of Scripture (viz., Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ prayers to the Father, Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross, Jesus’ prayer to the Father ‘not my will but thine be done,” etc., etc. Yours is a common Christian view of the Trinity, but it is unworkable in light of Scripture and…tradition, reason and experience. (For example, God is love. Whom was God loving before he created the world? Self-love isn’t perfect love, etc.)

  • http://www.matthew94.blogspot.com matthew

    Really resonate with these thoughts. I especially like the line “My problem is with understanding how a one-person God could be eternally love by nature.” Personally, I’ve learned to stop trying to prove the truthfulness of the doctrine and, instead, tried to focus on the ramifications of its truthfulness.

  • Jesse Reese

    I like Rahner’s way of dealing with the Trinity, by rooting it in the actual experience of the triune God in the economy of salvation. It seems to me that something much the same kind of concept is at work here: The narrative recorded in Scripture, passed down in the worship of the church, and experienced by believers is that the three distinct, incollapsable persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have each encountered us as nothing less than the one true God rescuing us to bring us back to himself. This narrative is essential to Christianity, but a correct understanding of what this means with regard to God’s immanent being is not necessary for salvation. Am I reading your correctly?

    • rogereolson

      Yes. But I do believe in the immanent Trinity; I just don’t think we can know anything about it that is not revealed in the economic Trinity. As Rahner “ruled”–the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity. I follow Walter Kasper’s interpretation of that in The God of Jesus Christ (a great but often overlooked book about God).

  • AOG

    I agree totally with you when you say:

    “…I affirm that the doctrine of the Trinity is not “gospel.” Nor is it part of the gospel we preach.”

    • rogereolson

      But I also said (I want to be clear about this) that it is implied by the gospel we preach.

      • http://radixthinking.wordpress.com/ AOG

        That may be so but I think in all these issues revolving the nature of God His character and purpose is lost. I am drawn to someone’s character or personality not their nature. Mr. Olson I respect you a lot not because you are human but because you are you.

  • Rob

    I would say the doctrine of the Trinity in itself is not that important at all. What is important is that in Jesus, God Himself was reconciling himself to humanity by taking on flesh. Of course that naturally leads us to wonder how Jesus could be God.
    As Christians struggle with how this could be possible, two bad answers, Adoptionism and Sabellianism are easily recognized as bad. Most Christians could see this because both mess up the human/divine union that effects salvation.
    Arius attempted a slightly better answer than Adoptionism but it still failed because we only get humanity united to demi-god and that is not sufficient to reconcile us with God. So we affirm at Nicaea that Jesus was equal to God the Father in being. At Constantinople we get the he is distinct as a person (alleviating worries of modalism in disguise).
    The Alexandrians emphasized the unity of the God-man Christ and were affirmed at Ephesus and told to be careful as Chalcedon. The Antiochenes emphasized the distinction of the two natures and were rebuked at Ephesus for going too far but ultimately vindicated at Chalcedon. We stop with an uneasy truce between the two schools: we affirm with the Alexandrians that Christ is one in person and we affirm with the Antiochenes that his two natures are distinct.
    All the disputes seem subordinate to the shared conviction that somehow Jesus must be both God and man in order for salvation to work. The conciliar formulas just seem to be attempts to nail down the limits of our understanding so that we don’t wander away from truth by attempting to explain the mystery fully.

    • rogereolson

      This is exactly what I have taught for many years–that the creeds are NOT attempts to “explain mysteries.” They are linguistic rules that forbid certain wrong expressions of God and Jesus Christ. That’s why theologians refer to the “four fences of Chalcedon”–they rule out Nestorianism and Eutychianism without attempting to explain the mystery of how one person can be both human and divine.

  • David Hess

    Roger,

    Thanks so much for this article. As I’m sure you are aware, there is a debate raging in missiological circles, especially as it relates to working amongst Muslims. What has become increasingly obvious is that believing in and experiencing the Triune God has sadly been dismissed by certain advocates of the Insider Movement/C5 contextualization as a “tradition of Christianity” and not something that is critical to the Gospel and/or through their radical revisionist views of what was happening in the 1st Century, some of them don’t even believe the doctrine of Christ’s deity was even a part of the original message of the Apostles! The disciples being made are some new type of Arian – I dare say Arian himself had a higher Christology than many of these so-called “Followers of Christ” remaining fully within their Islamic contexts. I would love to see more posts about the way the Ante-Nicene Church articulated their faith in the Triune God.

    Dave

    • rogereolson

      But if believing that Jesus was just a great prophet makes someone a Christian, then all Muslims are already Christians! I don’t insist that someone understand and affirm the doctrine of the Trinity (for me to recognize him or her as “Christian”), but I do insist they acknowledge Jesus as uniquely God incarnate (for me to recognize him or her as “Christian”). I think belief in God as triune automatically follows from that (even if takes time and a lot of hard thinking to realize it).

  • Jeff

    Dr. Olson you said, “Some of them I know simply cannot seem to grasp how the doctrine of the Trinity is not belief in three gods. I do not have that problem. My problem is with understanding how a one-person God could be eternally love by nature and even how such a “monadic God” would not need a world for self-realization.”

    I like your statement about your problem with a one-person God. I do think it is a danger that you should have as well about why God is not three Gods, because the Bible says there is only one God. Just that alone should cause problems. I understand philosophically the Trinity makes sense when one conceives of love, but that is not the only thing to consider.

    Personally I have no problem stating that the Trinity is like persons in the way we think about it. I use the analogy of a family, but I qualify it by saying that it is a family who knows each other very well. There is a big difference between a newly married couple with a newborn and one that has been married 15 years with a teenager, for example.

    Also, you did not really explain how the gospel and the Trinity are inseparable. I understand it from the binitarian viewpoint quite readily but how would you explain the necessity of the idea of the Trinity and believe in the gospel?

    • rogereolson

      I have also used the family analogy (because Gregory of Nazianzus did!) but I always qualify it as “a family with no dysfunctions” (so unlike any human family)! But I don’t understand your question. Please reframe it for me.

      • Jeff

        The Jewish mindset thought of the Spirit as the breath of God or wind created by God separate form the breath everyone has from God. Here is a quote form the Jewish encyclopeida on the Holy Spirit – “Although the Holy Spirit is often named instead of God (e.g., in Sifre, Deut. 31 [ed. Friedmann, p. 72]), yet it was conceived as being something distinct. The Spirit was among the ten things that were created on the first day (Ḥag. 12a, b). Though the nature of the Holy Spirit is really nowhere described, the name indicates that it was conceived as a kind of wind that became manifest through noise and light. As early as Ezek. iii. 12 it is stated, “the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing,” the expression “behind me” characterizing the unusual nature of the noise. The Shekinah made a noise before Samson like a bell (Soṭah 9b, below). When the Holy Spirit was resting upon him, his hair gave forth a sound like a bell, which could be heard from afar. It imbued him with such strength that he could uproot two mountains and rub them together like pebbles, and could cover leagues at one step (ib. 17b; Lev. R. viii. 2). Similarly Acts ii. 2 reads: “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting” (it must be noted that this happened at Pentecost, i.e., the Feast of Revelation).”

        With this background in mind, one could almost as a Christian, see the Spirit as more of an impersonal force instead of a person. With that in mind it seems possible to hold the Spirit as an impersonal force created by God and still be consistent in the presentation of the gospel.

        • rogereolson

          Hardly. How can an “impersonal force” be grieved? How can an “impersonal force” be a “paraclete?” How can one have “fellowship” with an “impersonal force?”

          • Jeff

            You have to be careful about the language. Isaiah 63:10 and following talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. Also Psalm 106:33 says that the Israelites made Moses’ spirit bitter (or grieved it). And Isaiah 54:6 talks of a woman who is forsaken and grieved in spirit. Also Isaiah 63 talks about God giving his Spirit to the Israelites, but would the prophet have thought of the Trinity? He talked about the angel of God’s presence in verse 9, then God and the Spirit in verse 10.

            It probably was an expression that simply meant God was personally involved with them. Possibly similar to when we say to someone that we are with them in spirit, but since God is omnipresent it would mean more.

          • rogereolson

            But you said the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. Now you seem to be equating the Holy Spirit (who can be grieved) with the Father. Have you figured all this out yet?

  • Bev Mitchell

    So, we are left with a relationship, perichoresis (περιχώρησις), among the Father, Son and Spirit that is whatever it is after we have clearly ruled out (in the light of Scripture) all of the many things it cannot possibly be. Because this divine relationship exists – which cannot be any of these things that we can exclude – the Trinity exists. It seems a via negativa approach, but the idea of the Trinity emerges from it. 

    In thinking of what is real, as opposed to how we express what is real, could we say the relationship among the Three is real, making the One, while our theological term trinity is our way of expressing that real relationship that we so imperfectly imagine and experience? We should first think of the Relationship then of the Trinity. It’s the verb not the noun – the dynamic not the static that is real. Or is this toying with nominalism?

    Of course the part we can experience, in Christ and through the Spirit, is our solid foundation and that is what makes us Christians. Or, in terms of the quadrilateral (experience, Scripture, tradition and reason) experience really must come first. As Saul found out, immersion in Scripture did not suffice. He needed the experience on the road to Damascus to make Scripture truly meaningful. He needed to experience the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God. So it is with us.

    • rogereolson

      Good questions and thoughts…as always. Thanks.

  • Jon G

    Dr. Olson,

    I would be the exact type of person you are describing in this post. I am a “truly God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christian (i.e., gospel people who view reality through the biblical story and message)” but I just don’t believe in the Trinity. I believe that Jesus IS divine. I believe that he is God incarnate – Emmanuel, Jehovah saves, etc.

    I just view things a little differently. I see reality as a sort of dualism…it is made up of the material (physical – like our flesh and blood bodies) and the immaterial (spiritual – like our souls). I believe that God, the Father, has created both of these dimensions and has intended them to coexist. They are different, yet interrelated and overlapping. I see this in myself – I am not a body or a spirit, but a body with a spirit…that is “Jon”. And I see this is God – the HS is God’s spirit and Jesus is God’s body.

    People get hung up on passages where Jesus is affected by the Spirit or there is a relationship between Jesus and The Father. I can understand this, but much of it gets bogged down in understanding the nature of how biblical accounts were written. Also, my body “tells” my spirit things (like when sickness can lead to depression) and my spirit “tells” my body things (like to keep pushing through pain for a greater reward when excercising). They inform one another but that doesn’t mean that my body or spirit are not a part of “Jon” or that I could still be “Jon” without both.

    But the way Trinity is often presented one must disavow the monotheistic God of the OT, insert later exegetical explanations into earlier contexts in which that explanation was nonexistant, and, worst of all, many hold the doctrine to such a high standard that critical discussion is all but eliminated…as if the doctrine totally classified an infinitely ungraspable deity.

    I can see why peopel believe in the Trinity, but I don’t think anybody has a comprehensive knowledge of God and, as such, we ought to hold this doctine loosely. Personally, I think there is ample evidence to see Jesus as God’s physical body – the Temple.

    Thanks for the great post!
    Jon

    • Jon G

      Also, as a quick follow up, you site things like God being eternally loving as a problem with an approach like mine (how to reconcile many biblical notions and passages). Specifically, at 12:18 you replied to Louis and stated:

      “For example, God is love. Whom was God loving before he created the world? Self-love isn’t perfect love, etc.”

      But this is not unreconcilable. For instance, if one believes that God created, not only the world, but time itself, then this question becomes a non-sequitor. There IS no “before” he created time so you can’t insist on God having to love somebody from all of eternity when there was no eternity. And so, it wasn’t until God created that his love would be required and at that point, it would not be a stretch to say that he loved his creation…and perfect love is still intact.

      I’m just saying that I think a lot of the “it has to be this way because there is NO OTHER way that would explain the Bible” often relies on false dichotomies. They may be a stretch for somebody steeped in Trinitarian traditions, but a lot of things are a stretch to us when we first learn about them.

      Another one is the baptism of Jesus. A good number of people don’t believe in a literal Satan who tempted Jesus in the Wilderness but that such a passage is a way of ancient writers telling theological truths through narrative methods. Why not the same for Jesus’ baptism? Maybe the passsage is more about Jesus carrying out the will of God than being a member of the Trinity…in other words, the baptism was a credential ceremony rather than a doctrinal illustration as to God’s nature.

      I just have a hard time with statements like “it CAN’T be any other way” because I’ve thought that too many times and been proven wrong to believe that such certainty is attainable.

      • rogereolson

        But your explanation of God’s love still would make God dependent on creation.

    • rogereolson

      Many conservative, orthodox Christians I know would consider your expression of the Trinity heretical. But I see it as the natural, logical extension of Augustine’s psychological analogy. I prefer the Cappadocian’s social analogy. So you would probably consider me tritheist. I consider your view modalistic. It cannot explain Jesus’ baptism, his agony and prayer in the garden (“Not my will….”), his cry of dereliction, his reference to the Holy Spirit as “another paraclete,” etc.

  • http://truthontheway.net/ Jon Sidnell

    Thanks for this succinct and clear expression of what I’ve almost intuitively believed for the last 10 years or so. Ever since coming across devout Oneness Pentecostals who were sincere in their love for the Lord Jesus, and firm in their belief that He is fully God, I’ve been unable to fully agree with Augustine that to disbelieve the doctrine of the Trinity is to lose salvation.

    Like yourself, I do not for a moment mean to imply that this means I agree with modern-day modalists. On the contrary, I have only found my relationship with God deepening as I have appreciated His triune nature more and more. However, I’ve never been able to go further than Paul who puts the bar for salvation much lower than fundamentalists – declare that Jesus is Lord (i.e. God incarnate) and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. We believe and trust in Jesus as Lord and God to be saved, not our right doctrine.

    Thanks for writing something I can point people to when I claim that you don’t have to believe the doctrine of the Trinity to be saved!

  • J.E. Edwards

    Yeah, I don’t think a person needs to understand the working of the Trinity to become a believer. I like to think of the Christian life in terms of “The Pilgrims Progress”. Because once we believe, we get on the path. Finding out more of who the triune God is while on that path is definitely part of it. I would think there would definitely be a ceiling on how much one comes to know about God by not affirming the Trinity and how it would affect the outworking of the Gospel in their life.

  • John

    Here’s a video I came across a while back that is both funny and instructive about the Trinity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw&feature=youtu.be

    • rogereolson

      Love it! And I agree–all analogies lean into some heresy and require qualifications.

  • David

    Roger,

    Can you help me understand the consequences of denying the actual Trinity (not the doctrine). I know you briefly mentioned that it will impact how one sees the gospel. What came to mind is this: If the Father, Son, and Spirit are all the same person then in order to deny the Trinity and affirm that the Father sent the Son one would have to affirm one of at least two heretical things: 1- The Son is a lesser god than the Father 2- The Son is not God. Is this what you had in mind when you talk about convincing a Unitarian that s/he is on thin ice?

    David

    • rogereolson

      That’s the problem with subordinationisms (Arianism, adoptionism). There are other problems with modalism such as “Who is the ‘real God’ behind the three ‘manifestation’ or ‘modes’?” Modalism leans into belief in a God “behind” the masks of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  • John I.

    How does “trinity/triunity” relate to salvation? One aspect of this is, of course, the conceptions of trinity that are off limits (modalism, etc.). But the other aspect is surely the functioning of the concept within a believers salvational identity in Christ. Humans are a mess of conflicting beliefs, presuppositions, motivations, actions, thoughts, etc. Which implications of our conflicting beliefs are key to determining our identity? If someone rejects the trinity, but lives out an identity in Christ, which are the more important implications of his life? His belief on oneness, or his actions of being a disciple of Christ, an embodiment of his love, and a dependence on Christ for his salvation. Given that actions flow from the heart, and that only a heart changed by the indwelling Spirit is a saved heart that is both in Christ and indwelt by Christ, I would conclude that the implications of his/her lived actions indicate a proper relationship to the trinity, a saving relationship–even though the implications of her overt and explicit and expressed intellectualizing are that God is one and Christ cannot be God.

    As a social boundary marker for the social grouping labelled “Christian”, how does “trinity/triunity” function? This is different from the salvational function of our relationship in and to Christ. Christians were first called so in Antioch, and quite possibly by nonbelievers. In our modern world, nonbelievers easily lump together all religions in which Christ is central as “Christian” and so include evangelicals with liberals and Mormans. Hindus and Moslems escape the grouping because Christ is merely recognized as one god or prophet among many. The centrality of Christ need not, however, include his being a trinity with the Father and the Spirit.

    Different Christian branches and denominations would draw much tighter circles than nonbelievers, and do make various doctrines about Christ key aspects of the boundary that delimits them (as Christians) from nonChristians.

  • John I.

    As an aside, Notre Dame just held (end of this past April) “The Theology of Cardinal Walter Kasper: A Celebration of his Life and Work”, and a new edition of his book, “The God of Jesus Christ” was issued last year. It contains a new introduction by Kasper, and the publisher’s description states that, “Using admittedly polemical language, he [Kasper] calls for a ‘theological theology’ which makes the explanation of the confession of the triune God its first priority, not only for speculative but also for pastoral reasons.”

    • rogereolson

      He is one of my favorite theologians. I wish he got more attention, but he’s a moderate and so not likely to get much attention.

  • John Metz

    Roger, I have been away from my regular blogs too long! Sorry to comment so late in the day. Really a wonderful blog post. Thanks.

    To me, a healthy realization of the Trinity is crucial for the kind of Christian life we lead as believers and for the kind of church-life we experience. Most of the books of the N.T. are composed around the Trinity and the economy of the Trinity in reaching us.

    I very much appreciated the way you presented the word “Persons” in respect to the Trinity as differing from common, everyday usage of the word. As I began reading I wanted to ask you to write on “Persons” and how the use of the word began and developed; but then you did so in a brief paragraph.
    Thanks again for the post.

  • David (NAS) Rogers

    How would this work as an illustration of the Trinity?

    The Trinity: A Musical Analogy (the idea for this comes from Jeremy Begbie, but the explanation here is by me; Dr. Begbie should not be faulted if I have misconstrued him or said more that he would say)

    Introduction

    God, as Judeo-Christian believers conclude from the Scriptures, is unique. Thus, by necessary understanding, he cannot be adequately described within the confines of human language. Any attempt to construct an adequate illustration or analogy for explaining God and his nature will ultimately fail. His uniqueness means that there is nothing like him or truly comparable to him. Thus, analogies and illustrations will pale and fail in their attempts to truly explain him. Nevertheless, some analogies attempting to explain the Trinitarian concept of God will be better than others. While all will break apart when they are pressed and the details teased out, some will hold the exploration of their illustrative power longer than others.

    Illustrating The Trinity as an Eternal Chord

    [What follows is a suggested way of presenting the analogy to an audience]

    When we think in visible terms we cannot imagine something occupying the same space at the same time. For instance, this hymn book cannot occupy the same space as this other hymn book. When I place one hymn book in front of the other, you can only see part of the one. One book visibly obscures the other. Also, one cannot occupy the same space as the other. One pushes the other out of the same space when attempts are made for them to exist in the same location in the room.

    When we think of the doctrine of the Trinity, it is difficult for us to get a grasp upon it. As the Baptist Faith and Message puts it : “There is one and only one living and true God. . . . The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.” Another way it has been expressed is that God in a trinitarian understanding is one being in three persons.

    It is difficult for us to imagine the possibility of how God can be one in being, and yet, we also say that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and then we add that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father.

    Is there any way of picturing this? Well, maybe not picturing it, but maybe by sounding it out.

    Imagine this room represents all of reality. Now when I say it represents all of reality, I am not saying the whole room represents the universe. Reality is more than all of the cosmos. Reality includes God in his being and the universe that he created. The creator is separate from the creation in that he is not the creation, he is its creator. But he is located with all of creation. There is no place of creation where he is not. Whatever fills all of reality we could say has the quality of God-ness.

    [The analogy can then proceed with you making the sounds at the piano or by having the pianist do so. The analogy begins by making the sound of a C chord on the piano by means of playing three keys. See the graphic below. The three keys played are not all right next to each other. The chord is made by playing the C4 key (middle C) + the E 4 + the G 4 key while at the same timing depressing the right hand sustain pedal with your foot. Play them all at once, loud enough for them to sound throughout the room.]

    This sound . . . [Play the chord.] . . . fills all the space of this room. There is no place in this room where the sound does not go. It audibly fills the space. . . . [Play the chord again.] . . . . Now this chord . . . [Play the chord] . . . is made up of three notes. . . . [Play each of the notes one at a time.] . . . . Each one of these notes [play the C 4 key] . . . [play the E 4 key] . . . [play the G 4 key] . . . fills the space of the whole room individually, and when I play them together . . . [play the whole C chord] . . . they all fill the same audible space at the same time. They exist in the same space at the same time. Each note of the chord is distinct from the others and yet each one fills the same audible space as the others, even at the same time. One being . . . [Play the chord] . . . in three persons . . . [play each of the keys individually.] filling all of reality. We could say that “God-ness” belongs to the one who fills all of reality. Each of the three persons of the Trinity fills the same reality without blocking out the filling of the reality by the other persons. Only one who is God could do so. Thus, God is one essence while also this One is three persons. We do not have three gods because three gods could not fill all of reality at the same time. Each of the essences of the individual gods would block the essences of the other gods for a portion of the reality.

    Each one of the notes of the chord work together to enhance each of the other notes. The sound of one note enhances the sound of the other notes as they are played in the chord. This chord represents the concept of the Trinity. The sound of the one chord fills the room, that is, reality and thus has the quality of one sound. But as we examine the oneness of the chord and its filling the whole of the reality, we come to realize that it is made up of three distinct notes that also have the quality of audibly filling the same wholeness of the room. Each note can fill the room, but each one enhances the sound of the other notes as they are played as a chord.

    The Tri-une God is like an eternal chord sounding throughout all of reality.

    • rogereolson

      If I am not mistaken, theologian Robert Jenson offers music as an analogy for the Trinity in The Triune Identity.

  • Jeff

    Dr. Olson,

    You said, “But you said the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force. Now you seem to be equating the Holy Spirit (who can be grieved) with the Father. Have you figured all this out yet?”

    I was trying to point out that the OT uses language in different ways to describe the Spirit. No doubt there are Jews who believe the Spirit is an impersonal force and those who believe it is just a metaphor. Regardless of whether I have worked it out or not (who has? wasn’t that part of your point?) the point stands that the NT verses that talk about the Spirit do not have to be taken in the way you say. Would having a spirit as a created force in one passage and seeing something similar in another passage mean they are talking about the same thing? No, because the word for spirit is flexible in meaning depending on the context.

    • rogereolson

      Exactly. And there are contexts where the Spirit is clearly a person.

      • Jeff Martin

        Based on what I had pointed out before there is only one verse that might qualify as clear. It is where Jesus says he will send another helper. But again since spirit is such a flexible word, in one passage in the NT “grieving the spirit” and “fellowship in/with/by the spirit” could be taken as God himself and others would be taken as a person, but it could be a created person.

        So to sum up, Scripture seems clear that there are verses that clearly see the Spirit as a person, but none that say it always existed.

        • rogereolson

          If he/she is truly the Spirit of God, he/she (not “it”) is equal with Father and Son and therefore eternal.

          • Jeff

            It is hard to talk about this subject on the internet. I hope you can bear with me. The idea would be that the person of the Spirit would not have needed to have existed until the creation of the universe/earth. Again it is important in this theory to distinguish the different contexts of how one is using the words for “spirit” in the Bible.

            Couldn’t the “Angel of My Presence” have been considered to be created? I wanted to clarify too that I do agree with you that there needs to be at least two persons, because God is love. I think the arguments for there being three because of love are weak. What about the ideas of ambassadors? Also a spirit can be defined in one definition as a otherearthly creature. There are “unclean” spirits as opposed to the holy spirit.

          • Roger E. Olson

            On a purely rational level, it seems that love between two is incomplete which is why couples need to have at least one child. (I am not saying without at least one child their love is defective; I’m just saying there is a natural argument to be made that having a child is not just about procreating.) An eternal binitarian God would, I think, be less than perfect love without a third. However, my main reason for believing in the Holy Spirit is revelation. Beginning with Revelation and looking back over Scripture and the salvation history to which it witnesses and about which it is the narrative I don’t see any way to avoid thinking of the Holy Spirit as a distinct divine person together with Father and Son.

  • David

    Roger,

    Some people I minister to in other countries don’t really have the intellect to deal with profound doctrinal matters. That is not an insult them; it’s just the truth they themselves confess. I also grew up in an anti-intellectual Pentecostal Church and was never encouraged to read ANYTHING, including the Bible. At 28 years of age now, I sometimes feel like I am way behind where I should be (in terms of my study habbits). Even in a lot churches I find that most young people would rather play video games. My question is more practical but I’m interested in what you would say to these comments…

    1- “Unlike Dr. Olson, I can’t read 5 textbooks in an hour. People are either born intellectual or not and I’m one who was not”
    2- “I don’t like to read”
    3- “Can a person fall out of bed one morning and simply decide that s/he is going to be a scholar one day (and work toward that), or are acedemic skills something you either have or don’t?”

    I suspect that some of your readers are curious about your personal journey in this area or any encouragement. Please consider writing a blog about the young Christian and his intellect. Otherwise, a comment will be appreciated. :-)

    David

    • rogereolson

      I have trouble believing that anyone cares about my personal journey. I’m not questioning your sincerity; I just have never thought of myself as someone anyone outside my family and circle of friends would care to know about. However, I appreciate your request. For now I’ll just say that I was raised in a home and in schools that highly valued reading. I became an avid reader early in life. At some point I launched out on my own and began to read books not on my family’s or church’s approved list (secular classics). I was reading Kierkegaard (against my father’s advice) in high school. My older brother was an avid reader of all kinds of books and I think he pulled me along with him. I had excellent teachers in junior high and high school who noticed my interest in reading and writing and took my under their wings and spent time encouraging my interests and training my mind. College was an intellectual desert; it would be hard even to convince anyone who didn’t attend it how awful it was–a college dedicated to anti-intellectualism. It was four years of pure hell (in the classrooms). But I don’t regret attending it as I fell in love with my wife (of 40 years this month) there. Seminary gave me total freedom and encouragement to read anything that interested me and to discuss it with fellow students and teachers. There I became familiar with and began to read serious theologians. My mentor (Dr. Ralph Powell who I blogged about last year when he died) “assigned” me to read all kinds of theology–including liberal and radical theologies. He trusted me (a new experience for me among religious people) and “covered me” with his own theological acumen–making sure I didn’t go astray (but in a very gentle manner). Anyway, those are some of the aspects of my journey that I can point back to and say they gave me an advantage. I don’t think of myself as an intellectual or even a scholar. I don’t have a great mind; I have an average one that was blessed early on and now and then throughout my life with exposure to books and people who expanded and shaped my mind and gave me encouragement and ability to study and write. My advice to Christian young people is–read, read, read. Discipline yourself. Start where you are–with books you can understand, but always stretch yourself, too. Put aside TV, movies, games, the internet, etc. and read. Find mentors who will encourage you and help you. I am convinced EVERYBODY likes to read if they are reading the right things–appropriate for them.

      • David

        Thanks a million!

        I know people are interested in your thoughts and encouragement toward young people who are bombarded by media 24/7. At least I look up to you and have been extremelly inspired by you. And that is no mere imagination. There are visible signs in my life of how your work has impacted me. For one, you helped me be proud of the Arminian theology I embrace and inspired me to read (a lot!). In fact, I pray for you and your family and wonder what it must have been like being a member of the church you briefly pastored for a time (I wonder if Roger was a shouting preacher. There to be at least ONE sermon like that! LOL) Unfortunately, this is an older post so I’m not sure how many people read this little description you wrote about your personal journey. But if you copied and pasted this into a new post I know it would strike a cord with at least some young guys/ladies who are curious about how God brought you to where you are now. Anyway, for what it’s worth: there’s at least one 28 year old up here in the crazy part of the Bronx, NY, who thinks you rock and hopes you write at least 100 more books. ;-)

        • rogereolson

          Thank you, David. I’m very flattered and encouraged by your kind words.

        • John I.

          What is a “shouting pastor”? beyond the obvious, of course. Was the whole sermon shouted?

      • Jesse

        Those last few sentences were pure gold. I had to share it on facebook.

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  • J.L.

    In attempting to explain the “Trinity,” Trinitarians must employ elaborate explanations of God’s nature which aren’t at all supported by the Scripture. Trinitarians propagate a theory about the nature of God that’s Tritheistic at its core, claiming that the doctrine of the Trinity is so incomprehensible that no one can ever understand it. Maybe no one can comprehend it because it’s pure nonsense and doesn’t fit the Biblical data. Trinitarian theology errs in that it begins at the wrong place and has ended up at the wrong place. All Old Testament revelation regarding the nature of God’s existence is foundational to any New Testament revelation! Trinitarian theology is backwards in that it fails to understand New Testament revelation in light of Old Testament revelation.

    Trinitarians form an unbiblical “three person God” concept from the New Testament distinction passages and then attempt to radically alter what has been revealed about God in the Old Testament. Trinitarians completely disrespect God’s progressive revelation of Himself to man by reading later revelation into prior revelation, redefining God’s absolute oneness to mean a unity of three. They fail to realize that by definition, “progressive revelation” will not permit New Testament revelation to essentially alter the foundational understanding given to us from Old Testament revelation.

    The New Testament passages where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are referred to as God do not proclaim a three person God! This understanding is IMPOSED on the text by Trinitarians; it is not supplied by the text itself! By citing these passages, Trinitarians are merely attaching biblical statements to an unbiblical idea, and in the process have confused their false theology with Scripture itself. God declared His name to be YHWH (God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” -Ex 3:14), and is referred to as such thousands of times throughout the Old Testament. The revelation of the name YHWH identifies God as the self existent or eternal ONE, not three! This is an irrefutable fact!

    • rogereolson

      Well, you didn’t even come close to addressing the issues raised by the incarnation and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

      • CarolJean

        As an OP, the issues raised by the incarnation of God can be sorted out by Jesus having to grow in wisdom and knowledge and the fact that the person of God has infinite capabilites compared with the limitations of a human or angelic person. These two aspects make it easier to comprehend of God functioning in two modes with a distinct consciousness suitable for each mode. Since Jesus is God for him to have to grow in wisdom and knowledge doesn’t make sense unless there had been a predetermined kenosis of some sort so that Jesus was a true man, a true high priest, a perfect example for us, and not a superman. Might this divine limitation also mean that Jesus did not have access to prior pre-incarnation memories? This type of limitation explains the sincere prayers of Christ as he would have been conscious of himself as a man and not as God.

        As for the second point, another OP once wrote about the Oneness Pentcostal view of God “Since God is omnipresent, He never needs to “change masks.” If He can intelligently listen to billions of prayers simultaneously, He can certainly perform myriad roles simultaneously too.” Surely you can’t listen to even 2 students simultaneously intelligently. You would have to be two persons to have to different conversations at the same time but God can do it as one person, one divine person, that is.

        As for your statements ” My problem is with understanding how a one-person God could be eternally love by nature and even how such a “monadic God” would not need a world for self-realization.” Your question as to how a one person God could be eternally love by nature also begs the question as to how he could be just by nature without a way to eternally express his justness or how he could be good by nature without an eternal expression of his goodness. I don’t have a problem with God simply existing alone and recognizing his “aloneness, realizing that it was not good to be alone, and then creating a world in which he would be in relationship with those he created. Not creating out of necessity but out of desire…desire for a bride.

        I’m not sure what you mean by ‘self-realization’.

        My question for you is If God is a loving trinity why create a world that he foreknew might not or would not love him back? Why risk it if he already in loving relationship with two other persons?

        • CarolJean

          I know you are extremely busy but if you would like to read more about modern Oneness Pentecostalism (and someone who writes more adroitly than I) I recommend Jason Dulle.

        • rogereolson

          To answer your last question– Surely the answer is simple and obvious. Why do two recently married people, madly in love with each other, decide to have a child? Love seeks to share itself. But if they decide not to for some reason, that doesn’t mean their love is less.

          As for your beginning comments and questions–you have to end up with a split personality Jesus (Nestorianism). In OP, as you explain it, anyway, Jesus was talking to himself when he cried out “Not my will but thine be done!” (and other similar statements).

    • John I.

      You also haven’t addressed how early christians came to develop the doctrine of trinity. Your argument based on the modern systematic theology of protestants and catholics is off-base for that reason. While we can look at various scriptural passages that mention distinctions in the trinity, and can fit them within a doctrine of trinity, and use them to further develop the doctrine, that was not the case with early christians.

      Early christians developed the doctrine of trinity before the NT was written and before the various books were accepted as canonical. Indeed, the books of the NT reflect views that had already been developed–by Jewish christians initially, then also by gentile christians. Paul could have had additional access to the doctrine by supernatural revelation, though he does not claim that.

      Early christians developed the doctrine as they grappled with the life, words, and meaning and significance of Jesus. Jesus was clearly to be worshipped (as was the father), and yet Jesus clearly viewed himself as different from the Father–how does a monotheistic Jew put those two facts together?

      Jesus had to be put on par with the Father, but yet God was clearly a unity. In short, the early christians came to a view that there was an essential unity between the father and the son (Jesus) that allowed them to make the claim that God is “one”, but that there were also some distinctions that allowed them to claim that there were distinctions between the two, that the two were not identical in all respects. But how to put the essential unity and diversity into human words? Aye, there’s the rub.

      J.

      • Roger E. Olson

        Very well put! Thank you.

  • Vance

    The earliest Christians did not have a doctrine of the Trinity, but they were nevertheless Trinitarian in their worship. They esteemed the Son as divine, at least in some sense, and understood that receiving the Spirit was experiencing God in action. Their language of worship is directed not only to the Father but also to the Son.

    • Roger Olson

      Earliest Christian thought about God was much more trinitarian than the doctrine’s critics like to claim. To them (and anyone influenced by them against the Trinity) I say–just go back and read the Apostolic Fathers of the second century and Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen (all late second and early third century Christian theologians). Oh, and read Celsus–Christianity’s main intellectual critic of the second century who denounced Christians for worshiping a man (Jesus) as God.

  • J.L.

    Roger, do you believe one of the members of the trinity is speaking in the following passages?

    Isaiah 44:24 “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone.”

    Isaiah 45:5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God”

    Isaiah 46:5 To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike? 9 …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, NASU

    • Roger Olson

      From a New Testament perspective we can only assume that one member of the Trinity was speaking for all or that all were speaking together.

      • J.L.

        I question the reasoning behind such an assumption! If one member of the group was speaking for all, then the plural pronouns ‘we,’ ‘us,’ and ‘ourselves’ would’ve been used. That all were speaking together is impossible, because the singular pronouns ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘myself,’ indicate that ONE is speaking in reference to HIMSELF to the exclusion of any other persons. If you were to say, “I, ‘Roger E. Olson,’ authored the book ‘Against Calvinism,’ writing every word by myself and all alone,” would you be referring to a group including yourself, or would you be referring to yourself alone?

        You fail to realize that all Old Testament revelation regarding the nature of God’s existence is FOUNDATIONAL to any New Testament revelation! You completely disrespect God’s progressive revelation of Himself to man by reading later revelation into prior revelation and redefining God’s absolute oneness to mean a unity of three. God declared His name to be YHWH (God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” -Ex 3:14), and is referred to as such thousands of times throughout the Old Testament. The revelation of the name YHWH identifies God as the self existent or eternal ONE, not three! This is an irrefutable fact!

        Isaiah 44:24 “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone.”

        Isaiah 45:5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God”

        Isaiah 46:5 To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike? 9 …I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, NASU

        YHWH made these statements for the benefit of humans using language they understood. If language means anything, then “by Myself” and “all alone” mean that there was no other person present when He “made all things.” When this one person said, “I am YHWH, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God,” then there can be no other person who is God. If this is one of the members of a Trinity speaking here as you believe, wouldn’t the statement, “There is no one besides Me” be false if there were actually two other persons other than the one speaking who are also God?

        This single person says, “To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike?” This totally destroys the idea of three “co-equal/co-eternal persons!” This single person also states emphatically, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me” The only conclusion that can be made from this statement is that there is only ONE person who is God, and there can be no other person other than the one making this statement who is God.

        If one member of a group of three is speaking in these passages, then that one member alone is God and Creator, and in no way whatsoever can the other two members also be God and Creator!

        • Roger Olson

          You fail to understand the doctrine of the Trinity. There are not three wills of God; there is only one will. So the Trinity is both like and unlike any human community (and single individual).

          • CarolJean

            If there is only one will of God, why did Jesus pray to God saying,”My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Aren’t there two will in this picture?

          • Roger Olson

            With all due respect, and I mean that sincerely, you are showing your lack of knowledge and understanding of classical Christology. According to the doctrine of the hypostatic union (incarnation) Jesus had two wills–one human and one divine. The human one was perfectly aligned with the divine one.

          • CarolJean

            When I look at the biblical narrative (and not the doctrine of the hypostatic union in the Chalcedonian creed) I see Jesus not wanting to go to the cross or, in other words, his will was not to die on the cross. The divine will was for Jesus to go to the cross but the human will of Jesus was to find another way than the cross. Mt 26:39 Nevertheless, Jesus submitted his will (not to die on the cross) to the divine will (which was to die on the cross). I see two conflicting wills. In that Jesus submitted his will to the divine will does not negate the fact that his will was opposite the divine will and therefore not perfectly aligned.

            How do you explain Mt 26:39?.

          • Roger Olson

            Clearly, according to the gospel narrative, Jesus had a will distinct from God’s but not separate or superior to it. His will always aligned with God’s will even through temporary human reluctance.

          • CarolJean

            Doesn’t it seem contradictory for Christ’s divine will to be at odds with his human will?

          • Roger Olson

            No. We all experience something like that at times. It’s human. “I do what I do not want to do.”

  • Jon

    This is very simple. The first followers of Jesus (“Jerusalem Church”) were fully monotheistic: they saw Jesus as the messiah, not as God. When the movements of Jesus’ followers became more and more gentile, the followers started to regard Jesus as God. Then (Paul’s days) Christianity became dualitarian (worshiping two gods: Jesus and the OT God). To reconcile it with concepts taken from contemporary pagan religions, Christian theologians came up with a third guy: the holy spirit (they could have come with many others: Holy Wisdom, Holy Mercy etc.). Then they had to pack it all into one god.. by some convoluted theology based on out-of-context verses that no one understands till this day.

    • Roger Olson

      These are mere assertions; they carry no weight without further explanation and defense.


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