What Do Americans Believe About the Trinity?

What Do Americans Believe About the Trinity? May 26, 2017

LifeWay was one of the largest providers of Christian publications in the world. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, LifeWay declared bankruptcy in 2015 and closed its hundreds of Christian bookstores throughout the U.S. Its LifeWay Research remains in business. Last fall, LifeWay Research published a survey it took of religious faith in the U.S.

NOT THIS

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In this survey, LifeWay reports concerning the church doctrine of the Trinity, “Seven out of 10 Americans (69 percent) agree there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Six in 10 say Jesus is both divine and human (61 percent).”

Notice that LifeWay says “God in three persons.” From my analysis of Trinitarian statements of faith over the past 35 years, that is how Trinitarians most often define their faith. (Before that, I was a Trinitarian for 22 years.) But this definition does not differentiate Trinitarianism properly. (I pointed this out in a previous post.)

There is a big difference between the two concepts of God being in Jesus and Jesus being God. (Trinitarian scholar Murray Harris has produced the most biblically in-depth monograph/book on Jesus being God, and he properly entitles it Jesus As God.) Many Trinitarian Christians do not comprehend this difference. That is, they think God in Jesus and Jesus as God are the same. They most certainly are not! I understood this difference when I was a Trinitarian. But then, most professing Christians who claim to be Trinitarian are not well taught. Plus, all agree that the church doctrine of the Trinity is complex and thus difficult to understand. So goes the old saying: “If you try to learn the doctrine of the Trinity you’ll lose your mind, but if you reject it you’ll lose your soul.”

Jesus constantly called God his “Father.” Three times the Gospel of John quotes Jesus as saying, “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10.38; 14.10-11). Some Trinitarians think that means Jesus is God. Not at all! God being IN Jesus is not the same as Jesus being God. Jesus states herein what scholars call the Mutual Indwelling, that God mystically indwells Jesus and Jesus mystically indwells God.

Jesus says more about this in his so-called High-Priestly Prayer recorded later in the Gospel of John. He prayed it right after he and his apostles ate the Last Supper. What Jesus asks in this prayer will indeed happen. Jesus said to the Father, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us. I in them and you in me” (John 17.20-21). In the second sentence, Jesus asked that all believers be in both God the Father and Jesus. In the third sentence, Jesus said, “I in them,” meaning that he will indwell each of his disciples. The Apostle Paul often wrote of this concept in his letters with his expression about believers being “in Christ.”

So, not only are believers IN God and IN Jesus Christ, God and Jesus Christ are IN believers. The Father being in Jesus doesn’t make Jesus God any more than the Father being in Christians makes them Gods/gods. All of this obviously is a mystical, spiritual concept. Jesus had expressed this to his apostles while still at the Last Supper. He began by saying, “On that day” (John 14.20). I think this expression refers to the time right after Jesus will be resurrected from the dead and begin to literally appear to his disciples. So, he says, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them” (vv. 20-21).

There are several important points here in John 14.20-21. First, Jesus anticipates his disciples understanding that God is in him when they will see him after his resurrection. The Apostle (doubting) Thomas had a most dramatic reality check when he saw the risen Jesus and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20.28). Thomas was not calling Jesus God, as has been so commonly believed. Rather, Thomas therein called Jesus “Lord” and–because God had raised Jesus from the dead–recognizing God IN Jesus. Second, Jesus stressed the importance of living according to his teachings. People who claim to be Christian and don’t live a life that proves it will have a sobering reality text at the judgment. See what Jesus says about this in Matt. 7.21-23. Moreover, intimacy with Jesus comes from loving him. We love Jesus when we follow his teachings, meaning keep his commandments. Of course, none of us will be perfectly sinless in this life.

LifeWay further reveals concerning its survey of Americans about religious faith, “they’re fuzzy on the details of the Trinity. More than half (52 percent) say Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. And 56 percent say the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a person. The Holy Spirit seems to be particularly confusing: A quarter (28 percent) say the Spirit is a divine being but not equal to God the Father and Jesus. Half (51 percent) disagree. Twenty-one percent are not sure.”

I would say that 56% figure is surprising except for what I stated above: Trinitarianism is complex, and Christians who claim to be Trinitarian don’t understand it well. But then, most Christians don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity because they have studied it but because they just want to be comfortable and accepted in their church, and that’s what their church says they must believe in order to be a Christian and a member of their church.

The correct way to describe the church doctrine of the Trinity is that God IS three persons, not God is IN three persons. Notice that I repeatedly state “the church doctrine of the Trinity” rather than “the doctrine of the Trinity.” I do that purposely to mean the official church doctrine of the Trinity and to subtly indicate it is what the church teaches, which may not be what the Bible teaches. Indeed, the word Trinity is not in the Bible. I don’t think the church doctrine of the Trinity is in the Bible either. Many distinguished Trinitarian scholars now concede that the church doctrine of the Trinity is not expressly stated in the Bible; rather, it is a deduction from the Bible.

As for the constitution of the Holy Spirit, Christians were all over the map about that during the first three centuries of Christian history. Some thought the Holy Spirit was no more than a force. Some thought it was God himself. Few thought the Holy Spirit was God and the Father was God as separate entities. That began to change only in the latter half of the fourth century.

Many Christians wrongly think the church declared at his First Ecumenical Council–at Nicea in 325–that the Holy Spirit was declared to be a person and that God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On the contrary, all of this was first established officially by the Catholic Church at its Second Ecumenical Council–at Constantinople in 381.

Incidentally, Bible translators of Christian Bibles, most of whom are Trinitarians, capitalize “Holy Spirit” to indicate they believe the Holy Spirit is a Person. But Jews do not capitalize “holy spirit” in their Bibles (=Old Testament) because they do not believe the holy spirit is an actual person, thus apart from God as a person. My view of the Holy Spirit/holy spirit is that it is the Spirit/spirit of God, thus not a separate entity from God the Father as Trinitarians believe. I explain it like this: “The Holy Spirit/holy spirit is to God what the spirit of man is to man because man was made in the image of God.” So, for me as a former Trinitarian for 22 years, if God is three person then man would have to be three persons because man was made in God’s image. Saying man is body, soul, and spirit, as some untaught Trinitarians declare, does not correspond to God being three persons.

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To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.

YES THIS

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