A Conversation about the Trinity

There is no doubt whatsoever that Newton and others (including Copernicus) were sincere in their theism and not just using the ubiquitous “God language” of the day. Any discussion as to whether Newton was a true Christian (by someone’s standards) is a red herring. Newton struggled with the Trinity–I am not actually aware of has flat out denial–but in any event it is irrelevant. He was a theist. Not to mention that many modern Christians who affirm trinitarianism struggle with the Trinity. If they (we) think about it deeply, we should be forced to admit it is an impenetrable mystery. I am not sure that Newton was not in a similar place, but being Newton he examined it more thoroughly, and perhaps this comes across and being anti-Trinitarian. But the bottom line is that it is irrelevant.

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A Christian who doesn’t understand the trinity isn’t really a Christian. Maybe a theist, but the title Christian implies belief in the Son, who came from the Father and sent the Spirit.

In that case I don’t think I ever met a Christian. Because the Trinity is something like QM. Many people can quote the rules, sincerely affirm belief, and do the calculations, but they don’t really understand it. In fact to this day there is still a great deal of Trinty-related debate among evangelicals, such as recent brouhahas about the Eternal Subordination of the Son. Not to mention continuing debates (as in from day one) about the “wills” of the persons of the Trinity, whether the Son suffered in his deity or only in his humanity, whether the Father suffered is seeing the Son suffer, etc. If you truly understand the Trinity, you’re the first person I met who does.

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And also, this is not the orthodox Christian view of the Trinity. I am pretty sure Newton and most Arians would agree with this statement. It says nothing about the “three-in-one” aspect (mystery) of the Trinity. A polytheist who thinks the father, son, and spirit are three separate gods could affirm this.

John 1:1 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Genesis 1:1-2 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

John 10:30 - I and My Father are one.

Galatians 4:6 - And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

John 8:54-58 - Jesus answered, “If I honor Myself, My honor is nothing. It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. 55 Yet you have not known Him, but I know Him. And if I say, ‘I do not know Him,’ I shall be a liar like you; but I do know Him and keep His word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”
57 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?”
58 Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

Phillipians 2:5-7 - Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.

The entire bible is the story of the deity of Jesus and the three being one…Christians that do not believe in the trinity do not know Jesus, and therefore cannot call themselves Christians. If you call yourself a Christian and do not believe that Jesus is equal to and the same as God and that the Holy Spirit is also God, repent and study the word. So, whether “scholars” argue the point or not, it is a defining belief for a Christian, no one can say, “I’m a Christian, but Jesus was/is not God…” that’s just ignorance and unbelief.

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I’ll make it simple, the trinity is like a chicken egg. There is shell, white and yolk, but it is still an egg.

@Mark10.45 I think @david.heddle is right on this one. Most Christians (all?) don’t fully understand the Trinity, even if they affirm it. Thank goodness understanding the Trinity is not what makes us Christians.

Before you talked about understanding the trinity, and here it is the much weaker and easier believing the trinity. I can believe many things about God I don’t understand. For example, I do not truly understand what holiness means, although I believe God is holy.

As a reminder, if there is a minimal expression of the orthodox view of the Trinity, it is in the Nicene creed, which includes:

[Jesus is] of the same essence as the Father

this is entirely non-trivial and your proof texts do not unambiguously demonstrate this. I would argue that a Christian could accept the Trinity in general but nevertheless struggle with what “of the same essence” means.

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As with all analogies about the Trinity, this one is flawed: it commits the heresy of partialism. The shell by itself is not fully the egg, neither is the white nor the yolk. Only all three components make up the egg. This is in contrast with the Trinity, where the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Spirit is fully God. The Father and Son are only differentiated from each other through the eternal relations of generation and filiation, and they are differentiated from the Spirit through the eternal relation of spiration.

It’s true that a tritheist could affirm this, but that doesn’t mean it’s unorthodox. What differentiates a polytheist from an orthodox Trinitarian is that the former will reject the additional statement that each of the three Persons fully embody the divine essence.

I agree. One important distinction (which I just learned) is between dogmatic and systematic theology. We are called to affirm the dogma of Christianity, which is embodied in Scripture and the historical creeds and confessions, even if we many not fully understand what is meant by them. The task of systematic theology is to make sense of dogma by connecting it to other dogma as well as other sources of information including general revelation. However, unlike dogmatic theology, systematic theology is not infallible and is continually subject to revision.

Another factor here is the doctrine of analogy. To some extent our understanding of God is severely limited by the fact that if God exists, then he is utterly different from and superior to anything we have encountered in the physical world. Therefore while we affirm what God has revealed to us in Scripture about himself, we are to be careful about taking the meanings too literally to fit our creaturely expectations. Everything we say positively about God is only true in an analogical, or approximate sense.

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This is a wonderful case in point.

@Mark10.45, to be clear, @dga471 is not calling you a heretic. However, your analogy to the Trinity, many Trinitarian theologians would say is incorrect in a fundamental way.

You aren’t pressing this analogy as if it must be true, but your use of it here demonstrates some misunderstanding of what the Trinity is intended to affirm for most Christians. This is not surprising though. These sort of missteps are extremely common among Trinitarians (those of us that affirm the Trinity)!

The key point is that you do affirm the Trinity, even though you might struggle to explain it correctly. That’s okay. You can affirm the doctrine without fully understanding it.

In contrast, your quotation of Scripture was much more solid and less vulnerable to critique.

Also the creedal articulations of the Trinity are helpful places to go. See also the Athanasian Creed, quoted in part:

That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity,
neither blending their persons
nor dividing their essence.

For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.

What quality the Father has, the Son has, and the Holy Spirit has.
The Father is uncreated,
the Son is uncreated,
the Holy Spirit is uncreated.

The Father is immeasurable,
the Son is immeasurable,
the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.

The Father is eternal,
the Son is eternal,
the Holy Spirit is eternal.

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.
So too there are not three uncreated or immeasurable beings;
there is but one uncreated and immeasurable being.

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As someone who has been realizing over the last couple of years how much (possible wrong) interpretation is inherent in my systematic theology, I’ve been struggling to describe what you just clearly articulated in that paragraph. Thanks for the unintended help.

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This conversation is an example of where I get disinterested and frustrated in such strict definitions, I will have to learn how to define terms as you all do.

To me it is very clear, and not by what men teach, but by revelation from God. The Word is true, the Word is Jesus. God is one (the first commandment), the Messiah is Jesus, fully man and fully God. Salvation comes through confession that Jesus is Lord and Savior and that He was raised from the dead by the Father. I pray to God the Father, in the name of Jesus through the Holy Spirit that is in me. They are all one, distinct personalities and functions of the same eternal being. Eternal life is only available by faith in Jesus, faith comes by God’s grace, which is made evident to us through repentance and prayer, confirmed to us by the Holy Spirit.

I guess to me, faith in Jesus implies that you have faith that what He says/said is true, not just that He lived and that you believe. Jesus clearly says that the path to heaven is narrow, that He is God, that repentance is necessary and that He will judge and approve who enters the kingdom of heaven based on whether or not He knows that person by their fruit. You have to be written in the Book of Life, He has to know you, not just that you know of Him…we are saved by faith alone, but that is just the beginning. To know Jesus, and for Him to know you, the mystery of the trinity is revealed.

I have said before, I don’t know how to label myself, I honestly don’t care as I wouldn’t wear a label well anyway. So you all can label me if you like, I will try to follow along.

I agree that the egg is a bad analogy, and that there is really no analogy that works, I will be more careful in the future…I do appreciate the correction as it helps me understand my own belief, and I feel strengthened when I can articulate (although sometimes not well) what I believe.

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@Mark10.45

There are lots of Trinitarian Christians who cannot adequately explain the Trinity without tripping themselves up into what The Church would have considered heresy.

Not understanding the Trinity is no barrier to being Christian.

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5 posts were split to a new topic: Comments on a Conversation about the Trinity

Regardless of whether trinitarians can or cannot explain the trinity, there are also non-trinitarian Christians, such as Christadelphians (paging @Jonathan_Burke). Christadelphians are Christians in my book.

We could actually; we just get a number that’s off by ~120 orders of magnitude.

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Hi everyone,
I appreciate the contribution of everyone in this forum, including atheists, agnostics, non-Christians, and non-Trinitarians. However I think this is an example of a thread where I would prefer there to be a “safe space” of some sorts for Christians to engage about this topic without having to constantly defend it from accusations of incoherence or expressions of disbelief by non-Christians and non-Trinitarians. Please excuse me if I move these critical comments to a separate thread here: Comments on a Conversation about the Trinity.

2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Comments on a Conversation about the Trinity