The Trinity

The content below covers the historic orthodox view of the Christian Church on the Doctrine of the Trinity.

As a reminder, this website focuses on the field of Christian apologetics, which is a sub-category within the areas of evangelism and Christian theology. It is a category of the field of evangelism because evangelism very often raises questions and objections to the claims of the Christian message. The Christian message is synonymous with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Second, Christian apologetics is a category of Christian theology because Christian theology almost always raises questions, objections, and challenges within the visible Christian community as well as those external to that community.

In order to be a noble and honorable witness for the Christian message and for the Christian worldview, it is absolutely essential that you have a solid theological foundation under you. Without such a foundation, you run the risk of misrepresenting Christianity, of not being prepared to provide a reason for the hope that is in you, and of creating a lot of unnecessary frustration. In other words, you risk being less than honorable in your witness to God’s truth. You risk not only your credibility, but the credibility and perceived integrity of God’s word. It is the truth of God’s word that the Holy Spirit applies to the human heart and thus, frees the sinner from his or her sin. Additionally, unleashing divine truth is the very best defense you could give of the Christian worldview. In order to do this, a basic understanding of the core components of Christian doctrine is necessary. And there is no better place to begin your journey toward such an understanding, than with a basic, but serious study of the nature of the Christian God who reveals Himself in the Christian Scriptures.

Naturally in the system of theology and in apologetics the doctrine of God is of fundamental importance. We must first ask what kind of God Christianity believes in before we can really ask with intelligence whether such a God exists.

-Cornelius Van Til

The atheist claims that God does not exist. The agnostic claims that humanity cannot know whether or not God exists. Judaism claims that God is not Triune. Islam claims that Allah alone is God. Hinduism has within it strains of theistic belief that range from polytheism, monotheism, and even monism. Buddhism is monistic. It denies the existence of a personal God. To add to the false religions of the world, there are those who claim Christianity as their system of truth but who deny the historic Christian view concerning the nature of God. In short, they deny the Trinitarian nature of God. Among these groups is one prominent name: T.D. Jakes. Christian apologetics must not only deal with the atheist, the agnostic, and competing false religions, but it must also deal with false these false teachers who claim to know God, but in reality, do not.

Christian apologetics is set to defend, not the existence of some god in general. Christian apologetics is not set to defend the idea that some god in general probably exists. Christian apologetics is not charged with the mission of defending the view that Christianity is more probably true than competing philosophies and religions, whatever they might be. Christian charged with the task of giving a reason for the hope that is in us and that hope is indelibly tied to the self-contained ontological Triune God revealed in Scripture.

The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity

The Christian belief and confession that God is one being eternally existing in three persons is a non-negotiable of Christian faith. In other words, it separates true believers from false ones.

A certain preacher once said about the doctrine of the Trinity: “as he that denies this fundamental article of the Christian religion may lose his soul, so he that much strives to understand it may lose his wits.” [W.G.T. Shedd, Reformed Dogmatics, v. I, pg. 250]

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

God is One

From the very beginning to its end, the revelation of God in Scripture unfolds the nature of God as one. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! (De. 6:4) “To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him.” (De. 4:35) We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. (1 Cor. 8:4) In addition to the references quoted here, also see: De. 32:39; Isa. 44:6-8; Isa. 45:22; Joel 2:27. There can be no doubt that the Scriptures teach that there is one God and only one God and there is no other God. To deny that there is only one God is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture.

The Unity of God

John Frame writes, “It is not difficult to see that all his attributes imply his unity. Only one being can be the standard of perfection, goodness, love, knowledge, truth, and so one.” [Frame, Systematic Theology, pg. 425-6] Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) And again, in his prayer, Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21) Once more in that same prayer, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23) Paul mentions the role of the Spirit, the Lord, and God in the administering of the gifts in the NT Church: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” (1 Cor. 12:4-6) Eph. 4:4-6 says there is one Spirit, one Lord, and One God and Father. To deny the unity of the Triune God of Scripture is to deny the teachings of Scripture as well as the God revealed in Scripture.

The Simplicity of God

The first thing that Thomas Aquinas addressed in his Summa Theologica after his evidences for God, is the doctrine of divine simplicity.

For there is neither composition of quantitative parts in God, since He is not a body; nor composition of form and matter; nor does His nature differ from His suppositum; nor His essence from His existence; neither is there in Him composition of genus and difference, nor of subject and accident. Therefore, it is clear that God is nowise composite, but is altogether simple.

Understanding the relationship between the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of Divine Simplicity is critical for the project of Christian apologetics. This will become evident toward the end of this short review of the Trinity and in other areas where arguments will be made for the self-contained absolute Triune God of Scripture and numerous objections refuted.

But the question is asked: What is the ontological condition by which such absoluteness is ascribed to God? Or, put differently, what is it about God’s existence and essence that permits one to say that he is the entirely sufficient explanation for himself?

It is divine simplicity that enables the Christian to meaningfully confess that God is most absolute in his existence and attributes. [Dolezal, James E., God Without Parts, 1]

The doctrine of divine simplicity teaches us that God is not made up of parts. The essence of divine being must always be what it is. The attributes of God define his essence. John Frame reminds us, “…the doctrine of simplicity is really fairly simple. It is a biblical way of reminding us that God’s relationship with us is fully personal. So the simplicity of God, like his other attributes, sets forth his covenant lordship.” (Frame, Systematic Theology, 433) James 1:17 tells us that, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” God does not change. There is nothing in God that changes. There are no changes in God. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13:8) God is always and forever being the same. (Heb. 1:12) For I the Lord, do not change. (Mal. 3:6)

Christians should do their best to avoid elevating any one aspect of God’s nature over another. To focus on one aspect of God’s nature to the neglect of others leads to inadequate expressions of the divine nature and almost always leads to error and oftentimes, heresy. For instance, to focus primarily on God’s holiness can easily lead to a cold harsh legalism. On the other hand, to focus primarily on God’s love and mercy can easily lead to an emotional view God where the command of godly conduct is reduced to an abstract idea but that rarely expresses itself in the life of the believer. The result is a radical antinomianism that destroys Christian witness, the gospel, and mocks God’s love.

Summary

John Frame lists five basic assertions about the Triune God of Scripture in his Systematic Theology. I think they deserve repeating here: (1) God is one. (2) God is three. (3)The three persons are each fully God. (4) Each of the persons is distinct from others. (5) The three persons are related to one another eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It seems to me that there are three critical components of Christian apologetics that require a degree of understanding: (1) The Nature of God. (2) The Nature of Scripture. (3) The Nature of man. Of course this is not to say that understanding the nature of Christ and his work is not critical. It is simply to say that unless you understand these first three, you will not understand the latter and as a result, your apologetic will suffer. It will suffer in its logical coherence, but mostly, it will suffer because it will not adequately and faithfully reflect the revelation of divine truth it seeks to defend.

Apologetic Issues and Implications

Coming soon.