Can we take or leave the Trinity?

In the last post you’ll notice that we have advertised a conference on the Trinity. Someone who saw this asked me why the conference was not on a more “practical matter” as if preaching about the nature of God is not somehow “practical”.

Does the Trinity really matter? Herman Bavinck once wrote that the Trinity is the heart of Christianity. Why then does it seem that this “heart” is only faintly beating in some evangelical circles? Why is teaching and conversation about the Trinity seemingly inaccessible?

I was sitting in my study this afternoon working on a few items when my phone rang and on the other end was a man who sounded rather hot under the collar and all I had said up to this point was “hello”. I asked him his name and all he would give me was a first name and as to his whereabouts he would only say, “The West Coast”. However before I could gather this information he came at me right out of the gate. I said, “Hello”. He said, “Can I ask you a theological question?” I said, “go for it.” At this point the fine line between asking a question and making a statement became rather blurry and this unfortunately lasted for the rest of our conversation. While listening to his diatribe (“question”) it became obvious that he did not believe Jesus was God so I fished around a bit until he finally chomped down on the Jehovah Witness bait. It wasn’t really bait, I just asked him if he was a Jehovah Witness and he responded in the affirmative and then said, “Now can we get back to my question?”

At some point I asked him why he called and he explained that he had surfed around and found my church’s website and noticed that he didn’t like our statement of faith, especially the part about the Trinity so he thought he might call us up. Long story short, this guy didn’t have any questions he only wanted to challenge us and let us know that we were cult-like heretics (it’s not everyday that you get called a “heretic” by a JW).

When I realized what was going on and my Starbucks kicked-in I told him something that seemed like it was the first time he had heard it. I told him in no uncertain terms (very politely and very calmly) that I could assure him that he did not have a chance at convincing me because (gasp!) I am admittedly not open to new teaching on the Trinity. That’s right…my mind is closed, made-up, stubborn and whatever else you want to call it. Now I admit that puts me at odds with this JW caller but that should come as no shock to anyone. However, I’m afraid that my lack of generosity about this doctrine might put me at odds with some who wear the label of “Evangelical Christian” as well. Is it possible that some attempts to preach Christ in a more palatable fashion have also made Him out to be less than who He is (same goes with preaching about the Father and the Holy Spirit)? I’ve heard sermons by some evangelicals where I wondered if a JW would be okay with what was just preached.

The biblical teaching about the Triune God is not without its difficulties but that doesn’t give preachers an excuse to ignore it. Bruce Ware has stated this concern succinctly when he wrote, “God cares that we know who he is, and he longs for us to understand him rightly, according to what he has revealed in his Word.” Ware makes the case that this is only possible through knowledge of the God that has revealed himself as a Trinity. So here’s my question for our readers: how does the fact that God has revealed Himself in this way affect your preaching or your life for that matter? Would you agree with my armchair assessment that evangelicals have practically forgotten (maybe ignored) the Trinity? I hope I’m wrong but that is the view from my theological window.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Great questions, Paul. In fact, I’ve been assigned the opening message of the conference and have been asked to answer the question, “Why a conference on the Trinity?” My message will, in part, be addressing the very question(s) you posed. Part of the answer lies in the fact that it is the doctrine of the Trinity that makes Christianity unique among all world religions. Take away this doctrine, and you’ve cancelled out the defining essence of the Christian faith. So, no, we cannot “leave” the doctrine of the Trinity if we hope to be Christian in any true sense of the word.

  2. Understanding the work of the Trinity (not how the Trinity works or is put together, that is obviously beyond understanding) helps us to not only understand His work better but helps us to respond correctly to Him.

    For example, I began a Bible study through the gospel of Matthew with some Moslem background fellows. At first, we had started with John’s gospel and they just weren’t getting it. I read somewhere to try Matthew and since the reasons given made since to me, I tried it. In that study we were able to build on what Matthew teaches about the Father to help them understand who the Son is. It was a wonderful thing to see them make the transition in their spiritual understanding and see the change in their lives.

  3. Great post- I appreciated it!

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