Does belief in the Trinity still matter?

John Suk had an interesting posting today on the Trinity and I offered some lengthy comments.

Just a brief comment on Constantine and the Trinity. According to Alister McGrath Constantine actually had Arian sympathies rather than Athanasius.

The evidence suggests that Constantine ultimately could have worked with either the position espoused by Athanasius or that espoused by Arius, yet he had a preference for the latter. Constantine was quite clear about his role; it was the church itself that had to decide which was right and bring the dispute to an end. His role was to bring about an unequivocal conclusion.

The fact that the emperor had summoned the council made it quite clear where ultimate authority lay within imperial Christianity. This was reinforced by Constantine’s decision to model the proceedings of the council on those of the Roman Senate. The structures of the church were subtly being aligned with those of the state.

McGrath, Alister (2009-10-14). Heresy (pp. 147-148). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Point taken. Clearly God has to tolerate fuzzy, foggy and even wrong headed ideas on the part of his creatures that he’s wooing with his love.

I do, however, disagree that this doesn’t or shouldn’t matter to God.

1. One could view most of the Bible in fact as program of confusion clarification. Is Yhwh the kind of God that appreciates human sacrifice or temple prostitution? Is Yhwh the kind of diety that requires extravagant blood letting and physical deprivation before he lends an ear, or is he a father who gives fish and bread rather than scorpions and stones?

2. We all expect greater identity correctness within a relationship of increasing intimacy. If your wife were to say “Well John is a lecherousness chaser of young girls who sells pot to supplement his meager pastoral income” you might take issue and even offense if the statement is made in all seriousness. You want those who are close to you to have an accurate picture of who you are and what you think. If you didn’t you probably wouldn’t blog. Yhwh’s concern for his reputation appeared to be a major issue for the exile in the OT canon.

While I don’t have any problem imagining God showing great latitude at the front end of a relationship, if we posit a relational trajectory of misery, deliverance, gratitude the duty of a grateful person would be to pursue the partner of their affection with a desire to know them more and better.

3. McGrath’s thesis in the book I quoted from was essentially that the process of the emergence of heresy and orthodoxy is a process of discovery where over long periods of time (we might think of it as theological evolution) certain positions appear to become dead end streets while other show themselves to be life giving for the church and the community of believers. This doesn’t mean of course that minority positions cease to exist, but rather they continue to be side tracks, less productive on the communal process of loving God with our minds.

So while Unitarians, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons and other non-Trinitarian breeds persist, the center of the Christian ecosystem remains strongly Trinitarian and given the track record I suspect it will continue.

As a pastor then, if I have to recommend beliefs to embrace, the Trinity looks like a winner. 🙂

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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1 Response to Does belief in the Trinity still matter?

  1. richderuiter says:

    Actually Paul, I didn’t find that blog very interesting. It seemed like an attempt to be theologically provocative, but I found myself completely unstirred, neither to anger nor to shock. The only thing I felt was a pity. John seems to be exploring the freedom of being something other than what he used to be. Sort of like a teen trying out different personas until he finds something that’s cooler than his classmates. His statement “I’m a unitarian with trinitarian tendencies” has a pretense of thoughtfulness, but sounds more like someone sailing into nihilism without rudder or a keel. Wheras he was under the constraint of confessional Christianity, now he’s under the constraint of liberal agnosticism. Dull as dirt.

    Unitarianism is pretty much an equivalent for every anti- and hetero-Christian movement since Arianism. Too much of what the New Testament says, makes no sense unless the trinitarianism first discussed theologically by Tertullian (about 160-225 AD), is accepted. There is an ineffability in the trinity, and yet, to assert agnosticism about it (as a remedy/response to ineffability?) fails. We know something–even if we don’t comprehend everything. An honest and careful reading of the New Testament requires dealing with what it teaches in a way that not only fits the framework of trinitarian theology, it also demonstrates that no other framework fits. Of course, if one doesn’t care about carefully and honestly reading the New Testament, believe whatever makes you feel good.

    I like your statement about the theology of the early church being a process of discovery. It fits the historical data well both prior and subsequent to Nicaea. Every movement that has rejected the doctrine of the trinity has become less and less Christian over time. That fact alone should make us take this doctrine seriously and consider it extremely important.

    John, wake up.

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