Recently a friend of mine, while debating my objections to Western Christianity’s doctrine of the Trinity, referred me to Greg Boyd’s post Does the Doctrine of the Trinity Matter? I respect Greg Boyd greatly, as anyone who’s followed me for some time will undoubtedly know. But that post is illustrative of precisely my objection to the usual arguments for the Trinity … the evidence presented, upon close scrutiny, does not say what Greg (or others) claim it does. Let’s examine his references:
- 2 Cor 13:14 lists Jesus Christ as “Lord,” mentions “God our father” and “the Holy Spirit” but makes no claim at all as to their ontology or relationship to each other. It’s actually a blessing, perhaps from early liturgy, certainly poetically beautiful. But a declaration of theology it’s not.
- Matt 28:19 is the command to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, & Spirit. Again, no claim of ontology or relationship is offered, we have only the listing of the names and the obvious inference that somehow they matter.
- 1 Cor 12:4-6 once again, lists all three names and refers to their work, but says nothing ABOUT them. The context is Paul’s argument to the Corinthians that we should recognize and celebrate that the diversity of gifts within the church is thanks to the same God working in a variety of ways. But whether “God the Holy Spirit is at work,” or instead “God is at work through his Spirit” is not something we can derive from the text … either sense would be equally faithful.
The mere occurrence of the names Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in juxtaposed verses does not in any way require that, as Greg says later in the article, “God is an eternal, loving, divine community.” Nor does the often-seen, but rarely-examined argument hold that “It’s impossible to believe that ‘God is love’ unless you conceive of God as an eternal community, for love is only possible between personal beings.” It’s in fact quite possible (I do so believe), for the following reasons at least:
- “God is love,” that statement from 1 John 4, is not primarily a declaration of ontology, but rather an argument throughout the chapter that if we claim to know and honor God and yet do not love others, our “faith” is baloney. This is one of many examples of Christians taking a passage that is about one thing–how we as believers should conduct ourselves–and making it about something entirely other–how we should think about God’s nature.
- Notwithstanding (1) above, let’s just go ahead and grant that 1 John 4:8 is intended also to be a statement of divine ontology. Even so, it does not necessarily follow that God had to have someone to love throughout eternity. Except for those who feel they have to assert that God has no need of us, it’s quite easy to consider that the whole reason God created humans was to have someone TO love. In fact, God’s continued pursuit of humans to redeem us to himself suggests strongly that this could be the case.
- Even if God the Father, throughout eternity past, DID have his son/word to love, it does not therefore follow that the Father and Son must be co-equal.
- Greg says “For Judaism and Islam, love can only be something God does, not the essence of who he eternally is.” The implication is that somehow, it’s impossible for God to BE love without having someone TO love. I’m not well enough armed in philosophy to be able to refute this fully, but it is my sense is that whether “to be is to do” or “to do is to be” are true, is an old and quite-unresolved philosophical argument. But even if it’s true, in this argument Greg allows himself to be caught in a trap he has in other places argued against … the statement “God is love” in 1 John could be ontologically true now without in any way being a statement of who God ETERNALLY is/has been. Greg points out the extrabiblical and unbiblical nature of the doctrine of divine immutability, among other places, in his blog post Is God Immutable? Nothing but a doctrine of divine immutability requires that “God is love” be true, not only when John wrote it (and up till now), but also in eternity past. To put it another way, each of the following statements are equally-possible interpretations (or perhaps, extrapolations) of the truth “God is love.”
- God is love, and therefore God created people in order to have an object for that love.
- God created people to love, and as he bestowed his love upon them (us), the statement “God is love” achieved its fullest realization.
- God is love, has always shown that love toward his Son, his Word.
- God is love, and has eternally exhibited that love in Triune fellowship.
None of these statements is mutually exclusive–more than one of them may be true. Any one or more of them might be, and none of them are incompatible with scripture (that is, they cannot be disproven by scripture). But neither is any of them supported solidly enough by scripture, that it can or should be held as dogmatic truth.
The doctrine of Trinity is, I think, ultimately an attempt to reconcile two logically-unreconcilable, but biblical truths: the first, that there is only one God, and second, that Jesus claimed to be divine himself even as he acknowledged the one God his Father. Neither of these truths can be dismissed without denying important claims made by Jesus himself as recorded in our gospels (see my older post Reexamining the Trinity – Jesus for more on this). But I believe that Trinitarianism, in its laudable attempt to maintain a high perspective on Jesus, falls short in that it elevates Jesus to a position (equality with the Father) that he never claimed for himself … in fact, a position that the Apostle Paul teaches us (Phil. 2:5-7) Jesus explicitly rejected. Going beyond what is written, even for noble reasons, is unwise.