Skip to content

Trinity Rant #843

Trinity is not a nuance.

When we unfold the trinitarian life of God in His gospel work, we're not simply adding a level of detail to functionally unitarian 'God'-speak.  Trinity is not just a nuancing of more basic truths.  To speak of trinity is to uncover a logic which alters the way we conceive of everything, from the ground up.

Now of course we can still make simple looking statements like 'God must be worshipped.'  But what it means is I'll subject all of them to thorough critique.  Specifically, I will refuse to conceive of those sentences in unitarian terms.  Instead I will ensure that the Subject of that sentence can refer to each Person of the trinity and to the triune life as a whole.  And I will think hard about how these explicitly trinitarian considerations affect the truth of the proposition.  In other words I will resolve to conceive of both the Subject and the verb in these sentences in explicitly trinitarian terms. 

But does this really make a fundamental difference to 'simple God-talk'?


The command 'God must be worshipped' can be applied to each Person and it can be applied to the triune life as a whole.   So it passes this minimal test.  But as we consider these triune relations, we realize that the Persons glorify each Other.  They are not simply recipients of worship (which the simple 'God' is) - but they are themselves worshippers.  More than this, we worship God only when we are rightly included in their worshipping life.  We must be in Spirit and Truth to worship the Father.  And we must first be the objects of His love and glorification before we find ourselves participating in the love and glorification of God.  Do you see how the Subject and the verb are radically affected by trinitarian analysis?

Or think about the concept of 'God's monarchy' - i.e. that God exercises a singular rule.  As a simple (functionally unitarian) concept this would lead us to think of God's rule in ways fundamentally opposed to a trinitarian understanding.  Trinity doesn't mean there are three thrones and it doesn't mean that the Lamb is off-centre on the throne.  It means that the Father rules through (and only though) His Spirit-anointed Son (cf Psalm 2).  Yet without this trinitarian dynamic being explicit, the triune God's monarchy will be misunderstood. 

Or again, think about this contentious statement: 'God is unoriginate.'  It was a favourite of Arius - what do we make of it? It seems completely logical. It seems to be guarding against things we want to guard against. Surely full divinity cannot be predicated of anything that has an origin outside itself.  Right?  We can't have divinity that depends on anything outside itself can we??  Well, on this understanding we look at the Son Who has His eternal origin in the Father, and we conclude that the Son is less than fully God.  That's the very logic Arius used and it's just why Athanasius got so picky and said that Arius should not name God from creation and call Him unoriginate but name Him from His Son and call Him Father. In other words - unless from the outset you define God's nature with the Father-Son reciprocity in mind you won't be able later to call Jesus God - not fully God.

'God is unoriginate' is an example of a statement that sounds good and seems to protect important things. And it might be able to be applied to the Three together (the Three do not have their source of life outside themselves) but it is unwise to make the statement simpliciter.  And it can lead to heresy when it is applied to particular Persons. 

The problem is that it has begun in functionally unitarian 'God-talk' and it simply cannot be rescued by trinitarian nuance.  That's not the direction of travel.  We can't go from functional unitarianism to trinitarian discussion as though we're moving from the synopsis to the novel.  The comparison is more like two competing treatises.

When we talk trinity we talk about basic things - fundamental, bedrock things.  We don't simply uncover extra depths when we lay bare the perichoretic life of God.  Actually we discover an essential logic that requires articulation according to this trinitarian dynamic. 

Trinity is not a nuance. 


0 thoughts on “Trinity Rant #843

  1. dave bish

    Unchanging God
    The years go by but you’re unchanging
    In this fragile world
    You are the only firm foundation

    Of one substance, always true
    Always merciful and good, so good
    Yesterday today and forever
    You are the same, you never change
    Yesterday today and forever
    You are faithful and we will trust in You

    You have no end and no beginning
    Earthly power fades
    But there is no end to Your kingdom

    ...and before you know it the Trinitarian God is altogether gone into the theistic mist. Obviously that's not what Vicki Beeching's song says but it made me realise that it's easy to slip away from Trinity if we're not explicit. Same I guess if we forget that the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever is the one in Hebrews whose blood made perfect for ever (that's something that never changes as he comes before his Father on our behalf)

  2. glenscriv

    good observations Dave. To lose trinity is to lose gospel.

    i've always wondered about 'Ancient of Days' too. In the song there's no mention of the Son of Man and actually everything that's said of the Son of Man in Daniel 7 is ascribed to the Ancient of Days in the song!

  3. Dan Hames

    Bish- I have thought about that song quite a bit. Being as the chorus is taken from a verse that's explicitly about Christ, I just sing the song as if it's talking about him rather than the Father or the Spirit! I'm sure Vicky Beeching meant it to be about 'God' but theologically, it totally works for the Son, so I'm happy enough!

    Glen- yes, yes, yes. Here's one I'm hearing a lot now but make me squirm. In prayers, 'Father God...' or in preaching, 'God is a Father' or '... the Father heart of God'.

    So sloppy! Interestingly much of this comes from a certain reading of the parable of the two sons (as you've so well shown before). I think if we were better at specifying our 'Father' language to the Father, it'd be all the more interesting and telling to see the Son acting as 'Father' at different times (Tabernacle, Is 8, etc). We'd also see how awesome is our privilege to join the Son in calling the Father 'Abba'.

    As it is, lots of people love using 'father' imagery about 'God' but it's lost when 'the Father' has no Son. I guess he starts needing us at that point!

  4. Dan Hames

    Yeah- Ancient of Days is a bad one. Lots of songs are very misleading when it comes to Trinity, which is SUCH a shame. There's a recent one by Chris Tomlin that I initially really liked:

    "Praise the Father, Praise the Son
    Praise the Spirit, three-in-one
    Clothed with power and with grace
    The Name above all other Names"

    Then I noticed the problem- JESUS is the Name above all names, not God the Trinity. Just a small detail, but it's the small details that lead to a general ignorance about the reality of the life of God! So not worth using, in my opinion.

  5. glenscriv

    Dan - you radical you!

    Tomlin seems also to slide between Trinitarian and christological statements in 'How Great is our God.'

    The Godhead, Three in one
    Father, Spirit, Son
    The Lion and the Lamb,
    The Lion and the Lamb

    Did you spot the change?


    I guess you just assume he's consciously switching from trinity talk to Christ talk and sing along - don't you? Don't we just do the same with 'The Name above all other names?' Or am I a bit compromised?

    Also would most people who pray 'Father God' be using that as synonymous with God the Father? Or are people really praying to an undifferentiated father deity?

    Obviously Son God and Spirit God would sound pretty weird! (I dare you to open up prayers in church with 'Our Great Son God'!) But if a person is praying in the name of the Son to their Father God perhaps we cite John 20:17 and say fair enough?

    Or perhaps I'm losing my edge. Beware Daniel - this is what Anglican ministry can do....

  6. Pete Bowman

    One that I hear quite often is "Our God is a (insert adjective here) God", usually in the context of explaining why our God is so great.

    The use of the indefinite article makes it sounds like there are all kinds of god we could have chosen from, but we Christians have made a pretty shrewd choice!

    The adjective used is often fairly meaningless without a trinitarian explanation, e.g. "Our God is a merciful God" - well, yeees, but be careful not to accidentally teach universalism: the Father is only merciful in Jesus. Another one is "Our God is a big God". Does that mean Jesus is 7 feet tall and a bit podgy?

  7. dave bish

    Have to say Dan - I wasn't critiquing Vicki Beeching's song - merely riffing on how a few minor alterations make it unchristian (obviously).. and what a catchy arian song might look like (which Everlasting God really isn't)

    Tricky cos I we should be fairly generous with song lyrics but equally I'd love to be always singing distinctively christian songs.

  8. Dan Hames

    Bish- thanks... good clarification. Apologies if I made you out to be a lyrical miser! Catchy Arian songs? Reminds me on a seminar I was in recently!

    Glen- on the day that Reeves has called me a heretic (in writing!) I have to say, you're so wet! You big wus! Via media blah blah blah ;o)

    Pete- with you. I like the bit that says God is 'wider than the universe'... woah! That's a big bum! Obviously 'beyond my wildest dreams'...

  9. Pingback: Jesus and Trinity – Trinity and Jesus [repost] « Christ the Truth

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer