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Jesus baptism 10
Which Gospel has the most trinitarian opening?  John right?

Nah! Binitarian maybe ;-)

I'm going to plump for Mark. That's right, Mark: the Gospel we take refuge in because it doesn't rub that Trinity stuff in our faces. Yep, Mark has the most Trinitarian opening of them all:

"The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

A whole theology is contained in the name "Jesus Christ, the Son of God".  The true Joshua - the LORD who is salvation - comes among us. He is eternally anointed with the Holy Spirit (the Christ). He is eternally Son of the Father. And His coming is good news.

Why? Because, v2-3, He is the LORD of Isaiah 40, bringing "comfort" to the exiled people of God.

And He does it, v4-8, by joining us in our uncleanness and exile - entering into our baptismal waters, so that we might enter into His baptising Spirit. The Anointed One comes to draw us into His anointing.

As He joins us in our predicament, v9-11, the Father and Spirit do not abandon Him to our fate. The Spirit publicly refills Him, the Father publicly acknowledges Him. This is not only the triune identity declared in its clearest terms - it is the triune identity declared in salvation. The Son, as He enters into our exile, does so explicitly as the Father's Son, filled with the Spirit.  The happy Trinity is passionately committed to our salvation: the Father sending His Son in the power of the Spirit.

And that Spirit, v12-13, drives Jesus into battle for us. Christ enters our wilderness and takes on our enemy as Champion - a true David to slay Goliath.

So here is the gospel, v14-15: the Kingdom has come because here is the King!  Good news people, rethink everything, trust that God really has shown up to save, because here is His Spirit-filled Son!

From this point onwards Jesus engages every power that enslaves us: sin, sickness, Satan, a chaotic world, death. In every encounter with these forces, Jesus does not simply prove Himself superior. He proves Himself Saviour.  All these powers dominate and destroy our lives. Jesus, the Spirit-filled Son, faces off against them in our name and on our behalf. If we belong to Him, His victory becomes our victory.

No wonder Mark opens by saying "Good News!"  These are glad tidings of great joy.  But only with trinity.

Without trinity, we simply have a Lord. And if we won't explicitly understand Him as Son of the Father, filled with the Spirit, we will seek to establish His identity in other terms.  Without trinity, 'divine identity' become purely a matter of might.  And, without trinity, the whole baptism thing will be a bit of a mystery. In fact we'll be hazy on most of the first 13 verses.  We'll gain interest again right around verse 15: A call to repent!  But since Jesus is introduced in vague terms as 'a Lord' we will construe that to mean "bow the knee"... or something.

And as Jesus takes on the forces of darkness in Mark's opening chapters we might consider these to be simply displays of power. We might just think that they establish "who's boss".  And, again, the point will not be to reassure us that the Christ has entered the fray as our Champion, it will be to drive home the point that Jesus really is big. And we ought to... um... "bow the knee."

But with trinity we really will repent and believe. With trinity, we really will be overawed by our Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. With trinity, the Gospel really is good news.




All the Johns agree:

But let us inquire who this Angel was? since soon afterwards he not only calls himself Jehovah, but claims the glory of the eternal and only God. Now, although this is an allowable manner of speaking, because the angels transfer to themselves the person and titles of God, when they are performing the commissions entrusted to them by him; and although it is plain from many passages, and especially from the first chapter of Zechariah, that there is one head and chief of the angels who commands the others, the ancient teachers of the Church have rightly understood that the Eternal Son of God is so called in respect to his office as Mediator, which he figuratively bore from the beginning, although he really took it upon him only at his Incarnation. And Paul sufficiently expounds this mystery to us, when he plainly asserts that Christ was the leader of his people in the Desert. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) Therefore, although at that time, properly speaking, he was not yet the messenger of his Father, still his predestinated appointment to the office even then had this effect, that he manifested himself to the patriarchs, and was known in this character. Nor, indeed, had the saints ever any communication with God except through the promised Mediator. It is not then to be wondered at, if the Eternal Word of God, of one Godhead and essence with the Father, assumed the name of “the Angel” on the ground of his future mission.

He is expressly called an “Angel” Exod. 3:2 – namely, the Angel of the covenant, the great Angel of the presence of God, in whom was the name and nature of God. And He thus appeared that the Church might know and consider who it was that was to work out their spiritual and eternal salvation, whereof that deliverance which then He would effect was a type and pledge.  Aben Ezra would have the Angel mentioned verse 2, to be another from him who is called “God,” v 6: but the text will not give countenance to any such distinction, but speaks of one and the same person throughout without any alteration; and this was no other but the Son of God.

This redemption was by Jesus Christ, as is evident from this, that it was wrought by him that appeared to Moses in the bush; for that was the person that sent Moses to redeem the people.  But that was Christ, as is evident, because he is called 'the angel of the LORD' (Exodus 3:2).

Given such unanimity among our reformed forebears (who themselves appealed to 'the ancient teachers of the Church') our modern reluctance to identify Him who dwells in the bush is deeply concerning.

From the 18th century onwards we've gotten ourselves into a position where even Christians find themselves thinking about "God" in the abstract.  In our thinking, 'Trinity' has become a gloss on a supposedly more 'basic' understanding of 'God.'  The Son has been relegated to a theological luxury - a very good window onto the divine life.  He is no longer the one theological necessity the Word, the Image, the Representation of God.  We find ourselves able to speak christlessly and, essentially, unitarianly about three quarters of God's revelation.

And somehow we get ourselves to the position where the question "Who is in the burning bush?" seems odd or irrelevant or uncomfortable or a trap.  And many people hurry past the issue.  In so doing they hurry past the great I AM who defines Himself throughout the OT as the One who brought His people up out of Egypt.  'Who is in the bush?' is a key question not merely for the passage, but for all the Scriptures and a litmus test of our theological convictions.  So what do you say?  Do you agree with the Johns?

My sermon on Exodus 1-3 is here.

My series on Christ in the Old Testament here.




If you don't make clear the Trinity in your gospel presentations, here are three consequences...

They won't understand Jesus

Jesus simply is the Christ, the Son of God.  That's how all the Gospels identify Him.  By definition He is anointed with the Spirit and He is Son of the Father.  Jesus is intimately related to the Father and Spirit and cannot be understood without that Trinitarian context.

If God is introduced in single-Person terms, Jesus will appear on the scene - almost by definition - simply as Prophet.  Once God has been defined without Jesus, His entrance into the explanation can only ever suggest that He's a lesser being.

If He comes late to the presentation, he is coming to solve a problem that is not really his.  Athanasius made much of the Word who made us in the beginning, remaking us in salvation.  But modern presentations have a maker on the one hand and a different saviour.  This feeds into...


They won't understand the cross

Who is the One on the cross?  Is Jesus a third party punished by God?  Is God hell-bent on judgement and destruction but this other force with this other will placates Him - almost in spite of Himself?  That's precisely how it looks when we begin our presentations unitarianly.

People need to know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).  This is not to deny penal substitution.  On the contrary, it's to uphold penal substitution (2 Cor 5:21).  As John Stott says in his famous chapter "The Self-Substitution of God", we mustn't make Christ "a third party thrust in between God and us."

At the root of every caricature of the cross there lies a distorted Christology...  In particular, it is essential to affirm that the love, the holiness and the will of the Father are identical to the love, the holiness and the will of the Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. (The Cross of Christ)

The One on the cross is the One who made us.  And He is perfectly expressing the love of His Father (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10).

So many gospel presentations look like (or even explicitly say that) Christ buys off a reluctant and angry Judge, rather than Christ demonstrating the very love of God in substituting Himself for sinners.


You'll define God as Creator and Judge

What's wrong with that?  you might ask.  Well God is Creator and Judge, but the creeds speak first of "Father."  Before there was anything made, before there was anyone to judge, there was a Father.  And He was pouring life and love into His Son by the Spirit.

Foundationally God is life-giving.  Yet, functionally unitarian presentations make God out to be, foundationally, Creator and Judge.  And His status as Maker is instantly framed in terms of His demands on us.  There's a logic that says "God made us, therefore we owe Him."  Do you hear what happened there?  Creation ought to first make us consider the life-giving, out-going, gracious character of God.  But if its spun unitarianly we have a self-focused God who makes in order to get.  And what he wants is regularly unpacked in terms of moral effort.

In other words, it begins to sound very much like Islam.  God, by definition, lords it over us - that is what it means to be this kind of God.  And what does it mean to relate to this kind of God?  It can only mean one thing: submission.  So the gospel can only be unpacked as "bowing the knee to our Creator and Judge" and salvation is essentially avoiding being crushed by the higher power.  In such presentations they might eventually speak of knowing God as Father or of "having a relationship with God", but the whole set-up leaves the listener extremely dubious.

There's bags more I could say, but I'll leave it there.  You can add more in the comments if you like.  But even if these were the only reasons to do so, they really should move us to present a trinitarian gospel...

Now if only someone would write such a thing...

i f   o n l y  .   .   .     i   f      o    n    l     y    .       .         .




The glory of the triune God is other-centred love.  The Father pours Himself into His Son by the Spirit (John 3:35).  The Son offers Himself up to the Father by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).  The intra-trinitarian life is a cross-shaped life of self-giving.

Julian of Norwich said: "When I see the cross I see the Trinity".  This is true for many reasons, chief among them is the fact that life poured out is the essence of both.

If this is so, triune glory cannot be understood via a theology of glory.  Triune glory is understood as a theology of the cross.  When this God acts for His glory it's not because He or His glory are self-centred.  No He is other-centred and His glory is His grace.  Yet just because this is so, when God acts for the sake of His glorious grace He is simply determining to be Giver.

From eternity the nature of the triune God has been deference and other-centred praise.  When faced by creatures - even creatures who would ignore and spurn such love - this God determines to love with an almighty 'nevertheless'.

It's like my friend Craig who opened the door for a feminist.  She scowled, saying "I hope you're not opening the door because I'm a lady!"  He replied, "No, I'm opening the door because I'm a gentleman."  He acts not for her sake but for the sake of being the other-centred gentleman he truly is.  He acts for his own glory, but his glory is self-giving service.

Put it another way, it's like the mother who is faced by a naughty and manipulative child.  She could cave in to the tantrum or she could withdraw and ignore the child altogether.  But she condescends in love, not because the child is good (he's not) and not because she's weak (she's not).  She acts in accordance with her gracious motherliness, to love the child in spite of himself and in this way to lift him from his misbehaviour.

Put it another way, it's like the man who is struck on the right cheek by an aggressor.  By nature his instincts are fight or flight - strike back or withdraw.  But instead he stands his ground and offers his left cheek also.  He opens himself out in grace and continues the offer of relationship.  This is God-like glory.   (More on cheek turning herehere and here).

Put it another way, it's like Christ crucified.  He might have remained in heaven or merely sent us to hell.  Instead He acted for the sake of His glory.  He absorbed our blow and rather than retaliate He offered reconciling love.

The cross was the triune love laid bare.  And this is not simply because the Persons demonstrated how much they love each other.  More than this, they demonstrate how the glory of grace encounters what is outside this love.  In costly sacrifice the triune glory suffers what is outside in order to draw it in.

The triune glory is cruciform glory.

Among other things, this means that the mystical and the ethical elements of the New Testament are profoundly related.  Think of verses about participation in the triune God - adoption, union with Christ, filling with the Spirit.  Now think of verses regarding bearing our cross and following Christ's way of sacrifice.  It's so common to think of these as very different teachings.  On the one hand we imagine warm fuzzy mystical feelings, on the other it's about the blood, sweat and tears of discipleship.  But no, essentially it's the same thing.  Participation in God is participation in this life of self-emptying love.  That's not the costly draw-back to life with God - that's the very way of life.  Eternal life has always had a shape to it - arms-wide sacrifice.  When Jesus calls us to Himself He can do nothing else but invite us into His life.  Again, this is not an unfortunate counter-balance to the groovy-vibes of life in Christ.  This is life in Christ - it's the glorious true life of loving service.

The glory of the cross lived out is the glory of the triune God applied.  Because the triune glory is the cruciform glory.

It's a wonderful thing to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  And its daily application is the privilege of taking up our cross and following Christ (Mark 8:34).  That's the life. That's God's eternal life, and we're invited.

...Based on an earlier post from 2010...


This happened two years ago.  Revealing!

Finally!  JW's knocked on my door this morning.  First time ever.  An older guy and a younger Polish woman.

So I threw some Genesis 19:24 shapes their way. "To which Jehovah are you witnessing, the LORD out of the heavens or the LORD on the earth?"

The woman seemed quite interested.  The man said "Trinity?  Rubbish.  Paul refutes the trinity in 1 Corinthians 11:3."  So we went to 1 Corinthians 11:3

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

"How does this refute the trinity?" I ask.

"Well," he explains, "God is the head over Christ.  Which means Christ is less than God."

I say "So the Father is the head of Christ the way I'm the head of my wife?"

"That's right"

"Let me ask you, Is my wife less of a human being than me?"

"Yes" said the man.  "N.." said the woman and then changed it to a faltering yes.

I check I've heard them right.  "So my wife is less of a human being than me?"

"Well," reasons the man, "you make the decisions.  You're in charge."

"Hmmm (I hum non-commitally).  And so I'm a greater being than my wife?"

"That's right" said the man.  The woman frowns.

I turn to her and say "You realise you're in a cult don't you."

The man grabs her by the arm and they start to make their escape.

"Keep reading the bible and keep thinking about marriage," I call to her as they move down the street.  "You know women are equal to men... AND JESUS IS EQUAL TO GOD!"

Don't think they'll be back any time soon.

But it goes to show that Arians are misogynists whatever the PC gloss.  And of course misogynists are Arians, whatever the Christian gloss.



This is adapted from my fourth talk on Isaiah...

Idols are everywhere in the evangelical world.  Well, teaching about idolatry is.

Everyone is talking about the dangers of false gods.  This can be a very good thing.  Personally, I've been helped as I've considered my sinful patterns to be far more than 'bad choices.'  I'm constantly falling for false visions of 'the good life'.  "Career success", "people-pleasing", "the need to be right" - a thousand loves can capture my heart.  And, while I may imagine that I've chosen these things, in fact they've chosen me.  They dominate and enslave me, and as I continue to serve them, they harden my heart and steal it away from the true God.

This is a profound and helpful diagnosis of our problems.  But below I'll offer three caveats to all this idolatry talk.  It's not that idols-speak is wrong or damaging - not at all.  It's that idols-speak cannot bear the full weight of all our pastoral needs.

Idols-speak - the way we tend to do it - can under-appreciate the true depth of our problems.  And more than this, if we look to it for our solutions we can miss our true hope for change.

Three Caveats About Idols-Speak...

1) The Old Testament has a language for over-reliance on the flesh AND for idolatry.

The Old Testament constantly speaks of our foolish trust in man, in money, in power, in giftings, in intelligence, in beauty, etc, etc.  But, by and large, it reserves the term "idolatry" for false gods, foreign conceptions of god, foreign conceptions of worship.

It's true that Ezekiel 14 speaks of "idols of the heart" but even there we're thinking of false religion and foreign gods.  So in the OT there's idolatry AND there’s false trust in things.

Sometimes we read of idols in the OT and immediately spiritualize it: "Jeremiah was so right - I need to spend less time on Facebook."  Well... maybe you are in danger of idolising Facebook.  But the ultimate false-god to which you're liable to look is not Social Media.  It's Satan.

Within days of receiving the ten words from Sinai, the people were worshipping a golden calf and proclaiming that this Satanic image had saved them (Exodus 32).  This event is in Scripture as a warning for us. 

We imagine that ancient people might have fallen for Baal or Molech, but it takes an iPad to really capture our imaginations.  But this is just chronological snobbery.  If God's people of old were in danger of mistaking a foreign god for the living God, then that's got to be a danger for us also.  The real idolatry has always been to get God wrong.  And this remains today.

Of course we have all sorts of functional saviours today - and they can have a god-like grip on us.  But such false faith has always been the case, and the OT has (separately) dealt with it.  The ultimate idolatry is having our God look more like Baal than Jesus.  This is a danger for every age.

2) The New Testament knows all about idolatry as a fundamentally theological problem. 

When the LORD walked among His people as Man, their greatest problem was their understanding of God.  They did not recognize their Messiah and so they did not know the God they claimed to serve (John 8:19).   These biblical, religious members of God's people belonged to the devil and had a theology to match (John 8:44).  We are fools if we think that our struggles are different.

Of course "greed is idolatry" (Col 3:5) and "Mammon" is a rival to God, but the NT's conception of idols goes well beyond sex, money and power.  1 John, for instance, is full of the desperate need to confess Jesus as Christ, Jesus' coming in the flesh, Jesus as the Son of God, etc, etc.  That's why it finishes with the admonition, "Keep yourself from idols."  There is a constant theological battle which we must fight to understand God in Christ.  Apart from Him, we are possessed by the spirit of anti-Christ and begin to worship an anti-Christian god.  Once again we must insist - this is not a danger for other people.  It is our danger.  Constantly.

Someone who is convicted by modern idols-speak might well confess to "worshipping parental approval." (And that may indeed be a problem for them).  But, again, the real danger is worshipping the devil.  I mean that seriously.  It is not as though Christians have their doctrine of God sewn up and now we can focus on the lesser objects of our devotion.  In Old AND New Testaments, the deepest danger of idolatry is that we will worship Satan.  Which means we really need to get God right, don’t we?

3) Idols-speak as a solution is man-centred.

If my problem is defined as, 'Me worshipping the wrong thing', what’s the solution?  You might imagine that the solution is now 'Me worshipping the right thing.'  Thus, we might have quite a “God-centred” diagnosis of sin (to use the lingo of many who engage in idols-speak), but we’re in danger of recommending a "man-centred" solution.

I don't see this so much in the preachers and writers who champion idols-speak, but I do notice it in, for instance, the accountability groups that take this teaching on board.  There exists the distinct impression that my false worship caused this problem, so now my true worship will solve it.  I must put away my idols and refocus my devotion towards God.

Yet this is tragically ironic.  For if my hope lies in turning my worship from one object to another, I have cast God as the ultimate idol.  There He sits, passively, waiting for my worship.  He was passive and displeased when I worshipped money.  Now He's passive but pleased with my true worship.  But in both cases, He’s the passive one, I’m the active one.

The trouble is, a passive God is the Bible’s definition of an idol.  In Isaiah 64 the prophet gives us a profound definition of the true God:

Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.  (Isaiah 64:4)

The living God works while we wait.  It's the idols that wait for us to work.  That's the fundamental distinction.  The living God is alive and He gives life.  The false gods are dead and simply take your life.

But here's the perennial danger - and it can be exacerbated when idols-speak is the be-all and end-all of discipleship - I cast God as a dumb idol to whom I make all the offerings.

It works like this: imagine a Christian, convicted of their over-commitment to career progression.  They publicly repent of this "idol" in their life and now determine to offer up true service to God, because, well, God is God and, you know, our Maker has certain claims on us.  Right there, the danger of idolatry is immense!  Because right there, there's every possibility that God is cast as the passive recipient of our resolute worship.

Who has delivered the sinner from their idolatry?  And how?

Even if idols-speak proves helpful in diagnosing our problems - and it definitely does - we mustn't rely on it to solve our problems.  Christ in His word must come to us again to cleanse us from sin and refocus us once more on the invisible God  who Christ alone reveals.  We must move off centre-stage, sit down in the audience and watch Christ work redemption for us.

When we are the ones who wait for Christ to work, then we're experiencing the living God. Then we are weaned off idols - both small and great.


Yes I want that song infecting your brain.

We'll live forever, knowing together that we did it all for the glory of love

Now there's a line fit for the triune God!  As I'll try to show below, it's a pretty good summary of God's motives in creation and redemption.  God's life and work is an other-centred, outward-focussed, spreading goodness.  The Father, Son and Spirit do all things for the glory of love.  This is starkly different from 'the love of glory' - especially where 'glory' is defined apart from love!

So in this post I want to show that "the glory of love" is God's motivation in all things.  Later I'll show why "the love of glory" is not God's motivation according to the bible - at least not how it's popularly framed.  Our God does not sing: "I did it all for the glory of me!"

But first, here's just a little survey of love as the centre of God's life and action in Scripture (notice number four!):


God's being is love

1 John 4:8,16

The Father loves the Son

Matthew 3:17; 17:5; Mark 12:6; John 3:35; 15:9; 17:24; Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 1:13

The Father hands everything to the Son because of love

Psalm 2:7f; Isaiah 42:1; John 3:35; 5:20

The Father glorifies the Son because He loves Him

John 17:24

The Father predestines and elects us in Christ because of love

Ephesians 1:4f; Isaiah 55:3

The Father creates out of love

Colossians 1:16

He chooses the patriarchs out of love

Deuteronomy 10:15

He makes and keeps covenant with His people because of love

Ezekiel 16:8; Isaiah 54:10

He redeems Israel out of love

Deuteronomy 7:8; Isaiah 63:9; Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:1

He leads Israel because He loves her

Exodus 15:13

He plants them in the land because He loves them

Psalm 44:3

He relents from judging time and again because of love

Numbers 14:19; Ps 51:1; 106:45; Hosea 11:1-9; Jonah 4:2

He will provide future redemption from all sins because of love

Psalm 130:7f

He saves because He loves

John 3:16; Titus 3:4f

The Son is given to us because of love

John 3:16; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2,25; 1 John 4:8-10

We're adopted because of love

Ephesians 1:5f; 1 John 3:1

We're regenerated because of love

Ephesians 2:4f

We're forgiven because of love

Revelation 1:5


Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6




Here's an article from a few years ago but it's never appeared on the blog.  It was on my old website as an introduction to some of the themes of Christ the Truth...

You cannot begin your theology without your doctrine of God – all else is because God is.  Everything exists by virtue of Him, out of Him, for Him, and in relationship with Him.  Whatever you say about Him has ramifications for all of reality.  Misunderstand God and you misunderstand everything.

Ok, but where do you begin your doctrine of God?

This section is all about maintaining what Athanasius considered to be the most crucial point in his disagreements with the heretic Arius:

“Therefore it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.”

To put this another way, we ought first to consider God as Trinity before we consider Him as Creator.

The issue can be seen in sharp relief when we understand exactly what Arius believed.  He wrote this in his Letter to Alexander of Alexandria:

‘Our faith, from our ancestors, which we have learned also from you is this.  We know one God – alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning… who begot an only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom he made the ages and everything.'

Arius moves from ‘uncreated Creator’ to God’s Begetting-Begotten relationships with great ease and one wonders how many Christians, even Christian ministers, would today spot this as the grave heresy it most certainly is.

The problem here is that the being of God is defined in advance of a consideration of the only-begotten Son. And so, from the outset, Christ has been defined out of full deity!  There is no way you could confess Jesus as ‘fully God’ once the definition of God is stated as ‘alone unbegotten.’ The Father and the Son cannot be, for Arius, of one being.  They are of different orders of being – the Father defined as on one plane (the unbegotten plane), the Son is on another (the begotten (and, for Arius, created) plane).

No matter how much Arius protested that the Father and the Son were of ‘like being’ he had actually placed them on opposite sides of the line which he had drawn to separate God from everything else.  For Arius the Unoriginate-originate distinction was the ultimate demarcation of full deity from all else.  And the Son was on the other side of that line.

The very heart of the gospel is threatened here.  With Arius we have a fundamental disjunction between who Jesus is and who the Father is.  When Jesus claims in John 10, ‘I and the Father are one’ this is meant to reassure His hearers that what they hear Him saying and what they see Him doing are the very words and works of God.  To see and lay hold of Jesus is to see and lay hold of the Father.  For Arius to drive a wedge between this one-ness means that 1) Christ’s revelation is not actually the revelation of God and 2) Christ’s salvation is not actually the salvation of God.  To see and hear and trust Jesus is still to be short of seeing, hearing and trusting God.  We are, ultimately, left in the dark – for revelation and for salvation.

And all this, according to Athanasius, is because Arius has named God from His works rather than naming Him from His Son. That is, he has begun with God as Creator and not with God as Trinity.  And that means that Arius has a fundamentally different God from Athanasius.

To show this, imagine two scenarios:

Scenario 1)  Arius sits down at the table with Athanasius and says ‘God is definitionally unbegotten, do you agree?’ Athanasius says ‘Agreed’.  Then Arius says ‘And you believe that the Only Begotten Son, Jesus, is not only of ‘like substance’ but ‘the same substance’ with this God who is definitionally unbegotten??  Athanasius’s head begins to hurt…

Scenario 2) Arius sits down at the table with Athanasius and says ‘God is definitionally unbegotten, do you agree?’  Athanasius says ‘No!  We do not define God from His works, calling Him Maker and then try to map those same, philosophically derived attributes onto Jesus (and the Spirit) to produce 'a Trinity'!  Arius, you and I do not simply disagree about the identity of Jesus.  We fundamentally disagree about God.  You begin with uncreated Creator and therefore can never come to understand Jesus.  Because you do not begin with Jesus you simply cannot know the first thing about God.”

Thus Athanasian trinitarianism – orthodox Nicene trinitarianism – is not, finally, about seeking to secure the deity of the Son (Arius believed Jesus was divine).  It was even more about ensuring a Christian doctrine of God.  Agreement on the deity of the Son is not actually a later stage in the argument about God.  We do not first agree on some kind of God and then introduce His Son.  Any concept of the one God that does not from the outset include the mutual relations of Father-Son, begetting-begotten etc, bears no relation to the living God.  It is Arian.  Heresy.

Thus we return to Athanasius’ plea: do not begin from God’s works and call Him Maker.  Begin with His Son and call Him Father!

The council of Nicea followed Athanasius’ advice:

‘We believe in one God, The Father Almighty, Maker…’

Before there was a world, there was God.  And this God was, is and ever shall be the Father pouring life and love into His Son by the Spirit.  Before we seek to know God in any other way we must understand Him as He is in, with and for Himself, that is, in His triune relationships.

If you don't follow this method, here are 12 disastrous implications:

1)     You will never get to a Nicene trinity – you must deny ‘God from God’ – a begotten deity. 

2)     You will make God both dependent on creation and shut out from it (i.e. "Creator" needs a creation, but is defined in opposition to it).

3)     You will therefore never actually know God.

4)     Faith then becomes, not a laying hold of God, but of intermediary pledges from the unknown God.

5)     Assurance becomes impossible – the hidden and unreachable God determines all.

6)     Salvation becomes not a participation in God but a status conferred external to Him.

7)     Apologetics becomes the invitation to non-Christians to also name God from His works.

8)     Proclaiming Christ entails the impossible task of squeezing Jesus into a pre-formed deistic doctrine of God.  

9)     Christology will become the riddle of fitting the uncaused cause ("deity") with a very conditioned Jesus ("humanity") - i.e. you'll tend towards Nestorianism.

10)  You will define God’s Glory in terms of self-sufficiency – making Him the most self-absorbed Being in the universe rather than the most self-giving.

 11)  Christ crucified then becomes a bridge to God’s glory rather than the very expression of it. (A theology of glory rather than theology of the cross).

12)  You will consider “Glorifying God” to mean ‘what we give to Him’ – our worship etc (works!) – rather than receiving His life given to us (faith!).

And all because we haven't begun with Jesus - our God from God.


Here's a talk I gave at the Plymouth University mission earlier this year.  It was entitled "Three in One, have Christians got God right?"  We invited the Islamic Society along, so it definitely had a Muslim audience in mind (though the talk is not exclusively pitched at that audience).

Here's the introduction...

Listen to two very different voices from very different times and places.  They have one thing in common - a deep dislike of the Doctrine of the Trinity:

The first is from Thomas Jefferson:

“When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples.”  Thomas Jefferson

The second is from the Quran:

Allah is one, he does not beget nor is he begotten and there is none like him.  Surah 112

Do not say ‘Three’  Surah 4:171

No son did Allah beget, nor is there any god along with Him: (if there were many gods), behold each god would have taken away what he had created and lorded it over the others!  Surah 23:91

Incredibly different times, places and cultures.  But a real unity on this issue - they find the Trinity incomprehensible, if not blasphemous.

But tonight I want to say that the Trinity is the only thing that will make sense of your world, yourself and of God himself.  You might think that the Trinity doesn't make sense.  I want to say that without the Trinity life doesn't make sense.

Let me begin by asking you a question, What do you think was there 'in the beginning'?...


Powerpoint Slides (these would be helpful if you want to listen, or if you want a quick view of the talk)



Today is definitely the day to dust off Alan Lewis's wonderful Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Easter Saturday.  As he meditates on Eberhard Jungel's theology, Lewis writes

[Jungel] in effect identifies Easter Saturday, the day of the burial of God, as theology's foundational, defining moment.  For it is this occurrence, as recorded in the Christian narrative, which maximizes the dispute between faith and non-faith.  While the flesh of God's Son lies immured in death, the sharpest controversy divides those who see only that God is gone and finished and those who know that in this palpable absence nonetheless God is yet more present, with life-giving resurrecting power.  Even so, the God who is present in this absence, whose creative power is at work through the powerlessness of this defeat and death, is no more recognizable to the theist than to the atheist.  Faith in God on the day when God is dead is faith of a very different order from the certainties expressed in metaphysics; and it is faith in another God then the distant, immutable, omnipotent deity of theism, that supreme stranger to suffering and death.

Not only, then, is Easter Saturday the day of mutual contradiction between those who believe in God and those who cannot; it is also the day of shared contradiction for those who believe in the absolute God and those who cannot, by the theology of the Crucified One: faith in the life and power of the God who is dead.  To the extent that both of these conflicts are occurring now, with great intensity, at the end of the modern era, means that today is a cultural "Easter Saturday."  And that is the context, where faith hears and opposes both partners in the disputation between theism and atheism, in which theology must work today, and to which the gospel is to be addressed.

We have much in common with atheists.  We too proclaim the death of God.  We too take a long hard look at the world  and conclude there is no magical hope within the created order, nor any comfort in a power that remains outside it.  There is no help from the god who is shut out of the tomb - the god who is defined in opposition to our suffering and death; some power imprisoned by his own majesty.  Our only hope comes from the God who shuts Himself in the tomb.

Happy Saturday.

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