VerMeer's Geographer

VerMeer's Geographer
The Geographer, by Vermeer, c. 1669


"The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo". . . And Other Stupid Statements

Alternate title: “Trinitarian Heresy 101″
“The doctrine of the Trinity is like an egg: three parts, one thing.” Ever heard that? How about this, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like a three leaf clover: three leaves, one clover.” Or how about THIS, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like water: three forms (ice, steam, liquid) one substance.” But the greatest I ever heard was by a guy in one of my classes. He said that he thought that the Trinity was like 3-in-1 shampoo: three activities, one substance.”
Stupid statements. Creative, but stupid. Don’t use them. Any of them. Ever.
Explanation coming… Hang with me.
Last week I taught a group of kids about the doctrine of the Trinity here at the Credo House as part of our Theology for Kids series. The ages were anywhere from 7 to 13. Though I regularly teach this subject to adults, this was the first time that I taught the doctrine of the Trinity to kids. I was surprised that it went well. It is confusing enough for adults, how much more for kids?
Teaching the Trinity, I have found, is more about giving basic principles of what it is and then shooting down illustrations about what it is not. Proper Trinitarianism is about a delicate balance between the unity and diversity in the Godhead. Christians believe in one God, i.e., one essence, who eternally exists in three separate persons, all of whom are equal.
We often employ illustrations that help us to make the ineffable, effable, the abstract, concrete. But when it comes to the nature of God, especially with regard to the Doctrine of the Trinity, illustrations should only be used to show what the Trinity is not.
Let me list the three major heresies or departures from orthodoxy with regard to the Trinity:
1. Modalism: The belief that God is one God who shows himself in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit. It describes God in purely functional terms. When he is saving the world on the cross, he is called Jesus. When he is convicting the world of sin, he is called Holy Spirit, and when he is creating the world, he is called Father. The error here is that this is contrary to what we believe: one God who eternally exists in three persons, not modes of functionality. It is not one God with three names, but one God in three persons.
2. Tritheism: The belief that we have three Gods, all who share a similar nature, but not the exact same nature. In this, the nature of God is either distinguished or divided, which destroys the unity of God. We don’t believe in three persons who share in a species called “God,” but three persons who share in an identical, united nature.
3. Subordinationalism: This is a subset of tritheism, but deserves its own category. In other words, if you are a subordinationalist, you are also a tritheist by definition, even if you don’t recognize it. The subordinationalist says that there is one God in three persons, but the essence of each person exists in a hierarchy. For example, many believe that God the Father is the greatest and the most powerful. Coming in second is God the Son, followed by the second runner-up, the Holy Spirit. Orthodox trinitarianism confesses an essential equality among all the members of the Godhead. None are greater in essence than the other.

Here is a “Trinitarianism Heresy Test Chart” I have created. Keep this by your bed.

  • If equality is denied, on the opposite side it points to subordinationalism.
  • If diversity is denied, the result is modalism.
  • If unity is denied, the result is tritheism (or polytheism —many gods).
With this in mind, let me now cover the “stupid statements” and why they don’t pass the test:
1. The Trinity is like 3-in-1 shampoo. This can only point to modalism or tritheism. It is modalistic if you are saying the shampoo performs three functions, yet is one substance. But you can also break down the various elements that perform each function and see them separately. That is tritheism since all of the elements are not the same. They may work together to perform a specific goal, but they are not really the same substance.
2. The Trinity is like an egg. This is most definitely tritheism. While the egg is one, each of the substances that makes up the parts (shell, white stuff, and yoke), are most definitely distinct. The yoke is completely separate in nature from the shell.
3. The Trinity is like water. This is a modalistic illustration. Ice, steam, and liquid are examples of the same nature which at one time or another has a particular mode of existence. Sometimes it is liquid, sometimes it is ice, and sometimes it is steam. God is not sometimes Son, sometimes Father, and sometimes Spirit. He is eternally each, always at the same time.
4. The Trinity is like a three leaf clover. This is a form of tritheism. Each leaf of the clover is a separate leaf. It does not share in the same nature as the other leafs, but only has a similar nature. In the Trinity, each member shares in the exact same nature.
5. The Trinity is like a man who is simultaneously a father, son, and husband. This is an often used illustration, but it only serves to present a modalistic understanding of God that is false. Father, son, and husband only describe various functions of one person. Each function cannot exist in a simultaneous relationship with each other, can’t talk to each other, and cannot exist in an eternal relationship with each other.
6. The Trinity is like a person who is one, yet has a spirit, soul, and a body. This one, like the first, can commit either a tritheistic or modalistic error, but cannot be used to illustrate the orthodox definition of the Trinity. It is modalistic in that the spirit, soul, and body are three functions of one conscience or person. But it can also be tritheistic when one considers that the spirit is not the exact same nature as the body (or the soul if you are a trichotomist—another lesson).
In the end, I do not believe that there are any true to life illustrations that can or should be used to teach or describe the Trinity. The Trinity is not a contradiction (i.e. one God who eternally exists as three separate Gods), but it is most definitely a paradox (a truth that exists in tension).
This graph is helpful in describing the Trinity. It is called the “Shield of the Trinity.”

 It is always best to remember that the Father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the Son is God, but they are not each other.
One more thing. I often tell my students that if they say, “I get it!” or “Now I understand!” that they are more than likely celebrating the fact that they are a heretic! When you understand the biblical principles and let the tensions remain without rebuttal, then you are orthodox. When you solve the tension, you have most certainly entered into one of the errors that we seek to avoid.
Confused? Good! That is just where you need to be.
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The gospel of Inclusion

I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His *kindness*, His *tolerance*... Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create... and who we include.

 This is the homily given by the Roman Catholic Priest at the end of the thoughtfully excellent high-quality film Chocolat.  Chocolat portrays the conflict of a religious moralist--mayor of a small village, vs. a genuinely human-loving non-religious newcomer.  Since the end has the religious majority and the mayor coming over to the side of love and tolerance, one can say it is not an overtly anti-religious film--rather it is anti-moralistic-religion--much like Jesus was against the Pharisees.  One CAN say it is covertly anti-religious in that the heroine never does embrace the grace of Christ, as she, in and of herself (getting by with a little help from her friends), seems to have quite enough grace without any wiff of that nasty religious stuff that seems to always come with Jesus.

I think that was my main problem with the film, the Jesus-less-ness of it all.  While Christianity is tolerated--and never itself openly denounced (even if the most distorted, vile legalism is seen as "normal" Christianity), the most mature, self-giving, genuine, loving, kind, listening, friendly, indeed Christ-like,  person in the film BY FAR, is the single non-religious character.  In essence, she seems to be the most "highly evolved" person there--someone who's transcended the need of any faith to give her faith in the essential goodness of every human being, and is quite able to give grace to all, thank you--without acknowledging receiving any grace herself from above.

As can be seen from the homily, the ultimate message to the Christians is tolerance and inclusion--something of course which is a part, or, a result of the full gospel of Jesus.  Jesus Himself though, is the heart of, and really, the whole of the good news He brings, and salvation (and the tolerance and inclusion the Holy Spirit brings) is found in no one else but Him.

Tolerance and inclusion are also, only a part of the love found in the One John named Love.  Total holiness and purity are also there--and holiness in Chocolat is given short shrift--only caricatured in forced external acts of self denial--by the nasty moralist, which end up only failing in a flailing in chocolate on display.

Here are some other Christians' takes on this story--one perhaps too harsh, and a chorus of others perhaps too indulgent.


The Triune God

from: "We are Beggars, this is true" blog
"If you deny the trinity you lose your soul, if your try to explain the trinity you shall lose your mind"- Augustine

The term the "Trinity" was first used by the early church Father Tertulian, who attempted to provide a succinct term for the tri-unity that existed in God. Simply put this is a term that articulates there is one God, who exists as three distinct persons: the Father, THE Son, and the Holy spirit. Each are fully God and equally God.
The Bible is clear from beginning to end there is one God. Deut 32:39- "There is no God besides me". (etc...Isa 43:1, 45:5, 1 Tim 1:17, 1 Tim 2:5). This notion has always existed as countercultural in our polytheistic world. It is today, it was on the Day that Abraham left Mesapotamian Ur, and on the day that Paul showed up in Athens in Acts 17. There has always existed a plethora of false "gods" that are worshipped by our world. Regardless Christendom has alwasy heralded that there is but one God, the God of the Bible. Now the doctrine of the Trinity is historically what theologians have use to articulate two truths, the first being that there is one God. And the Second being that this God is comprised of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The 3 Persons each as God:
-God the father is God: no need to be belabored simply because few would deny this point. (But John 6:27, 1 Cor. 8:6 "There is one God the father")
-Jesus is God: more debated. John 1 "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and came to dwell among us", John 8:58 "Before Abraham was I am" (etc... John 20:28, Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, 1 John 5:20.)
Holy Spirit is God. The spirit is a person not a force. He is personal not impersonal. He is responsible for convicting, instructing, teaching, guiding, and enlightening us. He can be grieved and resisted (to an extent). 2 cor 3: The Lord is the spirit and where the spirit of the Lord is there is freedom...this comes form the Lord who is the Spirit." (etc...John 4, Acts 5).

1 John 4:8- "God is love", in the very essence and Nature of God there exists a triplicate relation of Love. The trinity brilliantly manifests this truth. Trinitarian Doctrine clearly denies the idea that God could have possibly fashioned the universe out a desire for company. The God of the bible has never had any needs that finite man could possibly meet (Acts 17). But rather the universe was spun into motion by what Jonathan Edwards coined "an overflow of love" pouring out into creation magnificently.

Old Testament evidence for the Trinity.
"In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth...and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep."Genesis 1:1-2 (In the first 2 lines of the scripture we see distinct doctrine of parts of the trinity, i.e. the word for God here is Elohim and plural word for the Hebrew God "El". We also see the presents of the Holy spirit working his part in creation).
Further evidence from Old Testament Jewish beliefs of the trinity. The Targum Neofiti- 200BC. (A targum is an accepted interpretation of the Scriptures from a Rabbi-- similar to a modernday commentary.) This specific Targum states that "In the beginning by the firstborn, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the Deep." - This was 200 years prior to the birth of Christ! There existed at least to a certain extent Jews who were waiting for the coming messiah they believed to be God the son. Now not all Jews may have bought into this but clearly it was by no means a revolutionarily new idea from the 1st century AD Church.
Now why this is so important? Because it is a central tenet of not only Christian orthodoxy, but of the Nature of God. To deny such a principle is to deny a portion of God. It is the beauty and mystery of the trinity that magnifies that sacrifice of the Cross. Had Jesus simply been a creation of God (And not God, like Jehovah's witness, Islam, and Mormonism would all claim) then his sacrifice would be no more noble than that of any other altruistic sacrifice that have taken place throughout the history. (Men dying to save their country, families, faith. Or women dying to save their children...etc All are noteworthy but not monumentally and profoundly altering to the fabric of life, like Christ's sacrifice on the cross was.)
This is why the term used by members of Islam "people of the book", which they use to unify all Jews, Musilm's, and Christians together because we all worship the same God and trace our beliefs back to Father Abraham is faulty. We as believers in Christ believe neither in the God of the Muslims nor the God of the Jews. Because both of these sects fail to recognize Jesus as both our savior and our God. There is one God to deny that Christ is God is to deny God.
This Triune existence does not however operate in a fashion that resembles that of the metamorphic phases of Water. (i.e. liquid, ice, steam). God fully exists (well beyond human comprehension) in 3 distinct persons as one distinct God head. We see them working together throughout and within creation. Thus the economic trinity works in history for the redemptive plan of Salvation, but not in some limited Modalism that would require him to act in one mode discontinuous from the other two modes. Simply put God plays all 3 roles in a simultaneous fashion(Modalism is a teaching in the modern-day Pentacostal church that teaches God works in one mode at a time not in all three at all times, although this is perhaps not quite heretical it is without question not biblical. Matt:3: clearly portrays at Jesus's baptism that all three persons were present and evident).

The Trinity is a crucial belief that all of Christianity rises and falls upon. To deny this belief is to deny the faith in its totality. But it is important to remind ourselves that the "Trinity" is in no way a new idea, and not a creation of man. Rather man is a creation of the "Trinity" and its beautiful overflow of love in the creation of the Universe. The doctrine of the Trinity is an incredibly important component of our faith. We live in a world that is constantly attempting to pervert Biblical Christianity and tempt it to conform to the more unitarian beliefs of the dying world around it. If this doctrine is not understood, defended, and proclaimed Christendom will only move further towards impotency and heresy.

---God preserve your bride, and cause her to flourish for the Glory of your name.
Posted by davidjames