Are You a Trinitarian?
This coming Sunday has been designated by the ecclesial calendar as Trinity Sunday. For much of Christian history Christians have designated God as Trinity -- "One God in Three Persons." It is a key divider of Christians from the other two Abrahamic faith traditions, that like Christianity affirm monotheism.
Saying that you believe God to be Trinity, however, is not the same thing as understanding what it means for God to be Trinity. My sense is that most Christians nod at the idea of Trinity and then move on, adopting one of two basic ideas -- unitarianism or tri-theism. Many Christians think of Jesus as more divinely inspired prophet than God in the flesh, in that they would embrace a view that is shared by unitarianism -- as well as Muslims. Many other Christians, however, end up in what is best called tri-theism. That is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are essentially three separate beings. It's no wonder that many Muslims see Christians as tending toward polytheism, or at least adding something to God that doesn't belong to the nature of God.
So, as we head toward Trinity Sunday, if you're a Christian, are you a Trinitarian? If so, why? If not, why not?
I have struggled with my definitions, but end up affirming a Trinitarian view of God. Much of the debate over the centuries has been semantic in nature -- how do we understand words like person of substance? Much of the debate was held when Platonism or Neo-Platonism held sway, so the vocabulary used in the debate reflected that philosophical bent, but we no longer operate in a Platonic context. As we talk about God, we must recognize that all language is insufficient to describe God's nature and purpose. We can use analogy and metaphor, but in the end our language breaks down, as God transcends this language. That, however, does not excuse us from the need to reflect on who God is and how God engages us.
So, how then do we engage God as Trinity. The idea of the economic Trinity, that is, knowing God as Trinity through the way God encounters us is helpful. The ontological or immanent Trinity, the Trinity in God's essence is difficult to comprehend without turning to abstract thought, but we can understand God in God's activity as Trinity.
With this in mind, I like the way David Lose of Luther Seminary puts it.
Perhaps the best way to approach the Trinity, then, is to think of it backwards. It is through the power of the Spirit that we can receive Jesus as God’s surprising and unexpected messiah who reveals to us the gracious and loving nature of the Father.
The ultimate question for us concerns the character of God who is revealed to us through Christ in the power of the Spirit.
So, once again -- are you a Trinitarian? And does this confession make a difference in your understanding of the Christian faith? Is it an essential or is it non-essential?