***The following is an article I originally wrote two years ago, it has since been posted at Calvary Chapels’ School of Ministries’ Journal and I thought I would repost it here in light of my friend’s, Glen Scrivener’s, fine article surveying trinitarianism between the west and the east. This article is underdeveloped, and simply represents some off the top reflections on my part relative to this issue — so take it for what it is worth.***
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I. What Does It Mean to be a Trinitarian
This is one of the so called hallmark or “touchstone doctrines” that serves to define and shape historic evangelical orthodoxy. Trinitarianism denotes the concept of the tri-unity of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each being co-equal and co-eternal one with another. In fact the very person of God is defined and expressed by the inter-relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—thus we have the God-head.
In all reality, though, do we Evangelicals really know how to engage the idea of trinity, above, in day to day life? What implications, for theology proper, soteriology, ethics, etc. can be drawn from this? Given the imago dei, what implications does the trinitarian reality provide for articulating a biblical anthropology?
Typically, in theology, we emphasize God’s oneness—and we think of Him in terms of Aristotle’s un-moved mover who “deals” with man in a rather cold contractual way. Note Thomas Aquinas’ synthesized view of God through the Aristotelian lens, he says:
“The most widespread of all effects is existence itself; so it must be the effect proper to the first and most wide-ranging of causes, namely God. In other words, creation is an action peculiar to God himself.” (Quote taken from: St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae A Concise Translation, ed. Timothy McDermott (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1989), 86.
This view of God, which is widely and uncritically accepted by many Christians, also has implications, albeit negative ones, from my perspective. When we emphasize God, using “Thomistic” categories, our view of man (anthropology) is distorted. We end up viewing men through individualistic glasses, i.e. each man is an “island unto himself”. Instead of viewing people as fellow human beings, they are seen as commodities and “resources” with whom we make contracts. I.e. If you do this for me, then I’ll do that for you . . . “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” This is a sad implication of our typical understanding of God.
Maybe if we realized that people are “persons” and not “individuals”; and that our person-hood is defined by our inter-relationship one with another (so the trinitarian understanding of God implies) we would begin walking with a much more powerful biblical perspective in life.
II. Being Trinitarian: Applied to Biblical Interpretation
In this section I want to think out-loud about what being genuinely trinitarian in perspective implies about how we approach scripture and hermeneutics.
Given the premise above, “that the God-head is defined by their inter-relationship one with another, finding communion in their union with each other;” it should follow that if indeed the scriptures are truly “God-breathed” (cf. II Tim. 3:16), there will be an organic “union” intra-textually between the various “books” of scripture. In other words it should not surprise us to find intra-textual links between disparate books of the Bible. These links can be literary, theological motifs, themes that take shape by their redundant usage throughout scripture.
For example, when we see Babylon, in the Bible what does this name conjure up in your mind? Starting in Genesis 10—11 (Shinar, Babylon, Babel) we are first introduced to Nimrod and Babylon as a place that is anti-thetical to the purposes of God. This understanding carries through in the exilic period with Israel, as a place of captivity; and even through to Revelation 17—18 we again see Babylon as the city (empire) warring against God (remembering that He is still sovereignly using Babylon to accomplish His purposes). Or how about the “servant of God motif”; do we see any intra-textual understanding created between Job and Moses, both of whom are called servant’s of God—and both pointing to the “suffering servant of God” in Isaiah 53.
Kevin Van Hoozer and John Sailhamer both highlight an approach related to the one I am speaking of here (in much more detail too), but they don’t explicitly speak of the “Trinity” as providing the underlying hermeneutical framework for how we should approach our interpretation of scripture. In fact, what I am discussing is probably more theologically driven versus their approach which is dealing much more with methodology and application of the unity found in the scriptures.
Within the trinitarian understanding there is space created for distinction (i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); while at the same time finding complete unity as the parts (distinction) interact and form the unity of the God-head. Likewise scripture has distinction in its many parts (various books of the Bible); while at the same time as the parts interact they find shape (meaning) in their intra-textual unity.
Our God is an Awesome God who’s complexity, demonstrated in the reality of the trinity, should foster in each believer a sense of worship and awe. As discussed above, being a trinitarian has practical implications when related to how we relate to each other; and even how we engage the text of scripture. While the concept of trinity has transcendent value that should cause us to worship and praise our great God; this same concept also has immanent implications that should have impact on the way we live our daily lives—as we engage each other, as people, and even when we interact with the text of scripture.
Hopefully this short article has provoked thought in your own heart and mind as to what it means to be a Trinitarian!