Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Trinity

Jason is not a trinitarian and had some interesting thoughts on the Nicene Creed. While I won't go through the Nicene Creed line by line, as Jason did, I would like to talk about the Trinitarian ideal that is asserted within the creed.

The Trinity is at the core of Christianity and found in the early doctrines of the church. This mystery is central to our faith; but for many in our time, it is embarrassing, hard to explain, and even offensive. I interpret the doctrine as a response by the early Christian church to differentiate from how it perceived Jewish and pagan theologies.

“Classic theology” is the view that God is far away, that there is a gulf between the divine and human and never the twain shall meet. The writers of the Gospels believed that Temple authorities held this view. This idea is also active in some Christian streams today. The early Christians picked up on this and held to the notion that God the creator was not distant, but personal and immediate; not only transcendent.

Many pagan theology takes the view that the gods were completely immediate and could be manipulated by various rituals. The gods depicted in many stories have an adversarial relationship with humanity. The early Christians wanted to say that God was indeed with them, but also wanted to stand the idea that God can be manipulated or bargained with through the use of ritual and idol. Christians believed that God is with us and for us, so much so that God would send God’s only begotten son to live with and die for humanity’s sake.This leads to the culmination of the embodied divine in Christ.

The incarnation for me brings both views of classic theism and paganism into “panentheism” which is central to Christianity. Panentheism implies that God is not just close, but in and through everything. We are a part of God, yet God is still separate. God is with us and daily bears our burdens and yet is transcendent. God is with us and in us, in our midst when we pray alone with the doors shut or when two or more are gathered. There is no line between sacred and secular just like at the end of the Gospel of Mark where the curtain is torn in the temple, and this signifies a God which can’t be boxed, can’t be contained, and in and through all of creation.

Where we often get stuck is on "How can God be human?" We have no problem with God as Spirit but we have a HUGE problem with God as human, namely Jesus. While I can't explain how Jesus is both human and divine, I can say that I best meet God through Jesus. Maybe the ol' creeds are right and Jesus was God... or maybe it's more like Matthew Fox's idea that Jesus was the Christ and it was not Jesus who was God but the Christ aspect. "In whom God was pleased to dwell" and all that... that there is a Cosmic Christ that comes through the ages, that the mind of God can be in a human body, yet not have the rest of the human's functions compromised. I dunno.. those are the extremes, i exist in the middle.

What i can say is that we should never divide up the Trinity into an economical view like God creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit guides and sustains. God is one and the works of the Trinity are indivisible. So when I stated that I experience God’s love, justice, and forgiveness; I am also experiencing Jesus/Christ and the Holy Spirit’s as well. I picture it as if I were to cut out a triangle from paper to represent the Trinity, lay it on a flat surface and spin it. That is how God, the Spirit, and Christ work.


ian said...

Interesting. You don't mention the Holy Spirit in here. Are you actually a 2-arian rather than trinitarian? :)

Have you seen or been following the naked pastor's z-theory posts? That again puts forward a highly post-modern non-dogmatic identification with the character of God as trinity. Though I think he's a little more comfortable near the boundary of modalism than you!

Anonymous said...

I don't believe there is a Truine God whatsoever...only because faith makes more sense that way (and to be honest - so do the scriptures).

As for Ian's mention of 2-arian idea - the Holy Spirit is just the transmission of God to us...making it God's workings amongst humanity (not a seperate God piece).

For me, and I am speaking academically here, I don't see the need for the Trinity idea - as arising from the 'Christ' (messiah) idea...which is deeply rooted in Judaic thought. Judaic thought sought no reason to make a deification out of that idea...I see no reason for us Christians to accept such ideas.

I see it as thus: God the Father (the One)...Jesus - 'son of God/messiah' which is a type of kingship idea (kingdom of God ideals was what he kind of was on about) - anointed to be that king at the right hand of God (or a place of authority)...Holy Spirit - God's spirit - God is Spirit - this is simply the exercise of God to humanity (briding the unknown gap).

The trinity is basically a type of un-needed philosophy that seems to find it's roots in Greco/Roman thought (concerning who and what a god could be). Judaism is strictly monotheism for eons (it would appear).

So why is the trinity so important again?

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Luke :

"The Trinity is at the core of Christianity ..."

It is the core of your Christianity, Luke, you should not speak for all sects. Are you being a professional religious person in that role?

When you say, God is "personal" -- you mean, you can talk to him and those who view him as impersonal can't.
Great recent video by stampcollector illustrating one problem with that:

I get that some 'trinity' model works for you. And you are invested in it working for you -- so that makes it all the more powerful. But lots of Christians don't need it. And your opening line excludes them, even though I know you are not an excluding guy.

Luke said...

@Ian: yeah, like i said, it's easier to understand the God/Spirit than it is to understand the God/Christ formulation.. hell, it's easy to understand the Spirit/Christ idea too because we get the same affect of being guided by the Spirit. oops, modalism! ;-)

@Jay and Sabio: i would have to amend myself and state that "core of Historic and Orthodox Christianity." things like the Nicene Creed and the Trinity scare Arians and Gnostics out of the water right away. however, it is good to note that there are many Christians who don't affirm the Trinity and i think that, as i stated, has to do with your Christology. High Christology usually affirms the Trinity no problem... Low Christology depends.. there are Christian Unitarians who affirm what you do Jason.. it's not my intent to exclude them. however, my understanding is more inline with the traditional understanding. yet i can see where you're coming from! what i was trying to do was create the historical argument and contextual ID differentiation... like why do Muslims and Jews not eat pork? some argue it's to create an ID different from the pagans that surround them; no holy decree or physiological reason needed. they do it just to be different... well, that's one theory anyway.

Some days I wake up and say “My Lord and my God” just as Thomas. I just know that Jesus and God are one, I completely understand it and view that the miracles and resurrection literally happened. Other days, I cannot get my head around Jesus being God, but a wise teacher and that the miracles and resurrection are best understood metaphorically. I do not view this as a bad thing, as I think this makes me more effective in speaking with believers and nonbelievers alike. I can hold on loosely to my conclusions and effectively speak to more conservative and orthodox Christians as well as to skeptics, agnostics, and atheists. that's me. my understanding of God is Triune, yours doesn't have to be.. hell your understanding of God is that there isn't one.. i'm okay with either.

Anglican Boy said...

I love this! Thank you for writing this, it makes me feel better. Not that you need to make me feel better. Your thoughts on the Nicene Creed would be helpful as well. I will check out Jason's post, too.

Bryce said...

It seems that you're having a little trouble with picking out words to define your major concepts.

For example, "classic theology" doesn't necessarily mean that God is far away. J stories from the OT (surely one classic theology) describe an anthropomorphic God who is so close as to walk in the garden or shut the door on the ark. Later priestly traditions describe a God who is more transcendent. Perhaps this is closer to the word that you're looking for?

"through the use of ritual and idol"
I think we've discussed this before somewhere, but the word idol in the NT (and OT for that matter) pretty much always carries a polemical connotation, conjuring images of ignorant people worship wood, metal or stone creations. In reality, pagans were smart enough to know that their statues and images were representations of unseen forces. ANE artifacts, well before Christian times, discuss statues/images as representations.

Paganism also appears to be a little off base here. To use paganism to describe the practice of ritual/sacrifice to curry favor with divine beings ignores the reality of sacrifice to YHWH in an attempt to raise a pleasing scent to [his] nostrils (another anthropomorphism) and attendant petitions...

Temple sacrifice in Jesus' day was so prolific (twice daily) that blood flowed practically constantly from the sluice of the Temple into the Kidron and the runoff was so thick that it was shoveled out and sold to farmers as fertilizer.

The most that pagan (Greek ethnos - "people" or "nation") would objectively mean is "not Jewish or Christian." This is how the NT uses it in most instances that are translated simply as "gentile."

Panentheism within Christianity is a relatively recent development (late 19th century) so to call it "central to Christianity" is a bit overstated.

Eastern Orthodoxy has had the idea of the uncreated energies of God since Gregory Palamas (14th century) which can be interpreted in a way harmonious with panentheism, but overt panentheism is more akin to process theology and creation spirituality a la Matthew Fox.

As you defined "paganism" earlier, it appears to be about currying favor with a Deity or deities. Perhaps it would be better to focus on the immanence you were looking for and avoid the mention of sacrifice altogether? Otherwise, the sacrifice/persuasion aspect appears to carry into the third way you are describing...

Finally, that third way, to my knowledge, doesn't really have a name. It's the dynamic tension that exists between the immanence and transcendence of God. However, the word panentheism already carries so much freight that you may be better off to skip using it altogether in favor some other descriptor.


Luke said...


you make me wanna just stick with an economic view then ;-)

sure there are problems with this formulation as it's written as the "elevator version" but i think the foundation is pretty solid for explaining how i see the Trinity and explaining it's historical significance up to the present day. i could go more into detail and you've provided great critiques on how to go deeper with this notion.

i like the idea of "It's the dynamic tension that exists between the immanence and transcendence of God." that really sticks it.

like i said in the post: our sticking point seems to be the question of "how can God be man/woman/human?" in this formulation of the Trinity. doesn't work for Jason (SVS) and you know my process leanings that i'm slowly distancing myself from in favor of Neo-Orthodox, yet on this point i vacillate between many Christological options.