Friday, December 12, 2014

Revisiting The Trinity: Fact, Fallacy, Logical Contradiction?

Truth and Finite Humanity

Before we go further I think it is worthwhile noting something that is consistent with human nature. Just as we may have heard the truism “nature abhors a vacuum” or “water always seeks it’s own level” we may with equal assurance say that humans in general do not like tension, we prefer stasis or equilibrium. We do not take a shine to things that are in tension. We prefer it all one way or the other but not both.

The picture above is analogous to how we like to settle things in our minds. When faced with apparently conflicting facts or evidence which seems to pull us in two different directions the tension in our minds is uncomfortable. We don’t like it. So what we do is choose between the two. We make the choice to run with the evidence that seems the most compelling to our perception. And from that point we disregard any evidence to the contrary. It’s easy to stop listening. Now this isn’t altogether bad in one sense. It is certainly understandable. In fact this very human habit is really an indication that we deep down acknowledge that truth is exclusive by nature.
Two conflicting states of affairs about the same circumstance cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. We instinctively know this even if we have never taken the time to put it in so many words. It’s the law of noncontradiction. We don’t like contradiction- real or apparent.
So when people appear to us to be stubborn and not willing to listen to evidence of a contrary nature to what they presently believe- they have initially listened to the evidence at some point and have decided to let the log settle on the side that they feel shows the most compelling evidence of being true. I don’t know of anyone that deliberately believes a lie. And we know that the weightier the log, the greater effort must be made to overcome its inertia and bring it to a balance. What is also true is that it takes constant vigilance to keep a heavy thing in balance because it’s weightiness necessitates a great tension. The fulcrum under the log is under a heavy load. Slight changes in the distribution of weight of a balanced log will eventually result in the log moving in one direction or another with very little effort. However once moved and settled in a certain position it takes a great deal more effort to get going again, to shift it. In spiritual realities it takes superhuman effort. Indeed in spiritual realities we cannot shift our own entrenched positions. God must make the difference. We must make all the effort in our deliberations and efforts to convince, and persuade, for without persuasion on our part nothing will change- but ultimately it is the Holy Spirit who opens the heart, makes it capable of change.

What is a logical contradiction, or a contradiction in terms?

Think of our previous forays into the laws of logic, the law of non-contradiction and the stationary table in the room. If the table is stationary how can it possibly be moving?
Imagine trying to speak of the table both stationary and moving at tremendous speed both at the same time to someone who had just walked out of a stone age culture. I imagine that one would have to embark on a full education of several years to get to the point where we all easily take for granted the motion of the earth on it’s axis and its speed through the solar system, such- that at that point it becomes a small thing indeed to Mr Flintstone to accept the table as both stationary and moving at very high speed at the same time!

Sometimes two truths appear to our understanding at first to be mutually exclusive, we cannot reconcile them both to our understanding. There is evidence for the truth of both, but the both seem to contradict each other. Without further illumination, we cannot accept this state of affairs and eventually ditch one at the expense of the other, we don’t like the tension that exists between the two. If you like, in a small way, it is like looking down a long straight railway track. They appear to our vision in the perspective of two lines like an inverted “V’ which in the distance actually merge into a single point. That is what our senses tell us and to the uninstructed in railway lines and perspective, that is what they do. They meet in the distance. But if that were true, we know only too well that the railway engine would soon derail. And so in order to grasp the truth, we need to derail our dependence on our senses, our faith in them if you like for telling us the absolute truth. Just as our physical senses can make fools of us, so to can our sense of reason and perception. Eventually we resolve the tension, by ignoring what our eyes appear to tell us, and so when we wave goodbye as our loved one departs the railway station we don’t fear their train will soon derail.

Being people who are primarily people of the senses, it is to our senses, sight, sound touch and all, that we immediately rely on to ascertain truth. We generally believe our senses. And in day to day living our senses serve us well. But why shouldn’t they? God designed us well. But thinking people develop their sense of reason as well. Just as an infant has to learn to direct its gaze and develop its sense of tactile skills, we must learn to reason. “Come now and let us reason together…” the Lord says.

Is the word Trinity in the Bible?

Is that necessary or even important?

Can a person be cured of a disease before that disease has a name? Can someone die of a disease we have never heard of? If something is real or true, it does not depend on our recognition of its reality to be true. It is still true despite our ignorance or our recognition. The unprecedented growth and advancement in knowledge of our Universe in the last several centuries is testament not only to the reasoning powers that God has given, but also points to how ignorant we have been to realities present for the whole of human existence, just lying in wait to be discovered. The electromagnetic spectrum has existed since the creation of the Universe, but only in very recent times have we discovered it and harnessed it’s ability to carry information.

Every controversy that has occurred on the long and chequered history of the Christian tradition has served to strengthen those whom God has called to be his own. It is through those upheavals that we have come to reevaluate, sharpen and show more distinctly and clearly who God is. I don’t think there is any example or evidence of a trinitarian dispute in the inspired writings themselves. But that is not the same thing as saying therefore the Trinity doctrine isn’t true. If it is true, then it has been true from all eternity whether or not humanity ever recognized it. But eventually the question has arisen because a man, Arius, started preaching that Christ was a created being.

The other thing that is important to realize is that the scriptures themselves don't always bear record to everything that God has taught mankind. We can see from certain portions of scripture the assumption of knowledge that was apparent even though never recorded prior to that point in the sacred writings. As one example I give the instance where Noah alighted from the ark, and he set about to make a sacrifice:
"And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar"(Genesis 8:20) 
Francis Schaeffer:
"In other words God had taught things that were not recorded in scripture. We cannot assume that just because a certain knowledge is recorded in scripture that we can make an absolute negative that they did not have such knowldedge." ("Genesis in Space and Time" p145) 

Schaeffer also mentions in this work that Cain was taken to task over the inappropriateness of the sacrifice he had offered compared to Abel's. But prior to this there were no instances recorded in scripture that delineated what was acceptable sacrifice. So we in turn cannot assume that knowledge of the Trinity was totally unknown even if that appears to be the case from an absence of reference to it. The reality is that there certainly are clues that, if, given the appropriate weight, will lend credence to a doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament.

Truths in Tension

The Trinity is another one of those truths that sit in tension. Just as there is (or ought to be) in our finite minds a tension between God’s sovereignty (predestination) and man’s free will, so too even in our understanding of the nature of God there are tensions.

We need balance.

If on the one hand we overemphasize human autonomy or free will, we end up with our perception of omnipotence and sovereignty of God curtailed by human sovereignty. Our god is too small. On the other hand if we overemphasize God’s omnipotence and sovereignty we end up in error with regard to human freedom. We end up in fatalism, que sera sera, whatever will be will be. Or as the Islamists say when you apply for a visa to go to Iraq and ask the official if you are likely to get it, they reply “Ah- it will be as Allah wills!” And by so saying they mean you will never get it!

Fatalism is a philosophical doctrine stressing the subjugation of all events or actions to fate. …[or God] The view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do. Wikipedia

It stultifies human endeavour and tends to make us slaves of circumstance.

So how we perceive reality- including God, whether He exists, and including what sort of God exists- makes tremendous influence on how we live. And as for God, so too for human nature, to elevate humanity is to diminish God in our perception. How can we rob God? the scripture says, but we have robbed him, the scripture concludes. In robbing God, we are robbing ourselves.

So, just as by overemphasizing mankind's freedom we end up in error by limiting God’s power or omnipotence and his sovereignty- so too if we deny any of the threeway tensions that exist within the nature of God we end up in error.

Some have complained that whenever the Trinity doctrine is closely examined Christians immediately get defensive and fall back on what is perceived as a lame excuse: "It's beyond our understanding, it's a mystery- don't try and understand it- just believe it" Well, that atitude is wrong, but like many things there is some truth behind it. Far from being a blind leap in the dark, there is evidence for it from scripture- which after all is also a record of history, and as we have seen it is also logical, it is the best way to make sense of the otherwise competing realities we see there. It is philosophically defensible.

Logical, but also Mysterious

While the Trinity is not illogical, it does have some mystery attached. But is that any different from other doctrines that are readily accorded as orthodox Christianity? For instance the veracity of Creation ex nihilo is accepted by most evangelical Christians, it's just the how question that gives us problems. It is yet a deep mystery. We receive and accept the orthodoxy of this belief but until recent advances in scientific cosmology, via the "big bang" theory the difficulties of Biblical Creation had little if any extra-biblical support. While that has changed somewhat with modern cosmology there is yet great mystery surrounding the intitial instantiation of everything as most physicists with a modicum of modesty still admit. Whether you are a 6 day literalist or accept  Creation in an instant the knowledge of just how huge the implications of that are mind blowingly staggering. It is deeply mysterious.

But let's think again about the Unitarian god. The idea that God is a unity in every sense appeals to us because it makes a claim to have explained God in a way that relieves us from the effort of having to keep this tension in our minds that God is both three in one sense and one in another sense. It turns out the Unitarian god is too easy. It is just the sort of God the human imagination would prefer. This idea of a modalistic god appeals to human vanity and the understandable human trait of clamouring for simplicity. "Give me simple" is the catchcry. Because it is in fact a claim to have fully explained the inexplicable, it is a domesticated god that has been tamed to fit into finite minds, and fully human parameters. History is littered with the failure of those ideas that had settled for simple. Flat earthers, geo-centrists,  the early Darwinian structrue of the cell, even Newtonian physics- as lofty a subject as that might be to many of us- pales into simplicity when contemplated in terms of quantum physics. It's not that everything is wrong about these former attempts at explaining- but that they were wrong in terms of being accepted as a settled and complete explanation. As Einstein once said:
. ". .new frameworks are like climbing a mountain-- the larger view encompasses, rather than rejects the earlier more restricted view."
Whatever is true of the former view, remains true, but added to that is the greater depth of explanation. "The Lord our God is one", we affirm that along with Judaism and Islam. But we don't leave it there.

The following is by Michael C. Patton:

The Doctrine of the Trinity in a Nutshell

JANUARY 26, 2012

The doctrine of the Trinity is a foundational cardinal truth in Christianity. All three major Christian traditions – Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox – throughout the history of the Church, have been united on this doctrine. A denial of it constitutes a serious departure from the Christian faith and a rejection of the biblical witness to God as he has introduced himself to us. Sadly, many go astray from the faith due to their refusal to accept these truths. It is my purpose to give a brief overview of the doctrine.
Basic Definition: Christians worship one God who eternally exists in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.
Now let’s break each of these down.
One God:
Christians are monotheists. This doesn’t merely mean we worship only one God, but that we believe there exists only one God. This is a basic teaching throughout the Bible (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Isa. 45:5; Mark 12:29; 1Tim. 2:5; 1Cor. 8:4).
While this finds support in the Bible, the very definition of God demands that there only be one. In other words, “God” is not just a being to whom you pray or ascribe great worth and value, but the transcendent creator of all things (Heb. 11:3). Romans 1:18-20 informs us that natural theology and rational thinking necessarily demand there be a singular source for all things. Polytheism (which is the belief in many gods) must redefine the term “god” to mean simply “really powerful beings,” since there cannot be many ultimate creators of all things. There can be only one Uncaused Cause, only one Unmoved Mover, and only one Uncreated Creator. God is the only non-contingent (not dependent) being in the universe. Therefore, his essence is necessarily one.
What Patton is saying in the above paragraph is that monotheism is not only defensible scripturally, but that it is also the only rational course to take in trying to understand God. God by definition is the greatest possible being- so how could there be two or more? Any other god than the greatest possible being must be a subordinate god, and a subordinate god is outside the definition of what God is like, and is therefore not god. This understanding harks back to Anselm's ontological argument for the existence of God from the 11th century. There is therefore both a scriptural and a philosophical defence for monotheism.
Eternally exists as three persons:
 Christians do not believe in contradictions or logical fallacies. Rational thinking and harmony of truth are found in the essence of God’s being; therefore, God cannot exist as a contradiction. Christians do not believe in three Gods for the reasons listed above. However, we do believe Scripture has revealed that God, while one in essence, is three in person. We often talk about this as “one what, three who's.” While this is a great mystery in the Christian faith, there are many mysteries that we are compelled to believe due to necessity and what has been revealed in Scripture. For example, we believe that God created all things out of nothing (Heb. 11:3; doctrine of creation ex nihilo). We believe that God is the sovereign first cause of all things, yet man is morally responsible for his actions. We believe that while Christ was complete in his humanity, he also remained complete in his deity (often called the “hypostatic union”). We believe that the Bible is the product of humans and the product of God. None of these, including the doctrine of the Trinity, are contradictions, but they are great mysteries.
The above is a good point by Patton. While the doctrine of the Trinity is not a logical contradiction, and if it ever proved to be so, would definitely count against its orthodoxy, it is mysterious in the sense its depths cannot be fully plumbed. But then, as he points out, creating everything ex nihilo, out of nothing is also a mystery, there is nothing logically impossible about it, but it is beyond our comprehension. Interestingly some of those who would argue against creation out of nothing as a defeater for theism are now strangely quiet since virtually the whole of the scientific community accept "the big bang" as the legitimate beginning of the material Universe, while at the same time not one of them can explain how it is possible since all the known laws of physics break down at that singularity. So, it too is a great mystery, not impossible logically, yet not fully explicable either.

While the Bible does not use the word “Trinity,” we believe that it is an accurate description of what the Bible teaches concerning God. After all, the Bible does not use the word “Bible,” but we can legitimately use the word to describe a collection of books we believe to be inspired. The Bible does not use the word “aseity,” yet we believe that it accurately represents a Biblical attribute of God. God is “of himself,” in no way dependent upon humans for his livelihood (Ps. 50:7-12).
While there are many passages in the Bible which necessitate a Trinitarian understanding of God, there are a few that stand out more than others:

John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.”

So What If The Trinity Is True or Not? Of What Practical Importance Is It?

As I came home from our last meeting I was asking myself this question. Does it really matter? How can it make a difference in our lives? How does it have any effect on the Christian faith?

“The doctrine of the Trinity is perplexing. Augustine said that anyone who denies the Trinity loses his salvation but that anyone who tries to understand it loses his mind. And he said that he did not use the word “persons” (of the trinitarian three) because he wanted to- but because there is no alternative.”Roger E Olson (Patheos)

Clearly in Augustine's mind, no one in their right mind would have invented the Trinity- but in order to maintain coherence in the Word of God the Arian controversy “forced” (and I use that word guardedly), the Christian community to take stock and formulate the nature of God in such a way that affirmed the multiplicity of clear enunciation's of his nature by the various scriptural human authors. In order to give due honour to the various expressions of each of the individually inspired authors of the various books of scripture, it would appear that only by giving due consideration to all of the available pointers, and in order to offer violence to none- that this formulation of the Trinity was the only viable way to keep every voice from Scripture “happy” to use a crude expression.


While most, if not all who consider themselves Evangelical Christians are only too happy to affirm the doctrine of the Triune God it has been my common (but very limited) experience that most, when called upon to give their own expression to the doctrine, describe it in classic modalistic terms, and this was most recently confirmed to me by someone with experience of a far far greater depth than I might ever hope to achieve:

Dr. James White in his book, The Forgotten Trinity, laments that the majority of Christian congregations are in actuality Modalist in theology and only retain the name "Trinitarian." Wikipedia

Modalism has been rejected as an expression of God’s nature because it reduces the Godhead to differences of function, or modes of manifestation. God is not sometimes manifested as Jesus, and another time or place as the Father, and yet another as the Holy Spirit. Such analogies as God being like one essential entity like water, which can be found in three different states, steam, (gas), water (liquid), and ice (solid) are classic modalist expressions. This expresses well enough how something can be one thing in one sense, Ie. it’s all water or H2O, but can yet be in three distinctive modes- in another sense. It therefore neatly solves the apparent dilemma of a logical contradiction, but it fails in that essentially it is all one person “God” who simply appears in various roles, functions, modes or manifestations. It does not give due consideration to the plain sense of scripture that the Father and Son have a distinct relationship and dialogue as two persons. If fails to distinguish between the persons. It runs into serious difficulties some of which can be seen from this extract:

The idea of modalism is simple enough - God has different "modes" of being, kind of like an actor who simply appears with different masks in different situations [1]. If the same person is merely appearing in multiple forms simultaneously, there are some weird situations in Scripture that result, and have implications that are dicey.

When Jesus is Baptised, a voice from heaven declares, "This is my son, with whom I am well pleased". If Jesus is just a different view of the same God, why would he say something like this, to himself? It makes God seem a bit arrogant, frankly.

When Jesus is on the cross, he cries out "Father, Why have you forsaken me?" How could he forsake himself if he is the same person forsaking and forsaken. Note - specifically in relation to the cross, the view that the Father was on the cross is a heresy known as Patripassianism - from "the Father suffering"

In Hebrews 9:14, "the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offer[s] himself unblemished to God". How can Christ offer his own blood to himself if he is the same person? Unless that were somehow possible, Substitutionary Atonement is also invalid.

Modalists note that the only number ascribed to God in the Holy Bible is One and that there is no inherent throne's ascribed to God explicitly in scripture. The number three is never mentioned in relation to God in scripture, which of course is the number that is central to the word "Trinity". The only possible exceptions to this are the Great Commission Matthew 28:16-20, 2 Corinthians 13:14, and the Comma Johanneum, which many regard as a spurious text passage in First John (1 John 5:7) known primarily from the King James Version and some versions of the Textus Receptus but not included in modern critical texts.
In the end modalism expresses the same kind of God as understood by Judaism and Islam. God is reduced to being a monad:

The first type of monotheism is that of a monad monotheism. This understanding views God as a singular, unitary monad, i.e. as a single, unextended unit of one. The Judaic understanding of Jehovah is that of an unextended monad. The central creed of Judaism is the Shema statement of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord.” Other statements abound in the Jewish Scriptures indicating that Jehovah alone is God, and that there is no other God other than Jehovah (cf. Deut. 4:35; I Kings 8:60; I Sam 2:2; Ps. 86:10; Isa. 44:6; 45:5,6,21). The Islamic understanding of Allah is also that of a single monad deity. The central statement of Islam is “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet.” [the Shahada] Muslims repudiate all forms of polytheism and any extension of God such as that expressed in Christian Trinitarianism. In the early church there were some (ex. Arius) who sought to retain the Jewish concept of monad monotheism rather than accepting Trinitarian monotheism, and there are still some contemporary groups (ex. Jehovah Witnesses) who promote monad monotheism.
The third form of monotheism is Trinitarian monotheism, which has been the historic Christian understanding of the oneness of God. The oneness of God is not conceived of merely as a singular, mathematical oneness, i.e. an unextended numerical integer of one, but as a relational oneness of divine being in the Triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Such an understanding of Trinitarian relational oneness can still accept the Old Testament statements of God’s oneness, interpreting them in the inclusive understanding of Trinitarian monotheism. Christians also often see intimations of relational Trinitarianism in the plural pronouns that refer to God (cf. Gen. 1:26,27), as well as in the Hebrew plural noun, Elohim, employed as God’s name throughout the Old Testament.

Trinitarian monotheism is unique to the Christian understanding of God. This is not an idea that Christians concocted to complicate the understanding of God. This concept of God’s relational oneness was forced upon Christian understanding by God’s own Self-revelation. Jesus, the Son of God, came as Messiah, and declared, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Such a statement either had to be repudiated as a blasphemous declaration impinging upon the monadic understanding of God (which the Jewish leaders did, saying, “You being a man, make Yourself out to be God,” and sought to stone Jesus); or there had to be a rethinking of what divine Oneness entailed. Jesus’ statement indicates a plurality and a relationality in the Oneness of God. Some (usually those with a monadic concept of God’s oneness) attempt to avoid the problem of Jesus’ statement by claiming that He meant, “I and the Father have a single purpose or objective.” But, Jesus was not speaking of something that He and the Father had, but He said, “I and the Father are one.”

Later Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples (and for all Christians), praying, “that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22). Jesus was not praying that Christians would have a common monistic essentiality with God, in which case they would be God, in violation of the premise that “what God is, only God is.” On the contrary, Jesus was obviously referring to a relational oneness. Jesus was praying that His followers, all Christians, would function in a relational oneness in the one Body of Christ, in like manner as He and the Father functioned in relational oneness in the Oneness of the Trinitarian Godhead. Christians have the privilege of participating in the inter-relational oneness of the Triune God, and expressing the interpersonal relationality of God’s Oneness.

What we are emphasizing here is that the oneness of God must not be viewed as merely a mathematical oneness, a static numerical integer, for this creates (at best) a monadic concept of God as an isolated individual deity. That “God is One” must refer to a relational oneness.

To illustrate this relational oneness, I will employ an admittedly inadequate analogy. My wife and I are married. The Biblical statement for marital union is that “the two shall become one” (cf. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19: 5; I Cor. 6:16). Now, obviously, this is not a mathematical oneness. To express this colloquially, “she is she, and me is me,” but when “we are we,” we are one in the relational oneness of marriage.

Dr. Walter Martin is the author of “The Kingdom of the Cults” a book that has been a classic resource for helping distinguish between orthodox Christian doctrine and the beliefs of sects or cults and endorsed in its latest edition by people such as Ravi Zacharias.

The late Dr. Walter Martin points out:
No man can fully explain the Trinity, though in every age scholars have propounded theories and advanced hypotheses to explore this mysterious Biblical teaching. But despite the worthy efforts of these scholars, the Trinity is still largely incomprehensible to the mind of man.

Perhaps the chief reason for this is that the Trinity is a-logical, or beyond logic. It, therefore, cannot be made subject to human reason or logic. Because of this, opponents of the doctrine argue that the idea of the Trinity must be rejected as untenable. Such thinking, however, makes man’s corrupted human reason the sole criterion for determining the truth of divine revelation.

I think it important to note that the author does not say we shouldn’t use logic or reason to determine the truth of divine revelation, because without it we couldn’t make sense of anything, but that we shouldn’t set our “corrupted reason” as the standard to which the revelation must meet. To use a crude analogy, we only have a yardstick (human reason) that has been munted by a steamroller (human depravity) by which we are trying to gauge whether the yardstick of Gods Word is true. If we can’t get it exactly- is it the fault of our yardstick or God’s?

God Inscrutable- The necessity of Analogy

As with any analogy, it is going to be imperfect. In fact that requirement is intrinsic to the nature of an analogy. If an analogy identified absolutely perfectly with that which it was attempting to be analogous to, it would be that entity! It would be identical. But the scriptures declare that “God” is one of a kind, unique, to whom shall we compare? So every analogy about anything is going to break down somewhere, and especially with regard to God. If you are going to compare God to something, whatever you choose is going to fall woefully short. I hasten to add that in Abbey and Brittany’s case this is no reflection on them but rather on Him who we are trying to understand. So there is this cringe factor with regard to however we choose to compare God it will in the end be inadequate. Nonetheless we have every justification for using analogies, similies and metaphors for trying to understand that which is ineffable, and inscrutable. The Bible is full of them.

The Trinity is not a logical contradiction. A logical contradiction is an expression relating to something that cannot be true or real. Like a square circle, a four sided triangle. God is one being in one sense, but three persons in another sense. It is an understandable frailty of the human condition to equate “one being” with the idea of “one person” but these ideas are not mutually exclusive as the analogy with the conjoined twins exposes. When you hear Abbey and Brittany speak, as one starts the sentence, then stops, and the other takes up the thread in perfect timing, then stops, and instantly the other continues- there is such a perfect fluency and continuity that to close one's eyes, one would only hear one person speaking. It would appear that they not only share the one body but also the one mind, which they do not. And yet at other times they are such distinct persons in their own right that one wonders how they manage to share the one body at all! They are essentially one being in a physical sense, one entity, one essential nature, but definitely two persons, two centres of consciousness. Further- their unity of nature is so deep that for the conjoined twins the life and nature they share is so unified as to be impossible to be separated. To separate these twins (Brittany and Abbey) would mean (for them) non existence, (in a physical sense) and in this we see the analogous relation to the Unity within the Godhead which is so strong as to render it perfectly fitting to speak of God as “one”, yet impossible to speak of as One in every sense, since the scriptures give every indication of confirming plurality with regard to persons. Yet equally impossible to accept Tritheism (three gods) with regard to those verses which affirm the Unity of God, (not to mention the philosophical difficulties of more than one God).

Abbey and Brittany's amazing relationship raises some interesting questions. Did they have to sit their driving licence twice? Do they have just one licence for both persons? Is there but one name on one licence or two? Were they each asked in turn the pertinent questions? What if they disagreed in terms of where they wanted to go?

The above analogy came about with my own personal struggle to understand. Recently I felt somewhat justified in my unusual use of the conjoined twins as a picture of unity and diversity such as is envisioned in the Holy Trinity. This came about quite by accident as I searched the internet for useful illustrations. At the time I thought who better to ask than one who has debated the veracity of the Gospel with people of various schools of thought for many years and in many places throughout the world and at venues that were influential in academia. I did a search on William Lane Craig and incorporated the words analogy of the Trinity in the search. Immediately this is one of the resuslts that came up:

There is also another useful analogy, that C.S. Lewis wrote of and it's that of a being who is in some respects like us and yet in other respects quite unlike us, and he used the idea of a multidimensional being. The following youtube video clip produced by Inspiring Philosophy builds on this idea and I found it useful and compelling as it ties in with other attributes of God:

I asked myself the question why is the Trinity important?

Someone trained or even mildly interested in philosophy, whether or not they leaned towards any other religion or philosophical expression such as existentialism, ought at least to have picked up a rudimentary understanding of logic. Therefore if any system of thought failed to meet the basic demands of logic or the rules of right thinking- the work of discrediting that system would be relatively easy. And so the formulation of doctrines like the Trinity were caught between a rock and a hard place, having (quite rightly) to answer both the strictures of ordered thinking and the scriptures as they were variously set forth by the different inspired authors. The scriptures could hardly be set forth as the Divinely inspired oracles of God if they could easily be proven to be contradictory in themselves. And the scriptures themselves affirm this. “A house divided against itself cannot stand” On the other hand the equal danger of putting God’s word to the indignity of having to meet the bar of human reason and understanding needed to be guarded against. We have no right to put God in the Dock as C.S. Lewis would say, neither should we treat his Word as something that needed to meet human expectations. Needless to say that does not open the door to say that God speaks nonsense that we “must believe”. The reality is that his ways are higher than ours, such that we can see the reality- though never in ultimate or perfect comprehension. Gods Word, the Divine Logos (the source of all reason) does not contravene logic, but goes beyond our present, finite comprehension of it.

It was through the intense discussions of Councils such as that convened in Nicea in 325 AD that these things were brought- perhaps for the first time- under such scrutiny. The outcome of these councils might be seen as a distillation of the scriptures, and thus the Nicene Creed. It was not an invention of the Council of Nicea but it was a distillation or development of a more precise understanding of the Godhead necessitated by the Arian controversy in which Arius claimed that Jesus Christ was the first in Creation and therefore preeminent, and yet still a created being. Not eternally preexisting, and therefore not divine by nature.

Some have attempted to interpret the history of this convening council of church officials as having been a whole show orchestrated by Constantine the first Roman Emperor who claimed to be Christian but was rather using Christianity as a political means of spreading his power base and politically unifying the Empire. There seems to be no basis for this by reputable historians. Whether or not there is any truth to these claims, the fact remains: is the Trinity orthodox doctrine? Ultimately it matters not who said what, or what power promulgated the teaching, in the end we in this era and each succeeding generation, must each revisit and decide on the basis of scripture and according to reason, is it true?

The Trinity Defended both Scripturally and Philosophically

There are good philosophical reasons for believing in the Trinity even while we don’t express great confidence in fully understanding it. This means that the Trinity not only makes the best sense of the authoritative scriptures that led to this understanding, and therefore can be defended biblically, but it can also be defended by plain reasoning. So there are therefore two fertile fields from which to harvest a defence, the biblical and the rational. This I have gone over before:

That God is Eternal. That God is Immutable, he doesn’t change. That God is self existent, speaks of his Aseity, that is that He is absolutely self-sufficient, independent, and autonomous.That God is Love. This is not merely a choice that God makes. Ie he wakes up one morning and decides to love his creation. God is love in the sense it is an expression of who he is. He is Love by nature. He cannot not love. Everything he does is in some way an expression of who he is in himself. Everything he does is an expression of love in some sense. Therefore if he is immutable, then he loves immutably. If he is Eternal then He loved from all eternity. And if it is in the nature of love that love is relational, that means love cannot be spoken of in terms which exclude a relationship- we begin then to see a philosophical necessity for a Triune God. When I speak of the nature of love, I mean when you define what love is, you will always speak of love in terms of a relationship of some sort. Relationship is a necessary corollary of love, just as light is a necessary corollary of colour.

Whom Did God Love Before Creation?

Now when you put all that together and ask the question: Before the Creation of everything, whom did God love?

God must Love because it is intrinsic to Him.

God must have loved eternally and immutably.

Being Eternal and Self Sufficient this Love relationship must be between the persons of the Godhead. Therefore the Trinity meets all of the “requirements” of his own nature. As one author put it: There is Unity and Diversity within the Community of the Trinity.

Recently a member of a "oneness" pentecostal church specifically spoke of God “needing” to create humanity as an object for his love. But this denies the self sufficiency of God. Creation is an act of Grace not compulsion. The “Oneness Pentecostal” movement appears to make a nonsense out of Jesus words from John 8:29
“And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him”.
If Jesus fully exhausts the reality which is God, then why not simply say: I went where I pleased, I’m always with me, I haven’t left myself alone, for I do always those things that please myself.(?)

There is no other way of expressing the nature of God that does not in some way, or at some point contravene all those other doctrines- it seems only in the formulation of the Triune God can the requirements be met that accord all other doctrines their rightful place and still make sense. Rather than being a place of contention and a point of weakness for the Christian faith, which many have fondly imagined it might be brought to ruin by, the Trinity - by virtue of it’s maintaining all of the other truths in tension- each in its proper place, it becomes the focal point from which all these other truths gravitate.

"While it is true that no passage of Scripture spells out the doctrine of the Trinity, it is also true that the whole of Scripture's witness to who God is and who Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are makes no sense at all without the model of the Trinity and that all alternative concepts end up doing violence to some essential aspect of revelation, Christian experience and possibly even reason itself," ( The Mosaic of Christian Belief, p. 139).

In his book "Genesis in Space and Time" the late Francis Schaeffer also aludes to this question of "love" in relation to the Eternal God. The word "Genesis" means "beginning" and thus the first book of the Bible refers to the beginning of everything.  But it must be remembered it is not an absolute beginning. "In the beginning God..." the first verse opens. So it does not include God. God is eternal therefore he transcends time and space. "In the beginning God" (who was and is and ever will be) "created the heavens and the earth" (everything that had a beginning).

Schaeffer: "Thus the opening sentence  of Genesis and the structure of what follows emphasize that we are dealing here with history just as much as if we talked about ourselves at this moment at a particular point of time in a particlular geographic place." Here Schaeffer alludes to the reality that Judaism and Christianity are deeply rooted in history. They are historical religions. The truth or otherwise of these belief systems can therefore be corroborated to the same extent that history can be known. If Christianity gains a reputation for being true on the basis of accurately recording historical facts, then its reputation is reliably trusted in for truths that are implied based on that history.

Before the Beginning

Although Genesis begins, "In the beginning," that does not mean that there was not anything before that. In John 17:24, Jesus prays to God the Father, saying, "Thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." Jesus says that God the Father loved him prior to the creation of all else. And in John 17:5 Jesus asks the Father to glorify him, Jesus himself, "with the glory which I had with thee before the world was."

There is, therefore, something that reaches back into eternity- back before the phrase "in the beginning." Christ existed, and he had glory with the Father, and he was loved by the Father before "in the beginning." In Ephesians 1:4 we read, "...he [God] hath chosen us in him  [Christ] before the foundation of the world..." Thus, before "in the beginning" something other than a static situation existed.

Here Schaeffer is speaking against the assumption that before the beginning (of time/space) that whatever existed outside of that necessarily existed in a static state. Being creatures whose environment is of necessity, space/time we find difficulty in understanding what changes are possible without space or time. If (for a bland example) we shift our position from that of sitting to standing, we need both the environment of space and time in which to do so. Without that we could not move or change. But this reality is not an impediment to that which is not bound by space/time and existed before space and time- as we shall see.

Schaeffer:"A choice was made and that choice shows forth thought and will. We were chosen n him before the creation of the world. The same thing is emphasized in 1 Peter1:20, where the sacrificial death of Jesus is said to have been "foreordained before the foundation of the world." Likewise Titus 1:2 says that God promised eternal life "before the world began."

This is very striking. How can a promise be made before the world began? To whom could it be made? The scripture speaks of a promise made by the Father to the Son or to the Holy Spirit because, after all, at this particular point of sequence there was no one else to make the promise to.

Schaeffer then asks the very interesting question: When did history begin?

In one sense history could not begin until creation began, but in an absolute sense, in relation to God, there is a sense in which decisions and changes happened before the beginning. Schaeffer again:

"Consequently, when we read, "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," we are not left with something hung in a vacuum: Something was personal and not static; the Father loved the Son; there was a plan; there was communication; and promises were made prior to the creation of the heavens and the earth."

This whole conception is rooted in the reality of the Trinity. Without the Trinity, Christianity would not have the answers that modern man needs.

I do not have space here to go into the detail but Schaeffer continues with the reality that only Christianity adequately answers the deepest philosophical questions that have plagued thinkers universally.

Navigating by Heavenly Realities

One way of expressing how the church fathers arrived at the Doctrine of the Trinity is by thinking of those number puzzles that we probably have all come across. You are told to think of a number, add 4, multiply by 2,subtract 6, divide by 2 and then subtract the number you started with. And the answer will always be 1, no matter what number you started with. So long as you stick to the defining parameters the answer will always come out to the same number. These fathers examined the evidence from every conceivable and possible angle that they could legitimately consider with due regard to all the possibilities and constraints that were scripturally evident and they came up with the same answer. Until one closely examines how this works, and it does indeed work it seems to be an impenetrable mystery- yet the answer is constant. With the help of a little knowledge of algebra it is soon demonstrated how it is so, At first the doctrine of the Trinity seems to be counter intuitive and yet under closer examination, taking all things into consideration it makes the best sense of the varioius inputs.

If I may use an analogy from Celestial navigation.: Before the days of GPS and Satellites, accurate navigation was achieved by referencing oneself on the high seas in relation to the heavenly bodies whose paths through the skies could be predicted as to any given time from any place in the world if a rough position was known. The master mariner used a sextant and an accurate chronometer to achieve this, and tables which predicted the positions of the stars and planets for navigation. The chief problem to overcome was that a “fix” by sextant from just one heavenly body gave you not an exact reference point on earth but an approximation in the form of a circle. This method gave a circle on the earth from any point of which would be the exact distance to the heavenly body that the use of sextant and calculations demonstrated. Therefore three fixes were necessary from three separate bodies to give an accurate cross referenced position. The reason for it is this: The time/distance/angle calculation from say one planet gives a giant circle on the earth. Without further referencing your position could be anywhere on that circle because at any point on that circle your distance was the same to the planet or star. The Trinity after a great deal of deliberation and disputation was arrived at as the best expression of a focal point from a variety of different positions. The evidence for the Unity of God was ably demonstrated from multiple points within both the Old and New Testaments. But so too were those scriptures that made obvious distinctions between the three persons, but yet were bound to accord them all the nature of divinity from the plain testimony of scripture. And so that everything had to fit together without violating anything. The trinity expressed the focal point from the variety of possible positions without assuming too much or not enough, it is the point at which all these realities intersect.

The very language Jesus uses in relation to the Father imply and necessitate an “I” “you” relationship that show distinction. But when you look at the nature of Jesus in relation to the nature of the Father there is a unity.

I forget where I found the following extract but it was helpful to me in understanding:

How can god be three AND one?

An anonymous Unitarian1 tract from 1687 asserted that the doctrine of the Trinity was absurd and illogical:

You add yet more absurdly, that there are three persons who are severally and each of them true God, and yet there is but one God: this is an Error in counting or numbring [sic]; which, when stood in, is of all others the most brutal and inexcusable; and not to discern it is not to be a man.2

Three hundred years later, a poorly researched pamphlet was published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (of the Jehovah's Witnesses) entitled Should You Believe in the Trinity? The publication declares,

"To worship God on his terms means to reject the Trinity doctrine."3

When asked to explain the doctrine of the Trinity, some Christians throw up their hands and exclaim, "It's a mystery," without ever attempting to understand this critical and glorious doctrine. I have heard Christians blur the distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some say in their prayers, "Father, thank you for dying on the cross." (The Father did not die on the cross; the Son, Jesus Christ, did.) Some Christians regard the Holy Spirit as an "It," a powerful force from God, rather than as a person who has the very nature of God.

Our worship of God is short-circuited if our understanding of God is deeply flawed. In John 4:23, Jesus said that we must worship God "in spirit" and "in truth." Remaining in fundamental error regarding one of the chief distinctives of the Christian faith is to dishonor God. (On the other hand, purely intellectualizing our faith is no virtue either.)

How can we understand the basic idea of the Trinity without falling prey to error and contradiction? How should the Christian respond to the Unitarian who charges her with believing incoherent nonsense? Let me set forth some important concepts to help clear up points that are often confused and misunderstood.

First, the Bible maintains that there is a threeness to God as well as a oneness.4 The threeness of God is seen in texts such as Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commands his followers to go and make disciples of the nations, "baptizing them in the name [not names] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." At Jesus' baptism, the Father and Spirit are also present (Matt. 3:16-17), Paul's benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 reveals a threeness about God: "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."5 There are three self-distinctions within the Godhead.

Necessary but not Sufficient

The reality that God is one being is a necessary conclusion both from the testimony of scripture and through logic (according to the Ontological argument for the existence of God). However while necessary it does not fully explain further testimony of scripture especially in regard to the nature of Jesus the son of God and the Holy Spirit. So while a necessary understanding it is not sufficient to explain all who God is, only the Trinity does this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Must We Meet Any Conditions For God to Love Us?

I came across this piece by John Hendryx at Monergism Books and instantly decided to copy it here and add some comments.

"The Bible teaches that God's love is unconditional for his children. In the view of some God will only love someone if they first do something for him - meet a condition. But the love of God in the Bible is that he first loved us, in spite of our disobedience. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. While we were dead in sin, Christ made us alive (Eph 2:5)

As an everyday example,some think the kind of love God has is like a parent whose toddler runs into the street. The parent stands at the curbside waiting and calling to the toddler to get out of the way of oncoming traffic but will do nothing more for the child if he does not first use his free will to obey the parent. What kind of love is that? Love is when a parent sees his child in trouble, and yes he calls out, but he also drops everything, runs out in the street at the risk of his/her life, scoops up the child and makes certain he is safe. That kind of love gets the job done. The child was disobedient but the parent did not care what the will of the child was at the time. He loved him too much to leave him to himself and the parent knows better then the child what is good for him. He "violated" the childs will BECAUSE he loved him. He would be dead otherwise.

Jesus taught that some don't believe because they are not his sheep, children of the devil. (John 8 & 10) But to those Christ came to save, he does not merely leave them to their own devices. He does not "help those who help themselves." No, he helps those who are unable to help themselves. God has conditions yes, but Christ meets the conditions for us. We love God because He first loved us. That is love.."

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 09:53 -- john_hendryx

Now some may have no problem with these thoughts as they stand, but if we were to apply this reality more specifically or overtly to salvation there will be objections. 

What would the nature of these objections look like? Probably the most obvious would be: If God loves us absolutely independently of our choices, and even despite our bad ones, then what need have we to choose Christ? If God loves us unconditionally then what necessity is there for faith? If God loves us even as evil beings why should we be required to do good? 

Indeed these objections have already been anticipated by St. Paul. Why else would he have written:

"And some people even slander us by claiming that we say, "The more we sin, the better it is!" Those who say such things deserve to be condemned." Romans 3:8
 If God's unmerited grace is more manifested by sinners that are saved even while they yet remain in their sins and even so- still remain in God's love- then the more we sin- the more we manifest God's goodness according to this way of thinking.  Clearly that cannot be says Paul, it is slanderous to conclude that we have ever taught this he says.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Nabeel Qureshi- God and Medicine, Ebola and Islam.

In this presentation Nabeel Qureshi  speaks on the common misconception that God and Science, (and by implication- medicine) are diametrically opposed. However in his presentation he introduces some broader issues that shows just how important and essential this discussion is.

He takes very topical issues, the advance of extremist Islamic movements, as well as the recent outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa as examples of why the question of God's existence has far reaching implications. He also looks at the idea of how the so called antithesis between faith and religion, and evidence and science is often overstated and misconstrued. That science is very much concerned with evidence is well understood by the general public, what is not so commonly appreciated is that what undergirds much of science is not so much "proof" in the strictly deductive sense- but more so a web of evidence built upon inferences to the best explanation. By highlighting the inductive basis for much of science and at the same time offering evidential explanations for the existence of God in general, and the preponderance of good reason for faith in Christianity in particular, Nabeel drastically closes not only the perceived credibility gap between science and faith, but also much of the imagined antagonism.