Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
—Matthew 28:18-20, NIV
I have come to believe that, for Christian leaders, the doctrine of the Trinity is the keystone of Christian faith, the guardian of orthodoxy in the Church, the essence of effective preaching, and the guarantor of proper evangelism. The ancient Church accorded so much importance to the proper understanding of the Trinity, that they dealt with the Trinity before they addressed the canon of the New Testament.
All errors come from the neglect or misunderstanding of this doctrine.
The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that God is transcendent over the universe. It teaches panentheism (God is in all things) not pantheism (all things are God). It teaches that although God is accessible to all, He is above all and beyond all. He is not a higher self or a deeper consciousness, He is not a pocket genie who performs tricks for the theologically clever, He is not an oracle or a familiar spirit. He stands above the universe, even as He pervades it, He exercises His own judgment. He has the prerogative to do as He pleases.
The doctrine of the Trinity reveals how God could possibly create the universe and be provident within it. It is obvious that for God to create the universe, He must be conscious. Certainly an unconscious god cannot undertake any deliberate act! But consciousness requires a contrast between
not me. Before the creation of the universe, there was nothing that was not God, therefore a god who is one Person can never achieve consciousness, cannot create the universe, and cannot be provident within it. But the Trinity reveals that within the Godhead there are three Persons—three consciousnesses if you will. The Persons of the Trinity are one in substance, essence, and will, but each person in the Trinity perceives the others as both
not me. Thus God is eternally self-conscious and thus is capable of deliberate acts.
The doctrine of the Trinity reveals the divine economy, for Jesus, one Person of the Trinity, called Himself the Son of another Person of the Trinity, whom He termed His Father, and the third Person He called the Holy Spirit. He thus revealed that the relationship among the Persons is perfect love, mutual submission, and unity of will. We understand why Jesus uses the words He did: God is His Father, because the role of mother goes to Mary. Jesus reveals that God is His Father in a unique way that we do not share. If God were our natural Father or Mother, we would be of the same substance and essence as God, we would need no redemption, we would need no salvation, we would need no elevation, just a reminder of our true natures—but the reminder would not elevate us. There would be no need for a sacrificial death upon the cross, just a weekend seminar.
The doctrine of the Trinity reveals the dignity of male and female and the humility and love of God; for while God condescended to become a man, it took a woman to potty-train God.
The doctrine of the Trinity reveals God’s motivation to save us and sustain us and to bring us into His glory. Jesus reveals that even though we are His artifacts, He has more interest in us than a potter has in his pots. God is not satisfied with displaying the good pots and discarding the defective ones; He has a paternal interest that goes beyond making us of clay; He seeks to save us from the fate of mere crockery, he seeks to perfect us, so that we may live with Him in His glory. Our destiny is not to sit on some dusty shelf as a trophy, but to live in eternal fellowship with God, sharing in the divine economy of love.
The doctrine of the Trinity reveals how God can be transcendent and eternal, yet invade time and space in the Person of Jesus Christ. It explains how God can relate to us on our own terms, without abdicating the operation of the universe.
The doctrine of the Trinity explains how God can be transcendent and eternal, yet indwell us and empower us. It explains how God can be in all things, but not of any one thing; it explains why we find God within, when He is above and beyond us as well. It explains how the church can be a human institution with a divine charter, how it can carry out God’s will even as it exemplifies our imperfection.
The doctrine of the Trinity explains how a preacher can preach the Word of the Lord without having personal authority and in spite of personal shortcomings. It preserves the preacher from fatal pride and self-importance, for the God who wells up from within also stands over and watches.
The Trinity is imperfectly expressed in human terms. For example, the formula
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, does not describe the essence of the Trinity as revealed from the lips of Jesus, the incarnate God. It does not identity the Persons, the essence, the substance, the nature, or the motivation of God.
Who is the Creator? The Father who spoke the eternal Word, the Word through whom all things were made, or the Spirit who moved upon the waters? The answer is all three.
Who is the Redeemer? The Father who sent the Son, the Son who died and rose again, or the Spirit who gives us faith and repentance? The answer is all three.
Who is the Sustainer? The Father who supplies our needs, the Son who advocates our cause, or the Spirit who dwells within us? The answer is all three.
Why should the Creator take an interest in His creation? Why does the Redeemer save us? Why should the Sustainer sustain us beyond bare subsistence? This human formula reveals some divine functions, but no divine nature, no divine motivation, no eternal plan. It does not reveal God’s love, nor does it explain whether or why God transforms us into glory. It is this-worldly, and it has no inherent hope for beyond. For where is God’s grace? Where is God’s love? Where is our eternal future in this scheme?
Thus it is necessary, for all good purposes, to proclaim that God is the Father of Mary’s baby, that God is the Son of Mary, that God is the Spirit who led her into that truth; for in that we find that God is love, that He transforms us, who are the work of His hands, into His substance; He loves us, He adopts us, He makes us His agents in this world and His sons in the next, where we live with Him in glory forever.