Why study the Trinity?

This is the first in a series of columns on the Trinity.

Would it surprise you to know that six out of 10 U.S. adults say the Holy Spirit is a force, not a personal being? Or, more shocking, that 78 percent of Americans with “evangelical beliefs” agree with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father?

These views, part of Ligonier Ministries’ 2018 State of Theology survey of 3,000 Americans, expose the soft underbelly of evangelical Christianity in our country.

If Jesus is God’s first and greatest created being, then Arius, the fourth-century heretic, was right after all. On the other hand, if Jesus is the uncreated, eternal Son of God, then the church has made little headway in promoting sound doctrine since the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople pushed back against Arianism.

A mysterious doctrine

There’s little doubt the doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious. Some would say it’s mind-boggling, or that it violates logic. After all, it claims that God is three and yet one. How is this possible?

Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), rejected the Trinity as unreasonable. Joseph Smith, who established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism), redefined the Godhead and urged his followers to pursue their own destinies as gods. Other counterfeit forms of Christianity, as well as some Christian sects, use the term Trinity but fail to define it biblically.

So, it’s important for followers of Jesus to understand, as best we can, the triune God who created us, loves us, and redeemed us. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, from a historical perspective, the Trinity was the first doctrine that the church felt it necessary to explain in a definitive way at the councils of Nicaea (AD 325) and Chalcedon (AD 381). This set orthodox Christianity apart from heretical movements like Docetism, which challenged the church as early as the first century.

Next, the doctrine of the Trinity distinguishes orthodox Christianity from other monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam. It also separates Christianity from polytheistic and pantheistic religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.

Third, a proper understanding of the triune God builds a solid foundation for other Christian doctrines, such as creation and redemption. How is it that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit all are depicted as actively involved in the creation of everything, both visible and invisible – and yet, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1)?

Further, how can it be that the second person of the Godhead took on human form, without abandoning His deity, in order to bear our sins on the cross – an offering the Father accepted for our justification and the Spirit applied in bringing new life to believing sinners? Our view of the Trinity affects many other doctrines of Scripture as well.

Rather than view the doctrine of the Trinity as a stumbling block to belief, we should explore the triune God and enjoy the majesty and the mystery of this one divine being who has eternally existed as three co-equal, loving, selfless persons in whose image we are created.

For these reasons, we are devoting significant attention in 2020 columns to a study of the Trinity. The columns are excerpts from the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) resource, What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity: How the Bible Reveals One God in Three Persons.

This 250-page book is available in print and Kindle versions from Amazon, and at discounted rates through the MBC. Please email Christie Dowell at cdowell@mobaptist.org for more information about discounts and bulk orders.

Next: Defining the Trinity