Challenge: Explaining the Doctrine of the Trinity


(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #1

Hello friends. Imagine a scenario where you were asked by a non-Christian friend in a casual conversation about the doctrine of the Trinity.

“It seems to me that Christianity is not coherent, you see, it talks about having one God, then the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are Gods. So there are in fact more than one God?”

How would you answer that friend in your own words?

Do Christians worship three Gods?
(SeanO) #2

I think I would start by asking them, “What does it mean for God to be one?”

If they give the blunt answer, “It means there is only one God” I would ask them to define God.

I would push them to recognize that, if God exists, He is in fact beyond their capacity to define.

Then I would try to enter into a discussion about how if God exists outside of three dimensional space and time - if He in fact created space and time - why could He not be One and Three - One in essence and Three in personhood.

God is not an idol made in the image of man who is limited in the same way we are limited and He does not have our nature. I think I would push them to recognize that if God is real - His essence is far beyond our capacity to evaluate with human reason.

(Robert Fields) #3

Nabeel Qureshi (spl?) has a video on this topic that is done very well.

He describes the Trinity as One What and Three Who’s. As I look into the OT and NT the Triune God brings more coherency to it all as apposed to a monadic God. Too many things just would not make sense otherwise. When Paul says in Romans 1 that the nature of God is made known by what He has created, he sees how God uses His creation to give some insight into who and what He is. It’s not exhaustive by any means but it is sufficient to provide a good grasp.

In the OT, God (Jehovah) is the One who set up the Sabbath. In the NT, Jesus calls Himself the “Lord of the Sabbath.” In the OT, God alone could legitimately receive worship. In the NT, Jesus receives worship by the man whose blind eyes He had healed. In the OT, only God could forgive sins. In the NT, Jesus first forgives the sins of the paralytic before healing him. In the OT and NT the Spirit of the Lord has remained the same and is also a person distinct from the Father and the Son.

Just some things to consider. I hope that helps a little.

God Bless!

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #4

This is a good and simple explanation @rob1770. This shows a person that there is a difference with what you mean by one and three, and both are not stated in the same sense. This shows that the concept does not violate the law of non-contradiction.

@SeanO I like this approach too. God is unlike anything in the creative order. Just because something is not understood clearly is not a good reason to abandon something, since sometimes something that is not understood clearly has the best explanatory power. This reminds me of John Lennox’s illustration about consciousness and energy, which cannot be explained properly by people, but they believe it anyway.

(Helen Tan) #5

Hi @omnarchy, here are 2 short videos of Ravi’s answer to help us frame our response to the question:

Introduction: Linda Giesebrecht
(Helen Tan) #6

Here’s a great article I found on the Trinity from the RZIM website:

Here are just some highlights:

  1. Explaining God’s goodness: God is good and His goodness exists without reference to evil. How does one sustain this position philosophically and existentially? How does one explain His holiness without reference to sin? The answer lies in the Trinitarian being of God. Love is the highest expression of holiness. God is complete in His love relationship within the Trinity without reference to His creation. Good exists outside of evil.

  2. Application in apologetics: God is the basis of all reality. What He is like in His being and His activity should provide an adequate explanation for all that we see. In terms of axiology, the holiness of the Trinity is the foundation for ethics and aesthetics. In terms of aesthetics, the study of beauty involves unity in diversity, the significance of which is provided only because in God, diversity (the Persons) and unity (the Oneness) are meaningful and significant.

  3. Our reflection on the enthralling being of the Triune God should result in true worship. The Psalmist says to worship God in the beauty of His holiness.

  4. Being mindful of the Trinity helps in our relationships: The lack of Trinitarian thinking and preaching has exacerbated the prevailing individualism of our culture - if we do not think of God as a relational being in Himself, it is difficult for us to appreciate that we are made to reflect His image in our relationships with one another. Holiness, in the final analysis, is relational and otherward, and thus unselfconscious.

I look forward to more thoughts on this.

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #7

@Helen_Tan Thank you so much! I appreciate the videos and the link. :slight_smile:

(Jennifer Judson) #8

Thanks for the links, Helen. Watched and took copious notes!

(Carson Weitnauer) #9

Hi Jennifer, can you share those notes with us? :slight_smile:

(Jennifer Judson) #10

I’m afraid they’re handwritten in a journal. If I get a chance today I will type them out.

Jennifer Judson

(Tim Ramey) #11

I just got done reading Nabeel’s book “No God but One: Allah or Jesus?” As you said, I liked his definition of the Trinity. Because of you, I looked up his 15 minute talk on YouTube about the Trinity and though it is a little repetitive with his book, I think that he does a brilliant job of explaining how 3 can be 1. Thanks for mentioning it Robert, as I got to hear from my old friend that I never met!

(Jennifer Judson) #12

I’ve typed out my notes on the two video links added by Helen. I’m a visual person, so my notes tend to be scribbles and arrows, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of getting the jist of the two videos in writing. The content of the two videos is similar but not exactly the same. The notes are a compilation of both.

Attached a PDF and a Word docx.
Ravi_The Trinity.pdf (31.1 KB)
Ravi_The Trinity.docx (119.9 KB)

(Carson Weitnauer) #13

Wow Jennifer, that is such a gift to us! Thank you!

(Helen Tan) #14

Thanks, Jennifer, for taking the time to share your notes. I can see me using them frequently to remind myself of these points as well as use them in discussions! They will form part of my apologetic arsenal.

(Tim Ramey) #15

I would echo @CarsonWeitnauer thanks, @Jennifer_Judson!!! I downloaded these tools right away. Also a big thank to you @Helen_Tan as you always have such great points and are full of resources. How do you do it? So thanks so much Jennifer and Helen!

(Travis Thompson) #16

This is something that hangs up, in fact, is the biggest stumbling block to a jewish friend of mine. He absolutely refuses to believe Jesus and God are the SAME essence in a Godhead of 3 separate but equal being(s). I really can’t explain it in any way that is at all acceptable to him. Does anyone here know any good books on apologetics with a knowledgeable jewish person in mind? The closest thing I can get to is that the trinity in a terrible explanation is like water, gas, solid, liquid, 3 forms, all water, none more or less water than the other, but still water all the same. It really bothers me that I cant, not necessarily convince him, but, that I’m so ill equipped to “persuade” him. If anyone has any suggestions, I would greatly appreciate it. Even if I cant “convince” him, I can at least answer his questions and it cant be said that I didn’t try with everything I had. Thanks a lot.

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #17

Hi @Travis5698. I’m glad to hear about you doing your best to convince your friend. Regarding the Trinity, @SeanO’s, @rob1770’s, @Helen_Tan’s, and @Jennifer_Judson’s contributions are good. Just make sure you don’t reduce the explanation to the illustration, and that you won’t commit partialism, polytheism, or give the impression that the other members of the Godhead are not co-equal and co-eternal. A good book I’ve read about the topic is this one:

Personally though, it seems to me that you are not focusing on fundamental things you can talk about with your friend. You said that the biggest stumbling block for him is that he refuses to believe that Jesus and God have the same essence. It seems to me that you need to deal with this before you talk about the Trinity. Even without speaking the term, you can talk about Jesus if He is truly the Messiah. Establish first to whom the prophecy refers to. One example is Isaiah 53. He can read his Tanakh while you go through the prophecies together. Once it’s established that Jesus is the Messiah, you can talk about who Jesus is. Like what did Jesus claim to be? Did he claim to be God? What does His words and actions show? What do His followers say about Him? Once the divinity of Christ is established, I believe that’s when the Trinity will start to make sense for your friend, since he will see Jesus there praying to the Father, and the Father saying that Jesus is His beloved Son and the Holy Spirit going down like a dove.

(Jimmy Sellers) #18

I read your post and I am praying that your friend will see the light. I have included a few links that both of you will find informative. The first one from a Christians for Israel site a three-part article.

The second is a transcript of an interview of a John Ankerburg Show with Dr. Pinchas Lapide, an Orthodox Jewish theologian was a Jewish scholar of the New Testament and Dr. Walter Kaiser, Dean of Trinity Seminary. This is a 5-part series.

I know this does not fully address the Trinity question but it’s hard to get to the Trinity if you can’t get to the Savior. Before this happens, I would recommend that you look at Paul and consider that as a Pharisee and a zealot he was above reproach in his belief and practice of 2nd temple Judaism. He believed in the one creator God of the cosmos the God of Israel. He believed in “election”, a chosen people (not in the sense of Calvin). He had an eschatological view of all of creation, that all of creation was presently fallen but the God of Israel would rescue and resort it. Theological bed rock for any Jew of the day. But he met the resurrected Jesus Messiah and now Paul was face with two seemingly contradictory truths, Torah and revelation. Over the next many years (as many as 17) Paul sorts all of this out. I don’t believe that he threw off Judaism in favor of this new revelation but that he reworked his Jewish beliefs around the resurrected Messiah (for a much better treatment of this line of thought I would recommend N.T. Wright)

The last thing for you to consider as your friend moves along in his journey is how Paul dealt with Deut 6:4-5, the Shema, considered the centerpiece and most essential prayer in all of Judaism, then and now.

4 “Hear, Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one (unique). 5 And you shall love Yahweh your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your might (Dt 6:4–5)

So how did Paul reconcile this? Maybe this verse might be a clue:

6 yet to us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we are for him,

and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we are through him. (1 Co 8:6)

What is noteworthy here that Paul uses the word theos , the one supreme supernatural being as creator and sustainer of the universe—‘God.’ And in the same thought he brings in the word kyrios , (a title for God and for Christ) one who exercises supernatural authority over mankind—‘Lord, Ruler, One who commands’. This is a good argument that Paul was using this language not as individual parts but parts that make the whole. If you add to that his use of the word pneuma , Spirit, ‘Spirit, Spirit of God, Holy Spirit.’ I think that you have a complete picture of the one God working in this world in three ways.
I hope this helps.

(David Cieszynski) #19

Evening Omar,

Please see my notes on the Trinity:-

The Holy Trinity can be explained like a married couple becoming one flesh in that they become one "thing / essence" . Michael Ramsden

Analogy: crack an egg and try and totally separate the shell, yolk and egg white it’s impossible.

Example: Two books on a table, Book A is on the table while Book B is on Book A.

Now hypothetically if these books were present before the beginning of time, then Book B position is only possible because of Book A position and Book A position would not have existed before Book B position. C S Lewis

In Genesis Ch1 v2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The Hebrew word for God used in Genesis Ch1 v1 is Elohim, the word Elohim is plural, but the verse treats it as a singular noun. So, in the very first verse of the Bible, we see that God is in some sense plural, but in some sense singular. This fits the model of the Trinity perfectly: God is in one sense plural, in terms of His persons, but in another sense singular, in terms of His being.

So the Bible teaches that God is one being and three persons. This is not a contradiction, because ‘being’ and ‘person’ are two different things. Your being is that which makes you what you are, your person is that which makes you who you are. For instance, I am one being, a human being, and one person, David. Yahweh is one being, God, with three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Complex? Yes. Unique? Yes. Nonsensical? No. Nabeel Qureshi

1 in being 3 in person

(Omar Rushlive Lozada Arellano) #20

Thank you for sharing your notes with me @David_Cieszynski. I do agree with what you wrote about Elohim. I remember Nabeel talking about this word that is plural and singular at the same time. This does make the Trinity viable. There is indeed no contradiction because they are one and three in different senses, not in the same sense. As you said, being and person are two different things. Though the concept may be hard to understand, it’s like energy which is hard to understand as well, but it has good explanatory power, which makes the concept for us reasonable to believe.

Some personal comments though:

  • I like the quote from Michael Ramsden. It shows analogically how the Trinity could be understood. A married couple are inherently equal and valuable. They are two persons, and in a sense, they are made one by marriage.

  • I don’t think the egg analogy may work though. First, people may refer you to egg yolk separators to say that it’s possible to separate. Secondly, if this is used as an analogy, it divides the Trinity to three parts, which can possibly lead to differences in value due to the differences of the matter of the shell, yolk, and the egg white.

  • I don’t know personally how the book example helps illuminate regarding the Trinity. Maybe you could help me understand further what you mean by this example attributed to C.S. Lewis.