The Difficult Doctrine of the Trinity

Trinity Rublev

Trinity, attributed to Andrei Rublev, 15th century, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Thomas Jefferson considered the doctrine of the Trinity bunk, because it goes against reason. In a 1810 letter he called it “a mere Abracadabra.”

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is only one God who eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not three gods. Not three personalities. One God; three Persons. All three Persons are God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll admit it strains the intellect to say 1+1+1=1. Then again, it also strains the intellect to think that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus, that he rose from the dead, or that God spoke the universe into existence.

The supernatural world has its mysteries as does the natural world. A human being is an incredibly complex organism. Can anyone fully comprehend how a single cell can grow into a human baby in just 40 weeks?  By all rights a hummingbird shouldn’t be able to fly, but it does fly – forwards, backwards, sideways, upside down, and can even hover.  How do you explain the fact that the earth is the perfect distance from the sun to sustain life? If it were just a little closer to the sun, the oceans would boil away. If it were just a little farther away, they’d freeze.  The natural world is full of mysteries. It’s not surprising that spiritual world is too. One of those mysteries is the Trinity. It cannot be fully comprehended by man’s sin-tainted, fallen intellect. But it can be grasped by the mind and held by faith.

The doctrine of the Trinity is challenging to me for a different reason than it was to Thomas Jefferson. It doesn’t offend my reason (even if I can’t full comprehend it), but it does challenge my doctrine of religious authority. Baptists aren’t a creedal people and we believe that the Bible alone is all the religious authority we need. We hold to the Protestant doctrine of “sola scriptura,” which means that our religious authority is in the Bible alone – not in popes, church councils, or any extra-biblical authority. I wonder, Would I believe the doctrine of the Trinity on the evidence of Scripture alone? Maybe. Maybe not. The Trinity is a doctrine derived from Scripture. It’s mainly an inference from what the New Testament teaches about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, worked out by theologians and church councils over the first few centuries of Christian history. If I didn’t already know the doctrine as it developed over time and as it is expressed in the creeds, and if I had only the Bible to guide me, Would I be able to arrive at to the full expression of the doctrine of the Trinity as found in the Nicene Creed?  If not, I am left with one of two unsettling possibilities: either my doctrine of the Trinity is wrong or my doctrine of religious authority is wrong.

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4 Comments

June 17, 2014 · 3:14 pm

4 responses to “The Difficult Doctrine of the Trinity

  1. kristilynne

    That’s quite a dilemma at the end of your beautiful post on the Trinity. You’ve been on my mind lately, and I’ve turned those thoughts to prayer for you, my friend.

  2. Thank you, Kristi. Your prayers are always appreciated!

  3. Travis, Dr. Bell at Dallas Baptist would be proud that you paid attention during Christian Doctrines class. I am happy to find out that you are close by my friend. I am living and working in Alexandria, Va. Perhaps I will come by some Sunday morning to see if your preaching skills have improved since your days at 10th Marines. Warmest regards,
    Major Landon Hutchens, USMC, DBU Alumni.

    • Landon,

      Great to hear from you! Dr. Bell was certainly an important influence on my theology during our undergrad years at DBU. I’m not sure he would appreciate the last paragraph of my blog post though. Then again he was always a deep thinker and probably would enjoy debating the issue I raise. I look forward to reconnecting with you soon. Thank you for your comments. Semper Fi, Marine!

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