In my Wednesday Night junior high class at church, I have completed Parts 1 and 2 of my Trinity series. So far we have covered (1) absolute monotheism, and (2) three distinct persons sharing the one Being of God. Part 3 will explain that the three divine persons are coequal and coeternal. With the Trinity on my mind, I thought you might benefit from how I have explained the Trinity to a Jehovah’s Witness – which forced me to define the doctrine as though I was starting from scratch. Here is the first email response to my dialogue with “TJ” (some of you might remember my dialogue with him a few months back):
Thanks for the quick reply. You can call me Casey. "Rusty" is a nickname, though I don't mind being called that either. It's up to you.
I very much appreciate your comments about acting Christlike during our discussion. I agree 100%. The only reason I want to defend that the Bible teaches the Triunity of God is because I am passionate about the subject. I love the Trinity. I'm sure you can say the same of your Unitarian beliefs about Jehovah. That said, I would never question your sincerity. And unlike so many in our day, we both care about the truth. I respect that about you already.
As far as my ultimate authority goes - I do hold to the Reformed principle of Sola Scriptura, which can be summarized as this: The God-breathed Scriptures are sufficient to function as the regular rule of faith for the Church in all things pertaining to life, godliness, faith and practice. The Scriptures are clear and perspicuous, and free from error. God has preserved His Word to be the means by which He speaks to the Church today, for as Jesus said in Matthew 22:31, "Have you not read what was spoken to you by God saying..." and then cites the Old Testament.
You said: "My understanding of the Trinity is tailored to whomever I encounter. Sometimes people I meet describe the Trinity in terms that you would likely find plain wrong. It is not my duty to 'correct' them, I just deal with their current beliefs and try to show them what the Bible says in comparison."
It's sad but true that many Trinitarians are unable to defend the doctrine of the Trinity. Even more disappointing is the fact that many Trinitarians are also unable to define it properly.
The historic orthodox ("orthodox" is here used not referring to the Greek Orthodox Church, but to "universal" Christian teaching) definition of the Christian faith can be summed up with one sentence: Within the one Being that is God, there eternally exists three coequal and coeternal persons; namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
There is obviously a lot of information packed into this summary statement. At its core is the belief in monotheism - that there is only one true God. In Isaiah 43:10 we read: "10 "You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me." Yahweh, or as you say, Jehovah, declares that there were no Gods before Him, and there will be none after Him. Indeed, as Isaiah 44:6 tells us, Yahweh is the first and the last, apart from Yahweh there is no God. This is Biblical monotheism: Yahweh, the only true God.
Before I continue, I need to define two terms that are crucial when talking about the Trinity. The terms are "being" and "person." Let me use an example to help with my explanation ... Here I have in my hand my cell phone. My cell phone has being. This is to say that my cell phone exists. But my cell phone has no personality. I can talk to my cell phone all day long and it will never once understand what I am saying. It cannot think. It does not have the ability to speak of itself as "I" or "Me." On the other hand, I also have being. I exist. Though unlike my cell phone, I have personality. I have personhood. I can communicate, think, and reason. I can use personal pronouns of myself. Obviously then, being can exist without personality (like the cell phone), or being can exist with personality (as is the case with human beings).
Unfortunately, the term "person" many times carries with it a lot of baggage. This is because in our experience as human beings, each human being has one personality sharing his/her being.
Now we are ready for the next part of our definition ...
There are three divine persons sharing the one being of God. These three persons are coequal, as to their divine nature. Though the persons have differing roles, this in no way makes one person greater than another as to their nature. Another way of saying this is that difference in function does not mean inferiority in nature.
The three persons are also coeternal. This simply means that each of the persons has eternally existed. There was never a time when the Father was not, the Son was not, or the Holy Spirit was not. They have eternally had fellowship, and a loving relationship towards each other. One was not before the other. Each of the persons is eternal.
Yahweh's being is undivided and indivisible. This means that God's being cannot be "divided up." Obviously then, the Trinity does not teach that God's being is "split" into thirds: the Father making up one third, the Son another third, and the Holy Spirit the remaining third. Rather, each of the divine persons fully share God's being as they are each fully God. For the sake of this discussion I will also add that each of the persons shares the being of Yahweh. Therefore, the Father is Yahweh, the Son is Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit is Yahweh. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit fully share Yahweh's being. (Repetitive, I know. But I want to be clear).
As a side note, it would be inappropriate to say that the Trinity teaches "Three Beings are one Being," or "Three Persons are one Person." Rather, the Trinity teaches that there are three persons within the one being of God. Again, the difference between "being" and "person" must be distinguished in our discussion.
One last side note, Trinitarians do not believe that the Father is the Son, or that the Son is the Holy Spirit, or that the Father is the Holy Spirit ... or any way you want to put it =). We recognize the distinction between the three persons. Yet these three divine persons share the one being of God.
I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity because the Bible teaches it. I do not believe the Trinity because of church councils, creeds or confessions. I believe the Bible teaches the triunity of God. In fact, I believe the gospel is Trinitarian - in that each of the persons is involved in the salvation of God's elect people.
As I mentioned on my blog, there are three "foundations" to the doctrine of the Trinity: (1) Monotheism – the belief that there is only one true God; (2) there are three divine persons within the one Being of God; (3) the three persons are coequal and coeternal.
There you have it - a brief summation of the doctrine of the Trinity. Many fine works have been written on the subject, but this should suffice for our discussion.