About 15 years ago, when my denomination was correcting certain longstanding doctrinal errors, I was asked to supervise our churches in Britain. Since we had decided to once again publish the denominational magazine, we applied to take a display stand at the Christian Resources Exhibition. The prestigious CRE is open to all legitimate churches, charities and manufacturers and distributors of religious products. On the first morning of the conference, a tall, thin, rather severe-looking clergyman made a beeline for us.
“I must say,” he said pompously, “that I am surprised to see you people here.”
“I don’t see why you should be,” I answered, “This is the Christian Resources Exhibition and our magazine is a Christian resource. Why shouldn’t we be here?”
“Because you’re not orthodox,” he said imperiously.
“Yes we are,” I replied, and reached for a copy of our Statement of Beliefs. I had some on hand, suspecting this objection might come up.
“No you are not,” he insisted. “You do not accept the Trinity.”
“Yes we do — read this.” Reluctantly he read the relevant paragraph. It seemed to take the wind out of his sails. But only temporarily.
He handed the document back to me, and said, “That is all very well. But do your people understand the Trinity?”
“Do yours?” I asked.
“My people” he said, with a rather smug smile, “don’t need to understand it, because we never rejected it.” Then he stalked off. I think my comments upset him, but his comments made me think.
Most Christians do not give the Trinity a second thought. It is one of the “givens” of their faith. If you have believed something all your life, you probably take it for granted. But when you come to a belief later, you have to think it through carefully. I had spent many years rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity as an explanation of God’s being. It was difficult to abandon my suspicion about it, even though I had to accept that my reasons for rejecting it had no basis in Scripture. I had been taught that it was an idea that had been injected into Christianity by pagans who wanted to distort a true understanding of God. It was humbling to see that, far from trying to hide the truth, the doctrine was formulated in technically precise theological language by devoted Christian scholars who were striving to combat and eliminate some corrosive ideas that could undermine the role of Jesus as Savior.
Okay, so I could see why Trinitarian theology was a litmus test for being accepted as a “legitimate.” But it was a fearfully difficult doctrine to use. I am a practical person, and I find analogies helpful. But I could not come up with the perfect analogy that would clarify things sufficiently to put the Trinity to practical use in preaching and teaching.
As the combatant vicar pointed out, most Christians, including many learned and scholarly theologians, haven’t needed to do this. They have just accepted the Trinity as part of the historical backdrop of their faith. In doing so, they may have short-changed themselves. Through the ages, however, some prominent theologians have gone beyond just an acceptance of the doctrine, and asked searching questions about what the tri-unity of God means. They realized that the doctrine is more than just a useful barrier erected to keep the faith safe from dangerous heresies. They have seen that it highlights foundational biblical concepts that are very exciting and, indeed, quite important for our Christian faith. These are not new ideas, but they have been somewhat neglected, and as such, they are sometimes looked on with suspicion.
They needn’t be, for they pose no threat. What they can do is confront you with the real Jesus of the Bible, who is the perfect revelation of his Father, and show you how knowing the Father, the Son and Spirit can blow fresh air through your faith, removing the stale smell of guilt and fear, and transform your everyday life. We have been exploring these ideas. We hope you will share our enthusiasm — and see how the good news of the gospel is even more exciting than you may have thought.