the weblog of Alan Knox

Lunch Partner

Posted by on Feb 6, 2010 in discipleship, missional, service | 13 comments

My wife and I had lunch with another couple. After lunch, one of our lunch partners said something like this:

It doesn’t matter how much we study the trinity, we will never understand it. And, continuing to study the trinity isn’t going to help the young girl on the corner to stop selling herself to get drug money.


13 Comments

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  1. 2-6-2010

    Mixed feelings here. I’m a staunch trinitarian and I see in the Trinity a blueprint for how community and organization work the best. Applying the doctrine of the Trinity (let the reader understand!) to life is an amazing thing. I see it everywhere, even when people do it ignorantly or unwittingly, unbelievers no less. If we studied it and really applied it, I think there would be less of what the lunch partner noticed. Yes, short term problem. But long term we should really get a grasp of it and model it to a world that doesn’t notice.

  2. 2-6-2010

    I would be very interested in hearing more what “[a]pplying the doctrine of the Trinity…to life” means, Steve. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that type of phrase. This reader doesn’t understand ;)

    As for me, I’m with the lunch partner, inasmuch as I can determine from this very short quote/paraphrase. Not only do I not see the “doctrine of the Trinity” as clearly spelled out in scripture as many believe it is, I do not see the concept really discussed by the writers of the New Testament.

    Instead, what we see is a heavy focus on the fact that Jesus is important, not because of a position in any Trinity, but because he is the one the Father chose to be the instrument of reconciliation between God and man.

    It was not until several hundred years later that the doctrine began to be articulated in any kind of systematic way, and then became a “litmus test” for true orthodoxy. The Athanasian Creed, not in use until about the 6th century, is the first creed that explicitly defines the doctrine of the Trinity. And that creed went so far as to say that if you don’t believe the exact same way, you are cursed.

    A doctrine THAT important would, I think, have been very clearly taught by the apostles. The fact that they did not teach it in that way, nor tell anyone they must believe it to be saved, carries a lot more weight to me than a 6th-century concoction. (Notice for example that in key sermons, both Peter and Paul refer to Jesus as “the man whom God chose”. The focus is on the fact that God chose him, which is the very essence of the term “Christ” or “Messiah”.)

    Ironically, a lot of Christians today carry the thought and spirit (not to mention some of the actual wording) of the Athanasian Creed with them in judging others if they don’t fully embrace Trinitarianism. Yet this creed was neither determined by any official church council, nor is it scripture.

  3. 2-6-2010

    This is an important discussion, and I think Mr. Scott shares some important wisdom. What if the opposite of what the “lunch partner” suggested is true? What if further study and further grasping after the trinitarian God is exactly what the above mentioned prostitute needs? Why assume that it is a waste of time?

    And Mr. Sensenig, I understand your dilemma with trinitarian theology, but I would use extreme caution in dismissing it as having no grounding in the biblical text. In so doing you are choosing to break with orthodox Christian tradition.

    A helpful thought on the biblical doctrine of the Trinity that I have come across in the past is a question that Karl Barth asks: What is the God of the Bible like? Who is he? The answer: He is Father, Son, and Spirit.

    Concerning the role of tradition, the Nicene Creed of 325 states:
    “We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.

    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, Light from Light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father….

    We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
    the giver of life, who proceeds from the
    Father and the Son….”

    The language here is explicitly trinitarian. The early church fathers were interpreting the biblical text and presenting this picture of God as the natural outworking.

    Knowledge of the true God is exactly what the world needs. Thus, it is not only worth studying more about the Trinity but it is worth giving our entire lives to studying it. The goal is not to “figure God out” but to know him in truth and to help others know him in truth.

  4. 2-6-2010

    As always, context is key. Our lunch partner said this in the context of a group of seminarians who spent week after week getting together to discuss various aspects of the trinity and other issues of theology, but never made out of the “classroom”.

    -Alan

  5. 2-6-2010

    Let me be clear. It’s not that I am throwing out the doctrine of the Trinity (although I do find some lack in its attempt to synthesize some extremely disparate passages of scripture).

    My question pertains to the amount of weight we put on such a formula both in terms of the amount of time spent debating about it and the significance we think it plays into being “truly” saved.

  6. 2-6-2010

    By the way, “gethnc”, with regards to the process of what was happening at Nicaea, you may be interested to read a post I wrote several years ago called Know Your Heritage. There is some danger in assuming that what was taking place was godly men “interpreting Scripture”. The very motivation in calling the council into existence was political, not spiritual.

  7. 2-6-2010

    Steve,

    That’s a good question. The godhead is one God with many parts (three). So, both the one and the many exist together. There is unity and diversity together, community and individuality, division of labor, etc. Human philosophy has struggled with the one and many for millenia, usually favoring one as opposed to the other, such as radical individualism or radical communalism.

    The specific roles of the members of the Trinity are listed a number of places in the New Testament; who did what and for what reason.

    As to how it applies to life: That many parts make up one whole as compared with viewing things as one unit can be set over against digital technology compared with analog. Digital technology (trinitarian nature) has helped us out so much more than analog (unitarian nature) ever did because digital technology is patterned after the trinitarian nature of God much more than analog is. CD’s last longer than vinyl.

    Alan’s blog is another example. He writes much about how much better a community that practices the “one anothers” is than one that has a top-down dictator with uniformity of pew sitters. The church model that takes advantage of all the people’s gifts for the betterment of everybody works better than the model that has to rely solely upon the giftedness of one pastor, because it is putting into practice the nature of the trinity where the top-down model is denying it.

    I’d love to write a book or so about this kind of thing in the future. I hope this explains a bit about how I see it.

  8. 2-6-2010

    Steve, thanks! I like your answer much better than I thought I would ;) I’m so used to hearing people use the Trinitarian concept exactly as a top-down model of heirarchy within the church, etc. It’s refreshing to hear someone focus on the true nature of community yet drawn from that same concept.

  9. 2-6-2010

    Good stuff here guys. Mr. Scott’s argument for the community aspect of the Trinity is key. The point is not 3, or hierarchy (although there is substance to both), but rather community. If the Church did a better job or functioning as a community then the discipling of believers would occur more frequently and fully. If discipleship was actualized within our congregations then a clearer picture of Christ would be presented to a watching world and our communities would be more likely to engage a watching world….to be hospitable to a watching world…..a watching young woman who is considering the option of selling herself for drug money. Or even better, maybe her parents would see Christ in us and submit themselves to Christ and to His Body and possibly become more proactive parents….thus changing the course of a daughters life.

  10. 2-7-2010

    In looking simply at what your lunch partner said,,, and then the comment about the seminary students. The key to me would be the fact that the seminary students never took it out of the classroom. We should study the trinity, we should study all of God’s word, and that in itself should motivate us all as Christians to help the girl on the street corner. We must be doers of the word.

  11. 2-7-2010

    Finding the right balance between knowing, being, and doing probably presents different challenges to different cultures.

    Our western (Greek influenced?) culture seems obsessed with measuring knowing, and very highly esteems knowledge, while ignoring transformation (seemingly relegating this to issues managed by scientific knowledge in fields of personality and psychology), and dismissing lowly acts of serving other people (unless we can hero-ize the doers, like we do with actors, musicians and athletes, raising them to superstar status). –This brings up our obsession with entertainment *sigh* (go Colts!).

    No doubt Jesus demonstrates the proper balance to knowing, being, and doing (I’m not thinking an equally proportional balance).

    He saw Nathaniel praying privately and was impressed. He told Nicodemus–a man of highly respected knowledge–he needed to be born of the Spirit. He acknowledged the poor widow’s mite as a great act. He taught, but He challenged people to change and to do differently. He seems to have esteemed transformation and action much more highly than we do.

  12. 2-7-2010

    I appreciate the discussion as well. Notice that my lunch partner was not upset about people studying the trinity. In fact, he had a very good understanding of the trinity and how our three-in-community God should affect our own community. The problem was continuing to study minute aspects of trinitarian theology (questions that people have been arguing about for 2000+ years) and never moving beyond the discussion phase to actually doing something. Helping one another understand the nature of God is a noble task, but we also understand the nature of God by extending grace, forgiveness, and help to those who need it, not just by discussing theology.

    -Alan

  13. 2-7-2010

    Alan,

    May I ask something and I do hear what you are saying. Let me ask though is it some how hindering to study this stuff that has been study for 2000 years for the hobby or sport of it. For example. Just say someone likes studying birds or flowers, is that somehow hindering to serving and loving others and helping others get off the corner? Is it okay to study the philosophical part of Christianity and sharing and expressing it for the joy of just doing it? Much like one studies physics the cosmos and so forth? I think at least for 2000 years issues of the church have been debated and little has been resolved, though some have moved one way others the other way but we still talk about it, but that doesn’t help the person off the corner because there are those in the Catholic denomination who are helping orphans and prostitutes and so forth yet they would absolutely reject what I believe to be a more faithful ecclesiology.

    I guess it seems that sometimes it seems that two mutually exclusive issues are fused into one and what develops is the idea that one cannibalizes the other and I don’t think that is necessarily true.