I used to think that when I was puzzled by some theological mystery that if I could just find the right book or ask the right person that the mystery would be solved. It turns out that there are many theological questions that no one knows the answer to, and these questions puzzle and have puzzled theologians as much as they do you or me. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of those questions.
Ok, I lied; I can’t explain the doctrine of the Trinity. But don’t run off just yet. I want to tell you about a nifty little book that helps you understand why the doctrine of the Trinity is so hard to explain, but helps you can talk about the Trinity without saying heretical things. The book is short, very easy to read and understand, and packed with really revelational insights. And any book about the Trinity that uses Krusty the Klown, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Pinocchio to explain things is one you better check out.
The Best Book on the Trinity You Will Ever Understand
- There is only one God.
- The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is each God.
- The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not the same.
So that’s really simple, right? Except that when you take all the statements together, you start to realize they are hard to reconcile. The reason it is so hard to talk about the Trinity is because there is only one Trinity that has ever been and will ever be. The Trinity is sui generis—its own thing—one of a kind. (Bullivant never uses this Latin phrase, but it is one of my favorites, so I throw it in whenever I can. And if this phrase ever fit anything, it fits the Trinity. )
The Trinity is not like anything else, so we really have no words that can accurately describe what it is. The only words we have available to us are being used to describe something that is not the Trinity. So, we try the best we can to craft a vocabulary that can approximate what we are trying to say.
Who Thought Up the Trinity, Anyway?
How to Be a Heretic
Bullivant says that heresies arise in trying to “explain” the Trinity, and this is because explanations usually end up denying one of the three statements. It is fairly easy to craft an explanation that encompasses only two of the statements, but when you do that, you have a heresy on your hands.
The second heresy denies the second statement. Those who promote this heresy do so with the best of intentions: they want to preserve our bedrock belief of monotheism—there is only one God. So they say that Jesus is sort of God but not truly God—rather he is an exalted and unique creation of God. But the Trinity doctrine requires that statement two be true. Jesus must be truly God. This heresy is called Arianism (after Arius, its founder). The controversy Arius provoked resulted in the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. These councils borrowed a new vocabulary to describe the Trinity, and they constructed what we now call the Nicene Creed. This is where we get such phrases and words as “begotten not made,” “substance,” and “consubstantial,” all used to try to explain what we believe without contradicting any of the three statements.
So take up Bullivant’s book and learn a lot about the Trinity in a very short time. You probably will realize you knew a lot but just didn’t know how to say it without saying the wrong (heretical) thing. Bullivant will help you speak confidently about the Trinity, and as an added bonus, you will avoid being burned at the stake.