The Trinity, defined by what it is not.

Sometimes with the most complicates subjects, it is easier to define what it isn’t rather than what it is. This might well be true of the Trinity. Trinity resides in heaven totally removed from our earthly experience. What we know of it is recorded in Scripture, and only spoken of in a hint here and a hint there.

The natural human response to this situation is to try and produce explanations and illustrations to further explain the Trinity. But earthly comparisons tend to fall short. So in order to promote a correct understanding of the Trinity it might be beneficial to talk about what it isn’t. Today let’s talk about a few things that Trinity is not.

The Trinity is not modal. Sometimes we think of God like water, that can be liquid, solid or vapor. But this leaves the impression that God can transition from person to person in the Trinity as needed. But this is not accurate, all three persons of the Trinity exist simultaneously.

A very similar idea is that the different persons of the trinity are not really different people at all, but instead it is three different ways God relates to humanity. It’s kind of like a man who wears multiple hats. At work he wears the hat of an employee, at home he wears the dad hat, while at recreation he wears the hat of the outdoorsman. But again the different persons of the Trinity coexist, it is not one person performing different roles.

Another example used to describe the Trinity is a triangle. From different angles you see different sides. But at the same time, the three sides make up one geometric shape. The weakness here is that the sides only exist in connection with the others. One aspect of the Trinity lost in this illustration is the independent activity of the three persons. If you remove a side of the triangle, it is destroyed. The three persons of the Trinity operate separately without losing their connection with one another.

The Trinity is also not developmental. It did not start out as only the Father, who later built the Spirit into His being and later adopted the Son in order to complete the Trinity. The Trinity has been consistently three persons in one God for all of eternity.

So there are a few things the Trinity is not. Do you have anything you would suggest in regard to something the Trinity is not?


The Politics of Heresy

I think I have heard the word heresy used more times in the past month than I did in the entire decade of the 1990s.

This could mean there is a sudden rise of heretical teaching out there. But I don’t think so. The same bad teachings have been around forever, or at least since the early church. Perhaps it’s increased use reflects its political power.

The word heresy carries a surprising amount of venom. It’s a scary word. It is a label most pastors, professors, authors, or speakers would have a hard time living with if they were stuck with it.  So the word becomes a perfect club for bullies.

If you use the term to describe others, ask yourself what they do to earn the moniker. I believe the term should only be used if certain fundamental, central, and traditional doctrines of the Christian religion are being broken or corrupted. If the Trinity and incarnation are defined in the historical ways, if the inspiration of Scripture is upheld, and if the central role of grace is proclaimed then the use of the word heresy is inappropriate.

If you expect everyone to agree with you, right down to the minor details, the problem may be your conceit instead of their heresy.

The Christian life should have a balance. Understanding which issues to stand on resolutely is important. But it’s just as important to be able to have unity with someone who disagrees with you on minor issues.

The trick, of course, is defining which issues are major and which are minor. Many of us have our favorite topics. Don’t label people heretics just because they oppose your favorite soapbox.

The Church

Ecclesiology is a word for what we believe about the church. I believe the church is a powerful and important part of Christianity.

When I refer to the church, I am referring to the local church. I am aware that at times Scripture uses the word church to describe the total of all believers of all ages. This use is sometimes called the universal church. But my admiration, and this post are aimed at the local church.

I sense Satan is attacking the local church by making believers prefer to focus on the universal church instead of buying into the power of a committed congregation. One front in these attacks is to undermine the commitment of church membership. Some will claim they are a part of the universal church and act as if joining a local congregation would compromise their service or demean their commitment.

I define the local church as a group of people who have thrown in their lives together for the sake of serving God. I believe these congregations are God’s plan for reaching this world. Their unity and teamwork are planned by God and are used by God as His army on earth. A person who believes they serve God better by disrespecting the local church is mistaken. It’s a little bit like trying to be in the army without being assigned to a specific unit, the war is fought by working with units, not individuals.

Notice when I speak of the unity of believers I emphasize the unity of the local church first, and the unity of the church universal second. If we believe there is disunity in the kingdom of God, because of the different denominations. And if we believe this disunity keeps God from fulfilling His work on earth, I think we have believed the devil’s false accusation upon the church. Our unity should be with our local fighting group, not the entire fighting force. God manages at that level and He probably doesn’t appreciate our jumping in to help.

Note, I am working with the assumption God directs a multitude of different churches and denominations. Within these groups there should be a very high level of doctrinal agreement. This agreement allows them to work together.

As long as a group or church keep to the essential doctrinal issues, we have no reason to challenge them. These issues would include the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, The death burial and resurrection of Christ, and similar items. Unfortunately there are groups which claim these words but have abandoned the historic definition. Any movement to unify with these false doctrines is a part of the problem I am defining.

Syncretism is the idea all doctrines should be combined into one unified group, allowing all people on earth to have a single doctrinal stand. This plan does not accommodate the natural diversity in God’s creation. This plan fails to recognize infighting is created by the attempt, rather than squelched by it. And finally this plan doesn’t allow individuals to have a deeper commitment to a single fighting unit within the kingdom of God.

If we want to be a part of God’s work on earth the surest route is to seek which church God is calling us to be a part of and to make a commitment to it.


When someone reads about Dorothy being blown into the land of Oz by a giant tornado, we accept that in this other place there would be munchkins, flying monkeys, and witches names after the four primary points of the compass.

When we read about four children transported to Narnia we are perfectly fine with talking animals and other mythical creatures living in this other place.

But when we consider God we often fall short because we fail to embrace this sense of otherness. God is not like us. He is different enough from us to have been able to create us and the world we live in, simply by the power of His spoken word.

Everything we interact with in our place was created for us by God. This by itself implies God must be wholly other, totally different than us.

So placing the constraints we live under on Him, is nonsensical. When people say things like, “you cannot be three and one at the same time,” they are failing to give God the necessary sense of otherness. What is hard about this sense of otherness is it is a totally open set. We know some things about what God is like, because He has told us. We also know a quite a few things about God where He told us what He is not like.

The goal of theology is not to know everything about God. It is the goal to know Him personally, experientially. But the leap of faith many people struggle with in understanding God is allowing this sense of otherness.

The Doctrine of Doubt

I weary of people who are certain they are right about everything. They are convinced they remember every detail of conversations from last week, sermons from last year, and VBS lessons from when they were children.

These people are especially fatiguing when they discuss doctrine. They are dogmatic about what they believe and are convinced they must remain so even down to the smallest of details. They believe anything else demonstrates a lack of faith.

I am quite the opposite. There are times when I believe my most faithful, trusting answer would be to say, I might be wrong. I can say this because faith is not knowing everything about God, but rather trusting God with my eternal life.

Now let me be quick to say there are many doctrines I hold with certainty. There is a God, He is good, He exists in Trinity, Jesus who is God the Son, came to earth to die on a cross, and His resurrection demonstrates His saving power. Some things are not doubtable. But there are also doctrines I am willing to be fuzzy about.

I believe Jesus will rapture believers out before the tribulation, but I could be wrong. I don’t believe God decided who would be lost and who would be saved in advance only He knew in advance who would be, but I could be wrong. I don’t believe Obama is the antichrist, but I could be wrong. I don’t believe in soul sleeping, humans can hurry up the rapture, or that foot washing was intended to be taken as an ordinance of the church, but I could be wrong.

My faith is not in my own doctrinal knowledge, in fact it’s not in information of any form. My faith is in the person of Jesus. I don’t have to understand every detail, and if this was my definition of faith, well, my goose would be cooked. So would yours. We will never know every detail. Instead my definition of faith is to trust God with my life, without having to know every detail.

In every case my willingness to be wrong is not a lack of faith in God, rather it is a lack of faith in me. I am not trusting myself; I am trusting Jesus.