Explain the Trinity To Me

My church recently presented a sermon on the Trinity. It’s a thorough explanation of why we embrace a seemingly contradictory doctrine about the nature of God. If you’re interested in why we would believe such difficult doctrine this will be a great resource for you. I encourage you to listen.


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24 thoughts on “Explain the Trinity To Me

  1. Music to my hears, Tim! This is one of my specialties.
    I wrote two comments on the subject under your “With Fear and Trembling — Mormonism isn’t Christian” post. If I could, or knew how to, I would link to it. It explains why Trinitarians who condemn Mormons because of differences, or perceived differences, over this issue are either misunderstanding Mormons or misunderstanding the Trinity!
    Mormons really are Trinitarians at a bare-bones level of the Trinity doctrine.

  2. Mormons really are Trinitarians at a bare-bones level of the Trinity doctrine.

    I think Mormons would disagree with that and so would I.

  3. It depends on what you mean by the “bare-bones level of the Trinity doctrine.” If by that you mean God is three and God is one (and that’s about as bare-bones as you can get), then of course Mormons are trinitarians. But the term “Trinity” is often used to refer to a belief system that goes beyond that.

  4. Tim — I not-so-carefully listened to the sermon, and what I found interesting is that I didn’t hear your pastor say much of anything I could really disagree with; he pretty much stuck to Biblical language, seemingly adopting a sort of social trinitarian view. (Two narrow areas of disagreement not central to his main points: Except in a few of our hymns we don’t address the Son directly, and we view Jesus as the God of the Old Testament.) Your pastor explicitly and clearly rejected modalism, and I don’t recall him suggesting anything about a “coequality” of the Persons of the Trinity in a way that runs counter to the Biblical testimony. (And I had to chuckle when he mentioned the Father and Son having the same DNA.)

    The differences between what your pastor said and the LDS understanding of the nature of the Godhead seemed to me to be more matters of style than substance.

    I think (and I could be wrong) that a typical Mormon listening to this sermon would react by saying, “What’s the big deal?” I very easily could have missed something, but (except for what I noted parenthetically above) I did not hear him teaching any false doctrine from an LDS perspective.

    Did I miss something?

  5. Tim,

    Looks like it was Trinity Sunday last week 😉 Nice sermon. Our pastor had a sermon on the same topic this Sunday

    Mick

  6. Eric, thanks for listening. I’m glad you liked it and fit within your religious framework. Do you think this sermon could be delivered at General Conference without anyone raising an eyebrow? Do you think if such a sermon were delivered at General Conference it would cause no change in the typical Mormon understanding of the Godhead?

  7. Tim — There are some obvious differences in style (there’s almost no exegetical tradition in General Conference talks, for example), and probably differences in emphasis as well. I’ll listen again more carefully and let you know my answer to your question, but it might not be for a day or two.

  8. This morning, I listened very carefully to the sermons by Mike Erre of Rockharbor and Carl Anderson of Trinity Fellowship on the Trinity.

    The messages energized my soul. From California to Texas, may there be a converging in the middle – the I-15 Corridor – for giving glory to the Triune God.

  9. Tim asked:

    Do you think this sermon could be delivered at General Conference without anyone raising an eyebrow? Do you think if such a sermon were delivered at General Conference it would cause no change in the typical Mormon understanding of the Godhead?

    Now I’ve listened to it more carefully, and I see only one problem, and it takes up less than a minute of the sermon.

    First, a comment on the sermon overall: It’s safe to say this type of semi-exegetical approach isn’t one that is typically used at General Conference addresses, and neither is the speaking style. You might hear this sort of thing in other LDS contexts (for example, on one of the BYU-TV discussion shows), but not General Conference. Also, there is some evangelical-speak in the sermon. So I’ll address just the theological content and assume that it had been delivered in an LDS-type of format and language.

    Also, there’s the issue of why this sermon was delivered. One of the purposes the pastor had was to explain the doctrine to an audience that may be confused about it — in fact, he suggested repeatedly it may seem paradoxical. In contrast, an LDS audience doesn’t find the concept of the Godhead confusing at all. I’ll leave it up to you and God to determine whether we’re right or wrong, but our concept is clear: There are three persons in God, three persons who are unified in purpose, so unified that they can be thought of as one unit. (I thought the analogy that the pastor drew with a marriage was pretty good — two people, yet still one couple.) Whether we Mormons are right or wrong, we’re not confused or vague about what it means to believe in a triune God.

    I suspect the pastor also had a goal of rebutting modalism. That’s not an issue for Mormons; whatever we are, we aren’t modalists. So that part of the sermon wouldn’t be all that relevant to an LDS audience.

    So here is a very brief summary in outline form of what the pastor said:

    1. Some passages in the Bible emphasize the oneness of God (although even in that oneness there is complexity).

    2. Other passages emphasize the Persons of God.

    3. Modalism would be a good way of reconciling this, except there are other passages that show the different persons in God relating to each other as separate persons, so modalism isn’t Biblical.

    4. Therefore, we are forced by the scriptures into believing that the three Persons of God are of one essence. But “how does that work? I haven’t the foggiest.”

    5. This doctrine is important, because by existing in a Trinity, the persons of God demonstrate what it is to live in relationship with one another, and that’s what God calls us to do. We are made to deeply connect with other people, and the triune nature of God sets the pattern for us.

    6. We worship a God who can be known but cannot be fully known.

    With the exception of No. 4, I see no conflict with LDS beliefs. We’d agree with No. 6, but for different reasons.

    No. 5 has some similarities with how we view the eternal nature of families; I think many Mormons might find the idea of No. 5 intriguing in the way the pastor worded it. I think many would see it as a different and interesting way of looking at things, not wrong by any means, but different than what they’re used to hearing. I don’t think teaching No. 5 — and that’s the reason why your pastor said it’s important to understand the Trinity — would raise an eyebrow at all.

    No. 4 is the biggie, isn’t it? Interestingly, the pastor doesn’t tell us what he means by “essence,” and he basically admits that he doesn’t know either.

    If my purpose were to reconcile what the pastor said into an LDS framework, I would say something like that “essence” is that ephemeral quality of being in complete unity of purpose. And if someone were to teach in General Conference that the three persons of the Godhead are of one essence, I think that’s how it would be interpreted by those who aren’t familiar with the language of non-LDS theology.

    I know enough non-LDS theology to know that’s not what was meant.

    From my perspective, the pastor effectively rebutted (as much as can be done in a half-hour sermon) the heresy of modalism. But he didn’t effectively rebut (because that wasn’t his purpose) the LDS heresy (from a traditional Christian perspective) that the oneness of the Godhead is found in unity of purpose rather than in essence (whatever that is).

    Like I said earlier, the interesting comment he made was that Jesus “is the only one who shares his [the Father’s] DNA.” To that, many Mormons would say, “He gets it!” Of course, we would understand that a lot more literally than the pastor does.

    To answer the question: If this sermon were preached at General Conference, it would raise the eyebrows only of those familiar with the historical and theological significance of the word “essence.” Oh, and if we were told it’s now OK to pray directly to Jesus (which we do already in some of our hymns) or the Holy Spirit, that might raise a few eyebrows too. But we’d go ahead and do it without complaining.

  10. It wouldn’t be allowed to be preached at General Conference.

    These statements would be off-limits:

    “[Jesus] The only human who shares the essence”

    “Many of us are not content with a God who is mysterious.”

    And yet this statement from the sermon would be allowed:

    “It is the Trinitarian God who doesn’t make sense.”

    Eric, the preacher didn’t have time in one short sermon, but there are many biblical paths to explore, for example (1) the major prophetical books thundering only one God (period), (2) the equating of El-elyon with Yahweh, and (3) the OT/NT robust connections of the Father, Son, and Spirit as Yahweh.

    In thinking of three simple biblical declarations . . .
    (1) Jesus is God
    (2) Jesus is distinct from the Father (is not the Father)
    (3) There is one God

    . . . Jews deny #1, and the LDS General Authorities deny #3.

    Of course, modalists deny #2.

  11. With all due respect, you’re wrong that we deny there is one God. I could prooftext with at least three references from the Book of Mormon alone, but doing so would probably be pointless.

  12. I would perchance know those references in my own highlighting as I read through the Book of Mormon.

    But which of the General Authorities in 2010 would deny that there are two distinct Gods (Father and Son) in perfect oneness, Eric, and say as a corrective – there is only one God?

    I don’t know how we could deny that #3 is a point of difference between me and the Area Authority over the region where I live.

    With all sincerity, Erick, how many Jews or Muslims or even Trinitarian Christians can believe with assurance that Thomas S. Monson believes in only one God?

    I suppose that I could believe that when a contemporary LDS gentleman says that he believes in only one true God or one Most High, this is in reference to the Father and not the Lord Jesus Christ.

  13. To put it all in a nutshell:

    The religious Authorities explain away the mystery of #1, #1, and #3 and declare that I am incoherent and misled by old church council guys.

    But I am intrigued and captivated by the biblical data from Moses to the prophet Isaiah and on to the apostle John. Whereas the religious Leaders would scoff at such a notion, I see a fathomless depth of divine mystery that infinitely transcends us, the creatures.

    It all fans the fire for worship.

  14. My hat off to Eric and Todd Wood for taking the time to listen to a sermon on the Trinity by an evangelical pastor. Most Mormons wouldn’t do that, would they?

    My studies on this subject lead me to believe that once you strip back the differences in definitions, there is really very little difference between the LDS theology of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, and evangelical theology. Eric and Todd’s comments confirm that to me.

    Isn’t it true that one of the minor differences has to do with whether the Father has a permanent body?

    Another difference is the lack of confusion among Mormons. I think more Mormons understand the Trinity than do evangelicals. Once the Holy Spirit gives you an understanding, it’s the simplest thing in the world; otherwise, it’s impossible to understand–just like with any gospel principle.

    The Father and the Son are one in the same way that I am one with other Christians–except that my oneness with other Christians is not as complete as the oneness of the Father and the Son. John 17:20-23 is the proof. John 17:22 says it’s the Father’s glory makes the Father, Son & their followers one.

    All we have to do is find out what the glory is! God loves hiding treasures for us to dig up (no hidden reference to the Book of Mormon intended 😉 ).

  15. “there is really very little difference between the LDS theology of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, and evangelical theology”

    “The Father and the Son are one in the same way that I am one with other Christians except . . . ”

    Hmmm . . . . . . . . . Hmmm . . . . . . . . Hmmm . . . . . . . .

    There is very little difference between me and LDS on the theology of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and oneness in John’s Gospel?

    Cal, I am speechless. (chuckling)

    Perhaps I speak too softly in the heart of the Mormon Corridor.

  16. Cal, I just clicked on your site.

    And now John 17 is to be used as a prooftext for me to acknowledge oneness with the LDS General Authorities in the area?

    Don’t tell me that was a revelation given to you.

  17. Yes! 🙂
    Pray about it. Meditate on all the verses that have to do with the relationship between the Father and the Son. Keep doing those hmms! It took years for the Lord to reveal this to me—it came piece by piece.

    The Father is love; Jesus is love. The Father is righteousness; Jesus is righteousness. Joseph Smith said, “Each God in the Godhead is a personage, separate and distinct from each of the others, yet they are ‘One God,’ meaning that they are united as one in the attributes of perfection. For instance, each has the fullness of truth, knowledge, charity, power, justice, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976], 345-47).

  18. Someone spoke of three biblical declarations . . .
    (1) Jesus is God
    (2) Jesus is distinct from the Father (is not the Father)
    (3) There is one God

    I don’t claim to know how this someone reconciles those three declarations, but here’s how I would do it:
    (1) Jesus is God in nature (character). Philippians 2:6, NIV: “Who, being in very nature God. . . .”
    (2) Jesus is distinct from the Father. See John 8:17-18.
    (3) There is one God. The word “God” can be, and is, defined in various ways. This could mean there is one Father—although I don’t think the ancients meant it that way. Or it could mean there is one Godhead, i.e., one Almighty system of ruler-ship in the universe. Father, Son & Holy Spirit make up one governmental unit, all members always being in perfect agreement with each other.

  19. Cal, Joseph Smith made Jesus Christ a second place God.

    That is not love. That is not truth. That is not God.

    And I don’t reconcile the three biblical statements because I am not the Three-Person’d God. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 can not be manipulated in such a way that we can ignore the bright line of demarcation between the Creature and creature so carefully laid down in the earlier chapters.

    My earnest prayer is that the thousands in the Intermountain Corridor could see in the biblical revelation that the one God is far beyond their conception or imagination of a progressive, superlative, hierarchical, material, male, sexual Father and His Son who needed to be deified and the Holy Ghost (whoever that might be among all the creative proposals and endless speculation brought to my attention by LDS).

    Let me suggest, Cal, that when Joseph stepped outside of the biblical Tradition on defining God, oh yeah, he thought he was solving some things that appeared incoherent to him, but in turn, it opened up about a thousand cans of slimy worms.

    In the most beautiful. moral and patriotic region of America (among wonderful people whom I love, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else), how is it that we have come to this:

    Understandable ancient Near Eastern Paganism but using the very names of divine Trinitarian glory – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

    Last night, after I commented to you, Cal, I read two new chapters in Blake’s third Theology book, Of God and Gods. I will post some of the thoughts on HI4LDS. But it upsets my stomach to read Blake’s work. I think I have told him so.

    Cal, in our prayers and in our scripture meditation, you and I are being led down two very different and distinct paths. They are not parallel, and they don’t converge.

    I am not one with the teachings of Joseph Smith. After spending almost the last four years in John’s Gospel and feasting on the minute details of God’s Word, and relishing the Trinitarian glory and my oneness with God, I can hardly express to you the anger that I feel in what Joseph tried to do to that book. Unfortunately, the whole culture (even a culture of the House of the LORD) is severely tainted in seeing the glory of the Trinity.

    But do I speak as the smart man?

    (chuckling)

    At one time, I was probably more tainted in my Christian morality than anyone else in the neighborhood.

    So thankful for the gospel grace of the Triune God upon the sinful creature (Jesus doesn’t need grace for grace, I do),

    et

    p.s. – Yes, I am the Bible fool among the Ammonites in Ammon, Idaho who worships the infinite and eternal Triune God.

  20. I don’t agree with a lot of stuff Joseph Smith said either. It appears that he backslid during approximately the last 10 years of his life.
    But could you look straight into my eyes and say to me with full confidence that everything you said in your last comment was revealed to you by the Holy Spirit?

    I’m not familiar with Blake’s “Of God and Gods.”

    I’m glad that you are worshiping God.

  21. Oh, thanks Tim! That means I don’t have to be so tender with him. But I’ll be tender anyway because I need God’s tenderness too.

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