Four Approaches to the Doctrine of the Trinity

Chances are, you think about God’s Trinity a lot. Are you thinking correctly? Learn why clarity about this doctrine is so important.

Chances are, you think about God’s Trinity a lot. Question is, are you thinking correctly?

Two weeks ago I wrote about 10 inadequate views of God’s Trinity. This week, I want to look at four correct views…

And then I’ll explain why clarity on this doctrine is so important to you.

Cappadocians on the Trinity

This 4th Century family of monks known as the  made major contributions to the doctrine of the Trinity following the Council of Nicaea.

The formula to best describe this approach to the Trinity is “one substance in three persons.” The one indivisible Godhead is common to all three persons of the Trinity.

This approach, however, gives priority to the father, and in doing so, can easily hint at tritheism or modalism.

Karl Barth on the Trinity

Swiss Protestant theologian   is generally regarded as championing the importance of the Trinitarian doctrine after a sustained period of neglect by dogmatic theologians.

Barth argued that sin prohibits man from seeing or hearing the self disclosure of God as redeemer. Therefore, the Holy Spirit’s function is to make this revelation visible to sinful man.

In other words: God reveals Himself through the Son…but sinful man is blind to this revelation without the help of the Holy Spirit.

Karl Rahner on the Trinity

One of the most influential Catholic theologians of the 20th Century, , said the way God reveals himself in the economy of salvation–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–is a disclosure of who he actually is in eternity.

The proper starting point, then, when discussing the Trinity, is our experience of salvation. When we reflect on our salvation experience, we see the Trinity.

Rahner is simply building on what Barth said: Christ is the image of God. But we’ll never see that image unless the Holy Spirit reveals it. That is salvation.

Robert Jenson on the Trinity

In his book –a recommended read if there ever was one– Lutheran theologian  says that the Trinity identifies and isolates the Christian God from rival gods through his historical actions–namely, raising Christ from the dead–as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In other words, when you use God’s proper name, you are being unquestionably clear about the God you are talking about. This is theological precision. Precious in an age of lax theology.

Why This Is Important to You

I think the number one reason why you should care about the doctrine of the Trinity is this: you can’t truly adore who you don’t know.

We don’t marry strangers. Or even people we kind of know.

When we truly love someone, we want to know everything about that person. So clarity about God deepens our adoration and dependence on Him as we see His beauty in light of our wretchedness.

In fact, refusal to refine our view of God is an act of rebellion. You know you can know God better. What are you going to do about it?

Your Turn

Which of the four approaches helped you see God better? [For me, it was Jensen’s approach.] Do any of these approaches expose any error in your belief or behavior? Do you agree clarity about God is even important? If not, why?

**Part of the Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Doctrine of God’s Trinity series.**

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