How would you explain the Trinity?

trikeleHas anyone ever asked you to explain the doctrine of the Trinity?

How did you approach it?

I seldom offer an explanation for the Trinity as it is not the easiest teaching to understand, even for Christians. But I seldom have to offer; I get asked all the time. For as soon as our conversations get to God it becomes clear that my understanding of God, as a Christian, is different, distinctive. And as the apostle says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)

It is hard for others to understand the Christian understanding of God. Muslims have a very transcendent understanding of God. For them our confession that Jesus is the son of God is blasphemy. God is one! Not three! Hindus, by way of contrast, have a very immanent understanding of God. For them our confession that Jesus is the son of God is just as unacceptable, but for different reasons. You can’t limit God that way! The gods are beyond counting!

Obviously we need to explain ourselves. Of course, even with explaining, the Christian understanding of God will often be rejected. But at least then they’ll be rejecting the actual Christian understanding, not a misunderstanding, and if nothing else at least we’ll understand each other a bit better.

I often use the H20 analogy. That just as water is H20 and ice is H2O and steam is H2O, without water and ice and steam being the same thing as each other, so too the Father, the Son and the Spirit are all one and the same God, yet simultaneously distinct.

Yet another analogy I use is the analogy of the 3 legged stool or table. As a visual thinker who mixes with a lot of visual thinkers the visuals can be just as important, even more important, than the words sometimes. Do you find those approaches helpful, or do you use other approaches? Personally, given the difficulty of explaining this, I think the more approaches the better.

But of course the best, most visible approach is to live like you genuinely entrust your life to a Christlike God. For as another apostle says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) People need to see this affirmation of the Christlikeness of God enfleshed.

4 thoughts on “How would you explain the Trinity?

  1. A modal trinity is quite accessible to Muslims, which I’ve found makes a good starting point. The actual Trinity is a superset of that idea rather than an alternative to it. From the OT, we could say:
    1) God is transcendent, can’t be seen, by definition, or reduced to matter or energy.
    2) God’s glory can be seen, when he makes it manifest. (Lots of OT time spent distinguishing between these two things. Is the glory really God? Or just the glory?)
    3) God dwells in people by his spirit.
    Now God is timeless and can do these things simultaneously: be transcendent, be manifest, be indwelling. That’s a modal “trinity” that Muslims would have few conceptual problems with.
    I think this is the heart of Paul’s understanding in the NT, based on the OT: Jesus is God’s glory made manifest. Paul calls Jesus the Lord. “The Lord” in the OT, and the glory thereof, the rationality Logos imposed on creation, is God as he acts in the world. Paul quotes OT passages where The Lord is speaking and attributes them to Christ. They’re the same. This can still work modally, and timelessly. God could baptize Jesus, God incarnate, with the Holy Spirit while still only being a modal Trinity; and so on. A modal trinity gets you 90% of the way, and is a much easier starting point.
    The question that gets us into “actual Trinity” territory is: Would God still have those three ‘persons’ if there was no created world in which to manifest his glory, or no created people in whom to dwell?
    Why go for the full version? There are “single tri-personal being” verses that are hard to account for otherwise (e.g. the word with God in the beginning, so not merely God’s way of being active in the world (likewise, spirit); the Father loves the Son, not just “acts in concert with”). To me a full trinity makes more sense of a relational concept like love being part of God’s essence, and the expansion of that circle of love could be a motive for creating a world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s