Why the language we use of the Trinity matters

Posted: February 5, 2012 by doulos tou Theou in Christian Theology, Christianity, Discipleship

a section from an article D.A. Carson & Tim Keller wrote in response to some controversy about terms used to describe the Godhead, I highlighted a section that caused me to worship THE Father Son & Holy Spirit, enjoy:

As Christians in the third and fourth century studied the biblical evidence, they insisted that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit express necessary, internal, and eternal relations in the Godhead. Today, of course, we sometimes quickly summarize the doctrine of the Trinity: the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and there is but one God. That is true as far as it goes, but it does not guard very well against modalism. The early church taught “that the Father eternally, necessarily, and incomprehensibly communicates the divine essence to the Son without division or change so that the Son shares an equality of nature with the Father yet is also distinct from the Father” (this is the careful summary of Keith E. Johnson, “Augustine, Eternal Generation, and Evangelical Trinitarianism,” TrinJ 32 [2011]: 141-163). The language of “communication” was judged crucial: the essence is absolute and communicable, and the early church fathers spoke of this communication in terms of the eternal generation of the Son, while the person is incommunicable, i.e., it cannot be shared. So while one joyfully confesses that the Son is God and the Father is God, the church throughout its history has equally insisted that the Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son. The church needs a robust Trinitarianism to avoid modalism on the one hand and tritheism on the other.

Had we the space and time, it would be delightful to justify this synthesis by providing the exegesis of many passages, and then extend the discussion from Father and Son to the Spirit. Someone might ask, “But what does it matter?” The answer is twofold: (1) If this summary accurately captures at least some of the glorious truth of the nature of the Godhead, to abandon it is to abandon a true understanding of God. If we are to worship God aright, we must worship him as he is, as he has disclosed himself to us. The only alternative is to worship a god who is progressively false as our understanding skews away from the truth. (2) Various truths connected with the gospel itself become incoherent if one abandons robust Trinitarianism. The Father sends the Son; the Son demonstrates his love for the Father by obeying him all the way to the cross; the Son addresses his Father in the anguished cry, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”; the Father gives the elect to the Son; in the plan of God, the Son propitiates the wrath of God and expiates sin; in the wake of his ascension and session at the Father’s right hand, the Son reigns as the Father’s mediatorial king until he has crushed all opponents, when he will turn the entire scope over to his Father; indeed, when the Son “offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death . . . he was heard because of his reverent submission” (Heb 5:7). None of these relational displays—and there are many others in the drama of redemption—is coherent under modalism. These relations are tied up with the nature of the Godhead. It is not surprising that those who adopt modalism habitually slide toward a diminished gospel.

In his Institutes, John Calvin sums it up: “Say that in the one essence of God there is a trinity of persons: you will say in one word what Scripture says, and cut short empty talkativeness.” He then adds that, in his experience, those who “persistently quarrel” over these words “nurse a secret poison” (I.13.5).

read the whole article here


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