Editor’s Introduction The Trinity: What And Why? -- By: John H. Armstrong

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 10:3 (Summer 2001)
Article: Editor’s Introduction The Trinity: What And Why?
Author: John H. Armstrong


Editor’s Introduction The Trinity: What And Why?

John H. Armstrong

The doctrine of the Trinity has stood at the center of biblical and historical Christian faith almost from the beginning. Far from being an obscure dogma of confused early Christian theologians, or an unnecessary stumbling block to modern minds, this truth is indispensable to the true Christian revelation of God. If this truth goes, then our doctrine of God, Christ, sin and salvation all go.

Lest the reader think my last statement to be too inclusive I will provide an example of what I mean. If God has acted to redeem humanity in Jesus Christ in the way presented to us by the New Testament itself, what are the implications of this action? This is virtually the same question Athanasius asked in the fourth century. He biblically reasoned that if Christ saves sinners from sin then the reality of this action far exceeds the capacity of human language to capture it adequately. Christ must be God since, according to the biblical witness, only God can save. If this is true then Jesus reveals and explains God, once and for all. And if Jesus is God, and the Father and Holy Spirit are also God, then the reality we are faced with must be something like the doctrine of a tri-unity of persons who are all equally God. Yet the Bible is equally clear that there is only one God.

St. Augustine’s classic definition of the Trinity stands to our day as clear and wise. “So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three gods, but one God.” It is right that we ask one “what” and three “whos” if we are to comprehend Augustine’s affirmation. The Council of Nicea, wrestling with this truth, confessed the Son to be of “one substance [or essence] with the Father.” Harold O. J. Brown writes:

By introducing the term “subsist,” theology seeks to show that the Trinity is not to be demystified by resorting to inapplicable comparisons. If one were to say, for example, that God consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, this might appear to suggest that God has three parts.... God does not consist of parts, but subsists in Persons. These Persons are distinguished from one another by means of a relationship ... but not by succession in time.1

Evangelical History And The Trinity

For well over a century evangelicals have given scant attention to the doctrine of the Trinity. Sadly, this has not been an accident. After heated battles with Unitarianism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, those who loved the gospel were particularly committed to spreading their faith a...

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