Drinking Deeply

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 at 11:42 PM

Trinity Post 3

jefe writes:
(4)
returning to mickey's post, and taking "essential doctrine" to mean the things that you gotta believe--"what must we believe to be saved?" (not that we're saved by virtue of having the right beliefs, i'd say, but rather, the way we're saved is through god's giving us the right faith.):

now, i could be off base here, but i only know of a couple of propositional statements that scriptural texts say are essential in that way.

1. (a) god exists and (b) he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11.6)

2. god raised jesus from the dead (Romans 10.9)

(you might also want to add "jesus is lord" to that, from the last passage--but i think (and please feel free to correct me) that that's not really a propositional belief: it's more like a statement of allegiance--as the passage goes on, it's a matter of trusting jesus. and that's important--because while our faith does have propositional content, that content is not the core of our faith.)

now that's a darn short list. there may be things i missed--but i really don't think we should be striving to make it longer. remember jesus' words (Luke 11.46): "woe to you who load people down with burdens".
Full agreement on the earlier point. God saves us via right beliefs, rather than once we have right beliefs we are saved.

Maybe we're just talking over words (which seems to happen for me a lot... my apologies)

Scripture is clear that we are to separate ourselves from false teachers (and from hypocritical liars, demonstrating it is possible to have right "doctrine" but wrong "action"). It is with regards to seeking to obey this as best we are able that we want to identify what doctrines are "essential" and what are not. And yes, the terminology is optional. If someone rejected "faith alone" as James 2 contradicts it, but affirmed that one is saved not by a mixture of works and faith, but simply by faith placed in Christ, there would be no issue, though I would say "faith alone" is a good summary.

Similarly if someone rejected "Trinity" simply because the word wasn't in the Bible (which, to me, seems like a plausible reason for rejecting it) but affirmed that God was three in person, one in essence, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all God and not identical with one another, sharing differing roles in the process of life, sanctification, justification, prayer, and so on, who am I to quibble?

yet I would say that the Trinity belongs in the list of essentials, simply because without a passable understanding of the Trinity, one's whole conception of God is messed up, maybe to the point where one cannot properly understand justification by faith, prayer, salvation, sanctification, and so on.

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Blogger Eric said...

It seems to me that there's a big difference between "maybe to the point where one cannot properly understand ..." and "definitely to the point where one cannot properly understand ..." If our real concern is whether the Trinitarian is talking about the same deity as the Unitarian or the person who has taken no particular position on Trinitarianism, then doesn't it matter whether it's "maybe" or "definitely?"  

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Blogger jefe said...

I'm gonna disagree with a more basic point: I would say that it is not essential to salvation to "properly understand justification by faith, prayer, salvation, sanctification, and so on."

Now before you get all riled up, here's what I don't mean by that. I don't mean that proper understanding is not important. I don't mean that improper understanding is the sort of thing we can safely treat with blasé nonchalance--especially when the person exhibiting it is a teacher. By all means, reject bad doctrine, chastise bad teachers, and correct bad understanding (each in keeping with your proper authority).

But opposing falsehood in the right spirit, like opposing evil, requires the recognition that God is a God who extends grace to the evildoers--and, I claim, to the heterodox--that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners--that we too (sometimes) do what is evil and (sometimes) believe what is false. And so we should strive to treat each other with similar grace, bearing one another's burdens.

Does grace for bad doctrine encourage apathy about good doctrine? That's the danger that's always present with the good news of grace; and the answer is always the same (if a little mysterious): "By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Romans 6.1).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I see it written nowhere in scripture that sound and complete theological understanding is necessary for salvation. Trust in God to save us through the death of Christ, yes--but understanding how on earth that works--the apparatus of "justification" and "sanctification"? That sounds to me like doctrinal legalism. We might need the concept of trinity to explain our salvation adequately--but the reality of our salvation doesn't rest on our ability to explain it.

This is in the spirit of what C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:

"We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself."  

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Blogger mxu said...

Eric -

I said "maybe" though I wanted to say "definitely" simply because I don't know if all rejections of the Trinity entail a rejection of justification by faith alone. But in most cases (namely, the ones I could think of) I would say "yes, all"

To those who have no particular position on the Trinity, it might be important to let them know what the Trinity is. One of Christ's sheep will embrace it and one who is not will reject it.

jefe - I think I agree with you on the necessity of excercising charity and extending grace, especially in light of the fact that we ourselves are fallen and sinful.

But yet "trust in God to save us through the death of Christ" presupposes a great deal of information:

1) Salvation - What are we saved from? What are we saved to?

2) God - Who is God?

3) Christ - Who is Chirst? How does his death save us?

Without some basic understanding of this how can someone actually say that they are putting their faith in Jesus?

I'm not demanding that they be able to say in words what they actually believe (though I would hope with maturity they would be able to do that, if just to be able to share the Gospel with others), but they do need a basic understanding somewhere.

Maybe I am going about this the wrong way. I don't know. It is true that we are not to load up additional burdens beyond Scripture, but at the same time we can be clear that the "gate is narrow and the way is hard" and we cannot say otherwise.

What I hope for (and I think we're in agreement here), is faithful Christians encouraging one another up in the context of the church, being (biblically) seperate from the rest of ungodly world, yet still remaining salt and light, rebuking, correcting, training, in grace and with patience.

I see the a grasp of the trinity as essential to this picture, and cannot say that Scripture promises any who (actively) deny the trinity anything beyond what is promised to those who deny Christ.  

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Blogger Eric said...

I don't know about Jeff, but my concern about this connects with my comment to your last post (which discussion I hereby migrate to this thread). I agree that the point of all this is identification: we want to know if the entity I label "God" is the same entity as the one you label "God." But I think that can be done without reference to the Trinity. So far as I know, Abraham was saved. So far as I know, Abraham believed in neither the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Spirit in any conscious sense - he believed in the Godhead those three persons make up, but I see no indication that it ever occurred to Abraham (or any other OT hero of faith) that God might be triune.* If it was enough for Abraham to trust in God to deliver him, why isn't it enough for us?

Now you could say that we know better now, and I would agree that's true. But where in Scripture is it suggested that in order to be saved the state of our beliefs must advance as the state of our knowledge of God advances? I can't think of any such place, and the notion sounds suspiciously gnostic to me.

* I would distinguish between expressing no certain opinion on the Trinity, or never adverting to the possibility of a Trinity, from actual denial of the Trinity. I think I can believe in the Trinity and still believe in the god Abraham prayed to, since so far as I know Abraham never even adverted to the possibility that his god might be triune. The same is not true of my beliefs and, say, a Jewish friend who denies that his god is triune.  

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Blogger mxu said...

Eric -

I agree, and I've totally forgotten what we're discussing.

It is not clear that Abraham believed that God was Triune.

Nor is it clear that anyone prior to the NT believed that God was Triune (though I think we can argue that there definitely were hints of it).  

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Blogger Eric said...

Well, I think what we were discussing is whether one must believe the doctrine of the Trinity to be saved. You stated "There are a lot of things that are true but not essential. ... However, the doctrine of the Trinity is different." For the reasons I stated, I don't think one must believe in the Trinity in order to be saved (although of course I think it is necessary to teach the doctrine of the Trinity as part of right doctrine). I think it is necessary to believe in our god, who is triune, but I don't think you have to know that he's triune in order to believe in him unto salvation.  

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