God is Trinity – Doctrine 101


a) Do you think that the Trinitarian nature of God is more fully reflected in a church in which all the members are from the same racial background, or one where the members come from many races?What are the blessings and the problems facing a multi-racial church?

The more diverse the church, the less we can rely on cultural norms and values to maintain unity. Therefore, we need to dig deeper into a unified experience of God in order to develop a group identity rooted in that — and the greater the danger if we get it wrong. In fact, I believe our challenge is to nurture an understanding of God that embraces all of His triune glory — which demands that we learn to see His glory in all humanity (even non-Christians!).

Think of one of the areas in our life where we have to function in a unity / diversity context (e.g. sports team or band). Give examples of ways that the pattern of relationships in the Trinity gives a model for how you might use authority in a better way, and how you might respond to authority in a better way.

I believe the essence of the Trinity is a full cycle of mutual submission to each other’s roles [and our own], and a wholehearted commitment to serving through leading (and vice versa). This is something I’m wrestling with as I’m learning to run the sound board for our worship team at Church. There is a tension/paradox between seeking to serve the worship team and exerting leadership/authority over how they relate to the sound equipment.

It is also a larger struggle I have with authority, which perhaps relates to the multiverse tension between logical, physical, and spiritual decision-making. I suspect the more comfortable I am with God’s authority — on an emotional/spiritual level, even when it conflicts with my logical understanding — the easier it will be for me to appropriately submit to human authority.

Read RCS #11 (incl. Bible passages).

Written work:

  1. In 30-40 words, write out a description of what are the key ideas in the concept of God being “Trinity”.
  2. Summarize the conclusions to the class discussions on p. 15 and above.

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Doctrine 101: Learning about God
Worksheet 3 – The Trinity

A. Reading R. C. Sproul

In the final paragraph of the chapter (p.36; p.40, PDF), R. C. Sproul explains that the doctrine of the Trinity “sets the boundaries outside of which we must not step” as we think about this mystery.

One of the best ways to be sure we are thinking correctly is to talk about what we don’t mean. This chapter helps you do this.

1. How does the textbook use the word “tritheism”? (p. 35; p. 39, PDF)

To refer to three distinct and autonomous Gods (e.g., Father, Son, Spirit) who do not share in the same “substance.”

2. What is modalism? (p. 35; p. 39, PDF)

The idea that Father/Son/Spirit are merely roles which God can (more or less arbitrarily) step in and out of, not distinct, co-eternal persons.

3. Look at the paragraph on “subsistence” (the fourth paragraph on p. 35; p. 39, PDF). Why is it not correct to think of “person” in the usual way when we speak of the three Persons of the Trinity?

Because normal “persons” have their own distinct “essence” (whatever that means :-).

4. Go through these two pages and mark or write out the statements you find most helpful.

“The word Trinity is used in an effort to define the fullness of the Godhead both in terms of His unity and His diversity.” –– I like the explicit dynamic tension between those two aspects.

“The doctrine of the Trinity does not fully explain the mysterious character of God.” — we need to approach it with humility, as well as with conviction.

5. Mark or make a note of sentences or sections you don’t understand.

What does “essence” mean, as opposed to “subsistence”? Are they even definable, or just a convention to give us some way to talk about things beyond our conception?

Ask your mentor about these.

B. Father, Son, and Spirit in the New Testament

Statements in the New Testament unmistakably substantiate and require faith in the fact that God is Triune.

1. Read Matt 3.16-17. How clearly could John the Baptist distinguish the three persons of the Godhead as He witnessed what happened here.

The Son was tangible, the Spirit was visible (like, yet apparently not identical to, a dove), and the Father was audible.

2. Read Matt 28.19
Note, first of all, who it is speaking these words.


How do these words establish that God is triune?

One name, but three persons.

What does Jesus announce in v. 18?

That He has all authority, in both heaven and earth (co-equal with God).

Does what He announces make a difference in the way men can know the Trinity?

If He has all authority, and commands us to enter into that three-fold name, then by obedience to all He commands we can enter into His presence and know His fulness, as part of that Godhead.

3. Write out the words of 2 Cor 13.14.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

4. Look up each of the following texts and write down the confession of faith you find.

  • Acts 8.37 : “I believe [with all my heart] that Jesus Christ is the son of God.”
  • Rom 1.3-4 : Jesus was born according to the flesh, but declared the Son of God with power, by the resurrection from the dead.
  • 1 Cor 8.6 : “There is but one God, the Father.. and one Lord, Jesus Christ.”
  • 1 John 4.2-3 : “every spirit that confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”

5. Write down the rule of faith you find in 1 John 2.23.

“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father;
the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.”

6. Phil 2.6-11 may have been a hymn New Testament Christians sang. Write down each important statement that is made about Jesus’ position with God.

  • He existed in the form of God
  • did not regard equality with God a thing to grasped
  • emptied Himself
  • taking the from of a bondservant
  • being made in the likeness of men
  • found in appearance as a man
  • humbled Himself
  • becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross
  • God highly exalted Him
  • and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name
  • that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth
  • and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

One of the statements about Jesus in Phil 2.6 is often translated “He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” In the Greek text the words say, “He did not count it robbery to be equal with God.”

oux arpagnos egesato to einai isa theo

Why is the original wording an even stronger statement? How is it a quite different statement?

I’m sure many scholars would dispute this, but the earlier translation implies that equality was already present, and that it was appropriate for Jesus to acknowledge it; the modern rendition instead implies that Jesus chose not to pursue equality, leaving it unclear whether such equality was in fact His due.

7. Look at 1 Peter 1.1-2. How does Peter express the way each Person of the Trinity is related to a believer?

  • chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father
  • through the sanctifying work of the Spirit
  • for obedience to Jesus Christ [and sprinkling by his blood]

8. What does Paul write about the Father, the Son, and the Spirit in 2 Thess 2.13-14?

  • God has chosen us [from the beginning for salvation]
  • through sanctification by the Spirit [and faith in the truth]
  • …that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ

C. The Athanasian Creed

1. Write in your own words what the following statement is saying: Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. Look at the next two statements in the creed to help you understand what is being said here.

Our worship [relationship to God] should neither confuse/water down the distinct persons of the Godhead, but neither should we deny their unity as one God.

2. The Son is of the Father alone; not made nor created, but begotten. How does this statement help guard your thinking about the meaning of the word “begotten”?

The word “begotten” as used here does not mean conceived in the usual human sense, with a specific beginning. What it does mean, though, seems mostly “incomprehensible!”

3. And in this Trinity none is before or after another. Why is this statement so crucial to include?

This is not a hierarchy, where one person created or lords it over the others, but a full “society of equals”, bound together by mutual submission and love.

4. . . . of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
What is this phrase adding to the confession?

Jesus is not “merely” God, but also fully human, with a mind and body just like ours.

5. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God.
When Jesus was in the world was He ever lacking any of the realities of God’s nature?

Depends on which ‘realities’ you mean. He obviously still had the “essence” of Godhead, yet He did not manifest the fullness of God’s glory [which no man can see, and live].

How does this statement from the creed help you know the right answer?

The implication is that Jesus was always in perfect communion with the rest of the Godhead, and thus not separated from their (His) essence, or lacking in any of their “realities.” Though I’m not sure how this squares with His cry in Matthew 27: 46

6. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. What substances could get confused?

Presumably “manhood” and “Godhead.” This is close to where the Nestorians got into trouble, I believe.

What is the creed protecting against here?

I presume the temptation to consider Jesus half-God/half-man, like Hercules.

7. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ;
This analogy is very helpful. What point is it making?

We commonly identify as one “person” a being composed of a mind and a body in perfect union. That in itself is a great mystery, but (most of the time) we accept it unthinkingly as a normal part of our everyday experience. So, why not accept that Godhead and humanity can similarly exist in perfect union as one human being, Jesus?

The selected stanzas of the following Christmas hymn will help you think about the answer to question # 5.

The Incarnation
The great God of heaven is come down to earth,
His mother a virgin and sinless His birth;
The Father Eternal His Father alone;
He sleeps in the manger; He reigns on the Throne.

A Babe on the breast of a maiden He lies,
Yet sits with His Father on high in the skies;
Before Him their faces the Seraphim hide,
While Joseph stands waiting, unscared by His side.

The Wonderful Counsellor, boundless in might,
The Father’s own Image, the Beam of His Light;
Behold Him now wearing the likeness of man,
Weak, helpless, and speechless, in measure a span.

The Word in the bliss of the Godhead remains,
Yet in Flesh comes to suffer the keenest of pains;
He is that He was, and for ever shall be,
But becomes that He was not, for you and for me.

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