Why we should study the Metaphysics of the Trinity

This month’s guest post comes to you from Isaiah Lin. Like many of us who write on this blog, his roots are in Santa Barbara. Currently, Isaiah is studying at Talbot. Isaiah’s family and my family have known each other for many years through serving together at the Chinese Evangelical Free Church of Santa Barbara. Over the years our families have gone on many trips together, but the sweetest memories are those spent serving together. This past weekend, Isaiah and I had the opportunity to serve at CCCTO‘s summer retreat, where Dien To spoke. You can catch Dien’s 5 part series called “What’s the Big Picture?” on the CCCTO website.  

Augustine (De Trinitate)

Introduction:

With the following post, I want to raise a concern that weighs heavily on my heart. My concern can be phrased as the following question: Why is it the case that most professing Christians know close to nothing about the triune nature of the God they say they worship? I want to raise and briefly address three questions in this post. First, what happens if we as the Church fail to study and teach the doctrine of the Trinity? Second, why should we bother studying the Trinity at all? And third, by what means can we begin a pursuit of the doctrine of the Trinity? This post will be far too brief than it deserves, but I hope it will nonetheless be sobering, motivating, and thought provoking.

Question 1: What happens if the Church fails to teach the doctrine of the Trinity?

In addressing this first question, let us broaden our scope and contemplate this quote:

“The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity. But
whatever the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied… Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every earnest Christian man. Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is…” (Gresham Machen Christianity & Liberalism p. 176-177)

Now, whether you agree with Machen’s other works and systematic theology or not, he does put his finger on something quite relevant to our discussion today. What happens if the next generation of professing Christians believes that Jesus was fully man but not fully God? What would you say about them? With reverence, I dare say that whatever this hypothetical generation is, it is not a generation of Christians. The doctrine of Christianity is not the sort of thing that molds itself to whatever those who profess to be Christian at the time believe. I hope that this inspires some introspection on the part of those who would consider themselves Christian. Believing you are a Christian does not make you a Christian. Believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ does. But this implies a certain understanding of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ actually is, not whatever you want it to be. I take it there are many people who believe they are Christian, but are not genuine members of the Body because they have too far perverted the Gospel message. Scary? It should be. So it becomes clear that teaching an accurate account of Christian doctrine is of utmost importance. After all, Scripture tells us that teachers will be held to a higher standard (James 3:1). For clarity, I am not saying that unless we understand everything there is to know about Christian doctrine, we are not Christians. However, I am saying that what we know and teach about Christian doctrine matters.

So let us return to our first question. What happens if the Church stops teaching the doctrine of the Trinity? For one, Christians will begin to think that the Trinity is unimportant. Learning about effective evangelism and being a “good person” will be seen as a better use of time.

And isn’t this what we see in our churches? Clearly these other pursuits are good, but question why our churches emphasize certain doctrines over others. It’s worth thinking about. Another potential consequence, perhaps more devastating than the former, is the vulnerability it creates in the Body. If we do not teach our children something as fundamental as the triune nature of God, should it surprise us when they so easily get swept away by cults that make similar, yet heretical claims? It’s simple. If one does not know what God is like, then there is almost no way for that person to discern if someone else is wrong about what God is like. And as Machen writes, “…whatever the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied…”

Question 2: Why bother studying the doctrine of the Trinity?

As if the consequences of not studying the doctrine of the Trinity are not severe enough, is there a positive reason for why one should pursue Trinitarian studies? Clearly I think the answer is yes. I cannot begin to impress upon you the importance of pursuing knowledge of the Trinity. Whether we are aware of it or not, we now live in the wake of the anti-intellectual movement in Christian culture. Many have abandoned rational thought, believing that faith excludes reason, leaving devastating impacts on the teachings of Christ and Christian doctrine in general. Think back through all the sermons that you have heard, or Sunday school lessons you have taken. Do you ever remember learning about the Triune nature of God beyond the mere affirmation that he is Three in One? Further, it’s not only that Trinitarian studies have ceased in our churches, but it’s also often the case that the pursuit itself is actively condemned. People often say, “That’s too philosophical,” or, “we will never fully understand God in this lifetime, so what’s the point?” It may be true that we will not come to a complete knowledge of God in this lifetime, in fact that’s quite likely, but neither will we fully understand all of what scripture has to teach. But this doesn’t stop us from the pursuit of learning about God through scripture. The very fathers who established orthodoxy understood this clearly. Augustine, Richard of St. Victor, Aquinas, and countless others dedicated their lives to these intellectual pursuits ultimately contributing to establish the very orthodoxy that our evangelical faith is built upon.
The point is, the pursuit of knowing more about the Holy Trinity that we love is itself virtuous. Why study the metaphysics of the Trinity? When properly done, it can be worship in the purest of forms.

Question 3: How can we begin a pursuit of the doctrine of the Trinity?

Now, if you’re with me up to this point, you may be wondering how we can begin such a pursuit. I submit to you the following two ways are two incredibly vital means by which we ought to.

History:

Looking back at what scholars have discerned about Scripture is tremendously helpful in interpreting scripture. So it is also the case for Trinitarian theology. The early church had a lot to say about the Trinity. We need to ask ourselves questions like, why do we believe in a Trinity if the word ‘Trinity’ is not explicitly in the Holy Scriptures? Further, where did our Trinitarian doctrine come from? Simply put, the early church had to establish an orthodoxy to combat false teachings that were being presented. Essentially, these are the grounds for the establishment of the creeds. The creeds were a formal affirmation of doctrine put in place intended to combat unsound doctrine. Perhaps the best example of this is the heresy of Arianism. In the early church, Arius was teaching that the second and third persons of the Trinity were not eternal, but created by the Father. In the first council of Nicaea, Arius was deemed a heretic for this very doctrine. Following this, we can see these orthodox principles affirmed later on, the Athanasian Creed being one example. I mention these things because it’s obvious that studying the history of our Church can lead to a wealth of knowledge regarding accurate doctrine. When was the last time your church offered a class on historical theology?

Metaphysics:

First off, what the heck is metaphysics? Frankly, this is no easy question to answer. However for our purposes, we can settle on an ambiguous definition such as, metaphysics is the study of being. Now, this definition probably isn’t very illuminating, so for ease, let us look at some questions that would fall under this discipline. What is existence? Is it a property of a thing? What is a property? When we say that the grass is green, are we really saying that there is such a thing that is grass, and further, that this thing has the property of being green? What does it mean to be identical to something? What does it mean for two things to be related to one another? If you have tried to answer these types of questions about the nature of things, then you have undoubtedly attempted to engage in the enterprise of metaphysics. In this enterprise, we try to understand the way the world is. We try to understand all sorts of things like first causes, the human mind, possible worlds, and yes, the nature of GOD.

If we think for a moment about this, it really shouldn’t be all that shocking. Often times we wonder about the nature of God. “How is the Trinity possible?” we might ask. How is any god possible at all? Well, why might we have an intuition that He might be impossible? If we think this because of the natural sciences, such as physics and chemistry, we should pause for a moment and reflect. Physics and chemistry are in the game of describing aspects of the physical world. They use empirical methods to show patterns and probabilities in the physical domain. So ultimately, how much can those enterprises even say about the immaterial? Metaphysics, on the other hand, is not constrained to the domain of the physical realm. If there is an inconsistency in God, or one wants to argue that God is impossible, it must be demonstrable, at least in part, through metaphysical argumentation. After all, metaphysics is in the game of answering questions such as, what is a person? What is a substance? Both of these are critical in understanding the Holy Trinity.

So Metaphysics may seem a bit abstract at first, but hopefully, the more you study it, the more it becomes relevant, because the enterprise is not aimed at simply clarifying the terms used in the natural sciences, but to independently discern aspects of reality.

Final Thoughts:

It is clear that I have only touched on a miniscule portion of this topic and so much more can be said. This is an invitation for you to continue to pursue God in this way on your own. Make no mistake. The passion that many Christians have to live out their convictions is a good thing. The claim here is that sound doctrine needs to be the foundation for our actions. It ought not be merely a supplementary pursuit. That being said, hopefully what we have done here is a few things.

  1. I hope that you have begun to see the importance of the life of the Christian mind. Pursuing God with our minds is a calling for all Christians, not just those who want to pursue careers in theology or philosophy.
  2. I hope you have caught a glimpse of the vast amount of knowledge to be gained from historical theologians and the early church. I hope that you begin to see that learning about the development of orthodoxy, whether you adhere to every last bit of it or not, ought to play a role in the development of your theological positions.
  3. I hope you see that to become more resilient to cults who disguise themselves with the term “Christian,” we need to first understand what it is that we believe. Then, we need to encourage our brothers and sisters to maturity in the same way.

Lastly, I will remark that I am tremendously optimistic. I have seen an explosion in recent years in the number of people earnestly seeking after and glorifying God with their intellect. God will be faithful to his people.

So, why study the doctrine of the Trinity?
When properly done, it can be worship in the purest of forms.

Recommended Reading:

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God’s will

TemporaryVisitors - Guest Post

Whenever there’s a 5th Sunday in a month, we take a break from the regular rotation between myselfHeliconTim, and Dien to feature a guest writer. Since there were 5 Sundays in April, this week’s post comes to you from my good friend and younger* brother, Nathan Yee.

* He does not allow me to call him “little” for obvious reasons if you’ve ever seen us standing next to each other. 


Lately I have been contemplating what it means to ‘be in God’s Will’.  We always speak about and pray that we want the ‘Will of God’ to be expressed in our life and that we would co-labor in it.  The question I posed to myself in studying this was:

Am I not seeing an opportunity that is right in front of me which God has placed in my life, that I ought to be pouring into? 

I am reminded of Paul’s missionary work and how he had a genuine desire to go and share the Gospel to the Romans. Obviously Paul didn’t just wait and not do anything and wait for God to open a door for him to get to Rome so he could fulfill his desire.  If so, the book of Acts would have looked much differently, but on the contrary what we do see is Paul actively contending for the faith everywhere God sent him.  Even though Paul didn’t immediately get to Rome in the beginning of his missionary journey, he poured everything he had into what was before him. Acts 14:20 tells of Paul being stoned in Lystra and dragged out of the city presumed dead by the locals, but immediately re-enters the city which tried to kill him.  We do not experience that type of persecution today, but how often do we bow out of opportunities to share the love of God when confronted with the slightest opposition? Paul could of said at that point, ‘I’ve had it with Lystra, my desire is to be in Rome and that is where I’m going.’ But Paul didn’t allow life’s circumstances and his own genuine desires to get in the way of doing what God had for him and followed faithfully.

We can have our desires for our life but the Lord will take us ultimately where He sees fit. Even when our desires are praiseworthy and for the God’s glory, it may not be what God has in store for us at the moment.  We ought not to let circumstances dictate where we believe God is leading us.  God has not promised us comfort and ease in following Him but the contrary ‘Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,’ 2 Timothy 3:12.  Easily we fall into a trap today where the most comfortable and logical choice is sought after as God’s plan for us.  We pour everything we have into obtaining this dream to where we have lost sight of what it says in Matthew 22:37 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  Lets be reminded that we are to love God for who He is rather than the blessings He gives.

I am reminded of the lyrics to ‘Give Us Clean Hands’ by Chris Tomlin, “Oh God let us be a generation that seeks, who seeks Your face, oh God of Jacob”.  We have an opportunity to have intimate fellowship with the one and true living God for all the days of our lives, let us not consume ourselves with the periphery.

For the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

Shalom,
-Nathan

Life in the midst of death: miscarriage, hope, and eternal life

TemporaryVisitors - Guest Post

Now that we’ve been back for a month you’ve probably gotten a sense for how we plan take turns writing on a week to week basis. I’ll take the first Sunday, followed by Helicon the second week, then Tim, and finally Dien.

What do we do with those months with a fifth Sunday? We’ve invited some of our to friends contribute in what we’re going to call our “Guest Post”. So to kick things off, we’d like to introduce you to Tony Cruz. You can follow his blog, Remnant Legacy, or get in contact with him on Twitter: @_tonycruz.


Baby SoleilEarlier this month, a letter I wrote to Soleil on her first birthday was posted on a great website called Daddy Letters.  If you have a chance, you should check the website out.  The letter resurfacing, especially as I finish reading through Genesis 4-5,  reminds me of an experience Alison and I had two years ago during Christmas time in 2009 and the faithfulness God has shown to us consistently in our marriage, in life.  It reminds of me the hope that exists for us as believers in Jesus Christ.

Miscarriage, Christmas, and Alone

Two years ago, Alison and I flew to Phoenix, AZ to visit my family during Christmas week.  We really had one objective:  surprise my mother with news of our first pregnancy.  Alison was excited about it, but I was anxious.  I confess freely now (though I did not then) that when I found out we were pregnant, I was not excited.  Alison’s news revealed to me how inadequate of a husband I had been up to then and that in turn would eventually create much resentment towards our unborn child. This new child would interfere with my efforts to correct my first three years of marriage.  I was not ready to be a dad.  I did not want to be a dad.  I wanted time to fix my mistakes.  I was frustrated with myself, with God, with my wife, and my unborn baby.

Our plan was to tell my mom on Christmas Day, a Friday, that we were 9-10 weeks pregnant.  On Wednesday morning, Alison started experiencing severe pains.  By the end of the day, she had miscarried and we had lost our first child.  My mom was at work all day, our friends were in San Jose, and we felt incredibly alone.  Instead of giving my mom the good news of her being a grandmother, I had to explain why Alison couldn’t even get off the couch.  It was painful.  I was distraught.  Alison was in emotional, spiritual, and physical pain.  Our baby passed and it was just the two of us again.

Hope and New Beginnings

New born SoleilAfter working through the miscarriage with God and my wife, I realized how selfish I had been.  I forgot that life was not about me, but about God.   My real spirit and the real condition of my soul had been revealed with Alison’s news to me of her pregnancy and then humbled with the miscarriage.  I was a broken man, with a hurting wife, and the only one I could turn to was God.  As usual, He is faithful.  He gave me hope.  He healed my heart, my feelings, my marriage, and renewed my lazy focus which had made me into what I knew was an adequate husband.  I learned tremendously from that experience and became ready to serve Him in whatever circumstance of life that He was going to place me in.  Much to my joy, three months after we miscarried, Alison was pregnant again.  After 12 weeks, we heard the baby’s heartbeat.  Medically, that meant that the chance of miscarriage falls to less than 3%.  While Alison got to experience this new life in her body, my heart was cold and distant, not ready to commit to the feelings I had towards this new baby for fear of loss.  But when my daughter was born, all bets were off.  I was ready.  We were ready.  God had blessed us with a beautiful daughter and new beginnings.

Enoch Lives  (Gen. 5:21-24Heb. 11:5)

After the creation of humanity, marriage, the fall of humanity into sin, and punishment, Scripture paints a pretty meek picture for the next few chapters of Genesis.  Death reigned.  Not just death at the hands of others, but death in general.  Instead of the life that God had offered in the garden, you read these sections of Scripture where God seems to make it a point that death was the result of the fall.  A common phrase in Genesis 4-5 is “and then he died.”  This man lived this many years, “and then he died.”  That guy diedthis guy diedeveryone was dying.  When you are reading about life and things being good (Gen. 1-2) and then moving into this literary valley of death, it is so clear that God wants to make a point:  there is life in the midst of death.

The author of Genesis makes this incredibly clear when you read about a guy named Enoch.  You see, the Bible said that everyone was living their life, having their children, and then dying.  Except for Enoch.  The original Hebrew text paints this beautiful picture of Enoch and his relationship with God:  Enoch walked with God and then he was not.  The reason:  God took him.  Enoch never experienced death.  God took him away so he did not have to deal with that.  The point is that there is life in the midst of death.  It was God’s way of pointing to Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament!  If there is life in the midst of death with Enoch, how much greater life would there be in Jesus?

Jesus Offers Life in the Midst of Death

We will always be surrounded by death. The nanosecond we enter in this world, our bodies experience the process of moving toward decay. That is reality. Death is inevitable.  Relationships die. Careers get shot. The natural world experiences death all the time.  People are killing each other.  People are dying.  It is a unarguable fact and reality for us.  Of course, our natural instinct is to hide from it, shelter ourselves from it, pretend it does not exist, or act like there is nothing we can do about it.  In some sense, we can’t do anything.  If we feed the starving, they will die eventually.  If we give water to those who thirst, they will die eventually.  If we give homes to the homeless, they will die eventually.  Please hear me when I say:  WE SHOULD BE DOING THOSE THINGS.  But we primarily need to offer them life in the midst of death.  As Christians, we know that the only life that can be offered in the midst of death is that of Jesus.

Jesus Christ offers life in the midst of death, through His own death. He does not just offer us eternal life, though that is His mission’s goal. But Jesus offers people hope, joy, and peace that no trouble in the world can take away from that.  As a Christian, I hear people arguing all the time that this reality of giving our life up to Christ is simply not enough. People need tangible help, too.  If you want to argue about how that’s not enough, I would challenge you to reconsider whether or not you believe in the full and complete gospel that Jesus Christ offers.  It is hard to share something, if you find no value in it.  Take some time and think about whether or not that’s your struggle.

Jesus offers you eternal life. The consequence for all of us is death. Not so with Jesus. In the midst of death, Jesus offers us life. He is the only one who can offer such an amazing gift, through the work He did on the cross. He offers it to everyone who believes.  Believe. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus.  Share the good news of the arrival, death, resurrection, and second coming of King Jesus with everyone you know.  Believe.  Have hope.  Believe in life in the midst of death.  The gospel of Jesus Christ offers you eternal salvation and so much more in the present life.  He is waiting.

Believe.

If you want to talk about Jesus, about the Bible, about life or death, about hope, please contact me.  Just send me a message on here or on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/_tonycruz.  I will be praying for you.