One thing I have observed in life is that Christians are very quick to alienate those they claim to want to reach over subtle, arcane points of theology instead of trying to find common ground. This needs to stop.
I grew up going to church every Sunday. I prayed every night. I read the Bible. I believed for most of my life that God created the universe, that Jesus died for my sins, and that the Holy Spirit lived in me and guided my actions. I believed that Jesus was himself God. I even believed in some of the more controversial parts of the bible such as a literal seven-day creation week and the virgin birth. Imagine my shock when in my thirties I woke up one morning to read online that I had been living a lie all those years; I had never been a Christian because I didn’t believe in the trinity!
I was always aware that God’s tripartite nature was a common belief, but not that the debate had been settled, and certainly not that it was important. When I was young I always had the sense that it was something debated by theology nerds but incomprehensible to normal people. I was never sure whether I believed it myself because I did not know what it was. How could I know whether I believed in the trinity when I didn’t even know what “trinity” meant? Over the years I have heard no fewer than twelve different explanations of the nature of the trinity, all of them incompatible with each other, and by far the most common explanation I hear is: “Well, no one understands the trinity, but we know it’s true because the Bible tells us.”
Really? Actually the word “trinity” is nowhere in the Bible and the only hint we have of its existence (that I am aware of) is that the early Christians were told to go out and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is very flimsy circumstantial evidence to say the least. Just because three of God’s manifestations are listed does not mean those are the only three he has. I can think of seven just off the top of my head: in the beginning speaking the world into existence, in the pillar of smoke that let the Israelites through the desert during the day, in the pillar of fire that led the Israelites around the desert at night, in the Ark of the Covenant, in Elijah’s still small voice, in Jesus, and in the bright light on the road to Damascus. That’s seven forms. Why is he not a septnity? What do those seven lampstands in Revelations really represent?
It all seems so silly. God has not only been referred to as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but also as the way, the truth, the life, the word, the prince of peace, the son of man, the son of God, the lamb, the lion, the alpha, the omega, the I Am, Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah, Jesus, Yeshuah, and even the “unknown God” (Acts 17:23). God has not only taken the role of heavenly father, but is also referred to in the Bible as the bridegroom of Israel and the head of the church body. He is even called a vine while we are the branches! Why do we only consider three manifestations? Doesn’t it make more sense to say there is only one God who takes on as many roles as he wishes?
Isn’t it overreach to declare others not to be true Christians just because they might be wrong about one or more points of theology? Don’t we still worship the same God? The same might be said about Jews or Muslims. They claim to worship the God of Abraham. They might call him by a different name and have some ideas about him that I don’t agree with, but how can I know for sure it isn’t the same God? Only God knows the heart.
This is how this debate started. To show love and solidarity with Muslims as they are abused both by the extremists within their own religion and those in the west who cannot tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim, a professor at a Christian college a few years ago opined that we all worshipped the same God – not an uncommon opinion. Not only did the college fire her, but they went on to say that Muslims certainly do not worship the same God because they don’t believe in the trinity and anybody who doesn’t believe in the trinity doesn’t worship the same God either. I was quite surprised.
Whatever the theological truth might be, this rhetoric is dangerous for two reasons: It alienates the Muslims that we should be trying to reach and it alienates other Christians who could help us reach them. In any case, I know Jesus personally and I know he accepts me, so I don’t care what others say. I still can’t believe somebody got fired over this.
Question: When did belief in the trinity become so important?
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.