Posted by: Billy Marsh | June 15, 2008

The Trinity and The Gospel

Last month, I published two posts (Part I and Part II) in response not only to William P. Young’s unorthodox portrayal of the doctrine of the Trinity and the Gospel in his new fiction book The Shack, but even more so in response to the collective shrugging of the shoulders from Christians who dismissed Young’s unacceptable allegorization of the One True God in order to retain and praise his depiction of the Gospel. Thankfully, the book was brought to my attention as soon as it was gaining a lot of popularity from many circles which gave me the opportunity to share with several people inside and outside of the blog. However, the same question continues to spark controversy that, no matter how much I am aware of the theological state of most Christians (with a little help from David Wells and his books), it still leaves me utterly dumbfounded and scratching my head. In some of these discussions and others that I’ve heard about through secondary sources, I have found myself quoting aloud and in my head more than ever the classic words of Cool Hand Luke’s prison warden, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The question that keeps rising is, “What in the world does the doctrine of the Trinity have to do with the Gospel?” And I must confess, the reason that I continue to be left speechless is not due to the fact that I have become a stuffy seminary student who sits in his ivory tower doing theology with me, myself, and I. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, I know that I would have acted with the same level of passion and intensity in response to those who believe that the Gospel and the Trinity are somehow disconnected realities before I had ever taken any of my Christian education courses, whether at seminary or in college.

I grew up with a very high understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity and never thought for a single moment that there could be a Gospel apart from its God. In a similar case, I recall one of my first theologically shocking experiences as a youth pastor in South Carolina when I began teaching a singles, young adults, teenagers sunday school class and was astonished when I mentioned the Trinity and received nothing in return but blank stares. I remember quizzing a twenty-something in the class who had been in church his whole life and yet confessed as to never having heard the word “Trinity”. Since then I have come to realize that his situation was not unique. In fact, it has been all too common. And now, with the impact of The Shack, this truth is becoming clearer.

On my first post, I made it plain where I stood with respect to the necessity of the Trinity for there to any Gospel at all. Later a person submitted a comment who said that he was surprised by the resoluteness of my declaration that there could be no Gospel apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. He posed a set of very thoughtful and honest questions regarding how I came to my position. Here are his questions: (1) What is it about the Trinity that causes it to be so central to the gospel do you think? (2) What do you think the heart of the gospel is if it is so lost apart from the Trinity?

In his message, he said that the best way to respond to him would be via email. So I waited and prayed and wrote him a brief email attempting to answer his questions in a non-confrontational or argumentative manner. I have yet to hear back from him. However, I still want to encourage discussion on this issue. Since his comment on my post, I’ve been asking my friends and even my wife this question, “Why is the Trinity necessary for the Gospel?” And so I want to ask you. How would you answer this question? Can the Gospel of Jesus Christ exist apart from an orthodox view of the Trinity? Can we dispense of this doctrine and all of its complexity and still expect to retain the simplicity of a saving and redeeming Gospel message? What do you think? The purpose of this post is to put the ball back in someone else’s court. I wish to hear what you all think because this issue has been lingering over my head now for a while and I am curious as to what others perceive about it. Through this post, I would hope to start some very healthy and fruitful dialogue about the Trinity and the Gospel. I long for the doctrinal purity of the Church so that we might grow more and more in the knowlege and love of our Savior Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I desire to live under the banner of Francis Schaeffer’s motto, namely, “to give honest answers to honest questions.” How would you reply to these “honest questions”?

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Responses

  1. The Trinity is who God is. If we fail to identify and define God as He identifies and defines Himself, then we are creating a god after our own image. If we include a false god of our own imaginings in the “gospel” then we have changed the core of the gospel because the gospel is first and foremost all about God, not us. It is Good News of what God has done.

    That being said, I seriously doubt if the thief on the cross had a firm understanding of the Trinity. I don’t think a deep understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is essential for someone to repent and believe in the good news neccessarily, but it is a core doctrine for all believers to understand very quickly and should be a basic teaching in any discipling process.

    Historically, most cults jettison the Trinity and the authority of the Word of God- Sola Scriptura. The real difficulty is in how to figure out the “Jesus Only” or “Oneness” Pentecostals like TD Jakes, the singing group Phillips Craig and Dean, etc.

  2. Bryan,
    I believe you hit the nail on the head by pointing out a distinction between upholding an orthodox view of the Trinity and how much a person needs to know in order to be converted. In my opinion, this is where the waters are being muddied. People are reading books like the The Shack that distort the fundamentals of Christianity yet try to preach a saving gospel in Jesus. So, the readers affirm the gospel message despite the flawed doctrinal content of the rest of the work because they believe the book can still be life-changing with or without the particulars.

    However, I believe there is a major difference between conceding that a person does not have to have an exhaustive knowledge of the Scriptures and theology to be saved and saying that the Trinity has nothing to do with the heart of the gospel itself. And the latter is the response that I’ve been hearing from Christians. You are exactly right when you wrote that the gospel is first and foremost all about God.

    Essentially, when readers have no problem with an inaccurate depiction of God, they are revealing how little they truly understand the gospel and the work of Jesus Christ. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ work was primarily to make known the Father, accomplish his mission, and to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come. Jesus’ view of the Gospel had everything to do with the identity of God; however, in today’s world, it has everything to do with our own identity, even if that means leaving God himself, the author and finisher of our faith, out of the picture.

  3. I do think it depends on what you mean by “necessary.” That is – does one have to understand what the Trinity is prior to coming to faith, or must one – even after coming to faith – when presented with the concept of the Trinity accept it?

    I would argue that one can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ without hearing about the Trinity, but later – through God’s sovereignty – when faced with the concept will embrace it fully (and maybe even say they believed it all along, but never knew the technical terminology).

    Now, I do not think Trinity deniers (those that have come in contact with the concept and have rejected it) are saved. The reason for this is that they have been presented with the one true God, but have chosen to deny Him.

    The Trinity is a necessary part of salvation in that all believers will eventually come to an understanding of the Trinity, but those who deny it were never truly saved.

    As for the Trinity’s relationship to the Gospel; it is absolutely necessary. If Jesus was simply God in a different mode then how did God die? God, technically, cannot die – thus the death would not have been sufficient as it wouldn’t have actually been a death. Either Jesus was just a man (rendering the death useless), a mode of God (meaning the death didn’t occur), or was God the Son, a person in the Trinity (which allows for actual death without compromising the character of God). It is impossible to have the Gospel as it is without the Trinity.

  4. Really good discussion, Billy.

    Like someone already said, the Trinity is the Christian identification of which god we believe in, worship and serve. So, asking why the Trinity is essential to the Christian gospel is like asking “why my wife is important to my marriage.” There are other religions with other gods, but there is no “this religion,” Christianity, without “this God,” the Triune one.

    I think the historical answer to this type of question is that repentance/salvation/justification, etc. is really just another way of saying recreation. And if the one who took on flesh, and the one who indwells us, “the Lord, the giver of Life” are something less than God, then we are something less than recreated. The Trinity is shorthand for “The God that created us is the same God that recreated us.”

  5. John did not see a Trinity in his vision,,

    Revelation 22:3-4-3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
    4 And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.

    servants shall serve THEM?
    shall see THEIR face?
    THEIR name?

    You mean to tell me John actually had double vision and saw 3 persons while He saw God?..nah

  6. Our fellowship is with the Father and the Son. The promise of the Father is the very Spirit of the Father. The Father and the Son are one. The Father and the Spirit are one. The Spirit of the Father zealously testifies of the Christ, Yeshua, so much so that the Spirit of the Father is also called the Spirit of Christ. The Father declares the Son to be God in the scriptures of the prophets. The Son declared the Father to be God in the days of His flesh. The Father and the Son are our witnesses that “God is”. The testimony of two confirms the fact. The Spirit of the Father is the Father, for in like manner the spirit of man is the man. For all who could somehow deny that the Spirit of the Father is somehow not God, when the Father is God, they are barren of the grace of God. I have not spoken of any doctrine called the Trinity, but I have declared God. And how is there all manner of heresy such as denying that the Spirit of the Father is not God. Or that the Father was once, and then the Son, and now the Spirit as those who hold to a Oneness doctrine. Or that the Son is not God. These are heresies. It is because the one true gospel is not preached, and it is, the Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, He was buried and He was raised the third day according to the scriptures (Old Testament), and Yeshua of Nazareth is the Christ of God. In the place where the gospel is preached (for it is the power of God unto salvation) the truth of God is known. In what I have spoken God reveals Himself as two persons, the Father and the Son, and there is no denial that Spirit is not God, for the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, and the Father is God. It is the testimony of two that confirms this fact, not three.


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