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”?