The Trinity: The Trinity is Practicality
Perhaps the most disturbing sign of the impoverished condition of many professing Christians, Christian congregations and denominations is their inability to recognize and self-consciously live in the practicality of the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is the distinguishing doctrine of the Christian faith. To fail to understand the practicality of the doctrine of the Trinity is, fundamentally, a failure to understand Christianity, period. If we are to be faithfully Christian, we must be able to identify the practicality of the doctrine of the Trinity. In truth, this is really all about observing and stating the obvious as it is revealed to us in God’s word written and God’s world created by his Word and Spirit for the glory of the Father.
The biblical doctrine of the Trinity reveals and stresses that the only living and true God is three persons in one being, and that he is the creator and redeemer. All that God does goes into those two latter categories, and therefore they are, from beginning to end, Trinitarian works that reveal God’s Trinitarian nature. That the only living and true God is three persons in one being is to say that unity and diversity are of his very essence. In the entire history of human thought no non-Christian philosophy or intellectual tradition can answer this question: How can there be true, genuine unity and true, genuine diversity simultaneously? All intellectual history and the history of every civilization can be seen as the attempt by humans to make sense of, and give proper weight to, unity and diversity that marks God’s creation.
Stop and think about it for a moment: The very nature of all human knowledge is that it is all about distinguishing one reality from another. We could not do this were there not true unity and true diversity simultaneously in all creation. Again, do not overlook the obvious. The Bible starts with not simply telling us that God created but he proceeded in that work by distinguishing one reality from another: darkness from light, day one from day two and then the other days, the waters from above the heavens from the waters below it, the land from the sea, one creature from another, etc. Herein lies the very essence of the creation—that it is filled with diverse realities that are all united having their origin, purpose and sustaining power from and through the Triune God. Herein is how we know that systematic theology is not only rightly named but is, we might say, the very DNA of all human knowledge.
All creation is one organic system, and therefore all human knowledge is only rightly understood as part of this organic system. We are only able to know anything because there is actually life other than ours to know! The depth or breadth of our knowledge consists of our continuing to learn what is true regarding a particular reality in relation to other realities, and then how these are related to the Triune God. In this we also are admitting that all human knowledge is above all fundamentally a moral issue. After all, this knowledge not only is reflecting the Triune God to us, but also thereby calling us to recognize that we are not an end in ourselves. All things were created by him and for him and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17). There is nothing that we can think, say, feel or ever do that is not moral, spiritual or theological. How silly and preposterous is it that some allegedly Christian scholars debate whether there is a distinctly Christian view of various academic subjects?!
The peace, harmony and flourishing of every human activity and relationship rests on the Triune God. The biblical doctrine of the Trinity teaches me to respect, honor and nurture all life and lives. My three children are distinct individuals with a life given to them by the Holy Triune God. I only know them as I work at understanding who God has made them to be. Yet, their lives have been invariably shaped within their relationship to me and my wife, and indeed many others. I am not working out my salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) if I simply demand things of my children that make my life easier, or that ignore the tendencies they have because of who God has made them to be. Of course, their tendencies are marred by sin, but it is the sin that needs to be rejected not their tendencies. When my daughter with all of her artsy flair and preoccupation fails to do something that I expected her to do, and may have even told her to do, I do not immediately conclude it is because she is rebellious. Rather, often it is because of who she is, by virtue of what God created her to be. My practical response to her forgetting must take into account who she is, not who I simply want her to be. Yes, of course, remembering things in life is important. So is not stifling your child’s spirit and expecting something of them that they either cannot provide, or find it very difficult to do simply because God made them to be a particular way. You see, every human relationship is only operated in wisely when we recognize perhaps the most obvious truth—there are other lives than our own! God made them!
The unity and diversity of God is also seen in biblically faithful church government. While a thorough treatment of that subject is beyond the scope of this post, we need to recognize that what God commands in his word is a church government that stresses a diversity of gifts within a unified body marked by accountability. It highlights the leadership of the presbuteroi, or elders in relation to the diakonoi, or deacons, for the building up of the whole body in a unified accountability of all individuals. Every individual in the congregation must be understood in relation to the whole congregation. No congregation of the Lord Jesus can think of itself rightly apart from other congregations of the Lord Jesus. Only a biblically faithful Presbyterianism operates with a view of the church that gives proper biblical weight to these Trinitarian features. Denominations and congregations that operate with views of church government that resonate with the autonomous individualism of America where accountability has no meaningful place certainly have large numbers, but it is highly questionable as to whether they aren’t merely reflecting the culture, and in important ways contributing to the denial of the most distinctive doctrine of the Christian faith.
When one considers what Scripture reveals regarding God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit one simply cannot get away from the truth that the practicality of all doctrine is rooted in and the reflection of the eternal Triune God. There really is no end to the practical implications of the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. All the doctrines of the Christian faith reveal the Triune God. Thus, hearing, receiving and proclaiming the biblical gospel is not about stating a few sentences about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. Instead, it is about hearing, receiving and proclaiming the unity and diversity within all the biblical doctrines. This is why Scripture knows of no disconnect between making lifelong disciples and evangelizing with and to the gospel. This profoundly influences what we in the church ought to mean by biblically faithful preaching. In the end, what Scripture regards as practical is often regarded by many, at least in America, as impractical. Why? Because the gospel that reveals the Triune God is already practical, and its practicality exposes our sinful bent to try and make it practical on our terms for our agendas.
David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.