I have to say first that I do believe and subscribe to the letter of the Nicene Creed (filioque and all).

Having said that, I would still argue that as a Protestant I don’t find “Trinitarian theology” or reflection particularly helpful or interesting. It is in fact a swamp of the wildest and most pointless arcane theological speculation.

If there is something the Neo-Arians got correct, (those who, unlike Arius, affirmed that the Son is uncreated, eternal, even divine, “one” with the Father in some sense, but yet not of the “same substance” of the Father), it is that the formulas of the Trinity cannot be directly found in the Scriptures. The doctrine of the Trinity is an –explanation- of our God, one might even say, a theory after the fashion of Isaac Newton who hesitated to accept the doctrine of the Trinity because of its “theoretical” character which cannot be found directly in the Scriptures.

Now, there is nothing wrong with theories and “higher order” explanations of the Scriptures. Despite recent reactionaries attempt to do away with the wrath of God from the cross and the atonement, I don’t think there is anything wrong with speaking of the death of Christ as a “satisfaction” for sin or a “satisfaction” of God’s justice, even though the word “satisfaction” cannot be found in the Bible.

But the important point is that both the language of “satisfactions” and “substance” are one step removed away from the Scriptures. They are our formulas, theoretical constructs and concepts, to facilitate our understanding of the primary datum of Scripture, etc. They are not to be revered in themselves but their life and coherence derives from the meaning of the Scriptures.

The primary datum of theology, the primary object of the Christian faith, should be the Scriptures itself, not a theory or formula on the Scriptures, e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity. Theological activity and theology draws its life directly and immediately from the Scriptures, it looks at theological formulas and concepts as convenient means and concepts for communicating the meaning Scriptures, but not the object of theological reflection or faith in themselves. The good Protestant does not wantonly discard creeds and formulas of old but always tests them against the Scripture and against the world to see to what extent do they obscure or facilitate the communication of the Scriptures.

Few theologians today, for example, speak in the language of satisfactions anymore. Likewise in a time when the coherence of the concept of substance and persons has declined and those concepts emptied of its meaning, it makes very little sense to bang on those terms which means nothing today and attempt to build massive theological constructs upon thin air. In no other field of theology are more speculation rife and rampant than that in Trinitarian theology as the concepts grow ever less concrete and the air which rushes in grows hotter and louder. There is no more benefit in attempting to tease out every meaning and implication on the Trinity than there is in attempting to refine our concepts of satisfaction.

Rather, it is more important to believe and know the truth –behind- the doctrine of the Trinity, the oneness of God, and the divine oneness of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and turn to the source, the Scriptures, for our knowledge and understanding for the God whom we worship…

One thought on “Why Trinitarian Reflections are not Particularly Fruitful”
  1. […] -I’m not that fixated upon the doctrine of the Trinity. I believe that upon some interpretations of the Nicene Creed it teaches the truth, but it isn’t necessary or essential for the Christian faith. If the first three centuries did not need the Nicene Creed to practice their faith and die for Christ, neither do we. I treat the Nicene Creed as I would the Augsburg Confession, a useful instrument for teaching the Christian God and nothing more. […]

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