The analytic theologian Dale Tuggy made the following observation about the doctrine of the Trinity in his post: Roger Olson asks: How important is the doctrine of the Trinity?
“Theologian Roger Olson asks, How important is the doctrine of the Trinity?
He seems to hold, with many others, that
…the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial, essential, indispensable to a robust and healthy Christian view of God.
The problem is, of course, that many, perhaps most, Christians have little or no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. And they couldn’t care less.
Indeed. I suggest that Dr. Olson should consider this. Do most Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah? That he was raised bodily from the dead? That he did many miracles, showing that God was with and in him? That he now reigns, “at the right hand” of God? Why are these beliefs universal among genuine believers? Because these have been divinely revealed, and because (to understate the case) God is a competent revealer. Why, in comparison, does the Trinity fare so poorly – that is, why do so many people who are indisputably born-again Christians not believe the creedal Trinity claims? Could it be that they have not been divinely revealed?”
I think there is often this contradiction at work when discussing the role of the doctrine Trinity in the life of the Church. On the one hand, you get the rhetoric that of course the Trinity is believed by billions of worshipers across space and time and that it is vital for us to get it exactly right and how could you possibly question something so vital and essential to the faith of billions? On the other hand, you get these laments that in fact, virtually no one actually believes or understands the actual orthodox form of the Trinity (save a handful of theologians and clerics) and that most lay Christians, who supposedly hold to this wonderful essential doctrine central to Christianity, are more often than not, functional modalists or Tritheists or subordinationist. This of course implies that the doctrine of the Trinity, or at least the more technical aspects of it, isn’t essential to the faith of billions of Christians and is held only by a handful of academic elite throughout space and time. Thus it does not possess the importance which the true believer trumpets it to have.
Anyway, one isn’t exactly quite sure what role does the more technical aspects of the doctrine of the trinity play in the Christian life. I’ve devised the following thought experiment.
Find an ordinary believer who attends service regularly but isn’t really into theology. Recite the Nicene Creed by exchanging any term within the creed for another. (Try changing “of one substance” with the Father to “of like substance” to the Father, which was a neo-Arian creed.)
If they can’t notice the difference, then the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t really possess the significance theologically informed people tout it to have.