>Can you ask the question?


I have a beef with mainstream Christianity.

I am going to try to make a point here, but I fear my concerns may be just that, my fears only and belonging to no one else. But here goes…

Possibly the great doctrinal sacred cow in all of Christendom is the doctrine of the Trinity, or more truthfully, the theological formula that apparently secures the divinity of Jesus: The incarnate fully god/fully man, existing before all of creation person, entering into that creation with humility, Son of the Father God, and understood as the second person of a single but triune god (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). For most Christians the Trinity is a given, an unquestioned if not fully understood (or understandable) doctrine. Could it be that this doctrine, this interpretation of scripture we have held so inviolate since A.D. 325 might be wrong? Is it okay to ask this question without immediately being condemned to the fires – or at least without being in dire need of intercessory prayer, a laying on of hands?

That may be the real crux: Can you seriously, legitimately ask the question?

For the most part, if you have grown up in Christendom you have grown up with the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine has been used extensively to support numerous other positions (e.g. we can know God is a relational being because He exists as a relationship). In fact, at times it seems that much of Christian theology rests upon this powerful doctrine. The truth is, I really don’t have any particular need to disbelieve the doctrine of the Trinity, unless it is actually wrong. But I will assume the freedom to ask the question.

It is a well know fact that the doctrine of the Trinity was invented within the context of a rather large church squabble and was then formulated as a solution at one of the great church councils. The need for a solution was political as much as anything else. Constantine was trying to hold his empire together and saw the Christian church as one element of the glue. The philosophical questions being asked were primarily Greek (not Hebrew) in origin. The arguments were more like legal arguments than sound biblical exegesis. The final decision was made with direct help/guidance from the emperor himself. All of that makes me suspicious. Regardless, my concern is this: Do we truly have the freedom to ask the question? Can one say, “I have my doubts whether the doctrine of the Trinity is biblically sound” and not be seen as having fallen away from the faith? Maybe more importantly, can a pastor get up in front of his congregation and say he has his doubts without losing his job? Can a Sunday school teacher encourage her “flock” to value questioning such doctrines as a means to spiritual growth?

Some will wonder why in the world would one even bother to ask such a question. If not outright heretical it would seem to be at least pointless. Maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill. What value, what improvement to one’s faith could it possibly produce? There are two: a) If the doctrine of the Trinity is true then by asking the question (with the full implication that one might discover it is not true and have to face the consequences) one gains a finer and more substantial understanding of that truth, and b) If it is not true then one has a chance of coming to the truth. I know, however, that within mainstream Christianity both of those possibilities are generally squelched or cut off altogether.

By calling the doctrine of the Trinity a sacred cow I am calling attention to a reality of Christendom that some doctrines are not allow to be genuinely questioned. I recognize the fact that there are some traditions within the history of Christianity that do not hold to the doctrine of the Trinity, and there are also always exceptions. (Someone is bound to comment that they have always been free to ask such questions within their church.) But, in general, to seriously pose the question, to say one thinks the doctrine may be a misinterpretation of scripture, is to court a real or symbolic tossing out from one’s local church – or, at least from ministry in that “body.” Christendom has thrived on dogma and conformism, and has suffered because of it. To challenge the unchallengeable doctrine is to court danger. To challenge the doctrine of the Trinity is to challenge the traditional understanding of the divinity of Jesus: no Trinity no divinity. Hence the tossing. If follows then: Christendom also does not allow questioning of the traditional understanding of the Son of Man’s divinity, but that’s another question.

Now I am only using the possibility of questioning the validity of the Trinity somewhat rhetorically. I am in the process of asking the question and doing some research, and I do have my doubts as you might have guessed, but there are many such questions waiting to be asked. My desire is to keep pursuing the truth and letting that truth guide me. Though I am still firmly a Christian (God willing) I was fortunate to escape from some of the mainstream clutches more than twenty years ago. I have been “in process” ever since. And though I am not a liberal Christian, I am not a conservative one either. I believe, in fact, that my faith has matured and my understanding deepened. (I could be deluded too.) The biggest factor in both the escape and the subsequent maturity in faith was the freedom to ask questions without social fear (though maybe a little personal trembling). This came about by my finding a community of believers who gave me that freedom. I wrote a little about that here.

1 Comment

  1. >I wholeheartedly agree that doctrines must be open to questioning, open to the genuine possibility that they might be found false. I personally believe the doctrine of the Trinity is generally accurate, but I have issues with the fact that it is generally conceived as an ontological reality only and not as a model for the church and ethics. Simply believing in the Trinity or not is rather inconsequential in my belief. The real question is, "What do we do with this in terms of how we live in the world?" Doctrine exists not for doctrine's sake, but for the sake of the faithfulness of God's people living in the world.I enjoy your comments on here, and look forward to reading more.

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