Question: Is modern Trinitarianism understood in the same sense by all who accept it?

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Question: Is modern Trinitarianism understood in the same sense by all who accept it?

There is ambiguity and disagreement among those who accept Trinitarianism

Owen Thomas, a professor of systemic theology, noted that:

...our survey of the history of the [Trinity] doctrine in the text has indicated that there are several doctrines of the trinity: Eastern, Western, social analogy, modal, so forth. There is one doctrine in the sense of the threefold name of God of the rule of faith as found, for example, in the Apostle's Creed. This, however, is not yet a doctrine. It is ambiguous and can be interpreted in a number of ways. There is one doctrine in the sense of the Western formula of "three persons in one substance." However, this formula is also ambiguous if not misleading and can be interpreted in a number of ways. A doctrine of the trinity would presumably be one interpretation of this formula . . . let us assume that the phrase "doctrine of the trinity" in the question refers to any of a number of widely accepted interpretations of the threefold name of God in the role of faith.[1]

So, there is ambiguity and disagreement still. This is not characteristic of revelation, but rather of man’s imperfect intellectual efforts to define God according to philosophical criteria. Proponents of this view have even added text to the Bible and opposed the correcting of such errors when it was discovered.

As one current thinker about the Trinity writes:

The notion that in the Trinity one Person may be the font or source of being or Godhead for another lingered on to be a cause of friction and controversy between the East and the West, and still persists today. The main thesis of these lectures, I have said, is that the act of faith required for acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity is faith that the Divine unity is a dynamic unity actively unifying in the one divine life the lives of the three divine persons. I now wish to add that in this unity there is no room for any trace of subordinationism, and that the thought of the Father as the source or fount of God-head is a relic of pre Christian theology which has not fully assimilated the Christian revelation.[2]

There is no room in his doctrine for ‘subordinationism’, but remember (already quoted above) that: "'Subordinationism', it is true, was pre-Nicean orthodoxy."

It is interesting that ideas that were once perfectly orthodox within early Christianity (like subordinationism) are now classed as “pre-Christian theology” which hasn’t yet “assimilated the Christian revelation”. If anything, this looks like a ‘post-Christian theology’ that has ‘altered the Christian revelation’. This observation is not intended to argue that subordinationism is correct in all particulars, but merely to point out that current creedal ideas are not what all Christians have always believed.

A move to change?

Some Christian theologians have recognized the above difficulties with the Nicene formulation of the trinity, and are advocating a removal of the Greek philosophical ideals that have unnecessarily clouded the issue:

If we search for a concept of unity corresponding to the biblical testimony of the triune God, the God who unites others with himself, then we must dispense with both the concept of the one substance and the concept of the identical subject. All that remains is: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the three Persons with one another, or: the unitedness, the at-oneness of the triune God.[3]

Notes

  1. Owen C. Thomas, Theological Questions: Analysis and Argument (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1983), 34.
  2. Leonard Hodgson, Doctrine of the Trinity (London: Nisbet & Co. Ltd., 1944), 102.
  3. Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM, 1981), 150.