"The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo". . . And Other Stupid Statements

Alternate title: “Trinitarian Heresy 101”

“The doctrine of the Trinity is like an egg: three parts, one thing.” Ever heard that? How about this, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like a three leaf clover: three leaves, one clover.” Or how about THIS, “The doctrine of the Trinity is like water: three forms (ice, steam, liquid) one substance.” But the greatest I ever heard was by a guy in one of my classes. He said that he thought that the Trinity was like 3-in-1 shampoo: three activities, one substance.”

Stupid statements. Creative, but stupid. Don’t use them. Any of them. Ever.

Explanation coming… Hang with me.

Last week I taught a group of kids about the doctrine of the Trinity here at the Credo House as part of our Theology for Kids series. The ages were anywhere from 7 to 13. Though I regularly teach this subject to adults, this was the first time that I taught the doctrine of the Trinity to kids. I was surprised that it went well. It is confusing enough for adults, how much more for kids?

Teaching the Trinity, I have found, is more about giving basic principles of what it is and then shooting down illustrations about what it is not. Proper Trinitarianism is about a delicate balance between the unity and diversity in the Godhead. Christians believe in one God, i.e., one essence, who eternally exists in three separate persons, all of whom are equal.

We often employ illustrations that help us to make the ineffable, effable, the abstract, concrete. But when it comes to the nature of God, especially with regard to the Doctrine of the Trinity, illustrations should only be used to show what the Trinity is not.

Let me list the three major heresies or departures from orthodoxy with regard to the Trinity:

1. Modalism: The belief that God is one God who shows himself in three different ways, sometimes as the Father, sometimes the Son, and sometimes the Holy Spirit. It describes God in purely functional terms. When he is saving the world on the cross, he is called Jesus. When he is convicting the world of sin, he is called Holy Spirit, and when he is creating the world, he is called Father. The error here is that this is contrary to what we believe: one God who eternally exists in three persons, not modes of functionality. It is not one God with three names, but one God in three persons.

2. Tritheism: The belief that we have three Gods, all who share a similar nature, but not the exact same nature. In this, the nature of God is either distinguished or divided, which destroys the unity of God. We don’t believe in three persons who share in a species called “God,” but three persons who share in an identical, united nature.

3. Subordinationalism: This is a subset of tritheism, but deserves its own category. In other words, if you are a subordinationalist, you are also a tritheist by definition, even if you don’t recognize it. The subordinationalist says that there is one God in three persons, but the essence of each person exists in a hierarchy. For example, many believe that God the Father is the greatest and the most powerful. Coming in second is God the Son, followed by the second runner-up, the Holy Spirit. Orthodox trinitarianism confesses an essential equality among all the members of the Godhead. None are greater in essence than the other.

Here is a “Trinitarianism Heresy Test Chart” I have created. Keep this by your bed.


  • If equality is denied, on the opposite side it points to subordinationalism.
  • If diversity is denied, the result is modalism.
  • If unity is denied, the result is tritheism (or polytheism —many gods).

With this in mind, let me now cover the “stupid statements” and why they don’t pass the test:

1. The Trinity is like 3-in-1 shampoo. This can only point to modalism or tritheism. It is modalistic if you are saying the shampoo performs three functions, yet is one substance. But you can also break down the various elements that perform each function and see them separately. That is tritheism since all of the elements are not the same. They may work together to perform a specific goal, but they are not really the same substance.

2. The Trinity is like an egg. This is most definitely tritheism. While the egg is one, each of the substances that makes up the parts (shell, white stuff, and yoke), are most definitely distinct. The yoke is completely separate in nature from the shell.

3. The Trinity is like water. This is a modalistic illustration. Ice, steam, and liquid are examples of the same nature which at one time or another has a particular mode of existence. Sometimes it is liquid, sometimes it is ice, and sometimes it is steam. God is not sometimes Son, sometimes Father, and sometimes Spirit. He is eternally each, always at the same time.

4. The Trinity is like a three leaf clover. This is a form of tritheism. Each leaf of the clover is a separate leaf. It does not share in the same nature as the other leafs, but only has a similar nature. In the Trinity, each member shares in the exact same nature.

5. The Trinity is like a man who is simultaneously a father, son, and husband. This is an often used illustration, but it only serves to present a modalistic understanding of God that is false. Father, son, and husband only describe various functions of one person. Each function cannot exist in a simultaneous relationship with each other, can’t talk to each other, and cannot exist in an eternal relationship with each other. 

6. The Trinity is like a person who is one, yet has a spirit, soul, and a body. This one, like the first, can commit either a tritheistic or modalistic error, but cannot be used to illustrate the orthodox definition of the Trinity. It is modalistic in that the spirit, soul, and body are three functions of one conscience or person. But it can also be tritheistic when one considers that the spirit is not the exact same nature as the body (or the soul if you are a trichotomist—another lesson).

In the end, I do not believe that there are any true to life illustrations that can or should be used to teach or describe the Trinity. The Trinity is not a contradiction (i.e. one God who eternally exists as three separate Gods), but it is most definitely a paradox (a truth that exists in tension).

This graph is helpful in describing the Trinity. It is called the “Shield of the Trinity.”

 It is always best to remember that the Father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the Son is God, but they are not each other.

One more thing. I often tell my students that if they say, “I get it!” or “Now I understand!” that they are more than likely celebrating the fact that they are a heretic! When you understand the biblical principles and let the tensions remain without rebuttal, then you are orthodox. When you solve the tension, you have most certainly entered into one of the errors that we seek to avoid.

Confused? Good! That is just where you need to be.

155 Responses to “"The Trinity is Like 3-in-1 Shampoo". . . And Other Stupid Statements”

  1. I hope you don’t mind the cross-blog link, but I’m reminded of a recent STR entry about teaching the Trinity to junior highers.

    Transforming Little Heretics

  2. Transforming Little Heretics? LOL. That MUST go over well with the parents.

  3. I doubt that this will (should) be too controversial.

    I like what Glen Krieder said on Facebook when he read this: “Try this: the Trinity is like . . . the Trinity. The God who is is the only one who is and he is unlike anything in creation.”

  4. Hmmm…I’ll be the dissenter here. I agree with the things you’re saying…I’m neither modalist, nor tritheist, nor subordinalist. I disagree, however, that any of those illustrations need *necessarily* be interpreted in a way that leads to one of those heretical views. For example, I think that the clover illustration can serve exactly the same function as your “Shield of the Trinity” graph. The clover as a whole is God. The first leaf is not the second leaf is not the third leaf, but the clover is each leaf (without each leaf, it wouldn’t be a clover), and each leaf is the exact same essence – it is the clover. Similarly, each leaf must be attached to the others for it to be a clover – one clover leaf by itself is not a clover. So, same purpose, and not tritheistic. Honestly, your Shield of the Trinity graph even looks a little bit like a clover. :-)

    My two cents…and I can also see where each of those illustrations could be understood in a heretical way. I just don’t think they *necessarily* have to be.


  5. Also, I do think there is some value in illustrations like that. I have friends from other parts of the world who have never even heard of any sort of concept or person even similar to God…illustrations like that are very helpful for them to begin to understand. But I probably feel that way because I’m a Navigator…we’re big on illustrations. :-)

  6. But in the clover, each leaf is only part of the clover.

  7. Growing up, I was fed all these illustrations, and it wasn’t until I was reading through Grudem’s systematic that it finally dawned on me that all these illustrations were actually clouding the doctrine of the Trinity and not clarifying it. Great post, sir…

  8. What’s your perspective on the use of Marriage as an analogy for the Trinity? Obviously greatly limited, but it seems there’s value in drawing on the practical experience of seeing two-become-one to point to the three-in-one.

  9. I would say that it is ok so long as you are talking about the analogy of the community that exists in marraige, but if you are trying to draw parallels to help understand the nature of the Trinity, it is bad.

  10. Growing up, I was fed all these illustrations, and it wasn’t until I was reading through Grudem’s systematic that it finally dawned on me that all these illustrations were actually clouding the doctrine of the Trinity and not clarifying it. Great post, sir…

    Douglas: What in Grudem clarified the Trinity for you?

  11. I think the best way to understand the Trinity is to understand Jesus. He had the fullness of God in Him. Colossians 1:19 says 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him. If you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father

    It came to mind that it seems like looking to nature to understand the Trinity might not be a bad thing even though I know that we won’t ever be able to fully understand the Trinity until we see things clearly. 1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

    Romans 1:19-20 says 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

    Maybe I am interpreting Romans incorrectly in this perspective, but it seems to be saying to me that we can see His attributes by studying His creation. I enjoyed reading what Tara had to say and I found her arguements equally valid from the perspective she was coming from.

  12. I notice that this is something that the theologically educated really get up in arms about. We went over all of this in Systematic theology here at seminary, all of the illustrations and why they’re bad. And I can see the point; but in the end, I don’t really think that any of these illustrations were ever meant to describe the trinity with technical precision, but rather to illustrate in very general terms that it is not totally insane to talk about something that is both one and three at the same time, that there are things in this world that we talk about in a similar way, even if they are not exactly the same.

    One thing I am a little bit disappointed with is the way in which you explain why Modalism, Tritheism, and Subordination are wrong, “The error here is that this is contrary to what we believe…” I have to say that this is not particularly helpful. The fact that it goes against what the majority consider to be orthodox does not make it wrong. You have to show from the scripture why these are not satisfactory explanations.

    Personally, I have been wrestling a lot with the issue of the trinity, and I have some questions. First of all, I have trouble seeing what is so bad about modalism. I understand that it is certainly confusing when it results in having one expression of God talking to another expression of God (being both water and steam at the same time, so to speak), but how is that any more weird or bizarre than having two people who are the same person talking to each other? I am not convinced that modalism is the right way to think about it, but it has the advantage of being the most straightforward way of maintaining monotheism while still believing in the divinity of Jesus (which is, I believe, the central issue in trinitarian doctrine).

    Moreover, I am not sure how saying that all members of the trinity have the same nature does not make it tritheism. And the trinitarian triangle, while clever, cannot help but seem like one of those impossible figures that can be drawn but could never exist in the real world.

    The Bible doesn’t speak of the “nature” or “essence” of God. That is more of a philosophical construct with no meaning in the real world. I personally really like Richard Bauckham’s divine identity Christology, in which he speaks of Jesus being included within the identity of God. While I think that this is closer to how the scriptural author’s conceived it, and more fitting to a 2nd Temple Jewish context, I am not entirely sure that it is all that much easier to wrap one’s mind around.

    It is a complex issue, and I do not think that any attempt to wrap one’s mind around it should immediately be labeled stupid.

  13. Well said Michael. I get sick of illustrations about the Trinity really.

    btw, since you’re dealing with stupid statements, are you going to make any blogs about what the critics are saying about the upcoming season of Smallville?

  14. EricW,

    Grudem makes the following point on pg 240 of Systematic Theology:

    “Sometimes people have used several analogies drawn from nature or human experience to attempt to explain this doctrine. Although these analogies are helpful at an elementary level of understanding, they all turn out to be inadequate or misleading on further reflection. To say, for example, that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover. But in the Trinity, each of the three persons is not just a separate part of God, each person is fully God. Moreover, the leaf of a clover is impersonal and does not have distinct and complex personality in the way each person of the Trinity does.”

    That, and his continuing discussion on pg 241, nailed it for me…

  15. Thanks Michael,
    This sunday, my high school guys Bible study is on the chapter covering the Trinity in Berkhof’s Summary of Christian Doctrine. You have put my mind at ease in teaching this, especially when you stated “Teaching the Trinity, I have found, is more about giving basic principles of what it is and then shooting down illustrations about what it is not.” This was the direction I was going to head. I was going to share the Scriptures that teach God is one, then share the Scriptures that teach the three as distinct, and leave the tension hanging, and answer their questions as best as I can. Your timely post has encouraged me not to speculate.

  16. I’ve heard a lot of these illustrations, and they strike me as either a.) revealing the speaker’s own unorthodox beliefs; or b.) failing to express what the speaker believes. I’ll be more direct — I’ll admit clearly that I’m unable to be orthodox regarding the Trinity. Part of the reason is that I can’t swallow the following true statement:

    I often tell my students that if they say, “I get it!” or “Now I understand!” that they are more than likely celebrating the fact that they are a heretic! When you understand the biblical principles and let the tensions remain without rebuttal, then you are orthodox.

    I’m unavoidably doubtful about any idea that we know is true, but we also know we can’t understand, and about which someone who is generally and laudably unafraid to exercise his brain says the only path to orthodoxy is to “let the tensions remain without rebuttal.” To my mind, that’s the same as saying, “It’s wrong to think about the trinity”; the essence of rationality is to either harmonize or rebut contradictory statements.

    I’ve read many of the most powerful and oft-referenced explanations of the Trinity, and the more I study them and the Bible, the more I’m inclined to believe that the whole idea is neither Biblical nor true. I’m open to convincing, however; I also greatly doubt myself whenever I find myself opposed to almost two thousand years of received consensus.

  17. Jason. Would you care to present why you think it isn’t true?

  18. Nick – I’d be happy to, but I think that might cross Michael’s rule about not making the comments your place to hold forth at length. If he says it’s okay — even though it will be somewhat lengthy — I’ll do so.

  19. If he does, let’s do try to do this one at a time. Nothing like “20 reasons why you shouldn’t believe in the Trinity”, lest we get bogged down.

  20. Good plan, I think. If not, I’d be happy for Michael to send you my e-mail so we can discuss it in that way, and if you want to post our discussion on your blog or elsewhere, we could do that.

  21. I still like Dorthy Sayers’ explanation of it, in “The Mind of the Maker”. She sees a “trinity” in the creative work of any artisan:

    For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.

    First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.

    Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.

    Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

    And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other: and this is the image of the Trinity.

  22. Mike B,
    The reason why it is so important is that an un-orthodox view is a false god and not the One True God. A denial of the two natures of Christ is a denial of the incarnation, death and resurrection. To deny the separate nature of of the Persons of the Trinity, one will end in polytheism and declare the Son a created being. There are things that you HAVE to believe about the Trinity. To reject them, well, makes one not a Christian.

    Jesus was born human and became divine? Heresy – Adoptionism

    Jesus had a human body and soul, however his rational mind was Divine/Logos? Heresy – Appollinarianism

    Jesus is of similar essence with the Father but not the same? Heresy – Arianism.

    Jesus only appeared to be man? Heresy – Docetism.

    Jesus’ human nature was absorbed by his divine nature? Heresy – Monophysitism.

    Jesus had only his divine will? Heresy – Monothelitism.

    There is a divine Jesus and a human Jesus? Heresy – Nestorianism

  23. Douglas,

    “To say, for example, that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover.”

    Say, this Grudem guy sounds pretty smart. :)

  24. I believe we need to emphasis on the aspect of Plurality in Unity rather than Singularity in Unity ( which is concept of allah and other cults) and in that fashion it is going to make perfect sense. Many entity which exist is plurality in Unity Like Family, Couple, community and nobody is going to say “contradiction” only thing to be emphasized is that the Plurality in Trinity in inseparably united like the three angles of Triangle as well well as Perichoretic Unity. I give following defense of the trinity


    1) When we look at the universe, we observe that it is made up of so many diverse things like plants, animals, humans, stars etc. Sunlight which appears white to naked eye, viewed through prism appears to be made of seven colors. We are made, physically and chemically, of the same elements yet we are so different from other human beings, things and animals. A word is made up of many Alphabets; A painting of many colors produces a harmonious mosaic. An orchestra of many musical instruments produces a symphony, instead of cacophony. If there is unity in diversity in the creation, is it not reasonable to expect unity and diversity in the creator.

    2) Bible says God is love. If God is unipersonal, He will not be love. For God to be love there must be Subject-Object duality, without which loves will not be a possibility. In absence of plurality of persons within the being of God, love will remain as potential and not an actuality. So in one sense, we (creation) would have helped God find His perfection by being the object of His love! This of course is absolute nonsense. We have to reach the unavoidable conclusion that within God there has to be a plurality – a Subject (Father) Who loves, an Object (Son) Who is loved (John 1&:24) and a Medium (Holy Spirit) through Whom that love is communicated (Romans 5:5). This combined with the unity of the Essence of God is the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

  25. Hello,

    What do you think about this quote?

    “Tell me how in this room there are three candles and but one light, and I will explain to you the Trinity – the mode of the Divine existence.” – John Wesley

  26. I request those who want to study philosophical defense of trinity, read the chapter on Trinity by L.T.Jeyachandran in the book “BEYOND OPINION” by Dr. Ravi Zacharias. This is the most brilliant defense of Trinity as far as I have studied

  27. Jugulum,

    Yeah he’s burning some serious braincells ;)…

  28. This might be usefully cross-linked (by someone who knows how to do that here), to a more academic discussion on this blog: “In what Sense Are Jesus and the Father One, Part I.”

    Which at times went so far, (in an animated discussion now largely deleted) as to question the viability of the concept of the Trinity. By discussing its nature in detail.

  29. Mike S:

    I think you may have misunderstood my comment.

    When I was speaking of “nature” I was referencing Michael’s comment that orthodox trinitarianism is different from tritheism because the father, son and Spirit all have the same “nature.” I wasn’t referencing the dual-nature of Christ. But your comment illustrates well one of the difficulties with the whole discussion. It’s the confusing terminology. So Michael says that we need to affirm that all the persons have the same nature, and you say that we need to affirm their separate natures. I think you mean two different things by your uses of the word nature.

    At any rate, I agree that correct trinitarian doctrine (whatever that is) is important for the reasons you mentioned. But I believe now, and I always have believed that the central issue is not really that of the “nature” or “essence” of God, as if we could know such things anyway, but rather the question of how we can consider Jesus to be divine and yet still call ourselves monotheists. It is a question, not of what we affirm philosophically, but how we worship. If we worship Jesus and he is not God, then we are idolaters. If we do not worship Jesus, and he is God, then we are deniers of God. So if we worship Jesus AND we worship God, we need to have a pretty darn good explanation for why we are not worshiping two Gods. And not just any explanation, but preferably the correct one.

    But it happens that that explanation is rather hard to pin down.

  30. Water Illustration as commonly told suffers from modalistic tendencies…

    but Water illustration highlighting the “triple point” – The single combination of pressure and temperature at which water, ice, and water vapour can coexist in a stable equilibrium.

    In other words… in a scenario where the temperature and pressure are lowered to a specific point, water exists in its three main forms (gas, liquid, solid) simultaneously.

    Now that Modalism has been averted, what is the fatal flaw of this illustration?

  31. just,

    not sure as I am not familiar with the chemistry of what you are talking about.

  32. One problem could be is that each possesses a property the others don’t. It’s like different variations of the same substance simultaneously. I’ll grant it’s better than the typical water analogy.

  33. man, and I thought “the shed” took care of this whole mess . . . .

  34. oh wait, that was “the shack”. I guess “the shed” (or behind it) is the place for heretics

  35. The triple point breaks down in that, while you have water, ice and steam are simultaneously present, they are not in equal quantities, while all three members of the Trinity are eternal and co-equal…

  36. And being in equal quantities doesn’t make the ice, water, and steam “coequal”. It’s still like the clover–equally-sized leaves, equal amount of H2O. Each a third of what’s there.

  37. Okay, I’ll have to read p. 241 in Grudem at the bookstore.

    Although I wonder if he interacts with the Cappadocians and Maximus the Confessor?

    If he doesn’t do that, I’m not sure he is really doing the subject justice. :)

    (FWIW, I once fully comprehended and understood the Trinity, but then the pharmacological effects subsided and I was back in 4 dimensions….)

  38. Little late to the discussion.

    I love the “Shield of the Trinity” illustration.

    I’ve heard it said that anyone who claims to completely understand the Trinity is lying. It’s so profound in its implications that the more you study it or the more you meditate on it, the less you seem to understand. The Trinity just “is” and maybe we should leave it at that.

    One close visualization I heard to describe the Trinity is like taking three candles that are all lit. If you put each end together, they form one flame but they are still three candles. Even that really doesn’t get to the true nature.

    Great post.

  39. Jason,

    I’m unavoidably doubtful about any idea that we know is true, but we also know we can’t understand.

    Contrary to your post, I think the fact that we don’t (can’t) understand the Trinity is natural. That’s not a plea for ignorance, I think very strongly that we ought to strive to understand as much as we can. At the same time, if God truly is infinite, it seems necessary that there are things about him that I simply can’t understand. The categorical difference means the I should expect this. Much the same way that I expect an ant really has very little understanding of me.

    I’m not sure that it unique either. There are somethings we know we can’t know. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle comes to mind, though it is admittedly a much easier topic.


  40. This would be a good time for Michael to post on Gregory Palamas’ essence and energies of God.

  41. “To say, for example, that God is like a three-leaf clover, which has three parts yet remains one clover, fails because each leaf is only part of the clover, and any one leaf cannot be said to be the whole clover.”

    But each leaf is in essence clover.

  42. But each leaf is not everything that the clover is, it is only a part of the whole. In the Trinity, each member is not simply a part of the whole (ontologically), but each are fully everything that the whole is, sharing in its unified essence.

  43. Neal –

    I agree that there are many things about God that none of us can understand, because of God’s infinite nature, in part, but even more because of His power and his general intangibility. In that way, we’re very like your ant, who probably not only fails to understand you in many ways, but (if it is able to hold a belief at all) also holds incorrect beliefs about your nature.

    In another important way, however, we differ from the ant: we have significant reasoning ability. That means that we can reason about God, and examine what we believe we do know about Him. If we find that our beliefs about God contradict our secure knowledge about the nature of things in general, we have to reconsider one or the other. We either have to reconsider our idea of the Trinity, or our secure knowledge that in general 1!=3. We either have to reconsider our idea of the Trinity, or our secure knowledge that if a==d and b==d and c==d then a==b==c.


  44. The Trinity does not teach that 1 = 3 nor does it teach that each person is equal to the Trinity or that each person is another person. The persons of the Trinity differ by relationship. Only one begets. Only one is begotten. Only one is proceeding from two others.

  45. Hans –

    That’s pretty much where I was going with that.

    I think it’s clear that each of the illustrations breaks down at some point or another. But again, I do think that they have value in helping to explain who God is at an elementary level. I’m sorry, but not all people have the advantage of being able to ponder the philosophical and theological implications of the Trinity on the level of Modalism vs. Tritheism vs. Subordinalism – or on Wayne Grudem’s level, either. I very strongly believe in the value of getting to that point, too – don’t get me wrong. Christians need to be able to think, and think well. All I’m saying is that most people can’t start there, and we shouldn’t discourage them from learning and trying to understand as much as they can about God because they’re not up to that level yet. Saying “Don’t use these illustrations ever, because they’re stupid” when when there are people who desperately needs Jesus and would be genuinely helped by them doesn’t proceed from conversation that comes from grace – it seems to proceed from arrogance, because not everybody is as smart as we are.

    I’m truly not trying to be offensive by saying that – if it comes off that way, I apologize. The main reason I say it is that I have friends who aren’t able to converse on that level – sometimes because they haven’t been educated that far yet, but also sometimes because they barely understand English or come from cultures that have never heard of any supreme creator at all. A good example would be my Japanese friend Ai-chan – I scribbled the clover illustration on a napkin for her a few years ago in order to help her begin to understand, because she asked me about the Trinity, and in her culture, the only gods they’ve heard about are buddhas or little rock and tree-spirits called “kami.” The notion of one supreme God itself doesn’t make sense to them at all – let alone one God eternally existent in three persons.

    Debate the finer points of theology all you want – that’s very good and excellent, and it helps us grow in our understanding of God. But what I was mostly trying to say before is that I would encourage everyone not to shy away from simpler explanations when it will help the gospel go out to people that need it – and save the theological debating for when they’re more mature and their faith is well grounded, and they’re able to reason on that level. Debating theology does no good if we’re not able to love people well while doing it – and the best way of loving them is to let them hear the gospel in a way that they can understand.

    That’s my other two cents – I guess I’m up to about 6 cents now? :-)

    Grace and peace,


  46. Nick –

    I’ll clarify what I meant by a==d etc. The Athanasian view of the Trinity says:

    The Father is God
    The Son is God
    The Holy Spirit is God

    But it also says:

    The Father is not the Son
    The Son is not the Holy Spirit
    The Holy Spirit is not the Father

    That is, it denies that the persons of the Trinity have a transitive relation.


  47. (I left this comment on the following post but thought it to be simply so stunningly brilliant as to warrant posting it here, too. Such is my devotion to propagating my own heretical views serving others that I would do something like this, i.e., go the extra 1.6 kilometers.)

    How ’bout an individual suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder).

    Such an individual has three distinct personalities and yet all have the same essence, i.e., a common brain with the same, shared neuropathways. It could also be that each distinct personality is aware of the others, shares the same values, purposes, experiences, etc., and that the three personalities relate to one another.

    Not that God suffers from DID, but I think it is a close and perhaps even viable illustration.

    Or maybe I – or one of I – are missing something.

    (For the record, I didn’t say that: I did.)

  48. Tara, the problem with using illustrations that do not accurately define the triune God is that it conveys a distorted message concerning Him. I think it much more honoring to God to define the Godhead without illustrations than to insist upon them, and paint a wrong picture. That means simply explaining one God existent as 3 distinct persons, who are each identified as God with distinct roles without the use of illustrations. I do believe there is a tension in not fully comprehending how this work even for those who have seriously investigated the topic.

    I also believe the Spirit can overcome these difficulties anyway in the hearts of those we are trying to convince concerning the trinity.

  49. My question is:

    When the Son weds His Bride, does the Godhead become a Quaternity? :)

  50. Lisa,

    I would agree that you are correct – a distorted message can be a problem with using those illustrations. I disagree, however, that it’s wrong to use them – because I think the first priority is the message of the gospel, not the specifics of the doctrine of the Trinity, and the gospel may be well served by the use of an illustration that breaks down at some point. I would agree that you don’t want to stick with that illustration to explain the Trinity forever, but I think that saying “The Trinity is *kind of* like this” is a good start, as it was for my friend Ai-chan, and the distinctions about where the illustration breaks down and the point at which we must all humbly confess our inadequacy to accurately or fully understand a mystery like the Trinity can and should be discussed, debated, and honed later, as that person is being discipled and is maturing in his or her faith.

    I think a lot of doctrinal issues are like that, actually – Calvinism vs. Armnianism, for example. I listened to a John Piper message once where he stated that no one starts the Christian life as a Calvinist – we’re all born Arminians and some change on that point later. :-)

    And I believe that the Spirit can overcome the difficulties inherent in fallible illustrations in the minds and hearts of people we are trying to convince of the gospel, as well – not just that He can overcome the difficulties of being unsure.

    At any rate, I think that’s probably enough spare change from me – blessings to you all. :-)



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