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The Great Trinity Debate: An Introduction

In two days, The Great Trinity Debate begins here on Parchment and Pen! I am grateful to David Burke for the privilege of engaging in this important debate with him. Our purpose in this debate is to compare and contrast two different theological models or descriptions of the being of God, with specific reference to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. David will be defending a “biblical Unitarian” theology, whereas I will be defending a “Trinitarian” theology. Please note that this debate is not simply an argument about the Trinity, for or against (even though it is called, for sake of simplicity, “The Great Trinity Debate”); rather, it is a debate between two theological positions, one of which (mine) is the Trinity. Thus, both Dave and I are obliged to present a positive case for our respective positions as well as to offer the best responses we can to each other’s arguments and objections.

For the purposes of this debate, we will be focusing exclusively on defending our respective theologies biblically. This means that in our debate we are not supposed to address concerns about the development of each other’s theology in church history. We are also not supposed to discuss philosophical arguments for or against each other’s theological model. These historical and philosophical issues may be worthy of attention in their own right, but they are not germane to this debate.

(NOTE: After I posted the above comment, Dave emailed me to let me know that he had not understood the ground rules of the debate to preclude reference to historical or philosophical issues. We discussed this question and agreed to move forward despite our differences over it.)

In a separate post back in February, Dave and I have already listed what we consider to be some of the most important secondary works supporting our theological positions. We may refer to some of these works in the course of our debate, so you may want to have a copy of that post handy.

Here is the format for our debate:

Week #1 (begins April 11): Dave and I have separate posts introducing the subject, explaining our views of Scripture, interpretation, doctrine, and of the nature of God (i.e., his attributes).
Week #2 (begins April 18): Dave and I will have separate posts on our views about Jesus Christ.
Week #3 (begins April 25): Dave and I will have separate posts where we may continue to present arguments supporting our views about Jesus Christ.
Week #4 (begins May 2): Dave and I will have separate posts on the Holy Spirit.
Week #5 (begins May 9): Dave and I will have separate posts presenting our case for our differing theologies of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (mine in support of the Trinity, Dave’s in support of Biblical Unitarianism) and critiquing each other’s theologies.
Week #6 (begins May 16): Dave and I will have separate posts offering closing statements, with comments open to the general public.

Each of us has agreed that each of our weekly posts will not exceed 5,000 words (not 10,000 as originally proposed).

Please note that comments to the posts of the first five weeks will be closed. Only Dave and I will be allowed to comment on those posts. I realize this will be frustrating for those used to instant commentary, but Dave and I have agreed to this plan so as to keep both of us from being overwhelmed by outside comments during the course of the debate. I believe that Michael Patton has another site where such comments might be posted. The closing posts will be open to comments from anyone.

Please pass the word about this debate.

38 Responses to “The Great Trinity Debate: An Introduction”

  1. I’m very much looking forward to this. Thanks, Rob.

  2. Sounds great. Will all the posts be on this site or will we need to go back and forth between both yours and his site in order to follow?

  3. I am looking forward to reading the posts!

  4. I am sure this will be an interesting exercise in Theological gymnastics… however at the end of the day, all the debating either position or any position is pointless if one does not KNOW the Father – that is… to KNOW what He requires of us and how we are to live.

    I know very moral Trinitarians who model the Father as best as human beings can…. and I know very immoral Unitarians who bring shame to religion and God by the way they behave.

    Add the end of the day it matters not how you can picture God in your mind that saves… but how one lives and models God to the rest of humanity.

    I predict that at the end of the debate Dave will remain Unitarian and Michael will remain Trinitarian… and that both will be with God for eternity… not because of what they believed… but DESPITE it.

    Lov’n the Son
    Cliff

  5. Cliff,

    I would encourage you to look at the verse you quoted further. Knowing God is eternal life. “Knowing” in John has to do with believing the truth. The truth is that through which people are sanctified and then produce acts of sanctification. The truth is not sanctification itself. Hence, you have confused what is ethical actions that take place as a result of sanctification (or can even be identified with it) with that which produces sanctification. It is clear in John, then, that the truth is theological, not merely ethical, in nature. It is through knowing God via the truth by which one is sanctified. This is consistent with what John says in his epistle concerning the theology of the Father and the Son. He who denies that theology is of the spirit of anti-Christ. Do you believe that people who don’t know God, which is eternal life, through the truth, but are of the spirit of anti-Christ, are all saved anyway because theology has no salvific element to it?

  6. Hodge,

    Do you think that in walking 33 years with Jesus that I have not many times examined the verse in John which tears Unitarians and Trinitarians apart?

    Jesus was obviously not talking of a Trinity… for such a concept was not even thought of until the Church fathers in the 4th and 5th Century began dabbling in meta-physical stuff which is way beyond our ken anyway.

    The things the Father wants us to *KNOW* were clearly revealed in the OT over and over and over.

    Jer 9:23 is just one case in point. “So says the Lord, Do not let the wise glory in his wisdom, nor let the mighty glory in his might; do not let the rich glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that HE UNDERSTANDS AND KNOWS ME, that I am the Lord, doing kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth; for in these I delight, says the Lord.”

    The things which excite our Heavenly Father about His children are moral… not metaphysical!

    In fact, in my opinion… most of Christianity is a splintered mess because of our hell bent desire to decide who is “in” and who is “out” based mainly on meta-physical arguments which we cannot know this side of immortality.

    God is not concerned with our Orthodoxy… it is our Orthopraxy that is the key.

    Jesus was the “medium” [‘media’] used by the Father so that we could experience what God is like close up and personal.

    To tear and devour over metaphysical nuances is so destructive and gains no ground anywhere.

    You cannot say you *know* God… then say that unless my mental picture of Him matches yours, we cannot be Brothers!

    Lov’n the Son
    Cliff

  7. Cliff-

    “God is not concerned with our Orthodoxy… it is our Orthopraxy that is the key.”

    So you can be an atheist that demonstrates orthopraxy, and yet still be ok with God?

  8. Cliff,
    I appreciate your initiative to promote courteous and gracious interaction between those who disagree, this is very important. However, with a wave of the hand you reduce the doctrine of God to a “mental picture” that has no value for praxis? It has everything to do with it my friend. Salvation, yours and mine, is not dependent only on WHAT Jesus was doing or did, but on WHO he was. The father’s were not concerned about useless hypothetical semantics, they knew that if they did not get it right about Christ everything falls apart for salvation–Period. So, two guys who disagree about something may in fact be brothers in Christ, but if you destroy who Christ is (yes IS) then nicey, nicey has lost it’s moral value anyway.

  9. Cliff, you seem to have left out all of that stuff in Jeremiah that deals with worshiping false gods. In your view, Jeremiah should have just taken issue with the moral aspects (which he does deal with) exclusively. “Knowing” in John is connected to the truth, and as I said before (and you did not deal with at all), the truth is what sanctifies and produces orthopraxis. It is not orthopraxis itself.

    Second to this, you didn’t deal with what John says in His Epistle about denying the Father and the Son, which is what the Docetics had done THEOLOGICALLY.
    I would also like to know, that if the identification of the Son is not a matter of salvation, why Christ says, “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins”?

    Third, there are as many disagreements, if not more so, concerning orthopraxis than there are concerning orthodoxy. The idea that splits are primarily doctrinal without any implications for orthopraxis is a fantasy.

    Finally, the idea that the Trinity was thought up in the 4th or 5th cent is just plain ahistorical. Unless your getting your information from the Da Vinci Code, I would not argue this if I were you. Tertullian is the first to use the TERM “trinity” in the 2d cent. The concept that Christ is God is part of the problem that the Church had with the Gnostics for the first three hundred years. The Gnostics thought that because the Church taught that Christ was God incarnate then they had to reconcile that with their view of matter in some way. Hence, you get adoptionism and Docetism. I would, of course, argue that the NT is filled with Trinitarian teaching, but this debate is not mine, and I await the one to come.

  10. So… please help me here.

    Two people live in the same town and in the same era.

    One is a Trinitarian theologically speaking and the other a Unitarian.

    Both are very active in their church, and both have a full and enriching prayer life.

    Both are good citizens, not perfect by any means, but both model their lives on the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ… and both do unto others as they would be done by.

    Both are involved in their church community programs, providing meals for the needy, counselling for the depressed and troubled, care for the destitute and comfort for the helpless.

    The Great Day arrives for both to stand before Jesus… and to them both He acknowledges that their faith and their works have truly led many other people to seek God in their lives and to prepare for eternity as best they can with the knowledge they have.

    But to one He says… although what you modeled was admirable and based on what you understand the Bible to teach you… although you did all that I mentioned in Matthew 25 [2nd half] according to your God given ability…. I’m afraid I cannot grant you a place with me for eternity because your mental picture of just who I am in relation to the Godhead was not correct…. so… depart from me…. you are destined to outer darkness forever where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth… and an eternal separation from me because you just could not understand who/what I am meta-physically.

    On the other hand… because your friend had her mental picture of me correct… she will enjoy unfettered bliss for ever more in my presence.

    I’m sorry…. that just does not work for me.

  11. Cliff,
    First of all remember those who said “Lord, Lord; did we not do mighty works?” etc. “I never knew you” was God’s reply.
    Motives and sincerity are not at issue otherwise JW’s, Mormons, Muslims, etc. should be saved. What is at issue is the truth about God himself.
    Secondly, you seem to be charging God with injustice in your scenario. Is God unjust to have no other way to him than Christ. And what does it mean to be “in Christ”. It is not that the person that was lost in your scenario needed to know every detail of the nature and persons of the Godhead to be saved, but to consciously deny the divinity of any of the divine persons is fundamentally inconsistent with faith in God as he is.
    A question for you. The scripture declares in several places that Jesus Christ created all things. We know that only God himself is not created. If Christ created all things then He created time itself (God exists outside of time). How then could there be any interval of time between God the father and Christ the son if time itself was created by the Son.

  12. Whoa…. you say…>>>Motives and sincerity are not at issue otherwise JW’s, Mormons, Muslims, etc. should be saved.<<>>>A question for you. The scripture declares in several places that Jesus Christ created all things. We know that only God himself is not created. If Christ created all things then He created time itself (God exists outside of time). How then could there be any interval of time between God the father and Christ the son if time itself was created by the Son.<<<

    Two things…. (1) you and I being puny humans have no ken of meta-physics… they are way outside our area of experience [and this area is where all the "salvation" issue "Doctrines" are found]…. and (2) Jesus is the head of the New Creation… which is the "beginning" John speaks of.

    He was not physically present at the original Creation of matter for He is a begotton being…. not an Increate being.

    Whether once He was made immortal [after His resurrection] and became in nature Divine like the angels and the Father Himself, He was enabled to travel back in time, so that the Father could speak of those things that be not as though they are…. we cannot know…. until we perhaps experience it ourselves in immortality.

    Besides, all things revolve around Jesus Christ… He is the Man for whom all things were and are created…. but He was not present at their creation…. for that would have been a physical impossibility…. unless the Father brought Him back from the future…. which is more than we are told.

  13. Cliff,
    “He was not physically present at the original Creation of matter for He is a begotton being….”

    Right. He was not physically present anywhere until the Incarnation, but he was PERSONALLY present at the creation, as he was it’s cause. He has been the 2nd Divine PERSON of the Godhead for all eternity. Christ was not begotten at his Incarnation he was begotten of the Father before all worlds….begotten not made. The Father begets of his very nature just like men beget children of the same nature. But His nature is divine and eternal so the son is of the same nature as the Father and this is why they are one God. Christ also did not become a person at his Incarnation. He was always a person. What had it’s beginning at the Incarnation was the human nature of Christ which he received entirely from Mary. This he united to his eternal divine Person.
    The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
    Was there a time when the Father was not “Father” because he had no Son? Did the Father not have a Son before the Incarnation? How could the Spirit “proceed” from the Father if the Spirit was not of the same undivided divinity as the Father?

  14. So… please help me here.

    Two people live in the same town and in the same era.

    One is a Yahwist theologically speaking and the other worships Baal.

    Both are very active in their religious communities, and both have a full and enriching prayer life.

    Both are good citizens, not perfect by any means, but both model their lives on the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (even though Jesus Christ to one is Yahweh and to the other He is Baal)… and both do unto others as they would be done by.

    Both are involved in their religious community programs, providing meals for the needy, counseling for the depressed and troubled, care for the destitute and comfort for the helpless.

    The Great Day arrives for both to stand before Jesus… and to them both He acknowledges that their faith and their works have truly led many other people to seek God in their lives and to prepare for eternity as best they can with the knowledge they have.

    But to one He says… although what you modeled was admirable and based on what you understand the Bible to teach you… although you did all that I mentioned in Matthew 25 [2nd half] according to your God given ability…. I’m afraid I cannot grant you a place with me for eternity because your mental picture of just who I am in relation to the God was not correct…. so… depart from me…. you are destined to outer darkness forever where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth… and an eternal separation from me because you just could not understand who/what I am meta-physically.

    On the other hand… because your friend had her mental picture of me correct… she will enjoy unfettered bliss for ever more in my presence.

    I’m sorry…. that just does not work for me.

    Of course, I might want to look at what works for God, since He is the one who requires us to worship Him rather than a chair, a five-headed monkey, an ancient Near Eastern storm god, or an unrevealed abstract God that we make after are own…

  15. Hi! On PST, is the debate posted via a link? Looking forward to it!

  16. Marcus L. Brown April 11, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Joh 17:3 This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent.

    If only the world could understand Jesus Christ is the SON OF GOD and we too can become sons and daughters of GOD by adoption Heb 2:10 “God is the one for whom and through whom everything exists. Heb 2:10 “Therefore, while God was bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was the right time to bring Jesus, the source of their salvation, to the end of his work through suffering.” God Manifestation rather than that old silly doctrine of GOD Manifest or veiled in Human form, it is all about example and representation…..
    Jesus Christ is Coming to set up His Kingdom on Earth. 1John 4:1 “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come [is now coming] in the flesh is of God: “”And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is in the world” (I John 4:1-3).

    Jesus Christ will represent Yahweh more fully in the kingdom age and as Revelation says will take on a new name, here are the Messiah’s titles from Old testament Prophecy…

    Isa 9:6 A child will be born for us. A son will be given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. He will be named: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Isa 9:7 His government and peace will have unlimited growth. He will establish David’s throne and kingdom. He will uphold it with justice and righteousness now and forever. The LORD of Armies is determined to do this!so how blessed we are that God has revealed this to those who truly search for truth and righteousness……Come now…..my King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, Healer of Nations, I want to be…

  17. Marcus L. Brown April 11, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    part of that feast!

    Act 1:9 After he had said this, he was taken to heaven. A cloud hid him so that they could no longer see him.
    Act 1:10 They were staring into the sky as he departed. Suddenly, two men in white clothes stood near them.
    Act 1:11 They asked, “Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking at the sky? Jesus, who was taken from you to heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven.”
    Marcus L Brown i.e. In the flesh, the real deal :-)

    HOW FEW understand that we are to be busily QUALIFYING to become “KINGS AND PRIESTS” and to actually sit on exalted THRONES, ruling with Jesus Christ of Nazareth, making far-reaching judgmental decisions, edicts, issuing orders which will enforce PEACE upon a sin-sick, war-torn world at last?
    This earth is where the problems are!
    It is here on this earth, that Jesus Christ intends cleaning house—solving the problems—ushering in an era of absolute compulsory joy!

    Yes, the saints will reign ON THE EARTH
    Amen

    Some brethren and sisters get it SO wrong though, the coming reign on Earth will not be a harsh one but Peace and Joy, Hitler promised his SS that THEY would be Kings and Priests also ruling over the Earth, a false Christ

    Mat 6:10 Let your kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

  18. Marcus and Cliff,

    Great posts indeed! Where can I contact you? BTW, you are more than welcome to join these and similar discussions on the blog, http://www.kingdomready.org/blog. Would love to have your imputs there!

    In Christ,

    Jaco

  19. Why haven’t they posted their articles? It’s now the twelve!

  20. Marcus,
    Not sure why you seem to be pushing the “real flesh” idea. Of course his flesh was and is real. Christ has a human body, soul, will, mind etc. all of which came entirely from Mary. His flesh was not an illusion or empty cover but is complete natural humanity and yet is united to his divine Person. We are sons of God by adoption, Jesus is a son of God by nature!
    Jesus represents Yahweh fully already. He is the very icon of God the scripture says, and all of the fullness of Deity dwells in Him bodily. Revelation 1:6 says that he has (past tense) made us kings and priests. The fullness of the kingdom will be on the earth–the new earth. All creation is to be redeemed in Jesus Christ. He redeems and renews all matter not just human persons.

  21. also wondering why they havent posted their articles

  22. Sam:

    >>
    Why haven’t they posted their articles? It’s now the twelve!
    >>

    Rob and I agreed that we would email our articles to a third party, who would then post them on our behalf in a new section of the blog.

    We both submitted our articles on the 11th, so they should be going “live” very soon.

  23. Dave, where is this new section?

  24. Sam,

    It won’t actually be a separate section. Just posts on this blog.

  25. Rob, when will they be posted?

  26. Wow, Dave Burke!!!! You mentioned my article in your opening statements! I guess should be flattered but I never thought that any of my stuff would be viewed as representating anything. Dave, does this mean that you think that I am some kind of an authority or that I somehow represent and speak for Trinitarians in general? Anyway, thanks for the plug since parts 4-5 and the appendices should be published soon, Lord willing.

  27. Sam:

    Wow, Dave Burke!!!! You mentioned my article in your opening statements! I guess should be flattered but I never thought that any of my stuff would be viewed as representating anything. Dave, does this mean that you think that I am some kind of an authority or that I somehow represent and speak for Trinitarians in general? Anyway, thanks for the plug since parts 4-5 and the appendices should be published soon, Lord willing.

    No Sam, it doesn’t mean that I regard you as an authority or representative of any kind. I was simply looking for an example of the classic “echad” fallacy and your article was one of the first which turned up in my search engine. So you were just plain lucky (or unlucky, depending on your perspective) and you can thank Google for that. PageRank stats looking good these days? ;)

  28. Multiple Choice.

    If I came up to you in the street, you being an innocent person doing your own thing, and I hit you – should I apologise to you, or should you apologise to me?

    A. You should apologise to me.

    B. I should apologise to you.

    C. You should apologise to yourself.

    D. I should apologise to myself on your behalf.

    E. You should apologise to yourself on my behalf.

    In the begining Man sinned against God, God is innocent, should man apologise to God, or should God apologise to man?

    A. God should apologise to man.

    B. Man should apologise to God.

    C. God should apologise to Himself.

    D. Man should apologise to himself on Gods behalf.

    E. God should apologise to himself on mans behalf.

    If you are of sound mind, logical and rational, your answer will be ‘B’ to both questions.

    If you are Trintarian, your answer will be ‘E’ to both questions.*

    This highlights the need to know who God is and who Christ is, because we are saved through what Christ did for us, so to fully appreciate what he has done for us we need to understand the processes of what he did to truly honor him as God the Father asks us too.

    *The Trinitarian faith requires different processes from the Unitarian, a Devine sacrifice (on what scripture they base this requirment on I’m not sure)
    To faithfully model your life on the trintarian God you will need to become irrational, illogical and unsound, as that is the example of the characteristic that the trinity gives.

    The Christadelphian Unitarian belief has no issues, it answers ‘B’ to both questions. It only requires a man , on mans behalf to be sacrificed. Logical, sound, rational. Characteristics of a God that is an honour to model ones faith upon.

  29. Phil,
    Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but the person and work of Christ is not about a bare apology to the Father. The Son is not holding back an angry Father from ripping humanity to shreds. The Son is sent by a loving Father on a rescue mission for Man because man won’t/can’t listen anymore. Something needed to happen to man in his very nature. Adam forfeited his intended purpose–to share in, and partake of the glory of God. The eternal Son of God will do something for man he cannot do for himself–he will take the very nature of man and heal it by joining it to His own divine person. Then he will conquer and overcome our death by dying himself. Man could not rise to life of his own nature, but when man’s nature is united to the divine Son of God, it sees no corruption and is glorified and renewed and restored. Those that are IN CHRIST by faith, freely partake in the benefits wrought by Christ. God is not in heaven waiting for an apology from Adam, he sent his Son to become Adam. Which is the greater love?

  30. Actually, wouldn’t your answer be “F. God should raise up a man who didn’t sin against Him in order that that man might apologize for others who did sin against Him.”

    BTW, Christ doesn’t apologize to God. He takes upon the sins of others and is punished by God for those sins. Hence, He provides a means to be forgiven. We apologize to God, who has now given us a way to be forgiven when we do. I don’t think your analogy is all that logical, nor do I think your position does not hold the same amount of problems (Person A who has not sinned dies for Person B who has). Whether it is the God-man or just another man seems irrelevant.

  31. Oh Boy!…Here we go!

  32. It seems you opened comments on the two debate posts. I left a comment last night around 5:00 p.m. and it shows that it is in moderation. Are these comments not going to be coming through like comments on the other topics?

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