The Trinity

Last month I wrote a couple of posts about our class on the attributes of God. If you don’t remember them, here are the links:

The Attributes of God

The Attributes of God part 2

In the final lesson of that class we discussed the trinity. No study of God is complete without addressing this doctrine which is the foundation on which the Christian church rests. Although the word “trinity” is never used in the Bible, there are a number of references to the three-fold nature of God. The one cited most often is in the book of Mark:

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”” Mark 1:9-11

We see here three names and 3 actions: Jesus is baptized, God speaks, and the Spirit descends.

After the death and resurrection of Christ many heresies about the trinity arose. Here’s a brief synopsis of some of the more prevalent misconceptions:

  1. Modalism — the three persons of the trinity have separate functions: creator (the Father), redeemer (Jesus) and comforter (the Spirit). In fact, all three persons are involved in every function.
  2. Subordinationism–the Spirit and Jesus are subordinate to the Father.
  3. Tritheism–the three persons are separate and are in effect three Gods

Many analogies have been used to try and explain the mystery of the Trinity. It has been likened to water, steam and ice, which all have the same chemical makeup; a triangle which has 3 sides but is one triangle; or the clover, three leaves but one plant.

To combat different false teachings in the early church, a number of ecumenical councils were convened. At the first Council of Nicaea (325) the doctrine of the Trinity was addressed and defined in the Nicaean Creed. If you’re a Lutheran, you probably recite this almost every week during the worship service. Don’t skip over this lightly! Repeating and understanding the creeds helps us to remember exactly what we believe.

False teaching is still out there, alive and well. Often it sounds good and makes sense to our limited understanding. So know what you believe and why, starting with the Trinity.

For more about the Trinity see:

John Donne on the Trinity

An Image of the Trinity

Lutherans Explain the Trinity

Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself

I’ve been doing a lectio divina study of the works of John and this week I read his second letter. This is what jumped out for me:

Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God…” 2 John 9a

John is cautioning his readers (and us) about false teaching. I don’t know about you, but I’m easily attracted to something new — the latest style, a novel recipe, a unique way of looking at the world. There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, or with shaking up our usual routines now and then. However, when it comes to the faith, we must make sure we stick to the foundational truths.

In order to do this, we must first know the truth. That means studying the Bible, and also knowing something about theology. Yes, this can be difficult — I sometimes accuse my Pastor husband of giving me a headache when he tries to explain doctrinal concepts to me–but as someone once said, “if you don’t know where you stand, you’ll fall for anything.” We’ve recently been studying the trinity, and some of the ideas that sound right to my human understanding — for example, that the three members of the trinity each have a different function– is actually a heresy known as modalism. God is one, the trinity is a unity, and each member is involved in everything God does.

We can “run ahead” for other reasons as well. Sometimes a new idea is just what our itching ears want to hear — things like God wants to bless us by making us healthy and wealthy (the prosperity gospel–another heresy). Or we crave the new because it gives us a spiritual “high” at least for a while. We forget that our faith is tested and matured through trials. Maybe we bounce around from church to church seeking the most charismatic leader or preacher — when what we need to grow is to root ourselves in a Christian community and bloom where we are planted.

We need to remember that running ahead can lead to false teaching and false teaching leads to our word for the month: SIN. So don’t get ahead of yourself. Study the Word until you know the Word. Understand the theology behind what you believe. Test the spiritys. Be committed to your congregation and serve the community. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

For more lectio divina study see:

Deceiving Ourselves

Honor Everyone

James Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

Learn This Word

This is an excerpt from a sermon my husband gave recently.  He says if you only learn one word in Hebrew, this is the one to know.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
“His steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 118:104

In the Psalm above there is a phrase that is very familiar to most people who have read or listened to someone speak on the Bible — steadfast love.  Steadfast love, love that doesn’t die, doesn’t wane, doesn’t falter, is always active before those who have eyes to see.  Steadfast love is a love which, as Paul writes in the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, never ends.

Now that beautiful phrase is the English translation of a Hebrew word —hesed.  There are two translations for the word–steadfast love and loving kindness.  There have been other attempts to capture what the word means, but those seem to be the best we’ve found.

But even the best scholars and translators have really been unable to capture the fullness of the Hebrew.  There is a deepness and a richness to hesed which defies our attempts to make it simple.  Maybe the best way is to use a series of adjectives.  Heses is God’s persistent, extravagant, unyielding, unrestrained, even furious love for His people.  It is a love that never falters and never ceases.

Hesed is a love that neither you nor I, nor any person who lived apart from Jesus could actually possess, for in each of us is the sinful nature that will make any love we give to be about us, at least in some way.  I love my wife, I love my children, I love my grandchildren.  But my love isn’t hesed because there is a sense in which I feel fulfilled by loving them, and there is also a sense that my love might die under certain circumstances.  And we’ve all seen how, when love dies, it can leave a pretty messy situation behind.  But God doesn’t love us like that.  His love can’t die, because His entire nature is to love.  From all eternity, the Father has loved the Sone and the Spirit while the Son has loved the Father and the Spirit and the Spirit has loved the Father and the Son.  And there is nothing impure or selfish in that love within the Trinity.  So when God shows forth His love to us, it is that kind of love which He shows.  But even more, hesed is not simply an emotional love–it is a love of action which leads to merciful and compassionate behavior on the part of the One who loves.

To be continued ….

For more on God’s love see:

Martin Luther on God’s Love (Agape)

Extravagant Love

Heaven is a World of Love by Jonathan Edwards — Book Review



New Month/New Theme

In the daytime Bible study at our church, we’ve started a study of the Holy Spirit, and I thought that might be an interesting monthly theme for the blog as well.  It’s not a topic that is studied often, probably because the whole idea of the trinity, three persons in one, is a difficult concept to wrap your brain around.  And of those three persons, the Holy Spirit seems the most nebulous and mysterious

So this month we’ll be exploring the Spirit… the big word for that is pneumatology.  What does the Spirit do? What is the place of the Spirit in the trinity?  How does the Spirit interact with us?  How do we experience the Spirit?  How do Christians describe the Spirit?  I hope to read some books, and share  information from our class.

I would welcome comments, suggestions and questions from our readers.  We’re in this together, let’s see what we can learn this month.

It’s also possible that at times, we’ll go off topic — inspired by something we’ve heard or read …. or possibly simply under the guidance of the Spirit!

God loves you and so do I!

For previous posts on the Holy Spirit see:

Spiritual Gifts from the Holy Spirit

Clarity From the Holy Spirit

Come Holy Spirit!


Lord of the Dance

In his book, The Reason for God, Timothy Keller describes the inner life of the trinity, and also the life of the individual Christian, as a dance.  His analogy goes this way:

“The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love.  When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center our interests and desires on the other.  That creates a dance ….The early leaders of the Greek church had a name for this–perichoresis….. it means literally to ‘dance or flow around.'”

This reminded me of a song we use sometimes on Via de Cristo weekends, Lord of the Dance. The words were written by English songwriter Sydney Carter in 1963.  Carter tells the gospel story in the first person voice of Jesus of Nazareth with the device of portraying Jesus’ life and mission as a dance.  Listen and ask yourself if you’re part of the dance.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers — Book Review

In case you have not heard of Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), she was an English crime writer and poet.  She was also a Christian.  In this book, she maintains that, as humans, we can only understand God through analogies or metaphors that reflect human experience.  For example, we have been taught to think of God as a Father — the perfect Father, of course, with attributes that are recognizable to us as children with parents.  Another analogy is one we have been exploring this month — the Shepherd and his sheep.

The Mind of the Maker uses a less common analogy.  Since God is the ultimate creator, Sayers compares Him to a human artist, most specifically, a writer.  Like God, the writer has a trinity which makes up the creative process.  This trinity is composed of the Idea –as in, ‘I have an idea for a book’ — the Energy –which is the sum and process of writing the work itself– and the Power–the thing that comes back to the author as it is communicated to other readers and produces a response in them.  Each of these parts are separate, yet all are inseparable in the completed book.  If you have a bit of trouble following this, don’t worry, so did I!

Here’s how Sayers explains it:

“…it is the pattern of the creative mind–an eternal Idea, manifested in material form by an unresting Energy, with an outpouring of Power that at once inspires, judges and communicates the work:  all these three being of one and the same in the mind and one in the same in the work.  And this, I observe, is the pattern laid down by the theologians as the pattern of the being of God.”

As a writer myself, I found this to be an appealing metaphor.  To Sayers, the “image of God” in each of us is this trinitarian creative principle.  Of course, it applies not only to writers and artists — it is in our nature as humans to create something.  The difference is that God created the universe out of nothing, while we can only create with things that already exist;  still, we are able to take existing items and turn them into “a new thing.”

If you decide to pick up this book, be warned that it requires deep reading and concentration.  Sayers is extremely logical and detailed in her presentation.  It found it more like reading philosophy than literature.  I’m not sure I would have persevered, had she chosen an analogy that resonated less with my own experience.

Verdict:  Four stars.  Well written, but not for everyone.  If you are a writer, or a logical thinker you may enjoy it.


Superheros Can’t Save You by Todd Miles–Book Review

If you can get past the title, this is a great book.  Sorry, but I grew out of my fascination with comics at age eleven, and I think comparing historic heresies to superheros trivializes a serious topic.  However you really can’t judge a book by its’ cover! Author Todd Miles,  who is a teacher at Western Seminary in Oregon knows his topic.  He does an excellent job of covering seven major heresies and 2,000 years of church history in a manner that most laypeople will find clear and understandable.

Superheroes Can't Save You: Epic Examples of Historic Heresies by [Miles, Todd]

Each chapter starts with his explanation of a particular superhero and how this hero represents one of the “bad ideas about Jesus.”  (You can skip this part if you like.)  He goes on to explain the exact belief of each heresy, the historic background, and how the heresy is manifested today.  Finally he lays out what the Bible says that discredits the heresy, and why it is important that it be rejected.  The chapter ends with questions for personal reflection or group discussion and suggestions for further study.

Verdict:  This is a very readable book for those who want to learn more about the complex issues of the Trinity and Christology.  It could easily be used for a group study. It would also be a good addition to any church library as it answers questions about some difficult theological concepts.  I think any reader will come away with a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus.  I would give it four out of five stars only because I didn’t like the silly pop culture theme — otherwise, it would be a five.

If you would like to purchase this book, follow the link below:


John Donne on the Trinity

This is only the first part of a litany by John Donne (my English major moment) that  deals with the trinity.



FATHER of Heaven, and Him, by whom
It, and us for it, and all else for us,
Thou madest, and govern’st ever, come
And re-create me, now grown ruinous:
My heart is by dejection, clay,
And by self-murder, red.
From this red earth, O Father, purge away
All vicious tinctures, that new-fashioned
I may rise up from death, before I’m dead.


O Son of God, who, seeing two things,
Sin and Death, crept in, which were never made,
By bearing one, tried’st with what stings
The other could Thine heritage invade ;
O be Thou nail’d unto my heart,
And crucified again ;
Part not from it, though it from Thee would part,
But let it be by applying so Thy pain,
Drown’d in Thy blood, and in Thy passion slain.



O Holy Ghost, whose temple I
Am, but of mud walls , and condensèd dust,
And being sacrilegiously
Half wasted with youth’s fires of pride and lust,
Must with new storms be weather-beat,
Double in my heart Thy flame,
Which let devout sad tears intend, and let—
Though this glass lanthorn, flesh, do suffer maim—
Fire, sacrifice, priest, altar be the same.



O blessed glorious Trinity,
Bones to philosophy, but milk to faith,
Which, as wise serpents, diversely
Most slipperiness, yet most entanglings hath,
As you distinguish’d, undistinct,
By power, love, knowledge be,
Give me a such self different instinct,
Of these let all me elemented be,
Of power, to love, to know you unnumbered three.

An Image of the Trinity

Image result for rublev's trinity imagesThis icon of the Holy Trinity was painted by the monk Andrei Rublev.  It depicts the three visitors to Abraham, each angel symbolizing one of the persons of the trinity.  When you look closely, you will notice that each figure wears different garments, but has the same face.  Many comment on the feeling of invitation and inclusion experienced as you spend time gazing at this beautiful image.  I have a number of icons, and this is definitely my favorite.  It gives me a sense of peace and light.

Here’s a quote about this icon from Henri Nouwen’s book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord.

“During a hard period of my life in which verbal prayer had become nearly impossible and during which mental and emotional fatigue had made me the easy victim of feelings of despair and fear, a loving and quiet presence to this icon became the beginning of my healing.  As I sat for long hours in front of Rublev’s Trinity, I noticed how gradually my gaze became a prayer.  This silent prayer made my inner restlessness melt away and lifted me up into the circle of love, a circle that could nt be broken by the powers of the world.  Even as I moved away from the icon and became involved in the many tasks of everyday life, I felt as if I did not have to leave the holy place I had found and could dwell there whatever I did or wherever I went.”

Is there a Christian painting or work of art that has affected you deeply?  If so, please comment and tell us about it.

Lutherans Explain the Trinity

The trinity is a mystery that as humans we will never fully grasp.  I found this explanation on a website about Lutheran Confirmation that does help show how Lutherans think about the it.  I remember our Pastor used the ice, water, steam analogy during the confirmation classes our daughters attended.  Readers, how do you understand the trinity?

Explaining The Trinity

How do we explain the Doctrine of the Trinity? The following are often used to explain the Trinity.

1) Triangle: Like God, a triangle has three sides. Yet it is only one triangle. This is the most common explanation of the Trinity and is often depicted as the following diagram.

2) Water: Like God, water has three forms–ice, water and steam. 

3) Math: 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. Each person of God is like the “1”–fully God, yet separate.

Ultimately, all of these analogies fail. Why? Because we cannot describe God, who is greater than all of creation, with humble elements within His creation. Christian Theologians have sought to explain this doctrine for hundreds of years. Yet, it still remains outside of our complete understanding.