Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

How Widespread is the Belief in the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity Amongst Christians?

The analytic theologian Dale Tuggy made the following observation about the doctrine of the Trinity in his post: Roger Olson asks: How important is the doctrine of the Trinity?

“Theologian Roger Olson asks, How important is the doctrine of the Trinity?

He seems to hold, with many others, that

…the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial, essential, indispensable to a robust and healthy Christian view of God.

But,

The problem is, of course, that many, perhaps most, Christians have little or no understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. And they couldn’t care less.

Indeed. I suggest that Dr. Olson should consider this. Do most Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah? That he was raised bodily from the dead? That he did many miracles, showing that God was with and in him? That he now reigns, “at the right hand” of God? Why are these beliefs universal among genuine believers? Because these have been divinely revealed, and because (to understate the case) God is a competent revealer. Why, in comparison, does the Trinity fare so poorly – that is, why do so many people who are indisputably born-again Christians not believe the creedal Trinity claims? Could it be that they have not been divinely revealed?”

(End quote)

I think there is often this contradiction at work when discussing the role of the doctrine Trinity in the life of the Church. On the one hand, you get the rhetoric that of course the Trinity is believed by billions of worshipers across space and time and that it is vital for us to get it exactly right and how could you possibly question something so vital and essential to the faith of billions? On the other hand, you get these laments that in fact, virtually no one actually believes or understands the actual orthodox form of the Trinity (save a handful of theologians and clerics) and that most lay Christians, who supposedly hold to this wonderful essential doctrine central to Christianity, are more often than not, functional modalists or Tritheists or subordinationist. This of course implies that the doctrine of the Trinity, or at least the more technical aspects of it, isn’t essential to the faith of billions of Christians and is held only by a handful of academic elite throughout space and time. Thus it does not possess the importance which the true believer trumpets it to have.

Anyway, one isn’t exactly quite sure what role does the more technical aspects of the doctrine of the trinity play in the Christian life. I’ve devised the following thought experiment.

Find an ordinary believer who attends service regularly but isn’t really into theology. Recite the Nicene Creed by exchanging any term within the creed for another. (Try changing “of one substance” with the Father to “of like substance” to the Father, which was a neo-Arian creed.)

If they can’t notice the difference, then the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t really possess the significance theologically informed people tout it to have.

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7 comments on “How Widespread is the Belief in the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity Amongst Christians?

  1. Pingback: A Summary Refutation of (Pseudo) Athanasian Trinitarianism; On being More Arian than Arius Himself | Defunct Creakings of a Cog

  2. John
    June 9, 2014

    Hi
    I live in country which has a vast relatively uneducated population – and a small educated ‘elite’.
    The majority tend to be’ simple ‘and generally honest and ‘spiritually ‘ inclined
    The minority contain elements which are rich beyond most peoples dreams -crony capitalists living in a ‘socialist’ state.
    The majority of the population are ‘Christians’ although many tend to secretly hold to some sort of ancestor worship.
    Christian missionaries tend to claim that the majority are Christians – but they dare not claim that they are Trinitarians! The majority do not understand the doctrine at all and the missionaries dare not press the point.
    I have tried, on many occasions. to decipher the view of the majority and the most ‘hopeful’ candidate was emphatic that Christ is NOT God , but “The Word of God’ (the mouthpiece of God). This is in spite of incessant indoctrination by the evangelicals that Christ is God.
    Interestingly, the ‘educated elite’ are moving away from the ‘traditional ‘ Christian churches and forming ‘indigenous Christian churches.. many of which have ‘smelt the rat’ when it comes to the Trinity.
    The Muslims and Jehovas Witnesses have spotted the ‘gap’ and are active in trying to recruit from this group.- with limited success so far.
    What I find intriguing is this
    (i) Evangelicals point to the so called ‘mindless masses’ and are quite happy to call them Christian… but let’s not question them too deeply.!!
    (ii) With someone like me , they will assert that I understand their doctrine too well and because I reject it I am an ‘heretic’.
    It used to disturb me – but I now feel sorry for them. They are trapped in a ‘cage’ called tradition.
    Blessings
    John

    Like

    • Dominic
      June 9, 2014

      Thanks John, I largely agree with your sentiment here.

      Like

  3. John
    June 9, 2014

    Domino
    This seems to be a fairly widespread phenomenon!
    Just do a survey and see how many people who attend Calvinist churches actually understand Calvinism and its implications!
    Possibly 5% !
    Every Blessing
    John

    Like

    • Dominic
      June 10, 2014

      By the way John, what would you identify yourself as? Do you attend any church? Got a blog or something?

      Like

  4. Pingback: On Natural Religion Known to All and the True Believer | Defunct Creakings of a Cog

  5. John
    June 10, 2014

    Hi Dominic
    I hate labels but I guess that I would describe myself as a Christian Monotheist.
    I do not accept the veracity of all doctrine and am suspicious of ‘man- made’ constructs.
    I see truth in mono-theistic religions.
    Mark 12 vs 29-35 have particular meaning to me.
    A year or two ago I was surprised to hear that the Jewish view of atonement was quite close to mine . When challenged that the Christian view is ‘superior’ he thundered ” Have you ever read Psalms ? Salvation is by Gods grace and follows repentance’.
    All religions and sects try to ‘brand’ themselves by differentiating themselves from other faiths
    but in the end it all goes back to ‘Love God, Love your neighbour”

    God is love , and the way we approach Him is by being loving!

    I have however no doubt that in general Christianity is the ‘more excellent way’
    In the end we are judged by the extent to which we reflect the ‘fruits of the spirit’ – i.e. how much light we reflect.
    Regarding attendance of church , I live in the centre of Africa and people tend to be quite ‘literalist’.
    One has to be very careful in approaching people since most people tend to ‘see’ what they want to see, and prefer to remain in the warm ‘nest’ called tradition.
    Faith is a fragile thing and one doesn’t want to shatter this altogether and leave the audience desolate.
    I attend a church which is happy to receive me, provided I don’t ‘rock the boat’
    You will find in most churches that the more ‘thinking’ people are often unconvinced by the Doctrine of the Trinity but do not want to cause disunity.
    Every Blessing
    John

    Like

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This entry was posted on June 7, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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