|Synopsis||Associate Professor Brandon D. Smith explores the basics of trinitarian theology as they are presented in the Holy Bible, in an accessible way for pastors and laypersons.|
|Author||Brandon D. Smith Ph.D.|
|Release Date||May 24, 2023|
American Christianity has a Trinity problem — too many people do not know what it is. According to the 2022 State of Theology study, 38% of American Evangelicals agree with the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God,” meaning nearly two-fifths qualify as Arian heretics. Another study found 22% disagreed with the statement, “Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God,” with 62.5% failing to properly describe the historic understanding.
The concept of the Trinity itself isn’t without controversy. The term never properly appears in scripture by itself, having been conceived by the church father Theophilus of Antioch in the second century. But the scriptures themselves provide plenty of evidence for its existence. Matthew 28:19 notes, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Christ previously says in John 14:9 that, “he who hath seen me hath seen the Father,” suggesting the Father and Son are connected. John 1:1 makes it clear Jesus existed since the beginning of time and helped create the Earth.
This is not to say the Trinity isn’t complex. When I was young, I struggled with the concept of how Jesus could be God while also appealing to a separate external monotheistic God to whom he called himself the Son. I was too young to seriously consider the implications, but it became easier to look at God in a unitarian way and merely look at Jesus as the gate to whom one accesses the singular God. But as Lutheran Satire points out rightly, almost all attempts to explain the Trinity create heresies that demean it.
Spiritual Content: The book is comprised of 17 short reflections on scripture and descriptions of how they reflect on one of the core doctrines of historic Christianity
Language/Crude Humor: None
Sexual Content: None
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Other Negative Themes: None
Positive Content: A brief introduction to one of the most challenging questions in Christian theology
As if right on time to address the poor state of theological affairs, a new book has been released that addresses many of these core and dangerous philosophical issues surrounding the Trinity. Dr. Brandon D. Smith, associate professor at Cedarville University in Ohio, has just released a new devotional text on the Trinity this Summer that seeks to provide an easy-to-understand and practical introduction to the concept—The Biblical Trinity: Encountering The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Scripture.
As Dr. Smith writes:
“Doctrine is not a mere list of collection of the Bibles words; rather, doctrine is a type of speech about God, which at times requires drawing together a set of theems and pattersn across the scope of the biblical canon. So, seeing hte doctrine of the Trinity will require more than mere proof texts or word studies—it will require following the logic and grammer of Scripture.”
The concept of the Trinity is attempting to communicate a very complex and paradoxical idea: that Jesus, Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit are a single distinct being with the same power and glory that appears with three separate identities throughout the text of scripture. There is no meaningful separation between them. However, they exist within relationships with one another that are coequal and hierarchical at once. The Western tradition of Christianity says the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Jesus was “begotten not made” by the Father, meaning there was no temporal moment he was conceived.
As Dr. Smith reinforces throughout his book, the Trinity is unified and indivisible, connected through a mysterious hypostatic union. This concept was not revealed through man-made developments but through the revelation of Christ’s incarnation. It may not be obvious upon cursory reading, but the doctrine has continued to be defended by Christians well after the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of the church were skirted by Protestants’ reexamination of the scriptures — evidenced by the fact the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in constantly invoking each other in their actions.
“A truly biblical understanding of the forgiveness of sins requires the doctrine of the Trinity—Jesus must be the eternal, divine Son of God in order to have the power and authority to forgive sins and redeem all things.”
The Biblical Trinity is structured as a series of 17 short reflections on scripture and functions very much as a comfortable little devotional text ideal for group Bible studies or short nightly reading. Dr. Smith builds each of his chapters off of a personal anecdote, describing his life or our culture and how that relates to some function of the Trinity’s power or relationship. Every chapter relies directly on scripture and exposits the implied trinitarian implications behind Jesus’s statements, showing Jesus was very clearly claiming to be equal with God.
“When asked by the Jewish leaders why he was working on the rest day, he replied simply, “My father is stilll working, and I am working also.” Jesus’s words seem tamer than his claim in Matthew 12:8, but the point rings the same in their ears: Jesus was making himself equal to God.”
Jesus even makes the same claim Yahweh did to Moses in Exodus, saying in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus glorifies himself to glorify the Father, making his grand and potentially blasphemous statements evidence of his divinity.
The Biblical Trinity does leave much unsaid, although it is merely an introductory text. It sparsely addresses the various historical trinitarian heresies like Gnosticism or Arianism and does not touch upon contemporary movements like the Unitarian movement and its challenges to scripture. However, it isn’t trying to do that. Its goals are modest, merely to affirm orthodox teachings through a direct appeal to scripture alone. It more than succeeds at showing the ways the Trinity appears throughout scripture while being accessible to the pastor and lay reader alike.
+ Short and Accessible Read
+ Valuable Insights Drawn From Scripture
+ Well Structured For Nightly Devotion or Bible Studies
- Somewhat Lacking In Greater Details on the Subject
The Bottom Line
The Biblical Trinity is not the most complex or comprehensive text on the historical issue of trinitarianism, but it serves as a practical introduction to one of the great mysteries of faith.