It’s that time of year again; Trinity Sunday. Or at least it was, last week. The date is one of the most dreaded in the liturgical year since, at first glance, the Trinity seems so complex as to be impossible to communicate without heresy or total confusion. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some thoughts that might help shape our thinking when preaching about the Trinity.
The first thing to note is that the good news of Jesus Christ just is trinitarian. Some think that the doctrine of the Trinity; the idea that God is one being in three persons is a totally abstract concept disconnected from the biblical narrative of salvation. But the gospel is fundamentally trinitarian in shape. The theologian Fred Sanders tells us that we might summarize the entire story of the Bible by saying that it is the story of God the Father, who sends God the Son, and pours out God the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Trinity is inseparably linked to what God was doing in Christ. The story of salvation reveals the trinitarian character of God. In other words, God doesn’t simply save us he also reveals to us who he is, namely, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Which, we might add, is to be expected from a God who seeks relationship with his people. Salvation doesn’t consist in the forgiveness of sins only, but in relationship with the living God. John writes, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (17:3).
In this case, an understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity will be of great value for preachers who seek to preach the gospel of Jesus in its fullness. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us to speak accurately and truly of what Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection. If preaching is the proclamation and communication of the good news of Jesus Christ it will be trinitarian either explicitly or implicitly.
But what of those who say that the Trinity is a fourth century invention of the church fathers? I think they do the church fathers a disservice. The church fathers came to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity in reflection on the biblical data. They reflected on the story of salvation and the Father’s work in Christ through the Spirit. Such a doctrine could only develop through attention to divine revelation. This point is demonstrable by the fact that there appears to be a direct correlation between the rejection of biblical infallibility and the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. With the rise of naturalistic approaches to historical criticism following the enlightenment there was a similar rise in the rejection of an understanding of God that was essentially shaped by that revelation.
In preaching the Trinity then, we must pay close attention to God’s revelation of himself in Scripture. We must see that the gospel is Trinitarian in shape. And we must acknowledge that the gospel consists not simply in the forgiveness of sins, though that is essential, it also consists in the knowledge of God. And so the Trinity, “Though it can be stated propositionally and in the form of information, it was not given primarily as information. Rather, this knowledge came along with the carrying out of God’s work of salvation.” (Sanders, The Triune God, 239).