Sunday, December 11, 2005

Review: The Trinity

During the past year I've been exploring the doctrine of the trinity from various practical and theological perspectives. The book that has helped me the most from the theological perspective is The Trinity: Understanding God's love, His plan of salvation, and Christian relationships. I blogged about one of the discoveries I made in this book in my post "Water of Life".

The purpose of The Trinity is to defend the Adventist doctrine of the trinity from attacks from within and without. The book is the result of a collaboration of three professors at the Adventist Theological Seminary. Woodrow Whidden assesses the Biblical evidence for and against the doctrine, John Reeve covers the development on the doctrine from the second through sixteenth centuries, and Jerry Moon traces the doctrine from the reformation to American Protestantism and finally the Adventist church. The book concludes with a short section on practical implications by Whidden.

All four sections of
The Trinity make for a compelling read if you are interested in the topic, and the fact that the word "trinity" is never used in the Bible means that most Christians would do well to give this topic some serious, critical thought. I was especially impressed by the section on the Biblical evidence and by the chapter that covered the development of the doctrine in the writings of Ellen White, both of which presented plenty of primary evidence with insightful analysis. I should also say that I've never found early church history as interesting than it was in connection with the doctrine of the trinity.

My only major beef with The Trinity is that I wouldn't be able to give it to anyone who doesn't believe in the trinity. The authors (especially Whidden) use such a confrontational, apologetic tone that the defenses of any anti-Trinitarian would be raised to the place where they would have difficulty maintaining an open mind. This book seems to have been written with the questioning Adventist in mind, yet even I sometimes wondered if there wasn't some angle the authors weren't presenting because it would have been out of line with their doctrinal understanding.

Question of the trinity touches on many other aspects of Christianity (e.g. the atonement, the nature of Christ) that I believe that a solid understanding of it is important for every Christian. I would recommend The Trinity to any Adventist reader seeking a better understanding of the doctrine. The discussion of John 1:1 and of Ellen White's writings on the trinity alone make this book a recommended resource.


  1. A short review of THE TRINITY, Whidden, Moon, & Reeve
    "We will be very candid with our readers--if it is not biblical we do not want it, even if the vast majority of authorities in the religious world endorse it (including Adventist pioneers and the theologians of 'Babylon')." (The Trinity pg.11) "The only way for the pioneers in their context to effectively separate Scripture from tradition was to abandon every doctrine not clearly supported from the Bible alone. Thus they initially rejected the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, which clearly contained elements not evident in Scripture." (The Trinity pg. 202) "To whom should we direct our petitions and adoration in personal devotions and corporate worship?...But what about direct prayer to the Holy Spirit? While we have no clear example of or direct command to pray to the Spirit in Scripture, doing so does have, in principle, some implicit biblical support. If the Spirit is indeed divine and personal and He interacts in all sorts of direct personal ways (bringing conviction, healing, transforming grace, granting gifts, etc.), it only seems logical that God's people can pray directly to and worship the Holy Spirit..."In sum--if the persons of the Godhead are truly one in nature, character, and purpose, then it seems only logical and practical to address appropriate petitions and praises to any one of the heavenly Trio at any given time and situation." (The Trinity pg. 272, 273 emphasis supplied).
    I read this book with eager excitement, yet was sadly disappointed. Is it really possible to claim strict Biblical "proof" of the modern Adventist version of the Trinity doctrine, while at the same time candidly admitting there is "no example of" anyone in the bible ever praying to or worshipping the Holy Spirit? Nor, is there any "direct command" anywhere in Scripture that we should worship or pray to the Holy Spirit! In other words no one in the entire Bible ever worshiped or prayed to the Holy Spirit, but we are all told to do it anyway! For many people, praying to and worshipping the Holy Spirit "seems logical and practical." Yet, praying to Mary and worshipping dead saints seems very logical and practical for over a billion people. Now, everyone is entitled to their own belief or opinion, but why try to cram this new speculative opinion about the Trinity down our throats? The practical definition of dogmatic dogmatism is when Pastors are fired, and laypersons disfellowshipped from Adventist churches because of variant interpretations of the "Trinity" as defined by the 28 Fundamental beliefs. If Adventist's are not required to strictly adhere to only one interpretation of the Trinity doctrine, then why make it a test of fellowship in the first place? In fact, the greatest irony of all is that "The Trinity" book belittles the early Adventist pioneer's non-trinitarian views while praising the development of modern Adventist trinitarianism as the only Biblical and legitimate form of the doctrine. Did you catch that? Modern Adventism claims that all Christian trinitarian creeds contain elements of "Greek philosophy," unbiblical speculation and human tradition. Therefore, modern Adventism cannot subscribe or endorse ANY Christian Trinity creed, and by definition, would be classified as non-Trinitarian by them all. Now that's irony. Even though modern Adventism has repudiated the non-trinitarian teachings of her founding fathers and evolved its own unique "Trinitarian" perspective, the Adventist church has always been non-Trinitarian.

    1. I am most grateful for your excellent thoughts and points.

  2. May I ask, David, how knowledgeable you are regarding the Trinity doctrine as believed by other denominations and would you say SDAs hold to all those points?

    1. I have not extensively studied the doctrines of the trinity held by other denominations, however I do not know some that Adventists would not hold to. For example, the Catholic doctrine of the eternal procession of the son is not a part of Adventist teaching. We would not get into discussion about procession, such as does the Spirit proceed from the Son or the Father or both, in general. Protestant denominations have taken positions on these issues.

      The Adventist doctrine of the trinity is probably most similar to American evangelicals, who are also content to say something along the lines of three persons, one in being a purpose; and leave it at that.

  3. Hi David. Was reading this with interest; I have had several contacts with some within the Advent community that are very vocal and quite staunch with regards their rejection of the Trinity. I was pondering the various thoughts above, and asking myself why the Bible seems to be so silent on the subject of any direct relationship between ourselves and the Holy Spirit. I have come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit, who after all was the inspiration behind the written word, has no desire to receive prayer or worship. It seems to me that He has a role to play, a task to perform, and He is entirely focused and committed to that role. That is to bring people to Christ. Making Himself of no reputation etc, being of the same mind as the other members of the Godhead....the Holy Spirit desires nothing but to bring all to the one and only Mediator, to direct all worship, prayer, adoration, to Jesus, and through Jesus, to the Father.
    Perhaps the salvation of man is a far greater priority for all the members of the Godhead than is the desire for, ummm for want of a better phrase, without wanting to be disrespectful, personal recognition?

  4. The symbol on the book is the symbol of a pagan false God of the sun.