A scene from the Leben der heiligen Altväter (1482)
The Awkward Guest in the Evangelical Household
The doctrine of the Trinity has a peculiar place in the minds and hearts of evangelical Christians. How has it come about that so many evangelicals today are cold toward the doctrine of the Trinity, confused about its meaning, or noncommittal about its importance? Even though solid biblical and theological teaching on the subject is available, the doctrine of the Trinity continues to be treated as an awkward guest in the evangelical household.
What is the Trinity for?
The first and clearest answer has to be that the Trinity isn’t ultimately for anything, any more than God is for the purpose of anything. Just as you wouldn’t ask what purpose God serves or what function he fulfills, it makes no sense to ask what the point of the Trinity is or what purpose the Trinity serves. The Trinity isn’t for anything beyond itself, because the Trinity is God. God is God in this way: God’s way of being God is to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simultaneously from all eternity, perfectly complete in a triune fellowship of love. If we don’t take this as our starting point, everything we say about the practical relevance of the Trinity could lead us to one colossal misunderstanding: thinking of God the Trinity as a means to some other end, as if God were the Trinity in order to make himself useful. But God the Trinity is the end, the goal, the telos, the omega. In himself and without any reference to a created world or the plan of salvation, God is that being who exists as the triune love of the Father for the Son in the unity of the Spirit. The boundless life that God lives in himself, at home, within the happy land of the Trinity above all worlds, is perfect. It is complete, inexhaustibly full, and infinitely blessed.
The good news is that God the Father saved us by sending the Son and the Holy Spirit. But we have also said that the eternal life of God in himself is something “even better than the good news,” if it is possible to say so reverently. What we mean by this is that God’s eternal life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a thing of infinite blessedness and perfection. There is a blessed God at the core of the glorious gospel. God in himself is perfect, and perfectly happy. This vision of a God with no unmet needs is a glimpse of the depths of the living God and the fund out of which he spends himself so freely in the economy of salvation.
The good news, in other words, starts far outside of us, in the life of the blessed Trinity which is complete in itself and suffers from no lack. This is not a cold abstraction, but a great thing worth praising God for.