Is the Trinity Essential?

“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. I once was a member of a church with the word “Trinity” in its name. During the eight years I attended there faithfully I don’t think I heard a single sermon on the Trinity. And I am almost sure that had I polled the congregation few would have been able to express, let alone explain, the doctrine of the Trinity.

But I don’t want to be too hard on the perplexed. The doctrine of the Trinity is perplexing. Augustine said that anyone who denies the Trinity loses his salvation but that anyone who tries to understand it loses his mind. And he said that he did not use the word “persons” (of the trinitarian three) because he wanted to but because there is no alternative.

I have known many devout Christian believers in and followers of Jesus Christ who struggled with the doctrine of the Trinity. I don’t fault them. At least they struggle with it.

Let me interrupt myself for a moment to say this: believing in the doctrine of the Trinity is not really the point; the point is to worship the triune God. However, the doctrine of the Trinity, while it cannot replace the triune God in our hearts, must have a place in our minds or else we end up in confusion about who God is…

Much to some perhaps more conservative folks’ chagrin, with Wesley I do not insist on affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity for authentic Christianity. It is a clumsy doctrine, no matter how it’s expressed. So is the hypostatic union doctrine of the Person of Christ. I see both as necessary for a correct understanding of revelation and am convinced that most, if not all, God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians actually do believe something like them even if in very confused ways. To be very specific, while I consider modalism a heresy, I consider it a minor one and am convinced that the vast majority of Christians who seem to believe it do not really understand its implications or the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. I have this sneaking suspicion that if I could sit down with them for an hour and talk it over I could dissuade them from their modalism and get them to affirm something like the doctrine of the Trinity even if not its formal language.”

The above is an except from the article How Important is the Doctrine of the Trinity? by theologian Roger Olson. Click here to read the full article.

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