So says Christian Apologist Greg Koukl. And he’s right.
[Actually, Koukl’s saying is “The Trinity is a solution, not a problem.” But his insight also applies to other areas of theology.]
We say this because enemies and skeptics of Christianity often say that doctrines such as the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ as both man and God, or substitutionary atonement are actually evidences against the validity of Christianity, because they seem impossible: How could one God be three? How could full humanity also be full deity? How could one man atone for another’s sins?
And even those who are sympathetic to Christianity are often troubled by these doctrines. Even if they are true, how can Mr. Average Christian be expected to understand the explanations given by the theologians? Is Christianity only for eggheads?
In other words, theology sometimes seems to be a problem.
Done properly, that is, in subservience to the Word of God, theology solves these problems. It acquits Christianity of the charge of intellectual incoherence, and it gives the average Christian the comfort of knowing that the eggheads have examined the issues, and have found them to work. Those who want to dig deeper into these topics can always do so, but even Christians of humble intellectual skills can trust what the Bible says and know that pious intellectuals who share their faith have shown that the Bible does not contradict itself.
Let’s look at the Trinity. First we must realize that as a theological term, “Trinity” actually has two meanings: a statement and an explanation.
The Statement of the Trinity is simply a concise statement of what the Bible says about God’s identity:
- There is only one true God, and
- The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God, and
- These are not three names for the same Person, but actually three separate Persons.
In contrast, the Explanation of the Trinity is a theory of how the Statement can be possible. Using theological and philosophical language, the Statement describes what might be called a mechanism for how the three substatements of the Statement can all be true without contradicting each other.
The Explanation of the Trinity uses the formulation that God is “one substance, three Persons.” So God is “one” in one sense, and “three” in a different sense. There is therefore no contradiction.
But many find this troubling. What exactly does “one substance, three Persons” mean, and how can a normal person understand and believe it?
In other words, the Trinity seems to be a problem, because it seems to be a difficult and questionable exercise in philosophy.
But this is to get things backward. The Trinity that all Christians are to believe is the Statement of the Trinity: One God, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Who are different Persons. Scripture clearly says these things about God, and these statements are easy to understand.
For those who want an explanation of how such a thing is possible, there is the Explanation of the Trinity. But those who require no such explanation can simply believe what God has said about Himself in Scripture.
[We should add that the word “substance” is nothing mysterious. It simply means “something that exists in and of itself,” as opposed to a property, which only exists as an aspect of something else. When the Statement of the Trinity says that God is one “substance,” it does not mean that He is some vague sort of material. It means that He really exists as one thing, not three different things.]