As a follow up, I wanted to address a few follow-up matters that can be helpful in digging deeper into this foundational truth about God.
Is there a Hierarchy in the Trinity?
After church yesterday, I had a good conversation with a couple of people who asked about this. It is a great question, and is one of consistent debate in the Christian community right now. In the debate, here are the two views:
Position 1: Within the Trinity, there is authority and submission. The Father initiates, the Son and Spirit respond. The authority does not mean inequality, but this dynamic has eternally been true.
Position 2: The Son took a submissive role during his time on earth, but this is not a dynamic in the eternal relationship of the Triune God.
The debate here is not a debate over Christian orthodoxy, but I don't think it is a throw-away debate either.
For some, the term hierarchy means that one is better than the other. In the Trinity, the Father is not better or more divine than the Son. But there is distinction. The Father is distinctly the Father, and the Son is distinctly the Son, and the Spirit is distinctly the Spirit. There is equality and yet distinction.
Is it possible that this is not an eternal distinction, but only a temporary one? It is possible, but it seems like a really hard sell to me. All indications point to the idea that this authority-submission dynamic predates the incarnation. And if God is going to present himself to us in a certain way, it seems like that is how he intends for us to understand him.
Also, if we decide that there can't possibly be authority in the Trinity, then do we believe that we can have authority and equality in relationships here on earth? Further than this, the New Testament talks about certain people having positions of authority on the New Earth.
Authority is not evil. Abuse of authority certainly is. But we should have no reason to reject the biblical presentation of authority and submission in the Triune God.
Is "The Shack" a Good Presentation of the Trinity?
I have had several people talk to me about William P. Young's book The Shack, which was published in 2007. Many of you have read it, and many probably have not. Here are some comments.
On the positive side, I think the book really dives into the love relationship of the Triune God. There are some beautiful statements about God's relationality, and some beautiful images of grief and loss and forgiveness and healing.
On the negative side, there is a lot in the book that misses the mark. Most significantly, Young's view of God's love does not seem to have room for judgment. He says that God never punishes sin, but sin is its own punishment. While sin tends to carry with it its own consequences, it is flatly wrong to say that God never judges sin. You have to ignore significant stretches of the Bible to draw this conclusion.
Young also makes statements that tend to lean toward universalism (the teaching that all people will ultimately be saved). The book does not teach universalism overtly. At the same time, I lived in the same town as William P. Young when the book hit the bestseller lists. From a number of personal conversations with those who know him and run in his circles, there are major universalist tendencies. This is a concern.
On top of this, Young also allows no room for the above point about equality and authority. He flatly rejects the idea of a "chain of command" in the Trinity. Now, the bond of the Triune God is not a flow chart; it is the bond of love. But Young seems to think that love necessitates the elimination of authority. This is not biblical.
There are many beautiful things in this book. If my review seems mostly negative, this is for 3 reasons:
1. The positive things in the book are things that you can get without reading it.
2. The false teachings in the book can be really harmful, and they feed right into the cultural mainstream. We need to be warned.
3. When the book first came out, I really underplayed the negative elements and I personally witnessed friends buy into the book at its core. After this, I saw their understanding of God, Scripture, and heaven and hell go in directions that I believer are unbiblical.
So, there you go. All books should be read with discernment. I biblically discerning person could probably read the book, sift through the wrong things in it, and enjoy it a lot. That said, I personally choose not to recommend the book to people because of the potentially harmful elements.
What are some good resources for diving deeper into the Trinity?
Here are 3 recommendations:
1. Experiencing the Trinity by Darrell Johnson. This is a short book. If you are a reader, you could consume it in one or two sittings. It is a great book if you are looking to get your feet wet. It will also help to expose you to other helpful resources.
2. The Holy Trinity in Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship by Robert Letham. This has been the single most helpful resource to me. It is a thick book, but it walks through all the major theologians who have contributed to our understanding on the Trinity. It is a faith-building, worship-inspiring, wonderful book.
3. Wayne Grudem's podcasts on the Trinity. Wayne Grudem wrote a huge Systematic Theology book, and he has taught through it at the church he attends. He did four messages on the Trinity, and they are available for free. Just go to the iTunes store and search "Wayne Grudem." You will find his podcast for Systematic Theology. The Trinity messages are 18-21 on the list. Four great downloads!
If you have follow-up thoughts of questions, feel free to comment or hit me up on facebook.