Moving Beyond the Trinity


In my previous two postings, I discussed the limitations inherent in describing the nature of God. I suggested that, first, any attempt at describing God's ineffable nature is a human effort that is inherently incomplete, and as such it is inevitably influenced by the culture and time from which that description emerges. I then suggested that the this applies every bit as much to the doctrine of the Trinity, which, far from having dropped from the sky as an irrevocable truth, was in fact, like any other doctrine, a human product, a human effort at capturing God's nature--and that it was a product of a particular cosmology and theology that no longer resonates with the modern sensibility.

So where do we go from here? The Trinity is, in my view, a needlessly complicated theology. Some Christian churches have tried to "update" the doctrine in superficial ways without getting to the core problem--using nonsexist language, for example (such as referring to God as Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter instead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). But this is just window dressing. The fixation remains on the number three, which I often wonder about. Why assign the Godhead three persons--why not seven, or 17? It all seems to me rather arbitrary. Occam's razor alone should tell us that creating an arcane three-in-one description of God's nature as a monotheistic deity simply introduces a complication when none is really necessary.

If we do not believe that God is a divine patriarch who resides in the sky and performs magic tricks from time to time, including impregnating a virgin so that one of the persons of the Godhead and drop down and inhabit the earth for a while (where he performs more magic tricks, including raising himself from the dead)--then for me it would be perfectly fine if the doctrine of the Trinity were laid to rest once and for all. The modern, rational sensibility suggests that God does not operate that way. To me, God is a mysterious, ineffable presence, not a magician-in-the-sky.

Many Christian churches continue to include creedal affirmations about the Trinity as a part of their worship services. These creedal affirmations try to shoehorn modern Christians, and therefore modern Christianity, into ancient cosmologies that many of us simply can't take seriously. There is no doubt that many Christians are attached to the orthodoxy, and believe that these creedal affirmations are essential to the livelihood of their church. But I would argue that there are many others of us who find these affirmations a serious sticking point. There are millions of people who are interested in exploring the sacred mysteries of life from the perspective of the Christian traditions that lie at the heart of our culture and upbringing, but who don't want to have to choose between being unchurched and believing in fairy tales. Many of us refuse to check out brains at the door when we participate in the worship experience. We want to have a rational faith, one that is based on a post-Enlightenment understanding of the world.

We can continue to look to Jesus as the founder of our understanding of God without placing him within a Godhead as a preexisting Son begotten of the Father. The Jesus tradition of building the Kingdom of God, of resistance to Empire, of radical inclusion, of radical universalism, is the foundation of my understanding of God. That does not mean that others who do not follow Jesus are somehow "wrong". Different religious traditions represent different ways of relating to the sacred mystery of the universe. Nor does it even mean that those who continue to believe in the Trinity are somehow "wrong". The problem is not rightness or wrongness, but viability. For me, and I am sure others as well, the old paradigm just doesn't work anymore as a means of connecting with the Divine. For those who hold the Trinity dear as a meaningful paradigm, there is certainly no reason why they should not continue to see God in that way. But I cannot and will not view God in this way.

And that is a source of frustration, as I sit on the edges of Christianity, wanting to participate in a religious community of faith, but unable to fully accept all the trappings that go along with it. The best I can do is find the most inclusive and progressive Christian church I can, and try to tune out the Trinitarian parts of the service when they come up. For the most part, it works for me fairly well. But I also wonder who else besides me would like to see a paradigm shift take place within the Christian tradition.


Bob Waters said...

The problem is that God has revealed Himself that way. You don't get a vote.

On the other hand, if you decide to "transcend" the Trinity in your theology, you are following a religion you've made up to suit yourself. Which is fine, but it would be well to be honest about doing that.