By Benjamin G. Campbell
I was sharing a meal with a pastor friend of mine a while back, and we were conversing back and forth about what we had been reading. Since every pastor ought to be a reader, it was a typical pastor conversation. This particular brother mentioned a few books he was reading, and I mentioned a couple, as well. One of the books I mentioned was Simply Trinity by Matthew Barrett. I know, it seems quite weird to be reading a book on the Trinity, but I like these types of books. However, my friend reacted in a way I was not expecting. He said to me something like, “Goodness. I let other people do the heavy lifting on things that really do not matter.”
His response floored me – none of this matters. At all? I mean, I was completely flabbergasted. I assumed everyone was at least familiar with the Council of Nicaea of 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 which specifically spelled out the Nicene Creed and the fundamental terms for Orthodox Christian views on the Godhead. I am not, however, so out of touch with reality to think pastors know as much of the EFS (Eternal Functional Subordination) and ERAS (Eternal Relations of Authority and Submission) debates going on between modern-day evangelicals (though they should). Yet, I was astonished at what I heard. My friend believes these issues are unnecessarily discussed.
The Nature of Theology
Theology is not an ivory tower discipline. Theology is, as John Webster defines it, “God and all things in relation to God.”Theology is the language and words of God. It is the oratory God has breathed in grace by revealing Himself to humanity. Theology is not simply something for academicians to argue over in conference halls or in the university classroom. No, theology is the language of Christianity. It is the way in which one comes to know of grace beyond measure and kindness beyond comprehension.
It is time for me to simply come out and say it: theology is not abstract. Every section of theology is practical and is applicable to daily life. Yes, you read correctly – every section. I know it is difficult to flesh out how something as specific as the Trinity is applicable to your life and your church. However, it is foolish for believers to neglect such doctrines and discussions about God and His Person. Therefore, it is necessary for believers in Jesus Christ to “work out their own salvation” (Phil. 2:14).
I am deeply persuaded that “working out our own salvation” means more than simply aspiring for purity and holiness in our day-to-day lives. Working out our own salvation is, most definitely, a pursuit of holiness and godliness, yet it is also much, much more than this as well. In fact, I would go so far to say that godliness and holiness ought to characterize anyone claiming Christ as Lord. As we grow, we ought to desire more the things of God – like doctrine and practice.
In Christianity, one should not separate doctrine and practice. In fact, your doctrine should inform your practice. However, many theologians have allowed their doctrine to be the end all, which is a problem. Doctrine ought to lead us to doxology. It should drive us to worship. It is, for this reason, I believe the discussions in and around the Trinity are worth the believer’s time and effort.
A Renewed View of God
Arius was a pastor who was leading a Bible study on Psalm 8. During his study, he read verses 22-25 where the text reads that God begat wisdom. From his study, Arius concluded that the Son of God must have been created at some point since the Son is the “wisdom of God” and the text tells us that “God begat wisdom.” In the fourth century, Arianism was making its way around the East in earnest. Arianism is the heresy claiming that Christ is not equal with the Father and has not always been in existence from eternity past.
In 325 (the year of the Council of Nicaea), Arius went before a council and debated a man named Athanasius on the topic of the essence of the Son of God. Athanasius, along with the majority of the council, said that the Son was homoousios – a Greek term meaning that the Son is of the same essence as the Father. Arius argued that the Son’s essence might have been like the Father’s but was not the same. What came was the declaration of Arius as a heretic for his beliefs.
The Nicene Creed explains that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father’s essence – meaning that the Son is, from eternity past, begotten from God the Father. Though the Son has never “begun,” He is begotten because He is the Son of the Father who is unbegotten. Confused yet? I know, it is a lot to take in, but doctrines like these are so crucial to biblical orthodoxy. If we are to recover from what Barrett calls “Trinity Drift,” it will be by understanding the workings of the Godhead through the lens of Nicene orthodoxy.
Drifting Back to Orthodoxy
If we are to recover an orthodox, Nicene view of the Trinity, it will be by first getting acquainted once again with Christianity past. One of the main reasons we at Everyday Theology emphasize “renewal through retrieval” is because without retrieving the doctrines from the history of Christianity, we know nothing of Christianity at all. “No creed but the Bible” is well and good but is an arrogant statement to declare. It is arrogant and haughty to believe we have the wherewithal to interpret Scripture without any help from anyone ever. We need the creeds and confessions of Christianity past to help us stay the course of orthodox, biblical Christianity.
To recover the Trinity of the Bible, it will be imperative for believers to embrace terms like “eternal generation” and “eternal relations of origin” as we work out our own salvation.
Eternal Generation: the Son has been eternally generated from the Father’s essence.
Eternal Relations of Origin: distinguishes how each person of the Trinity relates to the other
From Docrine to Doxology
Barrett notes, “If the persons of the Trinity are one in essence, will, and power – simply Trinity – then it also follows that they work inseparably in creation and salvation.” Notice what Barrett clarifies for us as believers – if the Trinity is a Godhead of functional submission or a relation of authority, biblical views of creation and salvation are compromised. In fact, if the Trinity is functionally submissive, we do not have one essence, but three. If the Trinity is a relation of authority, we have not one will, but three.
You see, a biblical view of the Trinity does more than simply explain how God works, but who He is. And this God is the God who works in the world to display His glory as a clarion call for all to run to Him for salvation that is given by the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Spirit. Without a simple Trinity, we are simply lost.
Praise be to the Father, Son, and Spirit, we serve a God who is three-in-one. He is Father, Son, and Spirit! He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He has revealed Himself to us that we might know Him (at least in part) and make Him known to the world! The gospel is nothing without the Father sending His Son and giving us His Spirit. We must have a Trinity that is orthodox, otherwise the gospel is compromised. Therefore, this matters more than just letting others flesh this out. We must recover this doctrine for the sake of the gospel!
 Matthew Barrett. Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2020).
 John Webster, ‘What Makes Theology Theological?’, in God without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, vol. 1 (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), p. 215.
 Barrett, 17-40.
 Eternal Relations of Origin: Paternity: the Father is unbegotten; Filiation: the Son is begotten of the Father’s essence; Spiration: the Spirit is spirated from the Father and the Son.
 Barrett, 57.