Essay / Theology

"The Quintessential Catechizing Doctrine"

The Spring issue of Credo magazine has a great set of articles on the doctrine of the Trinity. The whole 75-page issue is free online, well designed, and brilliantly edited. Scott Swain on “the mystery of the Trinity,” Mike Reeves on “why a triune  God is better than any other,” and Robert Letham on “how the triune God transforms our worship.”

I got to write the warm-up article, entitled “The Trinity: The God Behind the Gospel.” My main task was to describe the close connection between God’s triunity and Christian soteriology, but I also devoted a little bit of space to considering just what kind of doctrine this trinitarian doctrine is.

I am increasingly seeing the doctrine of the Trinity as a tool for catechizing, for teaching believers about the object of their faith. The doctrine arose in that context, flourishes in that context, and –here’s the part that is a fairly new idea to me– doesn’t especially perform well outside of that context.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

When we get saved, we are immersed into a trinitarian reality, but we need to have that reality explained and expounded to us. God gives us the gift of salvation, and completes the gift by giving us understanding of it: “we have received… the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). God gives the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit without whom we do not belong to Christ, and also gives the Spirit who helps us understand the gift: same Spirit. The God behind the gospel is the Trinity, and wants us to know that.

All of this helps account for why the doctrine of the Trinity has had its ups and downs through the history of the church. This is not a doctrine that is especially helpful for the task of evangelism. There is really no need to emphasize the doctrine of the Trinity when communicating the core claims of the gospel to unbelievers. It rarely helps and often confuses your hearer; this is because the doctrine was not designed for evangelism. It was also not designed for apologetics, and to be honest the doctrine often seems like something of an apologetic liability: a hard part, tending to attract scorn and suspicion, and to sound irrational when described to a hostile audience. The doctrine is also not a classic or central exegetical doctrine, in the sense that its main purpose is not to illuminate key terms and central motifs of Scripture itself. The doctrine may have some usefulness in exegesis, in apologetics, and in evangelism, and is not to be hidden under a bushel. But its chief use is not in these areas. The chief use of the classic doctrine of the Trinity is in catechizing.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the quintessential catechizing doctrine.

You can get another free excerpt from the article in a blog post over at Credo’s website, but “free excerpt” is a funny way to say it when the whole magazine is free for download and includes essays by Scott Swain, Robert Letham, Mike Reeves, Tim Challies, Steve Holmes, Joey Allen, and more.


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