The Trinity Confounds the Mind

The Trinity is Confusing

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

A charge that is often levelled against the Trinity by Muslims is that the doctrine is way too complicated and is, in fact, very confusing. Because it is too confusing to behold, Muslims contend that the doctrine cannot possibly originate from God and must therefore be relegated into the category of man-made things.

It is a historical and theological fact that Muslims did not actually invent the allegation that the Trinity is a confusing doctrine.Rather, this is a view taken by many theologians, quite a number of whom are Christians. In the Princeton Theological Monograph Series, Dr. Dick Eugenio, who is Assistant Professor of Theology at Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in the Philippines, writes concerning elements within the Christian community that were dissatisfied by the doctrine of the Trinity’s confusing nature:

“Meanwhile traditional Catholics and Protestants continued to affirm their belief in the Trinity, but the doctrine seemed to be rather esoteric, abstract, confusing, and irrelevant to the life and mission of the church.” [1]

In agreement with Eugenio, highly respected theologian Professor Daniel Migliore, who is Professor Emeritus of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, candidly admits that besides being confusing for a large number of Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity has little value where everyday life is concerned:

“For many Christians, including many Presbyterians, the doctrine of the Trinity is not only dark and confusing; it is also without practical significance for everyday Christian faith and life.” [2]

Theologian and pastor Dr. Bruce Tucker, who has ministered for five years with Campus Crusade for Christ and twelve years in the pastoral ministry, holds no punches in emphatically describing the Trinity as confusing:

“The doctrine of the Trinity is certainly a confusing doctrine. In theology we call it a biblical mystery.” [3]

Though Professor Steven Mueller and his colleagues at Concordia Seminary (Korey Maas, Timothy Maschke, Brian Mosemann and Gregory Seltz) subscribe to the belief that the Trinity is taught in both the Old and New Testaments, they, nevertheless, candidly recognise the difficult and confusing nature of the Trinity:

“The Trinity is a challenging, and possibly confusing, doctrine.” [4]

As a matter of fact, the Trinity has been so confusing a doctrine that it has sprouted numerous contending denominations and sects that contentiously argue with one another for their own differing versions of the doctrine. This historical trend has been well noted by conservative Christian scholar James White in his book ‘The Forgotten Trinity’ in which he remarks that “it is easy to fall into heresy when you think about the Trinity.” [5] Similarly the highly regarded Christian historian and theologian E. P. Sanders states that the hypostatic union (Jesus as fully man and fully God, i.e., God-man hypothesis), which is an essential component of the Trinity, compounds the intellect so much that one is compelled to choose which heresy to commit when one speaks of the doctrine:

“In practice people have to choose which heresy they commit (to overstate the matter only slightly), denial of true divinity or of true humanity.” [6]

In Sanders’ view, a believer can only juggle so much between the God-Man conundrum before he eventually falters and lean more towards one at the expense of the other, which then results in heresy. To give equal weight to the two natures of Jesus in every respect and at every juncture is a task that overcomes even the brightest mind.

When Muslims allege that the Trinity is confusing, difficult, complex or confounding to the mind, they are not being facetious, but as we have demonstrated in this article, they are simply echoing the thoughts of Christians themselves, including rather top-notch and high-profile Christian biblical scholars and theologians. And this confusion surrounding the Trinity has plagued Christianity and its followers for a very long time as Charles Stanley rightly notes in his book:

“The idea of the Trinity has been a point of confusion for many people throughout church history.” [7]

Muslims were not the first to knock on the door to ask for an explanation of the Trinity. Christians have been knocking on every door possible from the dawn of time, in a manner of speaking, seeking and searching for answers to their queries on the Trinity only to discover that there are no straight answers. The Trinity is indeed a completely confusing belief to which Christians testify for which Muslims should not be blamed. We close our discussion with the instructive words of the revered senior systematic theologian Professor Millard Erickson:

“This doctrine in many ways presents strange paradoxes…It is a widely disputed doctrine, which has provoked discussion throughout all the centuries of the church’s existence. It is held by many with great vehemence and vigor. These advocates are certain they believe the doctrine and consider it crucial to the Christian faith. Yet many are unsure of the exact meaning of their belief. It was the very first doctrine dealt with systematically by the church, yet it is still one of the most misunderstood and disputed doctrines. Further, it is not clearly or explicitly taught anywhere in scripture, yet it is widely regarded as a central doctrine, indispensable to the Christian faith. In this regard, it goes contrary to what is virtually an axiom [that is, a given, a self-evident truth] of biblical doctrine, namely, that there is a direct correlation between the scriptural clarity of a doctrine and its cruciality to the faith and life of the church.” [8]

Notes:

[1] Eugenio, D. O. (2014). Communion with the Triune God: The Trinitarian Soteriology of T. F. Torrance. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications. p. ix

[2] Cited in Lackey, P. R. (2011). The Tyranny of the Trinity: The Orthodox Cover-up. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 185

[3] Tucker, B. (2002). Oneness Pentecostal Churches: Their Doctrine and Practice. Bloomington, Indiana: Xilbris Corporation. p. 18

[4] Mueller, B. M., Seltz, G. P., Maus, K. D., et. al. (2006). Called to Believe: A Brief Introduction to Doctrinal Theology. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock. p. 59

[5] Cited by Shabir Ally in [Ravi Zacharias International Ministries]. [2015, April 8]. What is God Really Like: Tawhid or Trinity? Dr. Shabir Ally and Dr. Nabeel Qureshi Debate
. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWpqqqZn7Kg

[6] Sanders, E. P. (2009). Paul. New York: Sterling Publishing. p. 130

[7] Stanley, C. (1992). The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life. Nashville, Tennessee: Oliver-Nelson Books.

[8] Erickson, M. J. (1995). God in Three Persons, A Contemporary Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. p. 11

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