How to Defend an Anti-Trinitarian Theology

Posted: September 5, 2015 in Rob Bowman, The Trinity, Theology
trinity_edited

Joy Stained Glass Studio, “The Trinity”

by Rob Bowman
If you do not believe the doctrine of the Trinity, and favor another view yourself, I am going to give you some free advice. I am going to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to defend your non-Trinitarian position as a superior alternative to the Trinitarian view. I know, this is very generous of me, but in the interests of full disclosure I think it only fair to make this information available to the opponents of the doctrine of the Trinity.

1. Refute one or more of the essential propositions of the doctrine of the Trinity.
In my outline study of the biblical basis of the doctrine of the Trinity, I explain that the doctrine is simply a systematization of six core propositions that are all based directly on the teaching of the Bible:

  1. There is one God (i.e., one proper object of religious devotion).
  2. This one God is a single divine being, called Jehovah or Yahweh in the Old Testament (the LORD).
  3. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is God, the LORD.
  4. The Son, Jesus Christ, is God, the LORD.
  5. The Holy Spirit is God, the LORD.
  6. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each someone distinct from the other two.

In order to defend an alternative position, you must refute at least one of these premises, or, you must show that all six of these propositions are consistent with another theological position besides the Trinity. I do not think the latter is possible, and in fact I do not know of any non-Trinitarian theology that affirms all six propositions (at least, not without some heavy equivocation). So, for all practical purposes, if you’re going to defend another view in place of the Trinity, you’ll have to refute one of the above premises.

2. Present a clear alternative to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Constantly carping at things about the Trinity that you don’t like, can’t understand, and won’t accept is not enough. You must tell us what we should believe instead. Your position must be specific and cover the same basic issues that are addressed in the doctrine of the Trinity.

3. Identify the religion associated with that alternative to Trinitarian Christianity.
It’s no good telling us that you believe X, Y, and Z instead of the Trinity, if this “alternative” is your own private confection of beliefs. I say this because the true doctrine of God will be held by a community of believers in Jesus Christ—by the church. Theologies do not exist in a vacuum, or in isolation. You are either part of a church that teaches the theology you espouse, or you are picking and choosing what you will believe from others and not committing yourself to a way of life that puts a set of teachings into practice. Jesus Christ said that he would be with his people until the end of the age as they engaged in the work of making disciples, baptizing and teaching them (Matt. 28:19-20). So, what people today are Christ’s people? This question has become acutely relevant in the Internet age, in which many individuals appear to be one-man religions, trolling the Web to attack orthodox Christian beliefs (often loudly and aggressively) but who are unprepared to identify a belief system they accept and a community that represents that belief system.

4. Show that your alternative theology does not suffer from the defects you claim to find in Trinitarianism.
For example:

a. If you criticize the doctrine of the Trinity for developing in the fourth century, identify the religious tradition or movement that predated the fourth century that you think had—and has—the truth.

b. If you criticize the doctrine of the Trinity for its use of extrabiblical language, show that your theology consistently avoids the use of all extrabiblical words. This is much harder than just about all anti-Trinitarians think.

c. If you criticize the doctrine of the Trinity for being influenced by non-Christian philosophy or religion, show that your theology is completely free of such influences. Again, this is easier said than done.

d. If you criticize the doctrine of the Trinity for being difficult to understand, show that your theology is free of anything incoherent, confusing, paradoxical, or mysterious.

5. Demonstrate that your theology explains the full range of biblical information better than the doctrine of the Trinity.
This means showing that your view accounts for a wider range of biblical material, based on sound exegesis of the texts, with a minimum of ad hoc reasoning. In other words, it is not enough to argue that certain textsmight be translated so as to avoid the Trinity, or that other texts need not be interpreted in a Trinitarian fashion. Rather, you must show that your non-Trinitarian view is the best reading of more biblical texts than can be claimed on the Trinitarian side.

Of course, everyone is likely to run into a text or two that is more difficult to cohere with their position, but the right view will have fewer of these difficulties.

Note: All such argumentation will have to contrast the anti-Trinitarian alternative with the doctrine of the Trinity as it is actually taught in serious works of theology, not your own over-simplistic or fractured impression of what the doctrine means.

Good luck!

The Trinity Triangle:

The Trinity Triangle: We believe in the Triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This window uses the Latin Pater, Filius, and Spiritus Sanctus (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to name the persons in the Trinity. The window explains that the Persons are not (non est) each other, but each is (est) God (Deus).

About the author: 
Rob Bowman is the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR). He has been with IRR since 2008 and is IRR’s Executive Director. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal, Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.
(source: “Who We Are: The People of IRR and What We Are All About”

This article was originally published on the IRR website.
It is reprinted here in accord with IRR’s usage guidelines  and with the author’s expressed permission.

Comments
  1. Roman says:

    True, and irrelevant :), if you want to deal With the arguments they are all there.

    Like

    • First, thank you for taking the challenge it’s appreciated. And a response with be forthcoming. As you now know from first hand experience such responses require time, effort, and thought so please be patient. Thanks.

      Second, we must respectfully disagree that not openly acknowledging one’s identity and religious affiliation in theological discussions isn’t relevant:

      – It gives the reader a framework for understanding the speaker’s base presuppositions.

      – It demonstrates that one owns and identifies with one’s faith tradition.

      – It acknowledges the potential bias that could be underlying one’s arguments.

      – It reminds the reader that they’re dealing with a fellow human being rather a disembodied concept.
      (And in today’s increasingly uncivil Internet that’s always a good reminder!)

      Therefore, and overall, it engenders integrity while building credibility with one’s readers.

      Failing to do so raises the kind of, “What’s going on here? What’s this author trying to hide?” questions that distract from, rather than enhance the discussion.

      Therefore, I encourage you to reconsider your position in this regard. Theological discussions aren’t held in a vacuum and these things matter – they’re not irrelevant.

      Thank you.

      Like

    • “True, and irrelevant :), if you want to deal With the arguments they are all there.”

      As Mr. Bowman points out directly, and I believe correctly, in his response to your challenge your religion affiliation was very relevant to both his challenge your arguments in response; https://credohouse.org/blog/how-not-to-defend-jehovahs-witness-theology

      And speaking for myself, I would suggest that going forward you stop trying to hide the fact that you are a Jehovah’s Witness. IMO, it weakens your arguments and erodes your credibility.

      Thank you.

      Like

  2. […] Robert M. Bowman Jr., “How to Defend an Anti-Trinitarian Theology,” Beggar’s Bread (blog), Sept. 5, 2015, accessed Oct. 7, 2015, https://beggarsbread.org/2015/09/05/how-to-defend-an-anti-trinitarian-theology/. ↩ […]

    Like

  3. […] Robert Bowman posted a challenge to non Trinitarians, I posted a 4 part series (here, here, here and here) responding to the challenge, not fully of course, but enough to, I think, dent the challenge. Then Robert Bowman responded. […]

    Like

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