Tag Archives: Genre: Bible apologetics & doctrine

The Forgotten Trinity

January 2017 Credo

In 1989, the British Council of Churches published a collection of essays with an interesting and arresting title: The Forgotten Trinity. The authors of these essays – prominent theologians in the UK – lament the neglect of the doctrine of the Trinity by the modern Church.

To be sure, the Trinity is given special mention at strategic points in Christian worship. The Church baptises her new members in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Great Commission set out in the Gospels (e.g., Matthew 28:19). And at the end of the service, the minister often blesses the congregation by using the Pauline benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14) with its trinitarian formula.

But beyond these specific rituals and allusions, very little attention is given to the doctrine. By treating the doctrine of the Trinity as little more than a theological appendage, evangelical churches appear to be following in the footsteps of their liberal counterparts.

The doctrine of the Trinity must never be seen as an optional extra.

In his book entitled Wrestling With Angels Rowan Williams writes perceptively that ‘Trinitarian theology, in so far as it is concerned with what “kind” of God Christians worship, is far from being a luxury indulged in solely by remote and ineffectual dons; it is of cardinal importance for spirituality and liturgy, for ethics, for the whole of Christian self-understanding’.

Thus, far from being a doctrine that should be relegated to the far margins of orthodoxy Christianity, the Trinity must be placed at the very centre. In fact, we may say that it is the article upon which the Church stands or falls in the sense that without it there can be no Christianity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is based on God’s revelation, the divine self-disclosure, and not on the Church’s metaphysical speculations or imaginings.

Together with Israel, the Church professes that there is only one God. The formal form of this profession can be traced to the famous Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 which declares: ‘Hear, O Israel, our God, the Lord is one’.

The monotheism of Israel is further underscored in the Decalogue, especially in the first commandments which says: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me’ (Exodus 20:1). This commandment is reinforced by the categorical prohibition and condemnation of idolatry that immediately follows it (Exodus 20:4-6).

The Church has always embraced and defended the monotheistic faith of Israel that is rooted in and shaped by the revelation of God in the Old Testament.

But as the Church reflects on the significance of Christmas and Pentecost, she begins to see that the one God she professes and worships is triune. For at the first Christmas, the eternal Son of the eternal Father (John 1:1-2) ‘became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). And at Pentecost, the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit was poured out to empower the Church to be Christ’s witness in the world (Acts 2).

Thus, through the revelation of God in salvation history, the Church realises that there is no plurality of gods – there is only one God, and all other claimants to deity are imposters and fakes – in a word, idols.

But on the basis of the same revelation, the Church also realises that the one true God is plural, or more precisely, triune.

In the one God, there are three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – who are co-equal and co-eternal. Each person is the whole of the divine essence and is therefore fully God. Thus, the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God and the Spirit is fully God.

Yet each person is distinct from the other in the sense that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit. But because each person is fully God, each person possesses all the divine attributes. As the great fourth century theologian Athanasius has so insightfully put it, everything we say about the Father (that he is omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign, etc) can be said about the Son, except that the Son is Father.

The concept of God as triune – as Being-in-Communion – is unique to Christianity. And this has led some of the most eminent theologians of the Church like Thomas Aquinas to conclude that knowledge of the triune God is possible only by divine revelation.

The doctrine of the Trinity therefore distinguishes the Christian concept of God from all human conceptions of deity. It rejects polytheism, so rife in the Greco-Roman world, and insists that there is only one God, not many.

But the doctrine also insists that Christian monotheism must be distinguished from the ‘bare’ or ‘generic’ monotheisms that we find in Islam and some versions of philosophical theism. God cannot be reduced to a simple monad, either of the Platonic or Islamic variety.

Yet, the Christian concept of God brings together the one and the many. The one true God is a relationship of three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who are of the same essence (Greek: homoousious).

In guarding this precious truth concerning the being of God, the Church has resisted all easy solutions and opposed all metaphysical and philosophical compromises. In the process, she has also exposed and rejected numerous erroneous conceptions of God.

These battles were fought because the Church believes that the doctrine of the Trinity is of primary importance. It is not an optional extra.

The doctrine of the Trinity tells us something true about God, based on the divine revelation. The doctrine can thus be described as an exact tracing of the being of God.


Roland Chia (suit)_Large


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Is the Incarnation Possible?

December 2016 CREDO

Every Christmas Christians celebrate the Incarnation, the metaphysical union between true divinity and true humanity in the one person of Jesus Christ. But is such a union possible?

Throughout the centuries many skeptics have raised doubts by pointing out that being divine entails being omniscient and omnipotent, but the New Testament portrays Jesus as having human properties such as being apparently limited in knowledge (Mark 13:32) and power (John 4:3-6).

Many Christians have responded by saying that the Incarnation is a mystery.

This is true, nevertheless, the inadequacy with simply replying ‘mystery’ is that, since the Christian wants to make meaningful statements by affirming, for example, that the divine nature includes omniscience and that Jesus was apparently limited in knowledge as stated by the Scriptures, he/she must demonstrate what is meant (or what could possibly be meant) by these statements; it is not enough to claim that it is a ‘mystery’ and leave it as that.

Moreover, the Christian must ensure that the explications of these statements do not result in contradictions. The problem with asserting that one can make contradictory statements about Jesus (e.g. ‘Jesus has complete awareness of everything and complete unawareness of everything simultaneously’) is that the person who makes such contradictory statements is not affirming anything about Jesus.

Affirming ‘complete awareness of everything’ and ‘complete unawareness of everything’ simply cancel each other out; it is like writing something and then immediately erasing it, such that one ends up with nothing that is affirmed of Jesus.

Therefore, in order to make meaningful statements about Jesus in accordance with the Scriptures and to rebut the charge of incoherence, it would be helpful if the Christian can suggest a possible model to show how concepts like omniscience and apparent limitation in knowledge can be affirmed of Jesus such that no contradiction results.

One such model is the Divine Preconscious Model (DPM), which is a form of ‘Kryptic model’. The New Testament portrays Christ as having divine powers including the knowledge of all things (e.g. John 16:30, 21:17), but not utilizing them in all situations. His divine powers were largely ‘hidden’ (‘Krypsis’ in Greek) during the Incarnation, and only utilized on certain occasions to reveal his glory (e.g. John 2:1–11).

This is what DPM postulates.

The key insight is that a divine person can refrain from utilizing his omnipotence when he carries out certain activities, such as walking to a town in Samaria. One can therefore suggest that the Son of God did this by the finite strength of his human body instead of utilizing his divine powers, hence he could experience fatigue as portrayed in John 4:3-6.

Likewise knowledge can be understood as a kind of power which one can refrain from utilizing. For example, a person might have knowledge of calculus, even though he might not be consciously thinking about calculus all the time.

This knowledge of calculus can be said to be in his preconscious: when he chooses to utilize this knowledge by directing his attention to it, that is, when he chooses to consciously think about calculus, he can become aware of calculus.

Since having knowledge of a certain thing such as calculus does not require a constant conscious awareness of that thing, the knowledge of all things by a divine Person does not require a constant conscious awareness of all things by him. Thus, it could be the case that a divine Person chose to let his knowledge of all things reside in his divine preconscious at the Incarnation, and he freely chose not to utilize all of the knowledge in his preconscious, so as to consciously experience our human limitations.

Concerning Mark 13:32, it should be noted that the Greek word οἶδεν which is translated as ‘know’ means ‘to have realized, perceived, to know’; this word is often used in the New Testament in a general way, e.g. to know a person, to be able to understand/apprehend/recognize.

Therefore, in view of its semantic range, in this passage oiden (οἶδεν) can be legitimately rendered as ‘aware’. Thus, Mark 13:32 can be read as ‘But of that day or hour no one is aware, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.’

This reading fits the context perfectly: the disciples would be hoping that the Son would reveal to them the day of his coming, but no one can reveal what he/she is not aware.

For our purposes here, it is important to note that such an unawareness of the Son can co-exist with omniscience in the same person because, as noted previously, omniscience does not require a conscious awareness of all the things known. A divine person can use his omnipotence to restrict the scope of his conscious awareness as well as the utilization of his omniscience, and in this state of self-restraint the Son was genuinely unaware of that day; it was not a sham.

Because of his love for us, the Son of God restricted himself, came into the world, suffered for us and gave himself up for us (Galatians 2:20). This Christmas, let us be thankful that ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).


Dr Andrew LokeDr. Andrew Loke (PhD, Kings College) is Research Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong. A former medical doctor, he is the author of ‘A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation’ (Ashgate, 2014) and ‘Debating the Christian Faith’ (Tien-Dao, 2014). He has published articles in leading academic journals such as Religious Studies. He is also the author of the ETHOS Institute Engagement Series booklet, ‘Science and the Christian Faith‘.

The Importance of Tradition

December 2016 CREDO

One of the most important contributions of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation is its clear reminder to the Church concerning the primary authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone – was the battle cry of the great Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin in the wake of a Church that is so laden with human traditions that the essence of the Gospel was so severely obfuscated that it was no longer in view.

Modern evangelism has in the main sought to be true to the emphasis of the Reformers by stressing the authority of Scripture as the infallible Word of God. However, in doing so some evangelical Christians and churches have consequently adopted a pejorative and dismissive view of tradition, a view which the Reformers neither held nor encouraged.

In his book, The Fabric of Theology Richard Lints argues that in adopting this approach – enunciated in slogans such as ‘No creed but the Bible’ – evangelical Christians have deprived themselves of the rich theological and spiritual heritage and wisdom of the Church. As a result, their understanding of Christian existence is impoverished and, without the tutelage of the Church the Bible is often read, interpreted and applied in subjective and idiosyncratic ways.

This in turn has led to the proliferation of interpretations of the faith, some of which are in conflict with others. When tradition is not taken seriously, writes D.N. Williams, ‘the “centre” that the Reformers were hoping to restore splintered into a multitude of conflicting versions of the faith’.

Evangelical Christians therefore need to rediscover the wisdom of the Reformers.

In stressing the primary authority of the Holy Scriptures, the Reformers were not urging the Church to ignore – much less dismiss – the secondary authority of tradition. If Scripture is the authoritative text for the Church, tradition must serve as its authoritative interpreter.

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes thus about the Apostles Creed: ‘Here you find the whole essence of God, his will and his work beautifully portrayed in a few but comprehensive words’. In the same work, Luther asserts that ‘… the Creed brings us full mercy, sanctified us and make us acceptable to God’.

In similar vein, while John Calvin was highly critical of the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church of his day he acknowledged the authority and value of tradition as the interpreter of Scripture. Thus, he could say that the ancient traditions of the Church seek to expound ‘the real meaning of Scripture’ and he acknowledged that the ecumenical creeds contain ‘the pure and genuine exposition of Scripture’.

The Roman Catholic theologian of the last century, Yves Congar, maintains that the nature of the Christian faith itself makes tradition important. The Christian faith, Congar argues, ‘is an inheritance that is both transmitted and received’. As authoritative interpretation, tradition enables the Christian properly understand the authoritative text, the Bible.

To say that the universal Church, whose life and ministry are shaped by Scripture is its authoritative interpreter is to acknowledge that she alone is able to discern the counsel of God it contains, by the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is the place where true Christian teaching and true faith can be found. And as Tertullian puts it in his treatise against the Gnostics, ‘ only where the true Christian teaching and faith are evident, will be the true Scriptures, the true interpretations, and all the true Christian traditions be found’.

Perhaps one of the reasons why some evangelicals have difficulties with recognising the role of tradition in Christian theology is because the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the Church and Scripture is not explored in sufficient depth.

The theological significance of the fact that the Spirit who inspires the authors and the texts of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) is the same Spirit who will guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13) must be carefully teased out if we are to have a robust understanding of the nature and role of tradition.

It was J. I. Packer, one of evangelicalism most important theologians, who made this point in his book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God. ‘The Spirit’, writes Packer, ‘has been active in the Church from the first, doing the work he was sent to do –guiding God’s people into an understanding of revealed truth’. ‘The history of the Church’s labour to understand the Bible’, he continues, ‘forms a commentary on the Bible which we cannot despise or ignore without dishonouring the Holy Spirit’.

The Church of today ministers in a world where great cultural upheavals are evident. Described by some enigmatically as the postmodern condition, our society witnesses an ever-deepening suspicion of received social conventions and traditions.

As the Belgian theologian Lieven Boeve observes, in the culture we call postmodern ‘emancipation from bonds that were once taken for granted and left unquestioned has resulted in a situation in which every human being is given the structurally-subjective task of constructing his or her own personal identity’.

In this postmodern world, the church that takes no interest in being shaped by her rich theological and spiritual traditions will be vulnerable to the seductive lure of the new and the novel. And in preferring discontinuities instead of continuities, such a Church runs the great risk of losing her identity, her uniqueness as God’s people and become indistinguishable from the rest of society.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.