A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, July 06, 2012

On the Trinity: Thomas Jefferson Meets John Polkinghorne

The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs....In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.

Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.

-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), President of the United States


An unqualified monotheistic picture of God can only interpret the statement 'God is love' (1 John 4:8) as implying that from all eternity there has been within the divine nature itself an almost narcissistic state of self-regard. The Trinitarian picture of the eternal exchange of love between the divine Persons, whose communion of mutual openness constitutes the divine being, is a much more illuminating theological insight.

Trinitarian and incarnational thinking arose precisely through the struggle in the early centuries to integrate Jewish,  apostolic and ecclesial experience of God into a single account which, if it did not attain the coherence and adequacy that is possible for a mature scientific theory, would at least take the discussion beyond the immediately phenomenological. The result of this struggle, continued down the subsequent centuries, has been a 'thickness' of theological thinking that is worthy of deep respect and attention.... When I wrote my Gifford Lectures I explained that I did so to explore 'whether the strange and exciting claims of Christianity are tenable in a scientific age'. I also commented that 'A scientist expects a fundamental theory to be tough, surprising and exciting'. You could not get a more fundamental theory than that which Trinitarian theology offers to us.

-John Polkinghorne (1930- ), theoretical physicist and theologian


PamBG said...

Go, John Polkinghorne!

I wish this image of Trinity were more commonly used in Christianity. In fact, I wish it was as much common knowledge as "the sinner's prayer" or "Jesus died to pay the price for your sins."

Now, some will think me unAmerican for not agreeing with Thomas Jefferson. :-D

Allan R. Bevere said...

I wish the image were used more as well, I think our lack of interest in thinking rigorously about doctrine has been the problem, which is one of the reasons I like Polkinghorne. He really thinks through this stuff in a very helpful way.

As far as disagreeing with Thomas Jefferson, I think we have a great stake in demythologizing all the Founders as Bible-believing, evangelical, God-fearing believers. If those labels apply to Thomas Jefferson then pigs do indeed fly.

PamBG said...

Amen to all of that! No arguments, for once. ;-)

Allan R. Bevere said...


The two of us argue? Never!