The Great Trinity Debate at Parchment and Pen

The Reclaiming the Mind Ministries site Parchment and Pen is hosting an online debate on the Christian doctrine of the trinity, the claim that God is three persons and yet one substance. The debate began on April 11 and will take place over six weeks. Defending the traditional trinitarian position is apologist Rob Bowman, author of books such as Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ and 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists. His opponent is David Burke, a Christadelphian heading up the Christadelphian forums.

If you’ve given much thought to the doctrine of the trinity and the nature and identity of Jesus, you’re bound to find the exchange a worthwhile one.

Here is the format and arguments that have been posted so far (I’ll update when the posts become available):

Week 1: Scripture and the nature of God.

Rob Bowman on God and Scripture

David Burke on God and Scripture

Week 2: The person of Jesus Christ.

Rob Bowman on Jesus Christ

David Burke on Jesus Christ

Week 3: The person of Jesus Christ (responses and further arguments).

Rob Bowman on Jesus Christ, continued.

David Burke on Jesus Christ, continued.

Week 4: The Holy Spirit.

Rob Bowman on the Holy Spirit

David Burke on the Holy Spirit

Week 5 (begins May 9):  Theological views of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Rob Bowman on the Trinity

David Burke on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Week 6 (begins May 16): Closing statements.

Rob Bowman’s Closing Statement

David Burke’s Closing Statement

You can read Rob’s introduction to the debate challenge here. And also worth reading is Rob and David’s list of resources that are relevant to the debate.

13 replies
  1. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    At Parchment and Pen I posted the following three comments on the trinity:

    Ron Krumpos on 20 Mar 2010 at 2:40 pm #
    Every religion has a “trinity” of sorts. They are just three aspects of the same thing (just don’t try to name that thing).

    Christianity……..Buddhism………..Aspect
    Jesus Christ……..Nirmanakaya……human form
    God the Father…Sambhogakaya…celestial/deity
    Holy Spirit………..Dharmakaya…….formless essence

    Hinduism, Islam and the Kabbalah of Judaism have combinations of three, but they are less easily compared than those above.

    Don’t tell a Christian to pray to Buddha or a Buddhist to pray to God. Then there is Brahman, Allah and Hashem (the name). They are just words. Now if you want to get beyond them, read my book athttp://www.suprarational.org Mystics don’t need a name: “One” is close enough for most of them.

    Ron Krumpos on 20 Mar 2010 at 3:11 pm #
    A little more detail about “three aspects” in Buddhism and Christianity:

    Mahayana and Vajrayana vehicles of Buddhism speak of Trikaya, or three bodies: Nirmanakaya is the Buddha in human form, Sambhogakayais celestial Buddha and Dharmakayais the formless essence, or Buddha-nature. The Theravada primarily addresses the historic Buddha. The “Three Jewels” are the Buddha, the dharma (his teachings) and the sangha (the community of monks and nuns).

    Christianity has its Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit referring to God, Jesus Christ and their spiritual bond of unity (some say the Godhead). Interpretation of the essential nature of each, and their relationship, differed among the churches. In Christian mysticism, the three ways of the spiritual life are the purgative in being purified from sin, the illuminative in true understanding of created things, and the unitive in which the soul unites with God by love.

    Ron Krumpos on 20 Mar 2010 at 3:14 pm #
    The “three aspects” in the Kabbalah, Hinduism and Islam (Sufism):

    In the Kabbalah of Judaism, sefirot – sparks from the divine – have three fulcrums to balance the horizontal levels of the Tree of Life: Da`at (a pseudo-sefirot) is knowledge combining understanding and wisdom; Tiferet is beauty, the midpoint of judgment and loving kindness; Yesod is the foundation for empathy and endurance. They also vertically connect, through the supreme crown, the infinite and transcendent Ein Sof with its kingdom in the immanent Shekhinah.

    Hinduism’s trimurti are the threefold activities of Brahman: in Brahma as creator, in Vishnu as sustainer and in Shiva as destroyer. Saccidananda are the triune attributes or essence of Brahman: sat, being, cit, consciousness and ananda, bliss. The three major schools of yoga are bhakti, devotion, and jnana, knowledge and karma, the way of selfless action. Raja yoga can apply to, and integrate, all three in mental and spiritual concentration.

    In Islam, nafs is the ego-soul, qalbis heart and ruh is spirit. Heart is the inner self [soul], hardened when it is turned toward ego and softened when it is polished by dhikr, remembrance of the spirit of Allah. This is a three-part foundation for Sufi psychology. Initiation guides them from shari`a, religious law, along tariqa, the spiritual path, to haqiqa, interior reality. It is a gradual unveiling of the Real.

  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Ron,

    You have misrepresented Christianity, so how can I be assured that you have not also misrepresented all these other views?

    Please note that the Doctrine of the Trinity refers specifically to the nature of God. If you’re refering to anything else that’s a missappropriation of the term.

  3. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    Stuart,

    Perhaps that is the Doctrine of the Trinity as you understand it. Christianity, in its multiple divisions, has varying interpretations and doctrines on it. Often they are the Three Persons of the Godhead.

    These statements were reviewed by 20 religious leaders and scholars across the U.S.A. prior to publication and have since been read – and not corrected – by more than 100 others in 32 countries. If you would like a detailed analysis of the different approaches among Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian movements I would be happy to provide them.

    Any one paragraph of my post in Parchment and Pen had to be general, albeit generally correct. Hundreds of pages could be, and have been by others, written about each of the five.

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ron,

    I will respond to your post above, rather than your correspondence to me in email. Those were private communiques and out of context here in a public forum.

    You previously stated that “Christianity has its Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit referring to God, Jesus Christ and their spiritual bond of unity (some say the Godhead). Interpretation of the essential nature of each . . . differed among the churches.”

    Leaving aside the supposed differences between the various Christian traditions for now, the above comment seems to be amended in the following: “Often they are the Three Persons of the Godhead.”

    The Holy Spirit, as I understand it, is recognized from the earliest Christian thought to be Personal and fully divine, and not some impersonal bond of union between Father and Son, or Son and believer. Though this might not have been formalized as thoroughly as the Son, Jesus Christ,the understanding was nevertheless present from the beginning ’till today. Now which statement are you going to go with? The latter or the former?

    Regarding differences; Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestants all recognize the Nicene Creed as an excellent guide to correct Christian belief regarding the Triune nature of the God. Minor, but not essential details, were quibbled over occasionally. Insofar as this creed is rejected by a group, they cease to be within that long-standing tradition or Christian orthodoxy. I welcome your proof to the contrary, namely that, “Interpretation of the essential nature of each [person] . . . differed among the churches.”

  5. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    Stuart,

    We are discussing two sentences in my 100 page book on comparative mysticism. Within institutional Christianity, your statements on the Doctrine of the Trinity are correct. My research was based on the mystics of each tradition. The Holy Spirit as the spiritual bond of unity was written in that context.

    The Godhead is what Eckhart and Tillich call "God beyond God." As to the varying interpretations, the current debate on the Trinity on Parchment and Pen have already pointed out some and will undoubtedly discuss others. Christians, as well as people of other religions, seldom agree on all aspects of their faith.

  6. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    Stuart,

    I neglected to answer your question which statement are you going to go with? The answer is both.

    To quote one of the Desert Fathers,

    “The distinction between persons does not impair the oneness of nature, nor does the shared unity of essence lead to a confusion between the distinctive characteristics of the persons. Do not be surprised that we should speak of the Godhead as being at the same time unified and differentiated…diversity-in-

    unity and unity-in-diversity.” St. Gregory of Nyssa

    To the rational mind, mysticism seems to have many paradoxes. Some people say the Doctrine of the Trinity is paradoxical. St. Augustine, himself a mystic, tried to clarify it in his "On the Trinity."

    My first mentor, Swami Nikhilananda, tried to explain one of Hinduism's seeming paradoxes:

    “Brahman is one and without a second, and can be regarded either from the phenomenal or from the transcendental point of view. When the sense-perceived world is regarded as real, Brahman is spoken of as its omnipotent and omniscient Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. But when the world is not perceived to exist, as for instance in deep meditation, then one experiences Brahman as the unconditioned Absolute… One worships the conditioned Brahman in the ordinary state of consciousness, but loses one’s individuality during the experience of the unconditioned Brahman.”

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ron,

    I'll leave Hinduism and it's paradoxs to be reconciled by you or someone else. I will only say if a doctrine cannot be rationally affirmed then it is irrational and should not believed. It seems as if you are saying that the ontology of Brahman is both Personal and non-Personal. If that is the case it is logically contradictory and therefore false.

    The Holy Spirit on the other hand, contrary to your first statement on the Christian doctrine of the trinity, has always been affirmed by orthodoxy, in agreemnt with the Biblical statements, to be personal and fully divine, and not merely "a spiritual bond of unity" between Father and Son.

    The quote from Gregory of Nyssa is irrelavant here. I don't see why you felt the need to quote him other than to say the doctrine of the trinity seems paradoxical. That may be. But if you knew the Christian doctrine of the trinity you would know that it is not logically contradictory as it appear Hindism's Brahman is.

  8. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    Logic? Mystical awareness is suprarational, i.e. direct cognition beyond logic and reason.

    To other quotations of Christian mystics, which may also seem irrelevant to you:

    “All that the imagination can imagine and the reason conceive and understand in this life is not, and cannot be, a proximate means of union with God.” St. John of the Cross C

    “Suddenly God came and united Himself to me in a manner quite ineffable. Without any ‘confusion of persons’ He entered into every part of my being, as fire penetrates iron, or light streams through glass.” St. Simeon [Symeon the New Theologian] C

  9. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I don't mind if you want to believe absurdities. Just don't confuse your "mystical" beliefs with orthodoxy, which has always maintained the content of the Christian faith is rational and therefore reasonable to believe.

  10. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    Stuart,

    Martin Luther taught that faith and reason were antithetical…that questions of faith could not be illuminated by reason. He wrote, "All the articles of our Christian faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, are in presence of reason sheerly impossible, absurd, and false."[1] and "[That] Reason in no way contributes to faith. […] For reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things."

    A true mystic had – and may continue to have – direct experience in divine unity, which supersedes belief, faith and scriptural teachings. Perhaps you should learn more about the rich tradition of Christian mysticism, which is alive and active today. Mystical awareness transforms one’s sense of being to a transpersonal outlook on all life. It moves us beyond ego and individuality to living in divine essence we all share. As Jesus said, "the Kingdom of God is within you."

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Ron,

    Insofar as you describe transcending the scriptures and a personal outlook, you cease to be a Christian mystic and become merely a mystic. (1) Christians hold that ultimate reality is personal, not transpersonal, for God is a personal being. This God created us in his image, so we, as image-bearers, are capable of interpersonal relationship with him. Fellowship with him comes only through a personal encounter with the Spirit of God, and this only because of the unique action of the Son, Jesus Christ, and his atoning death on the cross. (2) Christians hold the scriptures are God-breathed and useful for teaching, instructing, encouraging, and training in righteousness. To move beyond the teaching of scripture is to move beyond the fold of orthodoxy and embrace something distinctly non-Christian.

    Is there a reference to go with that quote of Jesus? Do you think that quote is canon?

    One could say that Martin Luther was wrong. He was after all using reason to refute the use of reason. He was also using reason to help fuel the movement against Rome. To convert the hearers of his sermons. To persuade the readers of his tracts. One could say instead he was merely responding to the Scholastic school of thought, who were becoming more popular in his day.

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