The Worst Conceptual Explanation of the Trinity I’ve Seen

Faithlife recently posted an article titled the Best Conceptual Explanation of the Trinity I’ve Seen and as you can tell… I remain unimpressed. I’m not even exaggerating in my title. While all analogies break down in short order, this one doesn’t even get out of the gate.

After setting up that the Trinity is difficult to understand (it is) the author recounts an explanation found in the book a Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. The explanation below goes like this:

Creation is like a book. God the Father is the author. Just as we, if we were writing a book, might write ourselves into the story as a character in the book, the Father wrote himself into creation as the Son.

Now, this is wrong on two main fronts…

  1. Arianism – This author may not have intended this… but the idea that the Son is the Father in creation seems to deny that the Son is the Son prior to creation. Prior to “writing himself into the story” the Father was the Father. This seems to imply that the Son was a creation of the Father.
  2. Modalism – Beyond the strange Arian implications found in this analogy, the Father seems to somehow transition himself into being the Son. While it is true that Vanauken maintains that the Father remains the Father outside of the story… he becomes the Son when he enters the story.

The version of him in the book is independent of the version of him that is writing the book, but it’s still him.

Let’s replace those pronouns with proper nouns shall we?

The version of the Father in the book is independent of the version of the Father that is writing the book, but it’s still the Father.

Things get even weirder when trying to incorporate the Holy Spirit into the analogy.

Vanauken’s wife adds

If Van invents characters, they’ll all, even the bad ones, have something of Van in them, won’t they? So you see? We all have something of God in us—God’s spirit—but only the One, Jesus, is God Incarnate.

There you have it… the Holy Spirit is a part of all of the characters of the story. The good ones, the bad ones. Heck, even the setting and plot has the Holy Spirit as part of it. And beyond that… the Holy Spirit is really just the Father’s stamp on the creation.

This is unadulterated panentheism. Beyond that, it has imbibed a bit of the Liberal idea that God is the Father of all mankind in light of creating them, rather than just the Father of those who are in Christ. (Thanks Harnack!)

Now, the author of this article offers some correctives on this last point, and seems to have taken to heart the weakness I have pointed out regarding the Arianism in the begining… but I would seriously question the comprehension of any Christian who reads this and doesn’t immediately recognize how terrible this analogy is. To call it the best really shows a lack of understanding and discernment.

6 thoughts on “The Worst Conceptual Explanation of the Trinity I’ve Seen

    1. Well, just about anything would be a better analogy. I don’t think that analogies are useful in explaining the Trinity though.

      1. As I read the original post, I felt it did a good job of giving a visual reference to Christ in our reality and in unity with God. Of course no analogy is perfect, and this one is no better, but I do think it has its place as long as you keep in mind the objections you brought up… Keep up the great work!

      2. The problem is that there isn’t a distinction between the Father and Son in this analogy. The Father IS the Son in this account. That is heresy.

  1. This is interestingly similar to an idea I came up with in seminary. I have never preached nor taught it because (like you) I am cautious to employ any analogy to explain the Trinity. Plus, being a product of my own limited reason, it needed substantial review from wiser folks than I before I dare put it forth as generally useful. So it’s never gotten past this old blog post musing: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/theologia-dei/ (I’d be interested to hear your feedback on it, though I’m not considering trying to revive or rehabilitate it for public use.)

    As for Van’s analogy itself, I think the Holy Spirit’s place is the worst part of the whole thing. The seemingly-lacking eternality of the Logos is an issue which might be somewhat improved by caveats, but certainly panenthianism is an unacceptable degree of error. My thoughts a while back was that the Father was like the one dictating and the Spirit was the scribe; giving life to creation. Anyway, it’s all a fascinating attempt to visualize something that’s impossible to visualize. 🙂

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