Christians are not merely monotheistic. We are Trinitarian and robustly so. We are unflinching in our full-orbed Trinitarian theology. Yet, I know about a non-Trinitarian monotheistic impulse that is constantly pushing. Ironically, this impulse is strongest when Jesus sounds most distinctly Trinitarian. The sayings of Christ that reveal these impulses shall concern me here.
For whatever reason, Trinitarian statements work on some people like a primal call to retreat to some supposedly purer form of theology (a form that poses as an earlier and truer monotheism). However, let us never lay down Trinitarian theology in retreat, especially when Christ says, “You have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If you loved me, you would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.” John 14:28.
Jesus used the word, greater, and we need feel no retreating or defensive reflex–a reflex which says more about us than it does about monotheism or the Trinity.
The Father sends the son (John 6:57) and the Son sends the Spirit (John 15:26; Acts 2:33). The Spirit does not testify of himself, but glorifies Christ (John 16:13-14). These Trinitarian verses break the nerve of the mere monotheist, to use the words of Karl Rahner who said that, “despite their orthodox confession of the Trinity, Christians are, in their practical life, almost mere “monotheists” — Karl Rahner, The Trinity, (1970, p.10).
If mere monotheists describes us, we must come again to Scripture. For God is the Trinity, and has so spoken about himself. He makes distinctions about himself so that we know that Jesus is the Son of God. “Father” and “Son” do not betray monotheism (revealing an anti-monotheistic teaching), they reveal Trinitarianism. That is, we are not against monotheism, but we are not mere monotheists. We are Trinitarian.
There is only one God (James 2:19; 1 Tim 2:5). Jesus is God (John 1:1, John 20:28), the Father is God (Eph 1:3) and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4). We affirm with scripture that Jesus is not the Holy Spirit, for he sends the Spirit; Jesus is not the Father (he prays to the Father); the Father is not the Holy Spirit (the Spirit is another helper, sent by the Father, John 14:26). We are Trinitarian.
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and he said, “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), and he also said, “I go to the Father” (John 16:10). He said all of these things. These words are not confusing. Jesus is not confusing. Only those not committed to the Trinity find confusion here. This is not confusatory, it is revelatory. When Jesus reveals what God is like, confusion is not our first response, but delight. We do not say, “Yeah but…,” rather, we say, “Ah! Wow!” Alas, Jesus made no sense to those who were mere monotheists, and so they tried to kill him (John 10:33).
Anti-Trinitarianism led to the attempted murder of Jesus. Mere monotheism turns out to be murderously opposed to Trinitarianism (John 5:18).
We are more than mere monotheist, we are Trinitarian, and so we know why it is that the Holy Spirit could speak of the glory of the Son, and not his own glory (John 16:48). Likewise, we do not accept Trinitarianism as a facade or face plate, of which the clever among us know the purely monotheistic god who is behind it. Trinitarian theology is not a veil.
As we affirm the Trinity, we do not prefer parts. That is, we do not look down at the ground as we quickly say the statements that are expressly Trinity, only to look up and speak loudly our affirmation of the monotheistic reality of our confession. We are not trying to please other supposed monotheists. We are trying to state back what God has revealed about himself, and there is no embarrassment here. There is only one God, and he is the Trinity.
Jesus wins for himself a kingdom, and he wins it for the Father (1 Cor 15:28); this verse is an emblem of our faith, not an embarrassing slip where Paul betrayed monotheism. Look, see, “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.” This is not a denial of the deity of Christ (Phil 2:6), this is further revelation regarding the Trinity! This is not a denial of the one true God. This is not anti-monotheistic. This is a revelation of the Trinity. Paul was able to write both 1 Cor 15:28 and Col 1:15 because he was not a mere monotheist. Paul was Trinitarian because God is the Trinity.
Whenever we discover the Trinity in Scripture, some instinct may rise up like a mere-monotheistic-claimant. It is often quick to arrive, and comes from some alien-quarter of theology sounding pure, and ideal. So I propose a new impulse. Whenever we speak of our monotheism, we should be quick to re-state our Trinitarian commitments. That is, instead of speaking about God in merely monotheistic ways–ways favorable to the religion that agrees with the stone-bearing monotheists who wanted to kill Jesus–our impulses should lead us to name him, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” When we feel ourselves wanting to reaffirm our own congruencies (those that make us compatible with all versions of monotheism), let us instead RUN as fast as we can to exegete the Trinity.
The one true God is the Trinity. The Trinity is not a divine mirage or a surface plate (behind which stands the true God). We do not affirm the different aspects of the Trinity so that that we can get back to saying what we really wanted to say about monotheism.
Unflinching, steeled, and knowing that there is only one God, we hear rightly the words of Christ: “My Father is greater than I”, (John 14:48; cf. John 5:19). When we hear this, or when we hear that the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son, we do not bend, retreat or surrender. We discover, and we worship, for we are Trinitarian, through and through, and we sing the Doxology with lungs filled to capacity, and hearts brimming with the confession of heaven, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”
For more (and a chart), see my earlier article on the subject.