“God is like a three-headed dragon,” offered one high school student. “I think God is like a Transformer,” blurted out a junior higher in the front row. I had just asked students at this summer camp to give a brief definition of the Trinity. They reached for all sorts of analogies to explain God’s nature. Heresy soon followed (Disclaimer: no heretical students were burned at the stake).
Next, I asked for biblical justification. “What Scripture tells us that God is a trinity? Where in the Bible do we find the word?” Students began thumbing through their Bibles, searching for the elusive verses. A few went straight to their concordances. Several minutes passed. No verses were offered. Finally, a female underclassman ventured a guess. “There is no Bible verse that uses the word Trinity, right?”
After watching students struggle, their youth leaders were frustrated. But the failure of these young Christians to explain an essential belief like the Trinity was to be expected. After in-depth research, sociologist Christian Smith found “the vast majority of [American teenagers] to be incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives.” When students aren’t systematically trained, heresy becomes habit. So these young believers needed some thorough theological instruction. And after seeing their own inability to explain an essential of the faith, they were eager and ready.
I started with James White’s concise, yet precise, definition of the Trinity: “Within the one Being that is God, there simultaneously exists three coequal, coeternal, and distinct persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” There are three divine persons—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—in one being—God. Simply put, there is one “what” and three “who’s.” I explained to students how all analogies end up being heretical, even though they may be helpful at first.
Next I offered a biblical case. There is no single passage to cite. Instead, I showed students how to build their case for the Trinity on three foundations (see White's book, The Forgotten Trinity). First, the Scripture clearly teaches there is only one God. I took them to Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 43:10 and 44:6-8, and John 17:3. Second, I showed them how each person is divine in nature. John 1:1 says “the word [Jesus] was God.” In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one,” clearly a claim to deity when you examine the context. And the Apostle Paul echoes this in Philippians 2:5-8. In Acts 5:3-4, lying to the Holy Spirit is equated with lying to God. Thirdly, I showed them how the three divine persons are coequal and coeternal, citing Genesis 1:26, Matthew 28:19, and a host of other verses.
It was a bit of a theological workout but students consumed it. And enjoyed it. This was the kind of in-depth training we offered students during each session at camp. Feedback from the counselors was unanimous—students told them it was the most challenging church camp ever. Again and again they expressed their thankfulness for being challenged. I guess they were glad to move from little heretics to budding theologians.
But I didn’t leave the Trinity in the realm of mere academic theological exercise. We discussed its implications for worship. I showed students how worshipping God is no longer the worship of a distant ambiguous being. The word “God” now had very specific content for them. They were worshipping the Trinitarian God of the Bible—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who has existed from all eternity. A God unlike any other god. The one true God. And that theological truth is transformational.