On Building a Christianity without Security or Creeds

Essay by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 15 August 2013 5 Comments
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The Trinity: How did this doctrine evolve? Is it polytheistic? Father, Son and Spirit are in scripture but is "Trinity?"



Dear Zolika,

Your question is a very good one. I doubt that Jesus was a Trinitarian; I am quite certain that Paul was not. The Trinity is a human definition of God, and since the human mind could never fully embrace the mystery and wonder of God, to literalize a human definition of God borders on the absurd. For human beings to worship their own creation is the essence of idolatry.

The Trinity is a definition not of God, but of the human experience of the divine and is, therefore, an attempt to make rational sense out of that human experience.

We experience God as other, beyond anything that our minds can grasp. This is what we mean when we say God is Father – the Ground of all being.

We experience God as an inward presence, so deep within us that we cannot name the reality we know is there. That is what we mean when we say God is Spirit, ineffable, life-giving, inward and real.

We experience God in the life of others. Sometimes to lesser degrees, sometimes to what seems like a total degree. This is what we mean when we call Jesus “the son,” and why we frame doctrines like “the Incarnation.” Our experience was and is that in Jesus we saw the presence of God flowing through his human life.

Is that who God is? No, but that is what our experience of God is and so we claim it.

The Trinity is not a definition of God; it is an experience into which we live.

Thanks for asking,

~John Shelby Spong




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