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THE TRINITY by John Shelby Spong

July 25, 2012

Bishop Spong writes a weekly essay available online  by subscription on the internet,   In two of them, he has has given succinct expressions of his understanding of the Trinity.  

On August 18. 2011, he wrote:

“The Trinity was a conclusion to which the Christian Church came after a long journey through history. It was not a part of early or original Christianity. If you read Paul closely, you will find that he is not a Trinitarian!

“I think what people fail to understand is that the Trinity is not a description of God, it is rather a description of the human experience of God couched in the language of 4th century, Greek-speaking Europe. We experience God as the source of life beyond any limit that the human imagination can impose on anything, and we call that God “the Father.” We experience God as the ultimate depth of life, deeper than our own breath and we call that dimension of life “Spirit.” We experience God coming to us through the lives of others, and, for those of us who are Christians, coming to us uniquely through the life of one called Jesus of Nazareth, and we name him “Son,” offspring of the “the Father.”

“Have we in this manner defined God? No, of course not. We have defined only what we believe is our experience of God. In that sense, I have no trouble with Trinitarian language. I do not believe that I can say that God is a Trinity without becoming idolatrous. On the other hand I can say that I am a Trinitarian for that formula helps me to make sense of the God I experience as real and the God to whom I am drawn.”

Then on August 15, 2013, he wrote in answer to an individual question:

“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 our minds can grasp. This is what we mean when we say that 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. This is what we mean when we say that 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.”

From → Beliefs, God

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