Review of “2 Views of the Doctrine of the Trinity”

Alwyn Lau
4 min readApr 4, 2024

This book is only for those who enjoy swimming in butt-deep waters of complex Christian theology. I sorta enjoy this stuff but even I gotta say this one had me stumped on many pages.

Okay, so the title is “2 views of the Trinity” but they shoulda just stuck to “4 views” (why confuse ppl, esp since the four authors trade shots at each other?). The editors wanted to group the views into two larger categories, Classical (which emphasize the one-ness of God and downplays the ‘three-ness’ factor) and Relational (which gives more emphasis to the tri-aspect). Let’s dive in.

1. Stephen Holmes focuses on God’s ineffability (sexy for We can’t understand God very well or even at all sometimes) to say more or less that Trinitarian language is the only way we can speak about God but we can’t draw any conclusions about God’s being from such language. In Holmes’ view, we have no warrant to say that there are “3 centers of consciousness” within God; we must accept God is ‘simple’ (i.e. He cannot be ‘divided’).

In other words, Holmes says that “God is three persons” works only on the level of religious language, not doctrine. He ends by saying that Trinitarian doctrine is gloriously useless which I translate as Let’s not get too serious about it.

2. Paul Molnar says yeah God is “3 persons” and there are relations between the 3 but any attempt to compare divine personhood with human relational experience is doomed to fail. He says we can’t compare Father/Son relationship to creaturely relations.

So, for Molnar, “God is 3 persons” is true but we don’t know how it is so.

Molnar’s and Holmes positions fall under Classical Trinitarianism which emphasizes the oneness of God and downplays personal distinctions and relationality within the Godhead. Presumably they are concerned that talk about, say, Father and Son interacting with each other risks bringing tri-theism (the idea of three gods).

There is also the concern that if we take the ‘temporal’ acts of Father and Son and Spirit in the Bible as reflective of the eternal Trinity — i.e. if the social Trinity (see photo) is somehow equated to the immanent Trinity — then we risk the doctrine of panentheism which, TLDR, is about God ‘needs’ the world and is inadequately ‘apart’ from it.

3. Thomas McCall’s position seems the closest to mine (for a very casual presentation of this perspective and a general defense of Trinitarian doctrine, see my response to Zakir Naik.

He quotes a lot of Scripture (eg, Matt 3:17, 7:21; 10:32–33, John 5:17–18; 6:27–40, etc) showing the inter-play and interactions between God the Father, Son and Spirit to make the point that a) the Father is distinct from the Son and Spirit and b) there is an “I-Thou” thing going on.

This is to say that in a very real sense, God the Father is relating to God the Son as an agent would to another agent i.e. this portrays one God yet (somehow!) more than one person! Is this ‘tri-theism’? Hell no. It’s simply how the Bible, which insists on the truth of monotheism (i.e. the idea that there is only ONE true God), shows the relationships between persons who, somehow, can be worshipped as God.

This debate sometimes remind me of theologians who say that God is ‘out of’ time even though practically the entire Bible shows God experiencing a before and after in clearly non-metaphorical language. Hence, folks like Holmes and Molnar who spend many pages refusing to take Trinitarian personal distinction seriously are, to me, guilty of importing non-Biblical categories and assumptions towards an understanding of God.

4. Finally, Paul Fiddes (really the only fella whom I’ve heard of; his book on Atonement, “Past Event and Present Salvation” is a must-read on the topic) takes on the role of boat-rocker by saying that we need to understand divine ‘persons’ NOT like human persons but like relations and movements.

He says that the NT community was experiencing and participating in God hence their language reflected their being caught up in the life and waves and rhythm of God such that Trinitarian language was the only way they knew how to express it. Fiddes clearly shares Molnar’s hesitation with importing categories of personhood (from human life, where else?) towards Trinitarian doctrine, hence his rejection of the “I-Thou” concept as applied to Father, Son and Spirit.

I personally like what Fiddes adds to the discussion (i.e. how participation in the divine life and story is part and parcel of the construction of doctrinal language) but I question what he subtracts from the understanding of monotheism i.e. the distinctive personhoods of Father, Son and Spirit.

Overall, kinda deep reading and not at all suitable as an ‘introduction’ IMO. The Church Fathers’ names are dropped quite a bit, as are Barth, Moltmann, Torrance and Pannenberg.



Alwyn Lau

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.