Keeping the Trinity Personal

Defending the oneness of God shouldn’t nullify the Bible’s claims about the mutual love of Father, Son, and Spirit.

“Holy, Holy, Holy” is one of the most well-known hymns in the English language. The famous hymn, inspired by the Nicene Creed and sung in countless churches each Sunday, ends with the familiar line “God in three persons, blessed Trinity!” But as beloved as this song is, how well do we understand this familiar line? What do we mean when we say God is one God in three “persons”? Does that mean three different personalities? How do these persons relate to each other? And how do we square this with the biblical affirmation from Deuteronomy 6:4 that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”?

What does it mean to say that the Trinity is personal?

Don’t Take This Too Personally

Over the past several years, evangelical theology has been racked by a battle over the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS). On the one side are theologians arguing that obedience and submission are felicitous ways to describe the Son’s eternal relation to his Father. Others object that talk of “functional subordination” flirts with (or, worse, hooks up with) Arianism.

This debate implicates longer-standing disputes about the meaning of person in Trinitarian theology. For some, a divine Person is, in the words of Stephen Holmes, professor of systematic theology at the University of St Andrews, an “instantiation of the divine nature.” To say that the triune Persons are “persons” doesn’t imply that they’re personal or have personality in anything like the common modern sense of the word. Holmes puts it starkly. For Augustine and the Cappadocian fathers of the Eastern church, “all that is truly ‘personal’ (knowledge, volition, action … ) [is …

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