In Search of the Triune God - On Alister McGrath

By Anthony Buzzard

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Attempts to sustain a Trinitarian view of God from Scripture are unimpressive and often confusing. A leading modern exponent of the Trinity, Alister McGrath, rightly tells us that Jesus Christ reveals God. He makes no mention, however, of Jesus’ express revelation of God as the One God of Israel. He notes that one can find three examples in the whole New Testament of the term “God” being applied to Jesus. McGrath attributes the sparseness of references to Jesus as “God” to the fact that the writers were mostly Jews. But, one might ask, weren’t they also authentic Christians, and did they not know which God to worship? Were they not apostolic exponents of the Christian faith? McGrath says:

The New Testament was written against a background of the strict monotheism of Israel…Given the strong reluctance of New Testament writers to speak of Jesus as “God,” because of their background in the strict monotheism of Israel, these three affirmations are of considerable significance [John 1:1; 20:28; Heb. 1:8].[1]

Dr. McGrath’s remarks provide eloquent evidence that Jesus and his followers did not alter the Jewish creed. If they were strongly reluctant to speak of Jesus as God, could this not simply be because their creed, affirmed by Jesus, forbade them to call anyone but the Father the supreme God? They show no sign of being Trinitarians. Nor, of course, did Jesus.

The three examples of the word “God” for Jesus, as compared with over 1300 references to the Father as “God” in the New Testament, are easily explained.[2] They provide no justification at all for departing from the creed of Jesus, who believed that “The Lord our God is one Lord” (Mark 12:29).
When it comes to the Trinity itself McGrath remarks:

The casual reader of Scripture will discern a mere two verses in the entire Bible which seem, at first glance, to be capable of a trinitarian interpretation: Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. Both these verses have become deeply rooted in the Christian consciousness…Yet these two verses, taken together or in isolation, can hardly be thought of as constituting a doctrine of the Trinity.[3]

This is a significant admission. McGrath then goes on to give us twenty pages of post-biblical historical development of the Trinity. He has only a page and a half to offer us for its biblical foundation. Then comes his amazing statement below. How securely does he really find the Trinity in the New Testament?

The doctrine of the Trinity can be regarded as the outcome of a process of sustained and critical reflection on the pattern of divine activity revealed in Scripture, and continued in Christian experience. This is not to say that Scripture contains a doctrine of the Trinity; rather, Scripture bears witness to a God who demands to be understood in a trinitarian manner. We shall explore the evolution of the doctrine and its distinctive vocabulary in what follows.[4]

I suggest that Dr. McGrath’s faith is rooted firmly in post-biblical tradition, against his own Protestant principle of sola scriptura. He seems internally conflicted. There is no doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible, he admits, and yet in its pages, God demands belief in the Trinity.

I invite some prolonged reflection on the statement above: “This is not to say that Scripture contains a doctrine of the Trinity.” Yet God “demands to be understood in a Trinitarian manner.” There is a curious illogicality and irrationality at work here. Can anyone explain how the absence of a Trinitarian doctrine in the Bible is good evidence that God demands to be worshipped as a Trinity? If Scripture is taken as the foundation of faith, as Protestants claim, its pages yield no information about “God in three Persons.” The God of Jesus and of the New Testament is a single divine Person, the Father of Jesus and of Christians.

Buzzard, Anthony (2007). The Titanic Struggle of Scholars to Find the Triune God in the Bible. In, Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian (pp. 97-99). Restoration Fellowship.

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[1] Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, Blackwell, 2006, 280, 281.

[2] John 20:28 is in the context of Jesus saying he is going to ascend to “my God and your God” (v. 17). Thomas had failed to recognize that in seeing Jesus one was seeing God at work (14:7, 9). Thomas’ exclamation “My Lord and my God!” beautifully summarizes his realization that in meeting his Lord Jesus, he is also meeting the One God who is at work in him. The address is to both “my Lord” (the Messiah) and “my God,” the God of Jesus and of Thomas. For more, see Appendix 1 of Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian, Anthony Buzzard

[3] McGrath, Christian Theology, 2

[4] Ibid., 249, emphasis added

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2018-12-29T10:17:29+00:00

About the Author:

Anthony Buzzard
Sir Anthony Buzzard was born in Surrey, England and educated at Oxford University and later at Bethany Theological Seminary. He holds master degrees in theology and modern languages, Hon. Ph.D. Sir Anthony F. Buzzard is one of the most persuasive and energetic voices of our day calling for Christians to pursue reformation and restoration in our time. He is the author of numerous books including: Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian: A Call to Return to the Creed of Jesus; and The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound. Anthony is the author of many theological articles and papers. He is the editor of Focus on the Kingdom and was co-editor of A Journal from the Radical Reformation. Retiring after 24 years on the staff of Atlanta Bible College, he continues to write, teach and travel, fulfilling a life-long desire to make the best of Bible scholarship available to the wider church-going public.