Great Trinity Debate Challenge

I found out through Nick Norelli that Rob Bowman has a challenge up to debate the Trinity. He wants to take six weeks to cover a bunch of topics, with 10,000 word limits for each initial post. It sounds like an interesting debate, but I don’t come close to having enough time to commit to that much debate. In addition, I think some of the rules are a little squirrely. Here are two specific rules and why I don’t like them:

The individual must defend a specific understanding of God, of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. That is, the individual must defend a specific theological alternative to the doctrine of the Trinity. It can be anything — Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ doctrine, Oneness Pentecostalism, Biblical/Evangelical Unitarianism, etc. — but it must be a specific, identifiable, existing belief system.

This is kind of restrictive. I can’t speak for other traditions, but for Mormonism I can state unequivocally that there is no specific systematic theology of which to speak. There are a few fundamental doctrines, but the intricacies of the makeup of the Godhead are not set forth, and so there is a spectrum of belief concerning that. No two Latter-day Saint scholars would have the exact same perspective, given 10,000 words to expound, and there’s no consistent literature to which one could appeal for verification (much less six definitive books, as Rob wants). That may not be what Rob is looking for, but I’m sure he’d love for a Mormon to take him up.

The individual must agree (as I will) that for the purposes of the debate, everything the Bible says pertaining to God, and specifically pertaining to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is true and authoritative, and that the purpose of the debate is to determine which of our two doctrines is most faithful to the teachings of the biblical authors as a whole.

This is my biggest problem. The Bible is not a theologian. It does not contain “a theology.” It is a collection of theologies. The Bible is neither univocal nor infallible. It does not present the same theology from chapter to chapter, much less from beginning to end. Synthesizing it all into one unified theology gives us an artificial worldview not held by any of the authors of the Bible (or anyone who ever lived, really). It comes down to a game of who can squeeze all the pegs into different shaped holes the best, and who can point to the most difficult conflicts in the theology of the other. It will regress into who is interpreting what correctly, and inevitably those key interpretations will rest on appeals to conflicting sets of scriptures.

Lastly, my instinct would be to argue from the perspective of a first century Christian, which, I believe is clear, would have not been a Trinitarian. I’m not so much concerned with promoting a modern Christian ideology as promoting a correct view of the earliest Christian ideologies. I think that’s the best way to approach a “Trinity Challenge,” but it falls outside the scope of what Rob wants to do. We’ll see who finally takes him up on his challenge, and I hope it is a good debate, but it’s not for me.



7 responses to “Great Trinity Debate Challenge

  • Jim

    do they really imagine that they will say anything that hasn’t already been said 1000 years ago? they want to reinvent the wheel.

  • Jeff Downs

    Jim, so we shouldn’t talk about any of these issue again?

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Thanks for the comment, Jess. I wouldn’t say that, though. I hope the debate goes well, and I know there are plenty of people interested in it. I’m just saying it’s not for me.

  • Nick Norelli

    Daniel: I think you might be misreading the first rule. I think that Bowman would be fine with any of a number of Mormon positions being taken on the subject. He’s not saying that one must espouse ‘the one official’ position of any given denomination, church, or religion. He’s trying to ensure that his opponent doesn’t just say, “hey, the trinity has too many problems to be believed.” He wants them to show a recognizable position that has less problems and does better with the evidence.

    Jim: I don’t think he wants to reinvent the wheel; he just wants to show it to some folks who have probably not seen it yet.

    • Daniel O. McClellan


      Maybe you’re right. That is a secondary concern for me, though. I don’t have the time, and not being able to address textual issues or the different ideologies of the text would frustrate me to no end. I am curious to see who takes him up on his offer, though.

  • Trinitarian Debate Challenge | The Church of Jesus Christ

    […] rules, of course, but does he have the right starting point? Daniel makes some fair observations, here, but the point should be, is that would the writers of the New Testament and first century […]

  • rameumptom

    If the only book that can be used is the Bible, then it will be very difficult to show problems with the Trinity historically, etc.
    The problem with discussing such issues with someone who insists on sola scriptura is that they can ignore the non-Biblical evidences as just that: non-Biblical, and therefore do not count as evidence.

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