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Progressive Christianity, Orthodoxy And The Trinity


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I decided not to post my last question (See: “Why Was Jesus Born”) again in a new thread, because I thought it was an absurd request. It was merely “conversation drift”, which happens all the time on forums, and even in our real-time conversations. But, to attempt to make my point I will instead show how the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity can be understood and possibly even be accepted by a "Progressive Christian".


As I mentioned earlier, I think Bishop Spong has done a good job in rescuing Christians from fundamentalist beliefs and practices. He has demythologized the Bible, and allowed people to think for themselves. But, I think that orthodoxy has suffered and is often looked upon as too authoritarian or confused with “literal”. I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth. Sometime in early adulthood, having been indoctrinated with Catholic dogma, it struck me that little or none of the Bible was meant to be taken literally, but that there could be value in the doctrine which came forth from it.


Doctrine is simply a “finger pointing to the moon”, meant to aid us in understanding our experience of reality. One such doctrine, which has always been central to Christianity, is the Trinity. How is one to understand this doctrine? It’s unfortunate that the early Church Fathers decided to present this in terms of a hypostasis of three distinct “persons”. So, you have the First Person – God the Father; the Second Person – Jesus; and the Third Person – The Holy Spirit. This system has been the accepted understanding among most Christians since around the time of the Council of Nicaea.


This doctrine has, as its main purpose, to point to the human experience of “God” in conventional or relative reality. In theological terms, it is referred to as the “Economic Trinity”, or how God is experienced by us in the world. Another theological term is “Ontological Trinity”, or the nature of God in itself – the “Absolute”. Since few people have ever experienced Absolute reality, or the “Ground of All Being”, most of us must content ourselves with an understanding of the Economic Trinity.


To simplify all of this, people experience God (or whatever term you choose to represent “God”) as transcendent (incapable of knowing the unmanifest God), as the Logos (or underlying animating, divine principle of the universe - God Incarnate), and immanent (within us – the Spirit). I trust most of us have had experiences of some, or all of these “divine” elements in our lives. And, it is the doctrine of the Trinity which is meant to help us understand these experiences from the Christian point of view.


I was curious as to what Bishop Spong has to say about this doctrine, and I was able to find his thoughts in an answer to a question on this very website: http://johnshelbyspong.com/2013/08/15/on-building-a-christianity-without-security-or-creeds/


The point of this rather lengthy post is to show that being, or becoming a Progressive Christian, does not mean throwing the baby out with the bath water. There are orthodox Christian doctrines worth the effort of investigating. While I do not personally profess Christian doctrine anymore, I still see its value and significance in the lives of many people. For this reason alone, I give Christianity, and its central tenets, my highest respect.


I get that people want to reject doctrine and dogma. Reject all of it if you wish, or find an understanding within the doctrine that actually does conform with your personal experience of reality.




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I think it's good to keep threads 'clean' so to speak to avoid moving off topic, which unintentionally your post was likely to do.


Firstly, what exactly is 'orthodoxy'? I know for conversational purposes what is generally accepted as orthodoxy, but when talking 'early church fathers' we're not exactly talking direct disciples of Jesus are we, but several generations removed.


To that end I don't believe the doctrine of the Trinity has always been central to Christianity. The fact that it took several hundreds years to get the Trinity down on paper would suggest there were lots of debate/points of view in early Christianity. The fact that it's not even mentioned in the bible would suggest it wasnt a doctrine of the earliest Christians. As you acknowledge, it has been the 'accepted' doctrine since about 400 years after Jesus lived - maybe we've been so wrong in accepting it all this time?


That said, if that doctrine does speak to some people, good for them. If it serves a useful purpose, then so be it. But if the doctrine made no sense and was rejected by other PCs, I don't see an issue. Indeed, throwing the baby out with the bath water may be just what is needed for Christianity to survive the 21st (if that's an issue for anyone).


To ignore your post on the other thread doesn't put your opening comments into context with this thread. I read that comment to suggest that there needs to be some more specifics around what PCs 'validate' as 'accepted'. Personally I wouldn't like to see PC head down that rocky road. In fact, the ongoing questioning around PC and the focus of it being more like a journey than a destination, is what makes the movement so attractive to many, IMO. If personally the Trinity works for someone, then why not, but I wouldn't like it to be a point that has to be 'agreed' to for one to participate in PC circles.




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I agree with Paul that I would hate to see some version of the Trinity, or any "orthodoxy" concomitant to being one of us. In my way of thinking, that undermines the purpose of this forum.


I do, however, appreciate your clarification on your understanding on the Trinity. I think if that helps you in your understanding of G-d and makes you a more loving, compassionate follower of Jesus, then I'm all for it.


If, however, you are seeking a common frame of reference - an orthodoxy - by which one can be successfully indoctrinated into "the faith," then I think that is counterproductive to this particular forum.





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I think it is perfectly acceptable for a progressive Christian to hold trinity views . At the same time I see no need to require the trinity or any particular understanding of such a view as a prerequisite for being a PC. As Norm and Paul point out, PC is more a dynamic way of living than any one fixed doctrine. if your understanding of the trinity is meaningful to your Christian walk, I think that is good. It does not speak for or against the label of progressive Christian here. It seems to me, What you throw out of traditional views and when is in your own hands. To some that is a scary thing but to PC here it is a freedom to grow on ones own journey. Other than the 8 points , we have so far found no need for other belief requirements to still carry a Christian label. While some others may not agree, that is their prerogative .


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You "Progressive 8-Pointers" could literally turn me back to mainstream Christianity! (lol)





:lol: We certainly won't threaten you with Hell or fire and brimstone for doing so..... :lol:


Seriously, Steve, it ts good to have you here sharing your perspective and questions.



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  • 4 weeks later...

I'm not sure what the problem should be with the Trinity. Jesus certainly identified Himself as the Son of God, and He was more than your average human Joe - although he often decided to appear like the average human Joe. Walked on water, raised the dead, increased the bread and fishes, etc. I just don't understand what problem one might have with concepts like the Trinity. Three persons making up one being, like twins in a way, triplets, I mean. Don't look for symmetry, look for truth, symmetry makes you numb and crazy to spiritual things.

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I don't think you can be so certain that Jesus identified himself as the Son of God, Skyseeker. I don't think Jesus is very explicit about it at all, and remember that much of what Jesus is 'quoted' as saying could just as easily be somebody else's spin on things after Jesus was dead. Remembering that the earliest gospel was written some 40 years after Jesus had died, I really think that the more likely conclusion is that the stories of Jesus' divinity grew after his death.


I agree that he was more than your average Joe and for whatever reasons he did have an impact on a small group of people that grew into a religion over time. However I question that he ever walked on water, raised the dead, etc etc. I think these are straight from the myth textbook and were stories that grew to cement Jesus' specialness, rather than accurate reports of his capabilities.

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  • 6 months later...

This may be something about which to think, not that it matters. I just find it interesting and it is my opinion with no supportive documentation.


The Trinity may have been created as a recruiting tactic. The pagan pantheons had a triad of gods and goddesses. The Greeks had Zeus, Athena, and Apollo. The Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The Egyptian had a triad of Osiris, Isis, Horus. The pagans who converted to Christianity were accustomed to a triad of gods and goddesses. Christianity gave them a triad only they called it the Trinity with a twist that all three were one. Very cleaver.



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I collect threes


trinity worth our focus and meditation.






although we cannot name [God] and we cannot describe [God] we can know the presence of [God] when we experience wisdom, compassion, or creativity, a trinity worth our focus and meditation.


John Spong


Source of life

source of love

ground of being


So, God to me is the source of life, and I worship God by living. God to me is the source oflove, and I worship God by loving. God to me is the ground of being, and I worship God byhaving the courage to be everything I can be. John Spong in conversation with Michael Dowd


Three Dimensions of God


Jesus spoke about God, (infinite face of God)

Jesus spoke to God, (intimate face of God)

Jesus spoke as God.(inner face of God)


And Jesus invites us to speak of God in those three ways ourselvesThe inner face of Godwas Jesus true divine self. That was his Christ-consciousness; that was his own image of God that he was and that was being expressed in human flesh. Jesus was a spiritual being on a human journey, and he invited us to know that we too are spiritual beings on a human journey. Paul Smith in conversation with Michael DowdA New Christmas Story: God in 3D, Paul Smith





God's Wisdom (breath, spirit)

God's Word (articulated breath)


There is only One God the Father. He had his own Word and Wisdom (spirit) with Him.)When God first "thought" He sent out His invisible, inaudible Spirit or "breath."When that invisible breath was articulated they became His Son. The Word of God is the Son of God. God's word, wisdom or spirit are not separated persons.


Augustine The Trinity: a Summary




Love between them






Operator/Sustainer/Holy Spirit



The destruction and transformation of the known world with its lack of vision beyond itself and in desperate need of novelty, is found in the promise of a new resurrection in Jesus.

Edited by glintofpewter
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