Evangelical Thinking on the Trinity Is Often Remarkably Revisionist

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Theologian Matthew Barrett diagnoses our drift away from an orthodox understanding of Father, Son, and Spirit.

By and large, American evangelical Christians have conservative views of Scripture and morality. According to theologian Matthew Barrett, however, their most basic claims about God are often remarkably revisionist.

Barrett, professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and executive editor of Credo Magazine, is the author of Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit. The book—a follow-up to his 2019 work None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God—does two things. First, it shows how a good portion of evangelical theology on the Trinity has drifted from the classical Christian tradition. Second, it recruits a veritable “dream team” of teachers from across that tradition to lead readers back to the safe harbor of biblical orthodoxy. The tone is accessible, but the sources are deep.

How has evangelicalism gone wrong in its understanding of the Trinity? Barrett ranges broadly, but he fixes on the development, in recent theology, of what he calls “social trinitarianism.” Proponents of this view, which is more of a common posture than a monolithic school, tend to conceive of the oneness of God as a community of persons. Barrett introduces some of its major figures, including liberal theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and Leonardo Boff and American conservative counterparts like Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware.

The hallmark of social Trinitarianism is its willingness to appropriate the relationships between the persons of the Trinity as a model for various social projects. For liberals like Moltmann and Boff, this can mean invoking the equal status of Father, Son, and Spirit to advance an egalitarian vision of society. Conservatives like Grudem and Ware sometimes point …

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