Mysteries and Mindsets
I remember as a youngish teen asking my father to explain the Trinity to me. He sat for a minute then went to the study, took out his copy of An Australian Prayer Book (you know, the green one from the 70s), turned towards the back of the book, handed it to me, and told me to read the Athanasian Creed.
Anyone who knows my father would know that his not utilising this opportunity to talk at some length odd. He would explain to me the scientific principles behind anything and everything. And, as an avid reader, he would talk to me about his favourite poets: T.S. Eliot and Gerard Manly Hopkins. He would talk and talk and talk.
So it was odd when he didn’t.
As an adult I’m really thankful, though, that he didn’t talk. That he didn’t attempt to explain the Trinity in terms of an analogy (which, as it turns out, generally leads more to explaining than any understanding of the Trinity), but that he left it to the Athanasian Creed to explain the Trinity.
I remember at the time being a little confused by my father’s choice, but greater still was my confusion when I actually read the Athanasian Creed. Sure, it had been translated into English, but it may as well have been in the original Latin. Over the years my understanding of the Trinity has grown, and I have come to terms with the fact that, this side of Heaven, I will not be able to fully understand the Trinity, but, as Holcomb writes, that is ok, “Though we can apprehend the doctrine of the Trinity, we cannot fully comprehend it. Despite that fact, it is vital to maintain a Trinitarian faith.” (p. 96)
The second half of Know the Heretics can be divided into three focus areas: Trinity, Christology and human sin, looking at various heretics who erred in one (or more) of these areas. I don’t know a Christian who would say that they completely understand the Trinity and Holcomb looks at heretics who struggled, often with pastoral concern, to come to terms with the Trinity. Unfortunately, they came to the wrong conclusions. But born out of these struggles came orthodox theologians who worked hard at a doctrine of the Trinity that came closest to understanding its mysteries.
Holcomb is fair, clear and utilises primary and secondary sources at an appropriate level for such a book. He writes winsomely and with humility. Here are explanations of the Trinity, which you may have previously heard in a piecemeal fashion, presented in their historical context. Furthermore, Holcomb treats his reader (who may, through ignorance, hold heretical views themselves) with warm, pastoral concern.
In Holcomb’s ‘Conclusion’, he reiterates the stated purpose of his little book, going further to emphasise that the command is to love God with our entire person, including our minds. Yes, our faith is simple, but we are to use the way that God has made us, as intellectual beings, to know Him, and in that knowledge, to love Him.
As an educator, I have been reading recently about fixed and growth mindsets. A fixed mindset is someone who accepts the label (whether it be “smart” or “dumb”) about themselves and never seeks to change. They will avoid trying anything that may have them fail. A growth mindset, in contrast, will try new things, seeing every opportunity, whether it brings success or failure, as a chance to learn. In thinking about these two mindsets it has made me wonder about our propensity to shy away from developing our understanding of difficult, yet vitally important doctrines, such as Trinity and Christology. It requires effort, we may struggle (even fail) along the way, we may see ourselves as unable, as if pursuing knowledge of God is only for an academic elite. It isn’t. It is for everyone. Maybe it will take longer for you, or require more effort to grasp things, which for others is easy. It doesn’t mean we don’t try.
So, I’ll keep trying to understand the Trinity, pursuing its mysteries, knowing that on the Last Day all will be revealed. For as I do, I not only acknowledge my limited capacity, and therefore my dependency upon God, but I also get to know Him, and because of that I can love Him more.
About this month's contributor, Sian Lim
Siân enjoys reading, talking about literature, writing and helping people to do these things. She is delighted that she can earn an income doing this as a high school English teacher, whilst continuing to develop herself professionally by attending theatrical performances with her husband, and reading by herself and with her three boys. She is thankful to God for words: that he created by His word, that Jesus came as the Word incarnate, and that by the Spirit she can say “Jesus is Lord”.