This is not a litmus test for christian beliefs. What I’m about to say isn’t a test for whether someone is Christian or not. Nor is this a way for a person to test how many beliefs they must have to keep their salvation. This isn’t a math equation for figuring out if you’re in-or-out of the faith. This is an illustration that has all the weak spots of word pictures, but that I use to underscore the idea of what is central to historical Christianity and what might be more debatable.
I know it’s dangerous to try to describe the Trinity; I’ve said as much in the past. Even when I resorted to describing one aspect of the triune God’s work (his imputed righteousness with the illustration of a pizza) I still knew I was making a mistake. Even when having a conversation with friends about one of their illustrations, I had an inkling that there was something wrong so I asked for help (and people answered). The problem is that all illustrations fall into the error of some heresy (comment thread) or another—a point that Michael Patton reinforces in his posts regarding the stupidity of using these illustrations to teach the trinity. He states that teaching the trinity “is more about giving basic principles of what it is and then shooting down illustrations about what it is not. Proper Trinitarianism is about a delicate balance between the unity and diversity in the Godhead. Christians believe in one God, i.e., one essence, who eternally exists in three separate persons, all of whom are equal.”
But I have a few problems with this no-illustration bit in that it ignores that language is essentially illustration. Let me explain.
Patton wasn’t using the following so much as an argument but as a retelling of his own theological journey. What’s interesting about the story is that it offered several reasons of how people Know what they Know. I mean, Unconditional Election wasn’t proved point by point for Michael (at least not according to that post) but it was illustrated in a very compelling manner. Likewise, at twelve his mind was influenced by a specific interpretation by his mother, so psychologically speaking you can see where something like that would become important.
But I did want to post a counter illustration because the one Boice used (in Michael’s post) wound up being one of those stories that preachers (and professors) love to use that doesn’t prove anything. It’s an appeal to emotion by using unbalanced data and an unserviceable hypothetical.
Here’s my version based heavily on Boice’s: