A group of 73 evangelicals and counting have joined together in a shared declaration stating that when it comes to the three persons of God, it's one-for-all and all-for one.
Titled "An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity," the document was posted in early November on TrinityStatement.com and affirms that God is one being comprised of three aspects that are co-equal and co-eternal. It was a necessary move, signees say, given the lingering debate over Trinity doctrine in the Christian community.
"This is the central tradition of Christianity," said William David Spencer, the declaration's writer. "Historically, Christianity is monotheistic. Because of this, we have to deal with the fact God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all appear in the Bible. The question then is how we understand it."
For Spencer and other signers like him, taking stock of the Trinity requires maintaining the Bible's emphasis on one god and three manifestations of that God. It's a tricky task, said the professor of theology and the arts at Boston's Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminar, but one he concedes is vital to the Christian faith.
"We believe that God is one God in three equal, co-eternal persons," Spencer said. "Drawing artificial distinctions around God undermines His oneness. We don't want to posit three separate gods or beings."
Dr. Richard Pierard, professor emeritus of history at Indiana State University, said he signed the document to challenge the view that the Trinity takes the form of three separate beings. Besides creating more than one god to worship, he said such a role would lead towards ranking God's separate persons in an all-too-human pecking order.
"The doctrine of subordination disturbs me very much," Pierard said. "It weakens the power of the Trinity. There are functional differences between the three persons, but there's no hierarchy. Each is equal to each other."
Spencer said that the doctrine of subordination arose from Christians confused by the Bible's references to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He said their disorientation drove them to create a new explanation for Christ that lost sight of the one God.
"Unique is an absolute term," Spencer said. "Something is either unique or it isn't. By analogy, when you talk of God, you can't have God and then less of a God."
Spencer added that such an approach most often stemmed from the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. By dividing the two, he said Jesus' sacrifice on the cross would count for less given he wasn't the entirety of God when he gave his life. In keeping the Trinity three co-equal persons in one God, he said Christians could better understand their savior and the supernatural existence he lived beyond earthly understanding.
Another problem, Pierard said, is how an unequal Trinity would take shape on Earth. If man is created in God's image, he said, wouldn't that mean certain people were ranked above or below one another depending on their relationship to the Trinity? Such thoughts, he said, had been used to justify the dominance of one category of people over others. He cited men over women and certain races over others as examples of this trend.
"If we are created in Gods image, we are all equal if He's co-equal," Pierard proposed. "But if there's ranking in the Trinity, there's ranking here on Earth too."
Dr. Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality and another key signer of the declaration, said the importance of presenting a unified take on the Trinity was an international concern. She said that so far, theologians from Australia, Canada, the U.K. and even China had joined their American counterparts in condemning the idea of subordination in the Trinity.
"The Trinity has one will, one purpose and one being," Haddad said. "The three persons share equal power, glory and authority. Subordination wrecks the doctrine of oneness in God completely."