The "Why Believe?" Website

Back to main page Page 0 Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11
This page has been created for two types of people: Christians who are struggling with their faith, and honest inquirers of any persuasion who are seeking spiritual truth. The articles below were selected for their outstanding quality. I have found them especially helpful in resolving difficulties for my own Christian belief. I hope you find them as useful as I did.

5. The Central Mysteries of the Christian Faith: The Trinity, the Incarnation and the Atonement

5.1 The Trinity 5.2 The Incarnation 5.3 The Atonement

5.1 The Trinity: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Doctrine of the Trinity Defended.
A valuable online resource for answering attacks on the doctrine.

5.1.1 The Doctrine in a Nutshell

The doctrine of the Trinity is simply a consequence of the fact that God knows and loves Himself perfectly - God the Son being God's self-knowledge and God the Holy Spirit being God's self-love. The chief merit of this extremely basic statement of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it grounds the doctrine of the Trinity in God's personal attributes of self-knowledge and self-love. On the other hand, this formulation of the doctrine may seem very "thin" or minimalistic to some Christians.

However, the doctrine of the Trinity can be re-stated in another way which is at once "thicker" and more pragmatic: a Christian's relationship with God is not a two-way but a six-way relationship, since a Christian needs to have a two-way relationship with each of the three Persons in order to have a proper prayer life.

The bridge linking the "thin" and "thick" formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity is that God's knowledge of Himself is essentially personal; likewise, God's self-love is essentially personal. This should hardly be a surprise: the only alternatives are that God's knowledge and love of Himself are (i) impersonal (an impossibility, for a supremely personal Being) or (ii) mere attributes of a Person, and hence, of lesser importance than that Person - but how could a perfect Being's self-love be less important than that Being?

When I say that God's self-knowledge and self-love are "personal", I do not mean merely that they come from a person; rather, I mean that they are persons. God's self-knowledge is not something that describes God; it is someone. Likewise, God's self-love is not something that relates to God; it is someone.

But what is a "person"? It would be tempting to equate "person" with "mind" or "will" or "centre of consciousness", but this is not what we mean here. No person can exist without a mind or will or centre of consciousness, but it would be wrong to infer that the three Divine Persons possess three minds, or three wills, or three centres of consciousness. That would be tritheism. Nor, on the other hand, are the three persons merely three faces of God, for that would be Modalism, and would make God a Trinity only from an outsider's perspective. The whole point of the doctrine is that it is true of God as He is in Himself.

But at very least, a person must be someone we can relate to, and above all, someone that God can relate to. In affirming the doctrine of the Trinity, we affirm that God is a threefold Being, in the way He relates to Himself, as someone who knows and loves perfectly.

In God there are three "someones" whom we can relate to in their own right, but only one Being. These three "someones" are distinct but inseparable from one another. What makes them three? The inner life of God.

Christians need to keep both the "thin" and "thick" formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity in mind when they pray to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Three Persons in One Indivisible Divine Essence.

A brief exposition of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity by

How can one God be Three Persons? by

The Prayer of the Trinity by Bishop N. T. Wright.

The Trinity: The Mystery at the Heart of Life by Fr. Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

5.1.2 Classic Christian Expositions of the Doctrine

The Creed of the Council of Constantinpole (381 A.D.)
This is the creed which many Christians recite in church. It is commonly known as the Nicene Creed, although it is in fact an expanded version of the original Creed of Nicea (325 A.D.), issued by the Council of Constantinpole in 381 A.D.

5.1.3 The Trinity: In-Depth Treatment of the Doctrine

The Blessed Trinity. Article from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912.

5.1.4 Is the doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible?

The Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of the Trinity: An Outline Study by John Bowman.

Christian Distinctives: The Trinity by Glenn Miller, M.S.

The Trinity in the Old Testament by Glenn Miller, M.S.
The author argues that the Old Testament is the strongest source of Biblical evidence for the existence of a plurality of persons within the one God.

5.1.5 What did the early Christians believe regarding the Trinity?

Did the early Christians believe in the Trinity? A collection of quotes by Catholic Answers.

5.1.6 Outstanding Philosophical Questions Relating to the Trinity

Tritheism and Christian Faith by Ralph Allan Smith.

The Problem with Social Trinitarianism: A Reply to Wierenga by Jeffrey Brower.
"In a recent article, Edward Wierenga defends a version of Social Trinitarianism according to which the Persons of the Trinity form a unique society of really distinct divine beings, each of whom has its own exemplification of divinity. In this paper, I call attention to several philosophical and theological difficulties with Wierenga's account, as well as to a problem that such difficulties pose for Social Trinitarianism generally. I then briefly suggest what I take to be a more promising approach to the Trinity."

Relative Identity and the Doctrine of the Trinity by Michael Rea.
"In the contemporary literature, there are two main strategies for solving the problem: the Relative Identity (RI) strategy, and the Social Trinitarian (ST) strategy. According to the RI strategy (which will be explained more fully below), the divine Persons stand in various relativized relations of sameness and distinctness. They are, for example, the same God as one another, but they are not the same Person. They are, we might say, God-identical but Person-distinct... [In this paper] I conclude that the [Relative-Identity] solution to the problem of the Trinity, taken as a stand-alone solution to that problem, is unsuccessful."

Material Constitution and the Trinity by Michael Rea and Jeffrey Brower.
"The Christian doctrine of the Trinity poses a serious philosophical problem. On the one hand, it seems to imply that there is exactly one divine being; on the other hand, it seems to imply that there are three. There is another well-known philosophical problem that presents us with a similar sort of tension: the problem of material constitution. We argue in this paper that a relatively neglected solution to the problem of material constitution can be developed into a novel solution to the problem of the Trinity."

Trinity by Jeffrey Brower.
"In this chapter, I show how Abelard's treatment of a deep, logical problem associated with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity give rise to important developments in his philosophy. As will emerge, in addressing this problem he not only presents a philosophically interesting account of the Trinity, but also develops a highly sophisticated theory of identity or numerical sameness, as well as a distinctive approach to issues now generally recognized under the rubric 'the problem of material constitution'."

5.1.7 Outstanding Theological Questions Relating to the Trinity: the Filioque

Concerning the Filioque by Fr. Kallistos Ware of Diokleia.
An Orthodox perspective on this doctrinal issue.

Filioque Article in The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1909.
A Catholic perspective on the Filioque.

5.1.8 How to Explain the Trinity to Non-Believers

Explaining the Doctrine of the Trinity to Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Good Way: God is One in the Most Holy Trinity by Archpriest Zachariah Butrus.
Explains the Doctrine of the Trinity to Muslims.

Jesus: God's Wisdom by James Patrick Holding.
Discusses the Old Testament background for certain claims about the nature and identity of Jesus in the New Testament. Well worth reading.

The Quiet Third by James Patrick Holding.
Discusses the Holy Spirit. Shows that where the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is concerned, Christianity took a radical departure from Judaism, by distinguishing the Spirit from the Wisdom of God.

5.2 The doctrine of the Incarnation

I believe that the the Incarnation is the key to Christianity's enduring appeal. The Christian message that God came down and lived and died as one of us is a message that tugs at the heart-strings.

However, for many people whose cultural background is not Christian, the idea of God becoming one of us appears both blasphemous and comical. Here's a little story which I hope will explain why.

A few years ago, I was on a train in Japan (where I have lived for several years), talking to some English teachers. We were looking at a book on the Japanese kanji characters, by Michael Rowley. (The title of the book is: Kanji Pict-O-Graphix: Over 1,000 Japanese Kanji and Kana Mnemonics.) Anyway, on one page there was an illustration of a man (not named, but drawn as a Christ-like character), accompanied by the words "Come Follow Me". The illustration and words were meant to serve as a memory aid for a Japanese kanji character.

One of the teachers, an Egyptian Australian named Mohammed, laughed out loud when he saw the picture. He read the words aloud: "COME follow ME!" Then he added, "That sort of thing just cracks me up."

Mohammed's remark made me think. To him, Jesus as portrayed by Christians came across as a megalomaniac, and hence a comic figure. Finally, I realised what was bothering him. The idea of a human person making grandiose claims like that IS frankly revolting. However, that's not what Christians believe. According to Christian teaching, Jesus didn't possess a human personality. He had no human "ego". He couldn't have had one, because if he had, there would have EITHER been two persons - one Divine, and one human - living in Jesus' body, OR a hybrid divine-human person. Both of these ideas are mistaken notions which the Christian Church condemned a long time ago. First, The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431 AD) taught that Jesus was one person, not two. Second, The Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) taught that He had two natures - one divine, one human. Finally, the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (553 AD) taught that the person of Christ was a divine person: God the Son - not a human person, or a divine-human person.

Although Jesus had a human nature, he had no human ego. In this one respect, He was different from other human beings. He had a human intellect, a human will, a human heart with human feelings, and a human body that could suffer and die. But he had no human ego at all. What took its place? God did - or more precisely, the person of God the Son. Christians believe that God the Son assumed Jesus' human nature. That means He took it over, without in any way destroying its integrity. One consequence of this teaching is that Jesus' human will was completely free, and yet incapable of going against God's will (the doctrine of the impeccability of Christ). Jesus' human freedom allowed him to choose between different goods; but because He was a Divine Person, He could never choose evil.

The beauty of an ego-free Christ is that He is a universal man - all things to everyone. Lacking a human personality, Jesus had no individual "quirks" of His own, which may have prevented some people from liking him. These quirks would have inhibited him from carrying out his mission as universal savior. Jesus was neither an extrovert nor an introvert, and had you met him 2,000 years ago in Palestine, you couldn't have identified His personality "type" using the Myer-Briggs test or the Enneagram. You can't pigeonhole Jesus like that.

The absence of a human personality in Jesus is a fact that struck me while reading the Gospels, during my period of doubt before I returned to Christianity. It seemed obvious to me that Moses and David (Old Testament figures who were far more remote historically than Jesus) had their own distinctive personal traits, as did St. Paul (a contemporary of Jesus). Yet Jesus had none. Why was that? Gradually, the answer dawned on me: Jesus wasn't a human person.

Another fact that points to the absence of a human personality in Jesus is the oft-remarked tendency of scholars to see their own face at the bottom of a well, when investigating the historical Jesus. The reason why this is so easy to do is obvious: when a scholar investigates Jesus, he/she is not looking at a human personality, but a Divine one. Hence the overwhelming temptation to project one's own personality onto the man we know as Jesus.

To His contemporaries, Jesus must have been an unsettling figure. Try to imagine a man without any of the normal quirks that make up a human "personality": a favorite food, a favorite music band (hey, there must have been some bands in Jesus' day), a favorite color, or even favorite pastimes. And don't even think about Jesus having had a favorite actress or female singer. Had He had a favorite woman (or even a favorite "type"), He certainly couldn't have fulfilled His salvific role as Universal Man. Jesus must have appeared colourless, utterly unremarkable and even quite boring, until He opened His mouth and started teaching at the age of 30. Maybe this explains the reaction of those who heard him: "Isn't this the carpenter's son?" (Mark 6:3).

When he finally DID speak and make the claims that He did, He did it with a combination of breath-taking boldness and a complete lack of arrogance or egocentricity. He taught with an authority that must have seemed unnerving - confident, but without the tiniest trace of the human self-centredness that ordinarily accompanies confidence. He corrected people's understanding of the Jewish law, without citing any authority but His own. And He expected ordinary people to leave everything behind and follow him, without looking back. Yet He demanded no adulation, and even discouraged it. "Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." "Why do you call me good? Only God is good." All of this makes sense in the light of the Christian teaching that Jesus' human nature served as a mouthpiece for the Divine Person (God the Son) which assumed it, but without in any way losing its humanity.

So when Jesus said "Come follow me", He certainly didn't puff out His chest and say "ME". He issued a command in a quiet authoritative tone, expecting to be obeyed. And he was. The rest is history.

5.2.1 Classic Christian Expositions of the Doctrine

On the Incarnation. by St. Athanasius.
With an introduction by C. S. Lewis.

Letter to Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople. by Pope St. Leo the Great (449 A.D.)
St. Leo's Tome is a masterful exposition of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

Declaration of Faith by the Third Ecumenical Council of Constantinple (681 A.D.)
Teaches that since Jesus was fully human as well as being God, He must have a human will as well as a Divine will.

5.2.2 Contemporary Articles on the Incarnation

Messianic Expectations in 1st Century Jerusalem. by Glenn Miller, M.S.
Explodes the myth that the Jews in Jesus' time were expecting a purely human Messiah.

Jesus and the Identity of God by Bishop N. T. Wright.

Human Nature, Potency and the Incarnation by Professor Alfred Freddoso.

The Impeccability of Christ by John McCormick.

The Consciousness of Christ by Fr. William G. Most, S.J.

5.2.3 Explaining the Doctrine of the Incarnation to Non-Believers

The Divinity of Christ by Professor Kreeft.
A brief, non-technical statement of the classic Christian argument: Jesus was either God or a bad man.

On the Trail of the Trilemma by James Patrick Holding.
The argument that Jesus was either "mad, bad or God" as the Christian apologist C. S. Lewis put it, has been savagely attacked by sceptics. In this piece, Holding defends the argument against recent criticisms and concludes that a fourth option suggested by sceptics - that Jesus was honestly mistaken - has yet to cut the mustard. The other sceptical objection, that Jesus never claimed to be God, is addressed in the article below.

Did Jesus Claim to be God? by James Patrick Holding.
Rebuts three common sceptical charges against belief in the Divinity of Christ: a) that Jesus never made any claims to Deity; b) that His claims were deliberately altered by His biased followers; or, c) His claims were misunderstood by His ignorant followers. A related argument made in this regard is that only John's Gospel portrays Jesus as claiming to be God; and since it is later than the Synoptics, the claims for Jesus' Divinity are then said to be the result of an evolution in Christian theology.

Jesus: God's Wisdom by James Patrick Holding.
Discusses the Old Testament background for certain claims about the nature and identity of Jesus in the New Testament. Well worth reading.

When Muslims Ask....Laugh by James Patrick Holding.
Rebuts one Muslim's objections to the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ.

5.3 The doctrine of the Atonement

Why did Jesus Have to die for our sins? If you often have trouble explaining the doctrine of the Atonement, even to yourself, then this is the article for you. Article by Steve G., a sometime contributor at, the diary of a former atheist (a Web site that I strongly recommend to readers who are seeking the truth with an open mind).

Why God Became Man (Cur Deus Homo) by St. Anselm of Canterbury.

Inclusivism and the Atonement by Dr. Bruce Reichenbach.
Article in Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers vol. 16:1, (43-54), permanently copyrighted October 1999. Journal web site:

Understanding Atonement: A New and Orthodox Theory by Dr. Robin Collins.

Girard and Atonement: An Incarnational Theory of Mimetic Participation by Dr. Robin Collins.

The Reach of the Cross by Dr. William Dembski.