“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” – Athanasian Creed
Now today that sounds overwrought to the point of being hysterical. We must believe in the Trinity or “perish everlastingly”? No, that goes too far, surely? For while we might be happy enough to include the Trinity in our list of “things Christians believe,” the suggestion that our very salvation depends on the Trinity comes across as ridiculously overinflated bluster. How could something so curious be necessary for salvation “before all things”?
And yet. The unflinching boldness of the Athanasian Creed forces us to ask what is essential for Christian faith. What would we say is the article of faith that must be held before all others? Salvation by grace alone? Christ’s atoning work on the cross? His bodily resurrection? Now certainly those are all things “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3), so absolutely critical that they cannot be given up without the very nature and goodness of the gospel being lost; however, they do not stand “before all things.” By themselves they are not what make the Christian gospel Christian. Jehovah’s Witnesses can believe in the sacrificial death of Christ; Mormons in his resurrection; others in salvation by grace. Granted, the similarities are sometimes only superficial, but the very fact that certain Christian beliefs can be shared by other belief systems shows that they cannot be the foundation on which the Christian gospel rests, the truth that stands “before all things.”
We need not be disturbed by such similarities. That which distinguishes Christianity has not been stolen. For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel–creation, revelation, salvation–is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God , then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing centre of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. The Trinity is the cockpit of all Christian thinking.
Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL; IVP Academic; 2012) p. 15-16.
(HT: The Cross Quoter)