Baptism and the Trinity

I found a fascinating thought about baptism and the Trinity while reading a’Brakel last night. In the section in question, a’Brakel is laying out the reasons why the Christian needs to meditate on the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity is so important that a’Brakel says “the entire spiritual life of a Christian consists in being exercised concerning this mystery, and is thus distinguished from the practice of civil virtue and natural religion” (vol. 1, pg. 176). Now, a’Brakel defines the doctrine of the Trinity in such a way that it implies or points to the entirety of soteriology. And this is true. The Father plans our salvation, the Son accomplishes our salvation, and the Holy Spirit applies our salvation to us. So, a’Brakel is right. n this context, a’Brakel also gives reasons why the Christian needs to meditate on this doctrine. Here is what he says about baptism: “Baptism also obligates us to worshjip these three Persons and to seek to be blessed by each of them” (vol. 1, pg. 177). The reason for this, of course, is that we are baptized into the name (notice the singular here!) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, in addition to all the other things baptism obligates us to do, it also obligates us to the study and meditation of the Trinity.



  1. tim prussic said,

    April 10, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    GB, most interesting.
    I see that you’re interested in reading Augustine’s _De Trinitate_ in the future. I’m working on it myself – it’s been a bit tough for me.
    One of my seminary prof did his PhD dissertation on this doctrine. His name is Dennis Jowers. His dissertation attempted to debunk Rahner’s Grundaxiom “the economic trinity is the immanent trinity and vice versa.” Needless to say, his courses on theology were wonderful.
    One thing I was thinking about with reference to a’Brakel’s notion above is that all divine works “ad extra” are to be viewed as done by God simpliciter, not by a specific person of the trinity, with the incarnation being quite a special exception. Divine works “ad intra” can be conceived of as “works” of one person not the other(s), but not ad extra. Augustine deals with this by saying that the scripture appropraites this or that work to one person of the trinity, but that any work ad extra is work of God simpliciter.
    What do you think of this with reference to the idea that the Father planned, the Son accomplished, and the Spirit applies?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    April 12, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Good questions, Tim. I would at least agree that all “ad extra” works can be regarded as the work of the Trinity. However, the Bible also seems to speak of some ad extra works as being the particular work of one of the Persons. I can only conclude, therefore, that there is always a sense in which all three persons are involved in all ad extra works, but that some ad extra works involve more of one person than of another. Surely the incarnation is an example. The Father sent the Son by the Holy Spirit to be incarnated. In that sense, all three Persons were involved. However, it is also true to say that the Son became incarnated, as involving Him more than the others (Phil 2, for instance). This is, however, a tentative formulation. What do you think?

  3. tim prussic said,

    April 12, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    Good place to start, I think.
    The incarnation is a distict issue. The Father didn’t suffer on the cross, but the Son did. Patripassianism is unbiblical.
    As I understand it, however, the incarnation is a unique event. Augustine seems (at least in one spot in his _De Trinitate_ that I can think of) make room for one or another of the persons to work ad extra, but only becuase he says we just don’t and can’t know. Aquinas seems to narrow it a bit and argue that all ad extra works are only God simpliciter, except the incarnation. Maybe my historical theology’s messed up; I’m open to correction.
    Augustine’s notion of appropriation goes a long way toward solving difficulties. We can speak as if only one person’s doing something, but that’s only a verbal or conceptual condescension. This starts the ball rolling about the nature of our knowledge of and language about God.
    In any event, I think our trinitarian baptisms ought to drive us to reverent contemplation of our triune God, indeed. Which brings us full circle! I’m not so sure that the “Father plans, Son accomplishes, & Spirit applies” is theologically sound – although it get at notions that are biblical and helpful.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    April 12, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Well, my formulation is based on Ephesians 1, which clearly delineates these roles for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They all work in concert. They all work together for a common purpose. But in Ephesians 1, they do have distinct roles. Those are all ad extra works, I believe. Of course, I agree with you completely about patripassianism. Dangerous error indeed.

  5. tim prussic said,

    April 16, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    My point is precisely about texts like Eph 1.
    Is the planning of our salvation REALLY specific to the Father and the Father alone? I say no. The Scripture, using Augustine’s terminology, “appropraites” that to the Father. We learn of God’s eternal planning and his eternal purposes, which is a paternal-type thing. We probably should not, however, strictly say that the Father and only the Father planned our salvation. If, however, that plan is seen as strictly as intra, then I suppose we could say that and interpret Eph 1 in that way. That said, I think Eph 1 could be speaking of ad intra covenant-of-redemption type stuff as the background to the incarnation.
    I just kickin’ this around still. I don’t have enough background in trinitarian thought to know how Augustine, Aquinas, or other trinitarian thinkers would understand this.
    As for me: so much ignorance; so little time to read!

  6. Todd Wood said,

    April 25, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Thanks for the initial post. I have been focusing on the work of the Trinity in soteriology by meditating on John 3. John’s Gospel is richly Trinitarian.

  7. RJS said,

    August 29, 2007 at 5:38 am

    Would you advocte that the Son is subordinate to the Father?

  8. greenbaggins said,

    August 29, 2007 at 10:25 am

    RJS, the Son is subordinate to the Father only in terms of the taxis, or order, not in terms of essence or being. The Son as Incarnate voluntarily subjected Himself to the Father’s will, and certainly the human nature aspect of Christ was subordinate to the Father.

  9. tim prussic said,

    August 29, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Gentlemen, I think we see subordination only with repect to the economy of the trinity of persons. The doctrine of simplicity assures us that there is no REAL subordination within God. The Son is not eternally subordinated, but eternally begotten. If the distinction of persons is merely rational and relational, they it cannot include any real subordination.

    Pastor Lane, have you started working on Augustine’s de trinitate? I know it was on your reading list. There’s a translation of it by a Dominican scholar named Edmund Hill that I’m planning on finishing next week in Hawaii (along with Calvin’s “40th). I’ve found it to be wonderful and lucid. The order of the book’s a bit wacky, but that’s partially due to the fact that he ended up publishing it before it was fully ready. I guess a pirated copy got out and he rushed to publish before the pirated version got into circulation! I’ve also bee working on Clark’s The Trinity, which is well-written and clear. I think I have issues with Clark’s notion of individuation – I’d be delighted to talk to you about that when you get around to reading it (I know it’s been on your to-do list for a good while!).

  10. greenbaggins said,

    August 29, 2007 at 11:29 am

    I have started reading Augustine’s work, in that very same translation that you are talking about. I haven’t gotten very far. Right now, I am seriously working on volume 4 of Muller’s PRRD, which deals entirely with the Trinity. I have read Letham. I plan on reading Clark as well.

  11. tim prussic said,

    August 29, 2007 at 11:44 am

    I’ve been working on Muller, too. That guy’s a straight-up champ! I love his work. It’d be worth going to Calvin just for him!

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