Joseph F. Girzone on the Trinity

John ArmstrongThe Trinity

ACT 3 exists to advance the missional mandate of Jesus Christ through Scripture and Tradition. We seek to do this by means of three core commitments that we have prayerfully established. The first commitment is to advance worship. We put this commitment in the following way:

To advance worship in culturally accessible forms, through orthodox theology that is deeply rooted in the classical doctrine of the triune God and through humble collaboration and cooperation within the whole Christian Church.

I think about each of our three ministry commitments nearly every single day. It helps me focus my life on the purpose we believe God has given to us as a ministry. One thing it also does is direct my reading and writing on a regular daily basis. When I recently picked up a little book by Joseph F. Girzone, titled simply Trinity, I was drawn to it with profound interest. (It was on sale for $4.99, which surely helped my interest!) Girzone, for those who do not know, is a bestselling author who is retired from the active Catholic priesthood due to health reasons. He is widely known for his books Joshua, Joshua the Homecoming, Joshua and the City, A Protrait of Jesus, and Never Alone. He established the Joshua Foundation out of the profits from his fourteen or so books and has dedicated himself to making Jesus better known throughout the world as a result. My previous exposure to him, which was quite limited, led me to believe that I would not like his theology or his writing style. (Too Catholic and too simplistic, I reasoned to my critical soul.) Reading Trinity convinced me otherwise. Girzone’s theology will displease some non-Catholics, since he is clearly still Catholic in his faith.(He refers to Luther’s life as being marked by "heroic holiness.") But this should not stop the ordinary Christian reader from this excellent book.

Girzone guides the reader to a deeper personal understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity with elegant, short, and very clear sentences. But what he does in this book of 128 page is far more important than the style eh writes with so consistently. He warmly invites the reader to enter into the life of the Trinity by giving us "an image of a God who is believable, and perhaps even lovable." And he does this in remarkably effective, indeed strongly affective, ways. Similar to St. Patrick’s attempt to present the Trinity in simplicity Girzone resists arcane theological statements and provides us with a useful way of perceiving God that can genuinely impact day-to-day life. Girzone writes:

The Trinity is not a theological definition. It is the very nature of God. It is the God we worship. God revealed hismelf to us through Jesus, not so we could be imprisoned in a theological concept to be memorized as a condition for baptism. He revealed himself to us because he loves us and wanted to share himself, his inner self with us, so we could come to know him and love him as he is. We have received that revelation with cruel indifference, wondering why God even bothered to reveal something that we could hardly understand. But rare faithful souls who take Jesus’ words to heart and draw near to God in the intimacy of contemplative prayer eventually experience the ecstatic joy of being embraced within this inner life of God. They know, from their own inner revelation, this Triune God whom the rest of us can only try to define. Indeed, we would do much better to imitate them, in welcoming the Trinity into our hearts rather than struggling to define it (pages vii-viii).

I am sure that I will read Girzone’s Trinity more than once. One reason will be to learn from his amazingly creative style of writing complex theology. Another reason will be to get some big ideas more clearly rooted in my thinking, in very simple ways that can reach my heart.

I have asked this week, in light of this little book and our three core commitments for ACT 3, "What difference does the Trinity make in your life and in the worship of your church?" For many evangelicals it makes very little difference at all. Their prayer and worship sound, at best, like bi-natarian theology. I understand, the longer I live, why a prominent evangelical leader once told me that one of the most pressing questions Catholic cardinals have asked him, in private, about evangelicals is this: "Do you really believe in the doctrine of the Trinity?" Whether the worship style is Pentecostal, or non-Pentecostal, it seems to make very little real difference on this point. Most modern worship in our churches is not distinctly Trinitarian. We have a long way to go to get this right again. Girzone’s little gem might actually help us recover this vital truth, central to everything that we know about God and his grace.