Several people have sent me this meme and, as it turns out, while working out the preaching schedule for the spring and summer, my Pastor said, “Oh, good. You’re preaching on Trinity Sunday.” I’d like to think this was because he was looking forward so much to what I had to say, but I suspect that it was simply relief that he didn’t have to preach himself.
The doctrine of the Trinity is clearly a—perhaps the—central doctrine of the Christian faith. So why does it so terrify preachers? Perhaps because they learned it as a series of propositions to be committed (often imperfectly) to memory, propositions that seem somewhat incomprehensible and completely divorced from the everyday lives of people.
I have no magic formula for preaching on the Trinity, but here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t panic. In preaching on the Trinity you will probably—almost assuredly—fail. But we always fail to some degree in speaking of the mystery of God.
- Don’t wait for Trinity Sunday. If you try to bring the Trinity into your preaching only one day out of the year, you simply convey the message that it is a doctrine that we dutifully acknowledge and practically ignore. The Trinitarian faith should pervade and underpin all preaching.
- Avoid analogies that try to explain how something can be both one and three. They not only almost always lead you into heresy (typically some form of modalism), but even if they don’t they still leave your listeners saying, “OK. So what?”
- Preach the Trinity as the mystery of salvation. While it is doctrinally important to maintain what theologians call the “immanent Trinity,” for homiletic purposes you are more likely to reach your audience if you at least start with the “economic Trinity”: God the Father sending the Son and the Spirit into the world for us and for our salvation. As the late Catherine Mowry LaCugna argued, we have to come to see the Trinity as “God for us,” and this is particularly true in terms of preaching.
For those who are interested, I offer my own latest attempt at preaching on Trinity Sunday.