One God but Three Concepts: Complexity in Christians’ Representations of God

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Abstract

Research exploring God representations has tended to assume that these constructs are unitary in nature. However, a considerable research literature has illustrated ways in which people’s representations of self and others are complex. Given that Christians believe in 1 God but also the 3 distinct members of the Trinity, the present research used this theological construct to test whether religious believers can have structurally complex God representations, examining within-subject differences in Christian participants’ understandings of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Study 1 compared descriptions of the Trinity using adjective checklists, self/other overlap, and target-directed emotions; Study 2 compared personality judgments of the Trinity; and Study 3 investigated the relative salience of each way of thinking about God using a reaction time (RT) paradigm. Results demonstrated that, consistent with believers having cognitively complex God representations, participants had differentiated ways of thinking about and relating to each member of the Trinity.

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