Dear new Christians – beware. Patton is sincere, but misinformed. He thinks the Bible obviously teaches what he’s asserting, and reasons that any prior Bible-loving Christians must’ve thought likewise.
But having studied a vast amount of historical writings by Christians, I can assure you that this is demonstrably not so, even if we stick to “mainstream” Christians (so ignoring, e.g. “Arians”, Marcionites, etc.) I take no pleasure in pointing this out, and I wish it were as simple as Patton says. But facts are facts.
I’ve discussed his sort of take on the Trinty before. It is not, as Patton says in a comment, “what the Bible teaches and Christians for 2000 years have believed.” It is what (some? many?) theologians at Dallas Theological Seminary think about the Trinity. How widespread these views are, I’m not sure. But the many evangelical and other theologians riding the “social trinitarian” bandwagon would not agree with what Patton says.
Regarding what Patton holds forth as “the best we can do”, take care lest you fall into inconsistency.
You should know that some of the most brilliant Christian thinkers in the last 100 years have held many different views on just how “the” doctrine should be understood. Unfortunately, these theories are, for the most part, not consistent with one another.
Patton asserts that
The doctrine of the Trinity has been held by all orthodox Christians throughout all of church history
This is either trivial or false.
If by “orthodox” we mean, ones accepting the “ecumenical creeds”, and “the doctrine” here is what those creeds say, then it is true by definition, and also trivial.
But whatever “the doctrine” is thought to be, if “orthodox” here means all mainstream Christians (proto-orthodox/catholic, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, anabaptist, pentecostal), then it is false. He’d like to think that only spoil-your-Saturday-morning-by-knocking-on-your-door cults have opted out, but this is not so. Some mainstream Christians have basically ignored creedal Trinity claims. Others deny them, on the grounds that the Bible doesn’t really teach them. Others never heard of them, and literally never thought about them. Other emphasize them, but interpret them in various ways.
But don’t take my word for it! I’m just some random guy you found on deh internets, right?
Pick up any catholic (proto-orthodox, mainstream Christian) theologian from c. 150-200 CE. You could start with Justin Martyr. You can read all we have from him in maybe a week. Is he selling what Patton is selling? Or take Irenaeus, Athanagoras, Origin, Tertullian. (Hint: review what Patton says about “subordinationism”.)
Too hard? No problem. Read this guy; he shows in great detail what these folk were up to, and why it is a mistake to count them as trinitarians. It’s a good read.
Don’t trust him, because he’s a unitarian?
Fine. Then, read Roger Olson, a respected and fairly mainstream evangelical theologian, on Justin Martyr, et. al. Do they teach thee co-equal divine persons within one God? You be the judge. Don’t just trust any cool cat you come across.
About divine attributes: reading Patton’s chapter, you’d never guess that many generations of theologians firmly believed a doctrine of divine simplicity, according to which (roughly) God is utterly simple (without parts or components), doesn’t have any non-essential attributes, and it’s a mistake to think that God has multiple intrinsic attributes at all. (Yes – these are dark sayings, and many Christian philosophers, including me, deny them. But others defend them.)
Actually, Patton’s whole list of “non-essential” attributes is idiosyncratic. Does he hold it possible for God to be non-gracious, non-loving, not a Trinity? Normally in philosophy nowadays, a non-essential attribute is one which a thing could possibly exist without. In ancient times, the idea was more that a non-essential attribute wasn’t a defining one (though some were such that you couldn’t be without them). But in ancient and medieval times, as I said, God was thought to be utterly simple (partless and without any internal multiplicity). Yes, it’s a mystery how anyone thought this was compatible with thinking of God as tri-personal.
If you’re a new Christian – great! You should love God with all you’ve got, and follow Christ in all things. There’s no other way to live. About the Trinity, I don’t have any simple answers for you. Patton is certainly right in holding that we must all follow as best we can, knowing that there’s a lot we don’t know, and that there are countless truths about God which we’ll never know. Part of loving God is devoting your mental energies long term to carefully thinking through these things when you can, as best you can. Keep going!