Archive | Trinity

Shawn McCraney on the Linear Thinking of His Theological Critics

Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who became a “born-again” Christian and eventually left Mormonism, received some ministry training through Calvary Chapel, and launched his own ministry in Salt Lake City to evangelize Mormons. In the past few weeks Shawn has gone public on his television show denouncing the term Trinity as “garbage” and explaining his own doctrine of God in ways that have been confused at best. I flew out to Utah to meet with Shawn, had very friendly and enjoyable conversations with him, and appeared on Shawn’s show Heart of the Matter. I also posted a few messages on Facebook regarding the controversy.

On March 12, 2014, Shawn McCraney’s lecture on his TV show was a critical response to his critics, whom he characterized as scholars, theologians, and apologists who impose their exclusively “linear thinking” on the church to rule, control, and dominate. There is a “teachable moment” here because the issues that Shawn’s argument raises have relevance beyond the specific controversy over his teaching. Continue Reading →

Why Jesus is Greater than the Holy Spirit

I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. This is how I would formulate this doctrine:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Since there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos.

Confused? Good. Anytime you have an “aha!” moment with regard to the Trinity, it is a good sign you have just entered into the world of heresy.

While I don’t believe there is an ontological hierarchy (gradation of essence, or all that stuff I said above), I do believe there can be a hierarchy in person. In other words, one member of the Trinity can take on a different rank than another. I think we can all agree that at the incarnation, this hierarchy presented itself as Father, then Son, then Spirit. After all, even Christ said that the Father was greater than he was (John 14:28). This is sometimes called a “functional hierarchy.” This should not be too difficult to process, as we can see many analogies to this in our own world. For example, President Obama is greater than I am in one respect. He is the President of the United States. Therefore, his position and authority are greater than mine. But he is not greater in essence. Similarly, parents are greater than children in rank. But they are not greater in their being. And (cover your eyes, egalitarians) I believe the Bible presents the husband as having greater authority than his wife. However, he is not greater in his ontos or humanity. Continue Reading →

The Five Great Mysteries of the Christian Faith

As I do the math, there are five great mysteries in theology:

1. Creation out of nothing (ex nihilo): How did God create being out of non-being? Being transcendent in relation to the universe (above all time, space, and matter), the reason for God’s being is necessary (hence why we often call him the “necessary being”), so his existence does not require a cause-and-effect answer. Yet where did he get the “stuff” to create all that there is? It could not have come from himself, as that would place him in our universe of time, space, and matter. Then we would just be looking for the really real God. The same is true if the “stuff” was outside himself. All that there is must have come from nothing as a rational and philosophical necessity. All other options are formally absurd. While creation out of nothing is not formally absurd, it is a great mystery or paradox.

2. Trinity: We believe in one God who eternally exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This would only be a formal contradiction if we said we believed that God was three Gods and one God or if we said we believed he was three persons and one person. But to say that the Trinity is one God in three persons is not a formal contradiction, but a mystery. Continue Reading →

10 Myths about God: #5 – The Trinity was Invented

The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible. That is a fact. Is the Trinity, as some would suggest, invented in 325BC at the Council of Nicea? Join C. Michael Patton, Th.M. and Tim Kimberley, Th.M. as we discuss this important aspect of Christianity.

Experience It for Yourself To get the rest of the myths for the next five days (along with other great stuff from Credo House Ministries), subscribe now! (You can unsubscribe at any time.)

If you want to keep growing along these lines our new Discipleship Program continues to equip you in the foundational thoughts and practices of a Christian. Just click the “Experience It: Watch Now” link on this page to continue giving yourself a strong foundation

Here are the previous four myths in case you missed them:

Myth #1 – Christianity is Blind Faith

This is just one of the many myths about God that millions of people have bought into. Does God desire for us to close our eyes and take a step into the dark to believe in Jesus?

Myth #2 – The Bible is a Magic Book

This is just one of the many myths about God that millions of people have bought into. It is common today to look at the Bible as a magic book. Close your eyes, open it up, put down your finger and do what it says. Is this how we should treat the Bible?

Myth #3 – God wants us Healthy and Wealthy

Jesus healed people all over the place when He walked the earth…God owns a cattle on a thousand hills…shouldn’t we expect health and wealth in this life?

Myth #4 – Jesus is not God

Is it crucial for Jesus to be 100% God? Is He fully God in the same way as the Father?

 

The Doctrine of the Trinity in a Nutshell

The doctrine of the Trinity is a foundational cardinal truth in Christianity. All three major Christian traditions – Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox – throughout the history of the Church, have been united on this doctrine. A denial of it constitutes a serious departure from the Christian faith and a rejection of the biblical witness to God as he has introduced himself to us. Sadly, many go  astray from the faith due to their refusal to accept these truths. It is my purpose to give a brief overview of the doctrine.

Basic Definition: Christians worship one God who eternally exists in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Now let’s break each of these down.

One God:

Christians are monotheists. This doesn’t merely mean we worship only one God, but that we believe there exists only one God. This is a basic teaching throughout the Bible (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; Isa. 45:5; Mark 12:29; 1Tim. 2:5; 1Cor. 8:4).

While this finds support in the Bible, the very definition of God demands that there only be one. In other words, “God” is not just a being to whom you pray or ascribe great worth and value, but the transcendent creator of all things (Heb. 11:3). Romans 1:18-20 informs us that natural theology and rational thinking necessarily demand there be a singular source for all things. Polytheism (which is the belief in many gods) must redefine the term “god” to mean simply “really powerful beings,” since there cannot be many ultimate creators of all things. There can be only one Uncaused Cause, only one Unmoved Mover, and only one Uncreated Creator. God is the only non-contingent (not dependent) being in the universe. Therefore, his essence is necessarily one.

Eternally exists as three persons:

Christians do not believe in contradictions or logical fallacies. Rational thinking and harmony of truth are found in the essence of God’s being; therefore, God cannot exist as a contradiction. Christians do not believe in three Gods for the reasons listed above. However, we do believe Scripture has revealed that God, while one in essence, is three in person. We often talk about this as “one what, three whos.” While this is a great mystery in the Christian faith, there are many mysteries that we are compelled to believe due to necessity and what has been revealed in Scripture. For example, we believe that God created all things out of nothing (Heb. 11:3; doctrine of creation ex nihilo). We believe that God is the sovereign first cause of all things, yet man is morally responsible for his actions. We believe that while Christ was complete in his humanity, he also remained complete in his deity (often called the “hypostatic union”). We believe that the Bible is the product of humans and the product of God. None of these, including the doctrine of the Trinity, are contradictions, but they are great mysteries.

While the Bible does not use the word “Trinity,” we believe that it is an accurate description of what the Bible teaches concerning God. After all, the Bible does not use the word “Bible,” but we can legitimately use the word to describe a collection of books we believe to be inspired. The Bible does not use the word “aseity,” yet we believe that it accurately represents a Biblical attribute of God. God is “of himself,” in no way dependent upon humans for his livelihood (Ps. 50:7-12).

While there are many passages in the Bible which necessitate a Trinitarian understanding of God, there are a few that stand out more than others:

John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.” (NET) Continue Reading →

T.D. Jakes Not Modalist? An Update from the Elephant Room

My friend Trevin Wax is helping us out as he “Live Blogs” through the Elephant Room. Beyond controversy (at least in the small circles I run in) is how I would describe the invitation of T.D. Jakes to the Elephant Room to discuss spirituality, truth, and theology. He has traditionally been defined as a Modalist theologically. Essentially what this means is that he denies the traditional definition of the Trinity by describing God as one God who shows himself in three different ways. The orthodox definition of the Trinity is that there is one God who eternally exists in three different persons: One what, three whos. Modalism, sometimes described as “Jesus Only” and sometimes Oneness, to say the least, undermines our understanding of God as he has revealed himself and rapes the Trinity of the eternal relationship upon which so much of our theology is built, understood, and practically lived out.

So, is T.D. Jakes a Modalist? I don’t know. Maybe not (or at least not anymore). Here is some of the stuff that he said that caught my ear:

Jakes: I believe the latter one is where I stand today. One God – Three Persons. I am not crazy about the word persons though. You describe “manifestations” as modalist, but I describe it as Pauline. For God was manifest in the flesh. Paul is not a modalist, but he doesn’t think it’s robbery to say manifest in the flesh. Maybe it’s semantics, but Paul says this. Now, when we start talking about that sort of thing, I think it’s important to realize there are distinctives between the work of the Father and the work of the Son. I’m with you. I have been with you. There are many people within and outside denominations labeled Oneness that would be okay with this. We are taught in society that when we disagree with someone in a movement, we leave. But I still have associations with people in Onenness movements. We need to humble both sides and say, “We are trying to describe a God we love.” Why should I fall out and hate and throw names at you when it’s through a glass darkly? None of our books on the Godhead will be on sale in heaven.

Disclaimer: I have never read any of Jakes’ books. I barely even know his voice as I have not heard him speak much (I think he screams a lot?). I think he sweats almost as much as I do. And I think he wrote a book about losing weight. Oh, and I have heard that he is a modalist. I have even told others this. For this, I am saddened as I might have been spreading misinformation. (Theology teaching 101: if you don’t know for sure, keep your mouth shut.)

If this paragraph were put together by someone else that I have a tradition of following and know is orthodox, it is not too bad. It even has a “tweetable moment” or two in it! Let me deal with a few things though.

“I am not crazy about the word person”: You know what? Neither am I. It is sufficient, yet in no way exhausting. Anyone who has studied the history of this word “person” in a trinitarian context understands that it never, even in the Latin or Greek (persona, hypostasis, prosopa), conveyed everything it could. It often creates misunderstandings since the English “person” carries some connotations that we would not apply to God. Nevertheless, we work with what we got. Barth did not like the word “person”. I agree with Calvin who said this about our articulations with respect to the Trinity: Continue Reading →

Heresies: Subordinationalism – A Lesser Christ

I have been teaching theology now for over ten years. Teaching theology carries the burden of not only education, but one of correction. When it comes to heresies about the doctrine of the Trinity, there are two that stand out more than any other as being common among average Christians: subordinationalism and modalism. I will talk about modalism soon, but here I want to devote our time to subordinationalism.

We need to be careful as subordinationalism comes in two varieties, one orthodox and the other heretical. The orthodox version is called “functional subordinationalism,” while the unorthodox version is called “ontological subordinationalism.”

Ontological Subordinationalism

To subordinate something is to distinguish and lessen the value of that which is subordinated. The word “ontological” comes from the Greek, ontos meaning  “essence,” “stuff,” or “substance.” So, Ontological Subordinationalism is to lessen the value of the substance. When it comes to the doctrine of God, Ontological Subordinationalism is the belief that there is a hierarchal subordination among the members of the Trinity in their essence.

For example, many people think that God the Father is the greatest and most powerful among the members of the Trinity. Christ comes in second and the Holy Spirit third. In order to do this, the Ontological Subordinationalist must distinguish between the members of the Trinity in their essence. Orthodox Christianity finds this heretical due to the fact that the Trinity is united in essence. Each member of the Trinity, though distinct in person, shares in the same substance. This sharing makes it impossible for any member to be less in any way in their essence. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all equal in essential power, authority, and dignity. There cannot be one that is subordinate to the other in their essence since this would divide the essence making three Gods. The Bible is clear that God is one in essence (Deut. 6:4; 1 Tim. 2:5), but three in person. Therefore, the Father is not more powerful than the Son, nor the Son more powerful than the Holy Spirit. All three are equal and eternal. Continue Reading →

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 6: Rob Bowman’s Closing Statement

I would like to thank David Burke for taking so much time from his busy life to participate in this debate. His efforts have given all of us an opportunity to learn a great deal from the contrasting arguments for our two theological positions.

Trinitarianism versus Unitarianism: Defining the Issues

The doctrine of the Trinity is biblical if and only if all of the following propositions are biblical teachings:

  1. One eternal uncreated being, the LORD God, alone created all things.
  2. The Father is the LORD God.
  3. The Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, is the LORD God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the LORD God.
  5. The Father and the Son stand in personal relation with each other.
  6. The Father and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.
  7. The Son and the Holy Spirit stand in personal relation with each other.

The only theological position that affirms all seven of the above propositions is the Trinity. However, each of these propositions finds affirmation in at least one or more non-Trinitarian doctrines. Continue Reading →