Trinitarnism vs. Modalism – Start of a Discussion

Over at Ad Gloriam Dei the blogger has started to respond to my well reasoned and carefully thought out comments. (smiling here)

I commend him on his calm responses and look forward to further dialog. (serious here)

One the things that gets me, and I ran into this yesterday discussing the King James only issue, is that philosophy, personal or not, plays a portion in formation of views. How much should philosophy play into the formation of Doctrine? My simply answer is none. Yet, when people lack scriptural proof for their doctrines or conviction, they often resort to using philosophy or philosophical concepts to expound their disillusion. Or they revert to tradition, which in itself is a philosophical concept.

Should we use philosophical terms when describing God? Hardly. If we are truly bible based (and I fully understand and accept that ‘bible-based’ means different things to different people, but I mean only based on the bible) then we need to stick with what the scriptures say.

I understand what Mr. Davis is saying when he says that oneness believers have a certain confusion about the trinity, however, Mr. Davis should not classify all oneness believers as trinity-ignorant. Just because I don’t accept the trinity does not mean that I do not understand it.

Below is an email that I wrote about two years ago to an email group. It was my random musings then and I think that it fits here. I hope that Mr. Davis reads it and understands that the compunction that he feels for modalists I feel for trinitarians.

Person?

We know that trinitarians like to use the word ‘person’, but so should One God people. Persona is a Latin word relating to an actor, or mask. It is derived from a root meaning ‘to sound through’. So, are we wrong in saying that God has three persons?

God in the first person is the Creator

God in the second person is the Redeemer

God in the third person is the Regenerator.

But He is still one God. God was manifested in the flesh. It was in this mask that we see Him as the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. When we are baptized and receive the Holy Ghost, then we experience God through the third persona, but He is still God.

Can we liken this to our current saying of ‘which hat will I wear today?’ Speaking as a husband, a father, and a minister, their are different times when I must act as each person, but am I separated? Do I have three different names? No. Do I help my wife out? As a husband, that is my duty. Do I protect her soul? As a minister, that is my duty. Do I raise my children? As a father that is my duty. A husband cannot protect a soul, but a minister can. I have numerous persona’s that I wear throughout the day. I have a vocation that requires me to wear an entire different hat than I would as a minister or father or husband, or sometimes a human being. Does one cease to exist? Do I separate? Do I have three centers of conscience? No. I am one, but to others I appear as they see me. To my colleagues, I am what my vocation requires. To the ministers in the field, I am a minister as well. To my wife, I am husband. It makes complete sense.

The Trinitarians destroy themselves by applying a separation to the persona’s of God. Is Christ divided? No. Is not the fullness of the revelation of God dwell in Christ alone? Did we not see the Father, the Son, and the Regenerator in the person of Christ Jesus? Did the Apostles see three walking around? The bible says that it was pleasing that the fullness of God dwell in Christ. So, it was in that persona that we have come to know God. It is by that name that we are saved.

Oneness people (although that term is not found in the bible) refuse to admit to themselves that they have not a clue concerning the reality of the trinity. The doctrinal statement of the United Methodist and the United Pentecostals are separated by a few words. (Not surprising since Pentecostals can trace their roots to methodism…notice that no capitals were used). As a matter of fact, I have met several UMC pastors that are terming themselves oneness methodists, dynamic modalists, or apostolic-methodist.

If the people that term themselves Oneness, or One God believers, would sit down and learn the different branches of trinitarianism, then they could easily debunk it. Instead, many want to believe that they know exactly what the Trinitarians believe and that it is not Oneness.

I have met a UPCI pastor that has said that some of the best oneness messages come from Trinitarians. So, the confusion goes all around.

Can we actually read, with a lexical commentary, what Tertillian was actually saying? Or should we just rely upon corrupt information and seek to destroy our fellow travelers.

To say that God is three persons is not correct. Better to say that God has three personas, or three manifestations, or three modes of appearing. Confusion will hinder us and destroy others.

Random musings…..

Post By Joel Watts (10,115 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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0 thoughts on “Trinitarnism vs. Modalism – Start of a Discussion

  1. Tertullian used the word “persona”, which classically referred to masks, although he did not use it in that way, as he was opposing a Modalist at the time. Later theologians used the term “subsistence” to get away from this, but “person” in English is most frequently used as it gets across the distinct personalities of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (P.S. We’re “One God people” too. See here.)

    Do your personae talk together? Do they send each other? Do they love each other? Do they say “you” to one and “he” to another?

    Do Trinitarians speak of the three persons walking around (weird modern hymns that I’m unaware of aside)?

    We confess that the one God is a spirit (e.g. see Shorter Catechism). The Son joined a human nature to His own divine nature forever. Now humans have a body with legs…

    (Although we do believe in theophanies, e.g. in the Garden of Eden, which were temporary outward manifestations of the Son.)

  2. For any who should read this, the original post has been edited so that some things that I refer to have been removed. (I’m not having hallucinations ;)

    By the way, I do not classify all Oneness believers as ignorant of confessional Trinitarianism. No where have I stated that. However all the Oneness believers that I have read have misrepresented the Trinitarian position, so I had to spend some time dealing with these before going on to Scripture. As I have stated in my blog there are various forms of Modalism.

  3. Joel,

    I recommend that you remove all reference to “War”. You can then remove all the comments like this one referring to it.

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