Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
August 20th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Facts and History for me, please

Andrei Rublev's Trinity, representing the Fath...

Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a similar manner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was raised an anti-Trinitarian oneness guy. This view is based on ignorance of Christian Tradition, Scripture, and certain key concepts, such as monotheism. It is based on ignorance of Christianity and arrogance that we know better than 2000 years of Christian tradition.

As one who is an orthodox Christian, I am now a Trinitarian, believing the Trinity is well in line with Scripture and is a natural development of Christian doctrine.

But, outside the oneness pentecostals are those who view Christian Tradition with disdain while claiming to be Christian. (accept my nuance here ). The first thing they like to get rid of is the Trinity. Usually, a good 90% of the time, it is because they lack the knowledge necessary to understand the Trinity and its place in Christology and soteriology.

For instance, Mark Sandlin. In a recent post about his cool new anti-Christian Tradition Christianity he writes,

Jesus was a Jew. (Please tell me no one is surprised to hear that.)

As a Jew, Jew was a strong monotheist.

Except… Jewish monotheism isn’t exactly a thing for all Jews and for all Jews at the time of Jesus.

He then writes,

Jesus was a monotheist.

Can’t prove it. Indeed, we don’t know much about Jesus and his personal beliefs. If we put him next to other apocalyptic Jews, he may have believed in the two-powers of heaven, which is not monotheism. What we know about Jesus comes from the Scriptures held together by the Christian, i.e., Trinitarian Church. We know nothing of Jesus except by the Church that is Trinitarian. It is this same Church that took John (I and the Father are one), Paul (2 Co 13.14) and Proverbs 8/Wisdom of Solomon/Baruch to develop a confession holding the unity of God with the triunity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

English: Malayalam-language version of Christi...

English: Malayalam-language version of Christian Trinitarian “Shield of the Trinity” diagram, created on the lines of Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.png (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Nathan McDonald notes, polytheism and monotheism are Enlightenment developments. In other words, a Western European concept. See Larry Hurtado as well. Indeed, one should really read Hurtado’s article. Jesus, I hate to tell the Southern minister, was not a post-Enlightenment Western European male.

By the way, the development of the Trinity was led by Africans such as Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian along with other non-European thinkers.

He goes further and says,

Even the Bible predominantly practices monotheism.

Biblically, God is always addressed with a singular pronoun, not plural.

Except, that is not true either. Not only does Scripture refer to other gods, but God actually speaks to the “we” in creating humanity. Elohim is plural. Indeed, much of the OT, if not the NT, is poly- and heno-theistic (2 Kings 3:27; Ps. 95:3; Ps. 97:7; Ps. 135:5; Ps. 89:6–7). The NT includes theomachy events which means… non-monotheistic.

Mark S. then becomes a biblicalist:

Not only that, but biblically there is no mention of the Trinity.

I find that argument little more than circular reasoning. For that matter, “bible” isn’t mentioned either, neither is the canon laid down. Nuclear missiles, electricity, and pews are out the window as well.

And for some unknown reason, he confuses confession (the Trinity is a confession, i.e., mystery) with fact when he writes,

Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quailed some of the early Church’s division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory.

The Trinity is not a theory, hypothesis or otherwise. Neither is it a fact. It is a confession of our faith (Epistle to the Hebrews. Seriously, the entire book). It helps us explain Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, and even anthropology.

And then, it all becomes clear…

The lack of biblical witness leaves me to believe that either there simply was no understanding of a Trinitarian God at the time books of the Bible were written, or that the concept was so unimportant to their faith that it mostly wasn’t mentioned.

Mark has no idea what Church History is or how Christianity developed. He abandons something he doesn’t even have and insists he is doing something progressive, emergent, liberal — right. Indeed, what he is doing is what fundamentalists do. Make it up as they go along.

By the way, I’m a henotheist.

Thoranity – we get hammered so you don’t have to.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. 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).

Comments

17 Responses to “Facts and History for me, please”
  1. “Thoranity – we get hammered so you don’t have to.”
    Natalie Portman, born in Jerusalem, makes Thor officially part on Canon. Or at a minimum, into the apocrypha.

  2. So I guess a Trinitarian who is also a henotheist has more than one imaginary friend and multiply imaginary enemies.

  3. Actually, you can find some of the beginnings of Trinitarian thought in Plato’s Timeas. An early form of the Trinity is also found in Sethian Gnosticism in the Father (the unnameable God above God) the Barbello (the reflection of God, thrice-male Mother/Father) and the Holy Child (the Christos) (see the Apocrypha of John from the Nag Hammadi Library).

  4. Know More Than I Should says

    Could “we” refer to Yahweh and Asherah?

    • quite possibly. There is mention of the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah which is usually considered Asherah/Isis/Ishtar. There is also the portion in Isaiah where God defeats an ancient(er) deity to create the cosmos. #goodtimes

  5. According to Robert M. Price, who tackled a similar topic on a recent Bible Geek podcast, the “we” could also hearken back to an older Canaanite pantheon where El is the Creator and the Elohim are the gods beneath him who run the seasons adn such…

    • in the psalms, God stands in the midst of the other gods. in revelation, the angels around the throne take the place of other gods in the usual pantheon.

  6. Excellent points! Also, why would God tell His people “Thou shalt not have other gods before me” if there were no other gods? Is God a paranoid schizophrenic? Of course, (lest someone think of me of a hairy tick, – a blood sucker with a lot of hair, who may also be a heretic…), God is speaking of things and entities, including persons, that we make them to be “gods”… Or isn’t it? Don’t get me confused with explanations… I just want to understand… 😉

  7. Scott Fritzsche says

    Well, seeing how the tenants of my faith are rooted in the traditions of the ante-Nicene church, that must be the what I would refer to, as well as scripture, in order to form belief in a Triune God. The list of those church fathers who spoke on and believed in the triune nature of God includes, but is not limited to, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus (and really, how can anyone not love Irenaeus?), Tertullian, and Origen. Most who deny the Trinity claim to do so as it was an invention of the Council of Nicaea as opposed to solid biblical teachings. The fact that so many of the church fathers supported the Triune nature of God long before this is evidence that their opinion is without merit on one of it’s basic precepts. As for the argument that there is no mention of the trinity in the Bible…this argument annoys me greatly. The bible does not mention motorcycles…or the Chevy s-10…or for that matter MDMA (ecstasy). This is quite simply the most ridiculous argument that gets thrown about in any discussion of faith. Yes, a negative can be used as evidence of a point, but only in such cases where there is a foundation laid with other supporting evidence.

  8. You say “What we know about Jesus comes from the Scriptures held together by the Christian, i.e., Trinitarian Church”. First of all the early church was not trinitarian and outof the religous books (the canonic writings) other books can be used to know about the Nazarene rabbi Jeshua (Jesus Christ) who grew up in a very devout monotheist Jewish sect (Essenes)

    Luckily today there are still many Christians who not adhere to the false teaching of the trinity.

  9. Know More Than I Should says

    Ah, Gentlemen, should I prepare dueling pistols?

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