Doctrine is under attack, as it always has been, in the Christian church. Historic church councils and great debates have helped to ward off the ever encroaching error that originates from the depraved heart attempting to re-imagine God in his own image rather than submitting to the authority of God's revelation of Himself in His word. Among other vital doctrines under attack today from numerous sources and in a seemingly unending variety of ways is the doctrine of the Trinity.
Consider the fact that a commitment to Modalism is wide-spread in certain segments of evangelicalism. Perhaps the most common expression of that persuasion is found among prominent leaders within the pale of Christendom who teach, among other things, that Christ was not God until His baptism and ceased to be God at His crucifixion.
More startling is the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the fact that they just voted to receive a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, according to the AP. "Church officials can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity." The Divine Trinity, "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," could now be referred to as "Mother, Child, and Womb," or "Lover, Beloved, and Love."
"Some Bible scholars [Clark Pinnock to name one] recently have used the Trinity to teach that many will be saved apart from explicit faith in Christ," Baptist Press reports. Thank God for Stephen J. Wellum, editor of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, who notes that the Trinity "is at the core of a biblical understanding of God." Wellum refutes the assertion that the Trinity teaches that many will be saved apart from explicit faith in Christ and "argues that the Trinity actually demonstrates just the opposite -- that salvation is found by faith in Christ alone. The Trinity, he argues, is 'at the heart' of what differentiates Christianity from other religions."
"The doctrine of the Trinity is not an esoteric, abstract theory that is unimportant to practical Christianity, but instead is at the very heart of the Christian life, essayists assert in the latest edition of the [Journal]." Further, "at the heart of Scripture's presentation of our great and glorious God is the doctrine of the Trinity...[U]nderstanding God as triune is central to everything Scripture says about him, and it is what distinguishes him from all other conceptions of 'god.'"
Dr. Bruce Ware, "who serves as professor of theology at Southern Seminary, discusses the relationship between the Trinity, Christ's identity as Savior and the atonement. Ware argues that God must be triune for Christ to be the Savior of sinners. 'The identity of Jesus as Messiah and Savior is tied, both historically and of necessity, to his relationships with the Father and Spirit, respectively,' Ware writes. 'Put differently, if you imagine for a moment removing the Father and the Spirit from the historical Person Jesus Christ of Nazareth, you realize that this Jesus the Christ could not be -- i.e., he could not exist and be who he is -- devoid of the Father and the Spirit. Indeed, the identity of Christ depends on the reality of the Trinity.'" Related implications are crucial.
First, precision is required when it comes to the issue of all doctrine as it is God's revelation of Himself to us. The Trinitarian nature of God is no exception despite the fact that we cannot fully comprehend that reality in all of its glory. To misunderstand what is revealed or to say we can conceive of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in ways more relevant or palatable to our culture is to change the very nature of God and thereby worship another God.
Second, the feminist influence in our culture, and indeed in evangelicalism, is clearly seen in the push to change patriarchal language with specific reference here to the way in which God has revealed Himself to us. We are not ignorant of the fact that God is Spirit (John 4), but He has indeed revealed Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Further, when Christ appears, we will see Him as He is, the man Christ Jesus, who is also God. We will not see Him as her or as some androgynous hermaphrodite. Moreover, not only do we see a feminization of the church in the use of terms like Mother for God, but, even the construct of "Lover, Beloved, and Love" springs from the same well. Certainly God is love and for that we are grateful. But, while I used to tell my Dad before he died that I loved him, I certainly never referred to him as my lover, nor would any other real man for that matter.
Third, a discontentment permeates the church today in terms of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That faith or body of truth, as saving, though certainly grounded in an experience with Christ, is nevertheless, in many ways, propositional. Experience oriented cultures are not content with the "normal Christian life" and always seek something extra. As noted, this same discontentment is expressed through a rejection of centuries-held orthodox understanding and language. Of course, inherent in such discontentment and in succumbing to feminist or other influences regarding doctrinal issues points to the larger issue of rejecting biblical authority which further relates to the work of God in the regenerate individual. The question arises, is He at work or not?
Fourth, to use the Trinity to support inclusivism is to misunderstand the nature of God in the unified purpose and efficacy of the economic Trinity. It is the Father who chooses a people for Himself from every nation, it is the Son who purchases that people off the slave block of sin through His blood, and it is the Spirit who applies the redemptive work of Christ to that people through the work of regeneration in connection with gospel proclamation. The thought that the Holy Spirit is at work in all lost people unto salvation apart from the proclamation of the gospel is not only unbiblical, but is destructive of missions motivation. But, the real issue here is what is implied in the thought that the Father chooses to save every single person and that the Son atoned for the sin of every single person. Such a construct produces a frustrated Trinity if the Holy Spirit does not regenerate every single lost person. To put it in plain terms, the Father and Son are moving the ball down the field with precision only to have the Spirit fumble it at the goal line.
Fifth, to use the Trinity to support inclusivism is also to pit the nature of God against the teaching of God. If the Scripture teaches that Christ is the only way to salvation, how can anyone look for a wider hope in a purely theological construct? Again, such a position is one that rejects the authority and plain teaching of Scripture, turns the nature of God on its head by positing a God who can contradict what He says He does by what He actually does. Such madness can only be birthed by a base sentimentality that calls into question the goodness, fairness, and rightness of God.
Sixth, to deny the Trinity is to pare away the rough edges of the gospel and to destroy the uniqueness of the Christian faith as revealed to us by God. Trinitarian doctrine is thoroughly Christian and part of the evidence of the bible’s veracity and trustworthiness.
Let us embrace sound doctrine and reject all attempts to sabotage the biblical revelation of who God is. The issue is not which language we prefer; the issue is which God we prefer. We either prefer the God of the bible, or, a god of our imagination.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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