Thinking Out Loud

February 4, 2011

Why are Non-Trinitarians Included Among “Christians?”

In Wednesday’s Link List there was a form at the end which gave people the opportunity to leave a message for my eyes only, without it appearing as a public comment.  I want to thank those of you who used this feature, and those who are still using it even today.

One of the comments was from a longtime reader who raised an issue that I want to bring forward here, not to be divisive, but because it is something that can always use discussion.  While it affects all of us, it involves a very small, but still significant number of people who belong to one or two denominations; including some who read this blog, and I hope that any comments will be made in the spirit of Christian love.

Here was the comment:

If the Trinity is such an important tenet of Christian belief (the Apostle’s Creed), why do we venerate singers like Phillips, Craig & Dean and preachers like T. D. Jakes who are non-trinitarian as though they are “one of us”?  If a singer or preacher didn’t believe that Jesus was truly God and man would we welcome him/her the same way?  What if they didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Every time I hear a Phillips, Craig & Dean song on Christian radio it makes me squirm.  Am I being judgmental?

Yes, you are being judgmental.

The next question was… okay, just kidding; let’s look at this issue.

Again, this is not to debate the particular doctrine.   I’ve heard some of the arguments and yes, I know that the word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible, but for most of us, our “statement of faith” — either our personal one or the one for the faith family to which we belong — is the reduction to seven or eight (or twelve) sentences concerning the things we consider to be core beliefs.  These are the things that people would consider non-negotiables.

It’s about the importance we place on doctrine.

Here are four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For my Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

These summary statements are based on something similar that we refer to as creeds.

The Apostles Creed, originally written in Latin but translated into modern English, says in part,

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…

…He ascended into heaven,
He is seated at the right hand of the Father

I believe in the Holy Spirit

These statements are intact in all of the creed’s denominational variants.

The Nicene Creed is similar, and just in case those two are insufficient, the Athanasian Creed, which reads as though it was written by a Philadelphia lawyer, goes to even greater lengths to try to spell out the mystery of  what the hymn-writer termed “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”   (While waiting for Athanasian Creed readers to return, we’ll put some music on hold in here…)

So we agree.  At least most of us.  We don’t understand it fully.  We have a number of weak analogies to try to explain it to Sunday School and VBS pupils, but when we worship on the weekends, our services speak of God, speak of Jesus and speak of The Holy Spirit.

So the question my reader is asking is simply, ‘Are people who reject the trinitarian doctrinal view truly one of us?’

Personally, I think there is one, and only one way to answer that.  If we value the creeds and what they say then either those who believe differently cannot be included among those we call “Christian” or the creeds have to go.  I say that simply because the creeds don’t relegate this to the realm of secondary issues or tertiary issues.  The creeds make the trinity a primary issue.

This isn’t about modes of baptism; it’s not concerned with the appropriate musical style for weekend worship; it’s not discussion about whether women should wear hats in church; it’s not interested in seven-day creation versus theistic evolution; and, believe it or not, it’s not about any of the 57 varieties of debate over homosexuality.

It’s more important than all that.

Still, there are those who feel that this is all semantics; that the case against Jakes is overstated and that he is just expressing his understanding of God in different words.   Here’s an excerpt from an online discernment ministry article:

When being interviewed on the radio Jakes in responding to the questioner on the orthodox view of the trinity said “The Trinity, the term Trinity, is not a biblical term, to begin with. It’s a theological description for something that is so beyond human comprehension that I’m not sure that we can totally hold God to a numerical system. The Lord said, “Behold, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one, and beside Him there is no other.” When God got ready to make a man that looked like Him, He didn’t make three. He made one man. However, that one man had three parts. He was body, soul and spirit. We have one God, but He is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration. It’s very important that we understand that, but I think that the first thing that every believer needs to do is to approach God by faith, and then having approached Him by faith, then they need to sit up under good teaching so that they can begin to understand who the God is that they have believed upon.” (“Living by the Word” on KKLA, hosted by John Coleman, Aug. 23, 1998)  …continue here…

What you’re seeing take shape here is a doctrine known as ‘modalism.’  Another online apologetics ministry, CARM,  identifies this more clearly:

At the Potter House’s website, under their statement of faith regarding God, they state, “There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three manifestations: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The keywords here are “three manifestations.”  If Jakes believed in the Trinity he should use words like “simultaneous,” “coeternal,” or “coequal” when referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s relationship to one another.  T.D. Jakes’s view on the nature of God is known as modalism.  Modalism is a heresy that teaches the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not simultaneously exist as distinct persons…   …read the whole article here…

(A much more exhaustive article on this subject appears at The Forgotten Word.)

So to restate my reader’s comment another way, ‘Is all this a dealbreaker?’

If it’s a dealbreaker with Jakes, to be consistent, you have to apply the same standard to contemporary Christian musicians Phillips, Craig and Dean.  But here it gets trickier, since CCM tends to break down denominational walls to the point where PC&D have appeared at the very theologically conservative Moody Church in Chicago and at Promise Keepers rallies.

But the three not only attend church at one of the largest “oneness” denominations, the UPC or United Pentecostal Church; they are — all three of them — on pastoral staff:

Randy Phillips serves as Pastor at his home church in Austin, Texas. Randy’s responsibilities include preaching, counseling, leading worship…

For more than 18 years, Shawn [Craig] has served as Music Pastor at his home church in St. Louis, MO. There he leads music, worship, and the New Members Disciple class.

Dan [Dean] is the Senior Pastor at his home church in Irving. TX. There Dan’s responsibilities include preaching, casting the vision for the church, oversight of day to day operations, and hiring and placement of all staff members.

The above is from a very exhaustive article on this subject at Dr. James White’s website, written by Erik Nielsen.  (Even if you’ve never heard of PC&D, this is a great introduction to UPC beliefs for those unfamiliar.  They go so far as to say that if you were baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit,” that was ineffective.)   On the other hand, the article concludes with a letter from PC&D in which they affirm the very Apostles Creed with which we began this discussion.  Can both positions be true at the same time?

There are many other webpages as well, typing “Phillips Craig Dean trinity” into Google came up as an auto-complete with about 76,000 pages dedicated to this discussion.  Even the Wikipedia article on the band has a subheading for “theological criticism” including the quotation: “[w]e believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation…” with manifestation again being the key word here.  At a Baptist discussion board, there is the suggestion that the band recorded “You Are God Alone” as a specific denial of the trinity.

Again, I’m not interested in attacking PC&D here.  Kelly Powers, writing at The Berean Perspective Online, has correspondence from the band’s handlers saying that they avoid discussion like this because they don’t want to be divisive.  But she notes — correctly, I believe — that “the gospel divides folks plain and simple. If they truly were following what the Word teaches they would not be so worried about offending people for the cause of truth.”

The situation with Phillips Craig and Dean is more complicated than that of Jakes.  With Jakes, Christian bookstores, which serve as the frontline or “gatekeepers” of what Christian people read can simply not carry his books.  And by extension, those same stores (or online equivalents) can not carry PC&D CDs.  But with PC&D, you’re introduced to another very influencial party: Christian radio.  Combine the airwave-friendly sound the band has with the willingness of many program directors to play anything that fits that format, the endorsement of the record label (EMI Christian Group), and the band’s propensity to record cover tunes by other Christian songwriters, and the issues get very, very fuzzy.

I know from past experience that this blog post is going to attract the usual comments from people in the UPC denomination and similar churches.  I take it as a given that such people most certainly consider themselves Christians and don’t consider modalism a dealbreaker.

It’s everyone else I want to hear from.

Related posts on this blog:

April 2008 — God in Three Persons — What if instead of trying to explain the “three persons” of the Trinity, we looked at one pair and then the other?

June 2009 — Trinity — Some of the “trinitarian” verses including a few that are problematic for those believing in modalism.

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44 Comments

  1. Very “well done”, my friend! Glad you used this “medium” to tackle a touchy subject. It’s “rare” that we read as well-researched an article as yours in the blogosphere.

    Enough of the “steak” terms. Keep writing, Paul. You do it well!

    David

    Comment by David Fisher — February 4, 2011 @ 8:43 am

  2. Thank you for your thorough and thought-provoking article. I believe in the trinity, and that it is a key doctrine of Christianty, but your comments on the “Oneness” groups has helped me see the bigger picture. The further works you refer to will be a help to me. Many thanks for the time and effort you have invested to present this material in such a plain and readable way.

    Comment by Lin Pearson — February 4, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

  3. [...] I list these here today because I’ve just spent a record two hours preparing tomorrow’s blog post at Thinking Out Loud, where we look at the question, “Do doctrines like ‘trinity’ really matter?”  In other words, dealing with people — some of them high profile Christian ministers and musicians — who don’t share the view of “God in three persons” normally expressed in Catholic, mainline Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity.  If you want to read that article, link here. [...]

    Pingback by The Trinity Collection « Christianity 201 — February 4, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

  4. [...] ministers and musicians who don’t subscribe to key doctrines, and as to the question of whether or not they can be considered “Christian” in the sense the rest of us use that word. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than [...]

    Pingback by Salad Bar Theology « Christianity 201 — February 4, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

  5. i find it rather perturbing your narrow minded views on The Godhead. Accordingly, you miss many people who believe the same as above:
    Perry Noble, Judah Smith, Francis Chan.

    Interesting how you try to use your blog as a way to take aim at others. What a shame and very anti-christian as you openly judge to appeal to more readers

    Comment by travworthington — February 5, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    • You have utterly, totally, completely missed the point of this whole exercise.

      The question that is being asked here — as stated so very clearly in the post title — is this: Is there a point at which departure from one of the seven or eight core doctrinal statements of Christianity constitutes departure from Christianity as a whole? Can I differ on a doctrine that everyone else would say is one of the “biggies” and continue to use the Christian label to describe myself?

      So yes, the blog post is provocative; and yes, this blog has a lot of readers. But the point is to draw readers into the greater questions which again, are stated so clearly throughout the post: (a) Does doctrine matter?, (b) Are some things dealbreakers? or (c) Is there a point at which we cross a line? The point is to get people thinking about their own beliefs.

      The great majority of the essay consists in bringing together a number of elements which are already present in so many places online to answer a particular reader’s question.

      And that last point is important: I did not seek this topic out, nor did I really have the two hours that it took to assemble some kind of response to something a regular reader considered a vital issue.

      I’ve been accused of being “soft” on a number of issues here, but I’ve never been accused of being judgmental.

      I’m a huge fan of Perry Noble and Francis Chan. I’ve quoted from them many times on this blog. You claim they are non-trinitarian. That’s a real game-changer for me because I’ve never been a fan of T. D. Jakes anyway, and have no big stake in how that issue resolves; but now, if your information is correct, I would be forced to answer the question for myself as to whether or not it’s a dealbreaker, something that — despite calling me judgmental — you’ll notice I don’t actually do here.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 5, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

  6. Dude. What a revelation, and here I am a sometime worship music leader! Had no idea. Have sent your article off to my (and other past) pastors for comment & consideration.

    I recently had a friend over who sang a ‘theologically safe’ God-song that had been written by a Mormon. At the time, I kinda had to agree that – BY ITSELF – the song posed no problem…sing away, use it at your bible-believing church.

    Re Phillips, Craig & Dean, I guess I’d have to play by the same rules: If the song itself is an ‘art-piece’ that you lift to God in YOUR denomination and which, based on its lyrical content, poses no antithetical position to your faith/creeds, sing away.

    But the fact that these guys are teachers is certainly disturbing. Sheep seem more stupid than shepherds – it’s as if they have an excuse for being part of something heretical, and according to Scripture, they will not be judged as severely as teachers – whatever that will mean one day, I have no idea.

    But everyone’s judgment by Christ is his or her own deal. We can warn people that P,C & D are heretical believers and to not buy their brand of Gospel, but do we boycott their product in the marketplace – do we go that far?

    Do I not get a hair-cut from the gay guy who owns the hairdressing salon, because he might use my money to ‘gay it up’ somewhere?

    Do I not get my carpet cleaned by the guy I know beats his wife with regularity just in case he buys more booze with my money and which could lead to his wife being wailed-on?

    A lot of hard things to make judgments on/about and which would make us Christians look either really committed or really nasty and unforgiving.

    “Accept him whose faith is weak,”, Paul said. It doesn’t say, “Accept his weakness”, whatever that weakness happens to be.

    I pray that we all take time to weed out in our lives what could be too lenient in our views and too harsh – under the wisdom of the very personal and real member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

    Chris B.

    Comment by Chris B. — February 5, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

    • It certainly is a thorny issue. Thanks for a great response.

      And I’ll admit it would be easier if it was some other part of the Apostles Creed that was issue. If I were to say, “I don’t really believe Jesus rose from the dead;” or “I don’t believe that Jesus is actually returning;” it would make things somewhat easier to process.

      BTW, if you lead worship, don’t sweat this too much; as PC&D doesn’t write everything they record. For example, they helped popularize “Revelation Song,” but the song was already recorded by a couple of different artists before they found it.

      And of course a lot depends on your church. A few weeks ago, the morning services at Northpoint (Andy Stanley) began with Hey Jude by the Beatles. (And listening to the sermon that week, I never did quite get the connection!) But in another church, my wife was chastised for doing the arrangement of Jesus Loves Me that borrows the Beatles tunes Twist and Shout. So the spirit of Romans 14, which you quoted, is very much dependent on where you are and who you’re dealing with.

      Which actually doesn’t make this topic any clearer, does it?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 5, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

  7. Wow, I really poked a stick in a hornet’s nest didn’t it!

    You certainly are NOT judgmental in anything you write!

    Glad the topic got some feedback. Thanks for all the work you put into it.

    Are non-trinitarians Christians? Not biblical ones as far as I’m concerned.

    Keep writing, dear brother! Will I see you on Wednesday night? I still need to pick up my tickets.

    David

    Comment by David Fisher — February 5, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

  8. [...] become Pharisaical. I recently read an excellent post from Paul Wilkinson at Thinking Out Loud (http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/why-are-non-trinitarians-included-among-christians/#co…). His focus was very specifically acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity and whether that should [...]

    Pingback by Life After Church » Should I stay or should I go? (part 2) — February 11, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

  9. So what was the conclusion? Are Christians only Christians if they ascribe to the Trinity or are their Christians who trust in Jesus but are not Trinitarians? Does one have to be creedal to be saved?

    Comment by S Stevens — March 12, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

    • I think that what’s being said here is that this is one of the “biggie” doctrines. You can have different views on tertiary matters, but on primary doctrines, there is little “wiggle room.”

      A person who comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ in an environment where understanding of “God in three persons” is somewhat distorted or lacking, is, in my opinion, like a rocket launched into deep space that is 1-degree off target. For the first phases of the mission it makes little difference, but as the mission progresses, there dawns the realization that the rocket is now thousands of miles off.

      In other words, I think that while a person is taking their first steps toward the cross may not have a full understanding of all the nuances of every doctrine; over time, if their God-picture is mixed up, it’s going to cause complications later on.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 12, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  10. [...] a bonus article from TOL, written in response to the ongoing controversy concerning the [...]

    Pingback by I Believe What I Believe is What Makes Me Who I Am « Christianity 201 — May 30, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

  11. Do the origin study ? Go back even futher than the Roman Catholic Church. Although they were killing up 550 those that didn’t not except their Trinity 3 person in one God Creed.But, the truine worship was going on before this…The scriptures if the Inspired Word of God written through men.Should not be disguarded…If it isn’t in the concordance of the Bible. It should get your attention there is a reason. All books you read or study has a concordance. This list what is in the book as a referal. Not in the concordance not in the book. There was a time the book didn’t even have chapters or numbered verses. Go back today the days of yester year. To the days of the lone ranger. Where did the frist century church go ? And what did they teach ? All of this confusion is of satan. And if you wont to get wrapped up in. So, let it be your choice. My salvation is through Christ, no matter of any of my misunderstanding. He is sufficient to del. me……. Every man or woman is dealt their measure of grace through their FAITH in Christ alone… More religious deterents to take away from Christ the end

    Comment by Pastor: K.W.Pledger — August 23, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    • I always have trouble getting back into the subject when people respond to blog posts that are more than six months old, but I do want to respond to the comment about concordances. The statement, “Not in the concordance not in the book,” is a little misleading. As this is a subject about which I have some expertise, allow me to remind you that concordances run something like this:

      • concise
      • compact
      • complete
      • exhaustive

      although I’ve left a few out. Concordances are also translation-specific.

      Also, I view the doctrine of the trinity as one of seven or eight primary doctrines of the Christian faith, so yes, I do want “to get wrapped up in it;” and I don’t see it as “confusion.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 23, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

  12. Is it such a problem to believe God, and not men? He has made no mention of a “triune godhead” anywhere in His Holy Writ. The cogitations of man are vain, but the Word of God is clear. The problem comes with not believing God, and believing men. The power of creedalism to lead and keep the saints in error is obvious to the son of God who has spent time knowing and recognizing his Father. He has spoken plainly, as has His Son. There is one God, and Father of us all, and one Lord, Who is over all. It is only a love of truth that will liberate a soul from bondage to creeds, and begin to rely soley upon the written Word of God.

    Comment by Phil Nickel — August 28, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

    • I disagree. The six or seven “trinitarian scriptures” are clear and fundamental. This isn’t “creedalism,” as you call it, this is basic Christianity. But I’m okay if you want to disagree, in fact let me leave you with a blessing:

      The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor 13:14)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 28, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

      • Peculiar that the “six” or “seven” scripture references are not supplied. Not unusual, though. The direct quotation of that which God has declared will eliminate any doubt. At least it should, excepting in cases of a mind not centered on Christ and His truth. Mal 2:10 Mk 12:32 Ro 3:30 1C 8:6 Eph 4:6 1Ti 2:5 Ja 2:19

        It would serve the honest soul best if these passages were humbly meditated upon and divine illumination sought, especially those passages which are from the Apostle Paul, whom God chose for us, the Gentile nations, to imitate and follow, as he followed Christ. 1C 4:16, 11:1. Unless, of course, Paul was not who he said he was.

        Ro 15:16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

        It will be found, should you supply those “six” or “seven” trinitarian scriptures you mention, that they will rely heavily upon inference, and reasoning. They will contradict the clear Record of Writ, and invariably fail to support the whole counsel of God. It is unfortunate to be of the persuasion of mind that opposes the truth as it is written by the Author, in order to retain that which is the devise of men.

        Thank you for your reply and honesty.

        Comment by Phil Nickel — November 2, 2011 @ 5:46 am

  13. [...] If the above word, modalism, is new to you, it was covered on this blog in a lengthy article back in February, Why Are Non-Trinitarians Included Among ‘Christians’? [...]

    Pingback by Wednesday Link List « Thinking Out Loud — October 5, 2011 @ 5:44 am

  14. Just a quick couple of questions that I need help answering, I thought this might be a good place to ask.
    I am having trouble finding a verse in the Bible that says that Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father. It does say that He sat at the right hand of God. Does it actually say anywhere that He sat at the right hand of the Father?
    The other question is: Several times in the bible Jesus is referred to as the “Son of God”, however we don’t see anywhere in the bible where the Father is referred to as the “Father of God”. Why, if they are both equal parts of the Godhead, do they never refer to the father as the “Father of God”? ( I hope these aren’t foolish questions) Thank you and God bless you all.

    Comment by iRuminate — November 25, 2012 @ 2:50 am

    • Thanks for writing.

      You seem to be tripping over some terminology which Bible readers tend to use somewhat interchangeably; I’m not sure why; but I’d encourage you to connect with a Christian pastor in your local area who can help you straighten out any confusion.

      In the verses reproduced below, you see these phrases:

      – sat down at the right hand of God
      – sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty
      – is at God’s right hand
      – sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One
      – standing at the right hand of God

      So you see “God,” “throne of the Majesty;” “Mighty One;” and you also see “sat;” “at;” “sitting;” and “standing.”

      The important thing is that “the father is not the Son; not the Spirit; the Spirit is not the Father, not the Son; the Son is not the Father, not the Spirit.” The doctrine of trinity is one of the most difficult thing in scripture for us to wrap our minds around, but we have a God that exists in three distinct persons that are in relationship to each other.

      Your other question is mostly semantics; if Jesus is the Son of God, and then “The Father” is the Father of Jesus. In other words, the term God is by default God the Father, and the term Father is God, but as stated above, the Son is also God and the Spirit is also God; the distinctiveness of each of the three persons in the preceding paragraph notwithstanding. Does that help?

      As to your last question; no, there are no foolish questions.

      Hebrews 10:11-13 (NIV)

      11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.

      Hebrews 8:1
      Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven…

      1 Peter 3:21-22

      21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

      Matthew 26:64

      “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

      Acts 7:56

      “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 25, 2012 @ 2:25 pm

      • “Your other question is mostly semantics; if Jesus is the Son of God, and then “The Father” is the Father of Jesus. In other words, the term God is by default God the Father, and the term Father is God, but as you state, the Son is also God and the Spirit is also God; the distinctiveness of each of the three persons in the preceding paragraph notwithstanding. Does that help?”

        Sorry, I can be a bit thick. I don’t recall stating that the Son is also God and the spirit is also God. I’m not sure why I can’t seem to understand the trinity. It seems to me that the pieces don’t fit but we are trying to force them to fit. It doesn’t ever seem to clearly state in the bible that God is a triune God. It also seems that the idea of the trinity is actually physically (or maybe spiritually) a polytheistic idea, somewhat cleverly disguised by the impossibility of 3=1.
        In your reply you stated “In other words, the term God is by default God the Father, and the term Father is God, but as you state, the Son is also God and the Spirit is also God”. There are a couple of things here that I find confusing. One of them being that I don’t recall stating that the Son or the Holy Spirit is also God? The other being that if God is by default the Father, then doesn’t that mean that God isn’t triune? That the Son and the Holy Spirit are separate.
        I was not raised Christian, and I had very little Christian influence growing up from outside connections. It wasn’t something that I was persuaded to do. It was by choice, and hearing my calling. I have never been particularly persuaded toward one denomination or another. I don feel that because of this, I have a very objective opinion without bias. From what i’ve heard I tend to lean toward the trinity being less possible than a single God. Mainly because I can’t grasp the idea of the trinity using logic combined with actual biblical reference. Anytime I hear biblical reference explained in a trinitarian context, it doesn’t seem to add up for me. I will continue to try to see what i cannot see now.

        In regards to your reply to my first question: So it is safe to say that nowhere in the bible does it say that Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father? If this is true, then why does the apostles creed say that jesus sat at the right hand of the father rather than at the right hand of God, like it says everywhere else in the bible?

        Comment by iRuminate — November 25, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

  15. Sorry, I should have edited before posting. Instead of ” I don’t feel that because of this…. it should say that “Because of this I feel that I have…”

    Comment by iRuminate — November 25, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

    • Sorry; that should have said “as stated above” (the reference to the preceding paragraph) and I’ve corrected the original reply.

      The trinity is not polytheistic. The idea is one of relationship, and it begins at the beginning in Genesis, “Let us make man in our image.” Note the plural. There are seven verses of scriptures that are considered key trinitarian indicators. The most often referenced is at Jesus’ baptism, where God the Father speaks from heaven and says, “This is my beloved son…” (italics added) and then the Holy Spirit sets on Jesus in the form of a dove. There’s also the verse in Acts which indicates that the Father gave the authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit.

      Attempts to use models as analogies may be helpful in stretching our minds, but they all break down at some point. Still the various models:

      * water, ice, steam (which fails because it is ‘modalistic’)
      * 1 X 1 X 1 = 1
      * length, width, depth (which fails because it’s not really trinitarian)
      * the three leaves of a clover (I’ve never understood that one myself)

      get us thinking about things we already experience in nature that come close — but not close enough — to a trinitarian model.

      The trinity is a doctrinal concept that for some reason, people who grew up in eastern religions, or grew up in areas dominated by eastern religions often have a hard time with. But the Old Testament teaching, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is one…” (italics added) is equally true in the New Testament or New Covenant times in which we now live.

      The main thing is this: The centerpiece of Christianity is Jesus. Focus on Him, His life, His teachings, His atoning work on the cross; and I believe the other details will take care of themselves over time.

      …As to your other comment, the framers of the Apostles Creed are simply accepting that their audience understood The Father as God. This is partially reflective of a Biblical teaching that the Son is somewhat subordinate to the Father. They are equally God, but many, many scriptures point to an order within the relationship.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — November 25, 2012 @ 10:35 pm

      • For 1500 years Israel (Spiritual Israel) worshiped The creator Yahweh according to the fashion of worship He had set for them. As a nation they were apostate throughout their history, but there was always a core of true believers who maintained the faith. The true believers knew that the Law was their teacher and not their judge, just as Jesus would later teach. The Pharisees added to the Law and made it a burden upon the people. Jesus tried to relieve them of this burden, and those who believed in Him were set free from the heavy yoke it placed on them, but the majority of the people were stiff necked and devoted to their religious practices which were mere shadows of true faith and they continued to hearken to the voices of their Pharisaic leaders. True Christianity is different from Judaism in that it is not a Temple bound faith. We are circumcised in our hearts rather than our bodies. The law is written on our hearts rather than in stone. Following Christ’s commandments is a matter of Love for Him and not mere religious observance. The Jews looked forward to their Messiah. We can know Him through personal relationship. These are the main differences between the faith practiced in the Jewish dispensation, and true Christianity. We do, however, worship the same God. God does not change. Jesus did not preach that God was different than what the true Jewish believers had known Him to be. He upheld what the Hebrew scriptures said about his Father Yahweh. What he objected to was their adding to the Law, and their opposition to Him as their Messiah. Jesus never identified Himself as being Yahweh or being on the same level as Yahweh. The word Elohim in Hebrew and the word Theos in Greek do not carry the same meaning as our English word God. They are both words that describe authority and power, and Yahweh is, of course, the highest authority and power. In fact all authority and power come from Him. Jesus carried the full authority and power of Yahweh because Yahweh had given it to Him, but there is a difference between having authority and power and being the source of it. Unitarian Christians (Biblical unitarians, not universalists) Worship the same God as presented in the Old Testament, and He is the same God taught in the New testament. The Trinity is an extra-biblical doctrine devised in the Church councils of the fourth and Fifth centuries, and was not taught by the apostles, nor is it found in scripture. Properties of the creation such as the water, ice, steam model you use above are the same arguments that pagan religions use for the trinities and triads found in their belief systems. These things apply to the creation and not to the creator. The ultimate source of all which is Yahweh Elohim is “echad” which means one numerically, not one in substance or purpose. Jesus is one with the father in purpose, not substance. Spirit does not have substance, and God is Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father. Spirit is not something He has, it’s what He is. By the way. There’s no such thing as “somewhat subordinate.” Your either subordinate, or you not. The order is Yahweh #1, Jesus #2, and Holy Spirit- same as the Father as well as the active force of the Father’s will.

        Comment by Marvin — June 18, 2013 @ 7:51 am

      • At comment limit.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 18, 2013 @ 9:10 am

      • Paul, I’m sorry, but the “Let us make man in our image.” is not any indication of a schizophrenic Godhead talking to Himself. The heavenly host were present, so seeing this as in any way an indicator of a Trinity of the Godhead is a very huge stretch. How the events of Jesus baptism indicates a trinity escapes me as well. God is speaking from heaven to his Son on Earth and His Spirit settles upon Jesus indicating His anointing to commence His ministry on earth. How does authority being given by God to his human Son through His Spirit indicate the co-equal relationship of a Trinity of Godhead? Baptism is a symbol of being raised from one life into another greater one. Christ went from life as the unique human Son of God to his ministry in which He carried the authority and power of his Father. That power was not His own. It came from His Father, and Christ took every opportunity to give the credit to Him alone. This was not just humility, it was a matter of fact. By the way, I just love how you associate rejection of the Trinity with influence from “eastern religion.” I assume you mean pagan peoples from further east than the the people of Judea with whom the Christian religion originated. Are you aware that these pagan religions, including the Greek and Roman pagans from whom the majority of western Christian peoples of later early Christianity were drawn, all had a trinity of gods at the top of their pantheons? The Jews were the only exception in that they rejected all notions of plurality of authority in heaven. Yahweh has no equals, not even His Son is His equal. There is no such thing as “somewhat subordinate”. There is equality and there is subordination. The terms are mutually exclusive. The words elohim and theos are reletive. They do not mean “God.” They are functional titles describing High authority and power, both in heaven, and on earth. God the Father is Elohim, and Jesus is elohim. (Capitalization is an English convention and is absent from Hebrew) They are both elohim, but they are not equally elohim. Since elohim has been translated into english as “God” or “god” this word has taken that meaning in the minds of English speaking people, but this is not the understanding conveyed by the scriptures. English speakers would never use the word god to refer to a human being except if speaking in hyperbole or mockery. The Jews in Biblical times used elohim frequently to refer to men, angels and also God. Only context indicated its intended meaning. Jesus is referred to as elohim or when translated into Greek as theos. There was nothing unusual about this. Jesus is our elohim. He has been given absolute authority over men and angels, but he is not the eternal creator, and He is still subordinate to the Father.

        Comment by Marvin Moran — June 27, 2013 @ 2:45 am

  16. I agree that foundational beliefs must be taken into consideration when applying the title Christian to a person of group. Not for the sake of condemnation or personal rejection but if someone is not worshiping the same God we need to know it so we do not enter into false worship with them. That does not mean we hate or even dislike them and even if we don’t like a person God has told us we must treat them justly anyway. I do not fit the title Christian as a matter of fact I have not found a completely accurate title or lable for myself (others my have). I believe in the One God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Uniquely Singular, Self-existant, AlmightyGod who revealed Himself at Sinai, I believe in His chosen Messiah, Yeshua, not as God but as a fully human being, I believe there is no salvation in any other but him. I believe Yeshua is my comming King and Cohen godol (high priest) That he died and was resurrected to eternal life and will live forever as King and Priest -and I honor him as that.. In essence I do hold many of the same beliefs about Yeshua as Christian but not in his diety. Call me what you like. I will still respect and treat you with compasion and justice – just as Torah teaches and Yeshua reaffirmed.

    Comment by Eileen — January 24, 2013 @ 5:59 am

    • Thanks for writing. If you care to write back, why not his deity? And what do you do with his claim, “I and the father are one?” I’m not wanting to debate this, I just want to learn how the puzzle pieces fit together for you. And how is the salvation in him accomplished; in other words where does the cross fit in?

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 24, 2013 @ 9:19 am

      • The Greek word for “one” in this passage “hen” is a word implying unity of purpose. If the implication was that Jesus and the Father were a single person the writer would have used the word “heis” which implies the cardinal number “1,” just like in “echad” of the Shema in the Old Testament “Hear O Israel Yahweh your Elohim (GOD) is one (echad) Lord.” Jesus was raised to divine status to act as our mediator, but he is still fully human in nature. He is divine in His risen state because he is holy and completely obedient to His father, but he is not deity as in existing from eternity. He is immortal not eternal, and he relies on His Father. Only a human could accomplish atonement for sinful humanity. He completed the Law by upholding it in perfection. God cannot atone for men. The first Adam brought sin into the world, and the last Adam (Christ) both upheld the Law with His life, and paid its price in His Death on the cross.

        Comment by Marvin — June 18, 2013 @ 4:34 am

      • I agree with all you say about what Christ accomplished on the cross.

        In the book we recently reviewed here, Jesus: A Theography authors Sweet and Viola would argue that while many understate the humanity of Jesus in his incarnate state, Jesus’ divinity is stated in scripture in both His pre-incarnate and post-incarnate state.

        I prefer the idea that God created man in order to express something of a relationship that already existed in the Godhead.

        Face it; we read the Bible differently.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 18, 2013 @ 9:04 am

  17. The trinity is a key doctrine of the Christian faith. People can believe whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean it is Christian. It is a false gospel. Even if an angel from heaven tells you differently you must not believe false doctrine. There is lots of room for variety in Christianity, but the trinity is not one of them.

    Comment by Heidi — February 10, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    • A Christian is one who puts their faith in God’s Son the Hebrew messiah or Christ for Salvation. I can understand that belief in a Trinity of the Godhead has been drilled into you, but nowhere does scripture say that one must believe in the Trinity in order to call themselves Christian. There are many statements in scripture that identify what one must believe in order to be saved, and the Trinity is not one of them. There was no concept of a Trinity in Christian writing before the fourth century, and no written doctrine of the Trinity until much later. By the way, where do you get the idea that not believing in the Trinity is a false doctrine? Doctrines are based on positive statements of scripture. Not believing in something is not a doctrine, false or otherwise. It’s simply non-belief. Our faith as Christians is based on believing what God has explicitly said in His Word, and the Trinity is not found in God’s Word. The gospel accounts of Jesus’ conception identify Jesus’ father as being the Holy Spirit, and yet, Jesus always identified His father as Yahweh the creator. If the Holy Spirit is a person separate from Yahweh and part of a Trinity, then how do you explain that both the Holy Spirit and Yahweh are Jesus’ father? This discrepancy is explained by the fact that Yahweh and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, and Jesus is Yahweh’s Son. Didn’t you ever wonder why the Holy Spirit is never given its own name? How about the fact that the Holy spirit is never mentioned as being prayed to, and yet Jesus always prayed to His Father Yahweh and identified Him as being greater than Himself. Know a little more about scripture before you make statements that imply a whole class of true believers are not Christian.

      Comment by Marvin — June 18, 2013 @ 3:46 am

      • I would agree that people do not need to be able to ‘grasp’ or intellectually process the complexity of the Godhead in order to be saved. Scripture invites us to ‘Come as a child.’

        But I do believe that creeds have served us well — there are many things not contained there, but this particular doctrine is considered central — and that if a group or individual wishes to depart on something therein, it does push them to the margins.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 18, 2013 @ 8:57 am

    • Paul, in reference to your reply to my post above. There is a difference between divinity and deity. God’s written word is divine because it issues from The Father who is the deity and eternal in nature. Christ is divine because He perfectly reflects and represents that word, but He is not deity and not eternal. He has been risen to Immortality. There is no meaning to Christ rising from the dead if he possessed eternal existence. God cannot die. Christ did die, in all respects. From His Crucifixion until His resurrection, He was fully dead. God rose Him from the dead because His sinless perfect life entitled Him in God’s eyes to immortality. This takes nothing from either God (the Father) or Jesus (Christ the Son). In fact Christ’s sinless life and perfect sacrifice is all the more miraculous and wonderful because it was accomplished by a man who chose complete obedience though He could have chosen otherwise. Christ was free from the curse that descended from Adam because of His miraculous birth from a virgin through the working of the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of the Father. No ordinary man could have done what He did. Only a man free from the curse could live a sinless life, and only by choosing obedience over selfish desire. The Bible does not say that Christ “incarnated” which would imply His being alive before His birth. It says he manifested in the Flesh. John 1:1 says that the word “logos” was in the beginning with ( O Theos)( definite article + noun) “the God” and that it was “Godly” or divine (Theos) (adjective with no article). In other words God’s word or divine plan was fully formed from the beginning of His work of creation, and it was Holy or Divine. It was His intent or plan from the beginning. Then in the fulness of time that plan “became flesh” or was implemented both figuratively and literally in the life of His Son Jesus who manifested, or “made known” or revealed that plan in His Life and ministry among men. The logos was not a divine being who incarnated in a human body. The logos was God’s plan that was manifested in the life of His Son who was born of a virgin. Yes we do read the Bible differently, but I read it and try not to read into it. We cannot read an English translation created by men with preconceived ideas as if that’s the way it was understood in the original language. The definite article attached to Theos in the first clause identifies the noun which refers to God possessing his word from the beginning. The lack of an article before Theos in the second clause implies it is an adjective describing the divine quality of the word. The logos is not a living being until it is “made flesh” at the birth of Jesus.

      Comment by Marvin Moran — June 26, 2013 @ 1:46 am

  18. The “Holy Trinity” is a tradition of men introduced by the Roman empire which Scripture warns us about. You will know them by their fruits. The early Triune believers were murderers taking the true saints to synagogues and slaying them as foretold. Today people are free to study and decide for themselves to believe the words of Jesus without fear of a literal noose around their neck (although the verbal chopping block is still in effect by some traditionalists).
    Jesus our Lord and Savior said His Father is greater than He which alone blows apart the whole co-equal concept. He also said God is a Spirit, plain and simple. Paul confirms that God is the head of Christ Who will again be made subject. Father and Son are in fact one just as the Bride is one in them and is full of understanding and devotion for Her Husband with no other beside Him.
    I, like so many others, (and more by the day) believe Jesus’ words and fear God and none other. The great Apostacy is coming to its close as truth seekers who were sick, hurting, and dying of the old Trinity style death and greed have found the saving power of God in His gospel. Look around you and see the Spirit filled Church body arising out of the harlot to one day meet their fellow martyrs under the alter. O Death where is your sting.

    Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

    Comment by sonflower — February 19, 2013 @ 2:46 am

    • Paul, it’s really not a matter of being able to “grasp” the concept of the Trinity. There’s nothing to grasp. The “intellectual process” involves taking language used to convey cogent thoughts, and extracting the meaning contained within them through the use of logic. There’s a huge difference between complex ideas and logical contradictions. Complex ideas can be understood, but logical contradictions cannot. 1+1+1=1 is not a complex idea. It is a logical contradiction. Nobody can understand the doctrine of the Trinity because it is a logical contradiction. It doesn’t matter how hard you think about it. It still makes no sense. Coming to God as a child refers to coming to him as if helpless, blind, powerless, and in need of saving. It doesn’t mean coming to him with no understanding and intellectually stymied. Creeds have only served to divide believer from believer, so if you are going to call a doctrine “central” then you must identify what it is central to. It is central to the the Trinitarian viewpoint. There have always been non-Trinitarian Christians and they were “pushed to the margins” at the point of a sword or bullied into submission by the henchmen of The Emperor Constantine in his effort to quell rebellion in his empire. He was by no means convinced of the Trinity. In fact he changed his mind a number of times. The truth is that Unitarian Christianity was always willing to accept those who believed in the Trinity, but Trinitarians have been rabid and murderous in their non acceptance of anyone not accepting the Trinity. Any large group based on a central premise will have some men willing to kill in order to press their will upon others, but the false Church instituted by Constantine, and married to the state, was institutionally murderous to the core and willing to kill any and all that would not submit to their oppressive insistence that all “true believers” must accept the Trinity. Why would any true believer accept the dictates of a murderous Emperor over their own conscience except to preserve their lives?

      Comment by Marvin Moran — June 26, 2013 @ 12:32 am

  19. What Is a foundational belief that is not clearly stated in the scriptures? When exactly did God say it was acceptable to create foundational doctrines for His Church, from extra-biblical man-made creeds? Basing a doctrine on a document created by men after the completion of the canon of scripture has absolutely no validity. By doing this what is being implied is that God was incapable of plainly stating all the truth we need to know about Him in the pages of His holy scriptures, and called upon men of later centuries to complete the job for Him. It is blasphemous for men to speak for God. The Trinity is nowhere stated in scripture, and the few passages that are used in its defense (including spurious passages such as the “Johannine Comma” of 1 John: 5-7) are very weak defenses when compared to the mountain of scriptural evidence that contradict such a notion. Nowhere is it stated that belief in man-made creeds is a prerequisite for salvation.

    Comment by Marvin — June 18, 2013 @ 3:10 am

    • “Nowhere is it stated that belief in man-made creeds is a prerequisite for salvation..”

      Nowhere is it stated here that Trinitarians believe that to be true. In your passion, you are attributing things to the original article here that are perhaps the result of other conversations you’ve had with other people. We are saved by the completed work of Jesus on the cross. His shed blood is our salvation.

      I think there’s some relevance here to the discussion we had on Tuesday here regarding the translation of the KJV: “The difference came in deciding on the lawfulness of religious behavior and belief that were not mentioned in the Bible. If something wasn’t mentioned, did that mean God had no view on it? Or if it wasn’t mentioned, did that mean that God did not approve of it?” In a strict Puritan reading of the scriptures, it would be impossible to extrapolate anything. Yet this is exactly what Jesus expected, teaching in parables, dealing in mysteries, speaking in remezes.

      Beyond that, I can’t respond to anything else in the time I have today because your comments are all written as single paragraphs and appear as a blur. However, just for the record, the analogy is not “1 + 1 + 1 + 1″ which would be a logical contradiction, but ” 1 X 1 X 1 = 1″ and furthermore it is acknowledged that none of those models are intended as full representations, they are simply there to explain to children or seekers how the possibility of God existing in three personages is possible.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 26, 2013 @ 9:29 am

      • Paul, this comment about the prerequisites for salvation was composed on a separate page and mistakenly pasted in the wrong position. Oops! It was actually in response to Hiedi a little further up on the page. And it is responding to her implying that not believing in the Trinity excludes one from the privilege of calling themselves Christian. Despite your insistence this is a typical Trinitarian attitude, and it is stated all the time. Trinitarianism was not associated with Christianity until after the Fourth century Church councils, and was forced on people at the point of a sword and with the threat of exile, which in those times was the same as a death sentence. Yet those who proudly call themselves Christian by virtue of their acceptance of this doctrine, would exclude all others from acceptance as fellow believers in Christ as their Lord and Savior. The sword may have been taken away, but the same hateful divisive rhetoric is still at work, whether you, Paul, are personally guilty of it.

        Comment by Marvin Moran — June 27, 2013 @ 3:25 am

  20. […] February of 2011, I wrote an article at Thinking Out Loud asking, ‘If the doctrine of the Trinity is one of 7-10 core […]

    Pingback by The Other Side of “Trinity” | Christianity 201 — June 23, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  21. Please don’t shoot the messenger. I get the idea people think I invented “Trinity” in my basement or something.

    Our initial response to Christ’s work on the cross provides our salvation. But over time, our adherence or assent to the statement of faith of any given Evangelical church determines if we stand with them or prefer to dwell in the margins. Being part of a marginal group, whether Jehovah’s Witnesses or even possibly Mormon, doesn’t “undo” our salvation. Like any church, I think that among the “Jesus only” churches there are people who are genuinely saved and people aren’t. That’s not up to me to decide.

    Remember the question that started all this:

    If the Trinity is such an important tenet of Christian belief (the Apostle’s Creed), why do we venerate singers like Phillips, Craig & Dean and preachers like T. D. Jakes who are non-trinitarian as though they are “one of us”? If a singer or preacher didn’t believe that Jesus was truly God and man would we welcome him/her the same way? What if they didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

    Every time I hear a Phillips, Craig & Dean song on Christian radio it makes me squirm. Am I being judgmental?

    And remember that my concluding paragraphs expressed a desire to limit discussion to that question:

    I know from past experience that this blog post is going to attract the usual comments from people in the UPC denomination and similar churches. I take it as a given that such people most certainly consider themselves Christians and don’t consider modalism a dealbreaker.

    It’s everyone else I want to hear from.

    Otherwise, take up the debate with the National Association of Evangelicals, or content yourself with existing outside mainstream Evangelicalism.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 26, 2013 @ 9:36 am

    • Paul, the question is not whether one exists outside “mainstream Evangelicalism.” Evangelicalism does not define Christianity. My theological perspective is Biblical unitarianism. In case the term unitarian brings Unitarian Universalist to mind, no, I am not a Unitarian Universalist this is something else entirely. No Biblical unitarian is going to be offended by not being called “Evangelical” (even though it seems to apply only Evangelicals evangelize). What is offensive is being referred to as non- Christian. Not all Christians are Trinitarians. The earliest Christians were all unitarian. The Trinity didn’t develop until centuries later, so it’s quite offensive to hear the term Christian taken hostage by the latecomers by virtue of being in the majority. Might does not make right, and majority may rule by superior numbers, but it does not define truth.
      If by “You can’t have it both ways” you mean that you can’t be Christian and not accept the trinity, I would have to ask you what part of scripture this rule is contained in, and by who’s authority do you presume to impose it? Unitarians are not on the margin, they are on the cutting edge. You use the term “margin” as an epithet to imply being far from the truth. I would caution you to never assume your position defines truth and that those who disagree with your position are therefore “on the margin” of Christianity. Historically, unitarians have taken the position of being accepting of other Christian viewpoints even if they personally disagree with those views. No Christian has the right to put another true believer “on the margins’ away from fellowship in the Body of Christ. To punish believers for being true to their conscience and rejecting what they consider a false doctrine, is just plain wrong.

      Comment by Marvin Moran — June 27, 2013 @ 4:30 am

      • Well, Marvin; you’ve successfully managed to kill this discussion for everybody.

        Comments are now closed.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 27, 2013 @ 9:21 am


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