Ordinary

Where I find You
It seems at times logically rational
To be amid the sacred
Walls that hedge the gap between secular and spiritual
And in religious motions and postures
That depict worship
There is truth in that I’m sure
But if it stays there then
You seem a distant reality
Only present in a certain sphere
And why should I box where you want to reveal Yourself?
I want to also seek you
In the Ordinary

i care but i don’t care

God

“But Jobs’ discussion about God with Isaacson later in his life leaves us wondering: Did Steve Jobs accept Christ before he died?” (Read the rest of the article here.)

The article was going out well until the part I quoted above. It’s just like saying, “I care about you, really. But only until I know for sure you “accepted Christ.” I don’t think we really do care at all, and that’s how (not) to speak of God.

 

 

Relationships:deconstructing preconceived ideas

A young woman and man embracing while outdoors.
Image via Wikipedia

These thoughts came about when me and my cousin were talking about God and how I defined God or how I would explain about God. Well my explanation about that was using the analogy of being in a relationship. Well, not that I’m an expert on relationships but I somehow know a thing or two about it.

Before someone actually plunges into a relationship (romantic), he or she will have some of their own ideas of what the “perfect” mate should be. She must have a personality or he must be smart or whatever. We have at the beginning our own well worked preconceptions of what we think we want and the make-ups of the ideal man or woman.

But as we enter in a relationship with someone, even if in the beginning the people we got attracted to carried in them traits of what we call perfect, the ideal idea that we have of what we think makes the perfect someone is slowly being deconstructed to meet a realistic depiction of what we encounter. Here, we either refuse to accept and then break off or we learn to accept and reconstruct a more realistic depiction of someone we are having relationship with.

The process of deconstructing our preconceived notions happens in the event of our ideas being met with a real person. And slowly we shed the skin of our preconceived ideas to something more realistic. Or should I say a reconstructed idea of a good mate.

Like relationships like I mentioned above, I think that is how we get to know God, like we get to know people. We have certain preconceived ideas to start with but as we have “relationship” with this God we slowly deconstruct our ideas of a God based on our ideas to a God based on our relationship with him.

Well, although this may be a post on knowing God, it is in someways how I would view stuff about relationships as well. As we know the person, or as we crash out of relationships, our preconceived ideas about the ideal gets deconstructed until we somehow get a realistic grasp of what really matters.

Here’s a quote that, in someways explains the reflections I presented above, although the context of the whole quote has a particular issue of relationship at hand. But the idea of deconstructing our preconceived notions of ideal is represented beautifully here:

Stanley Hauerwas, an ethicist at Duke, says that we always marry the wrong person. The sooner young couples can understand that, the better off they’ll be. I hear young couples say, “You mean you don’t want us to be soul mates?” But nobody marries his or her soul mate. [Quote taken from this article here.]

Pain of God and Some Scattered Musings on an Article

Source:
Chuang, Chua How. “A Missiological Appropriation of the Motif of Suffering in Kitamori’s Pain of God Theology.” Mission Round Table: The Occasional Bulletin of OMF Mission Research (December 2008 Vol.4 No.2)

These are just scattered scribblings I jotted down and some quotes from the article above. I hope to do a full article reflection on Chuang’s article soon. To be honest, I haven’t read anything like it and hence my excitement. I guess that’s a rather lame excuse to make. But I’m glad I get to read some good theological reflection by a Japanese theologian. I haven’t got Kitamori’s book but that will be on my wish list now.

All the quotes below are taken from page 19 of the article.

According to Chuang, this is Kitamori’s thesis of his theology, “Divine pain is constitutive of divine grace.” Kitamori’s reflection on this is directed to God the Father, where in the suffering and death of his son, God himself suffers pain.

Kitamori’s definition of forgiveness “the act of forgiving the unforgivable.”

“…divine love is not a smooth and easy love, for it is “the love of the enemy.””

“The fact that this fighting God is not two different gods but the same God causes his pain.”

“In sum, the divine hospitality offered to us in Christ comes to us through divine violence.”

Reflection: This view somehow responds to the western notion that largely sees God’s sending of Jesus to the cross as cosmic child abuse, where God sacrifices his son as atonement for humanity. But taking Kitamori’s explanation, it did not eradicate a feeling of pain that God would have felt himself. In fact the very act in which God sacrificing Jesus in our place causes him much anguish because he is sacrificing his beloved son in the place of those who should have been put in that place. God’s conflicting love for both humanity as a whole and his son infuses his pain in placing one above the other for the benefit of humanity. We must not lose the perspective that Jesus is the son of God as well lest we also fall into the trap of thinking this act as a cosmic child abuse. The nature of the one doing the act of abuse is that the person is detached from his act whereas in God’s case as Kitamori explains, God suffers pain in his sending of his son.

Another important element when reflecting this article on a theology of pain, is the overemphasis that the west And Asians for that matter because we digest a lot of their theology, has predominantly set it’s focus on love. It is out of the motivation of love that one tries to argue a case for God to people in general. But love, left alone to itself puffs up. When it avoids the reality of pain, a focus solely hinged on love comes into stark criticism. When the act of Jesus suffering and dying for humanity comes into the picture, the depiction of a loving father in God is tarnished. But putting Kitamori’s proposal one is able to redeem a more comprehensive view of God. God is conflicted in his love for the unlovable and his love for his son as well. Conflicted in a sense that to love the other means to punish his son in an act of redeeming humanity.

But another thing must be reflected in this sense, can a divine being feel our suffering with the knowledge of his son being resurrected? But does a prerequisite in knowing obscure the emotional tangle of pain? Yet having his son take on a mortal state, living in the arms brace of danger and is required to take on life like a human being by living in obedience, this would negate a felt position of having pain.

The only thing that I find as a problem here is, the NT largely does not make any mention of God the Father suffering pain. Now I might be wrong but to my knowledge nothing comes to mind at the moment. With that, does that mean that Kitamori reads too much into the text? I’m still trying to grapple on this. So at best these are just scattered thoughts at the moment. I hope to do a more thorough post on this soon. I guess that’s one thing I like when writing on my blog. This post at best are just some sort of reflection scribbled down in haste, more like some sort of experimental musings.

IQ Determines How One View Religion and God?

Argument from inconsistent revelations
Image via Wikipedia

“Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population,” says Ulster University academic Richard Lynn. “Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.”

The quote above is taken from this article which can be found here. Sometimes it baffles me as to how so called experts can come up with a study that is largely reductionist and simplistic as this. As if to say that it is having a certain amount of IQ determines that one is better than the others. I have no grudges on atheist, who have their right to disbelieve in God but to base their arguments on IQ is somewhat a joke. In that sense, how will they make reasoned arguments to people with lesser IQ’s, if what they are propagating is the truth? This is because if one is hampered with low IQ, then they are in no sense able to make reasoned decisions based on what they decipher as true or not. Having no viable framework to think for themselves, isn’t militant atheism a form of oppressive “religion” in how they too like “religion” (in how they understand it) make a case for their own brand of propaganda? Isn’t “militant atheism” a form of imperialism in itself, where the elite rules in what is viable fact to believe?

H/T: Jesus Creed

 

On the Train with a Book and a Conversation

20110716-012948.jpg

I rode the train today
And in that instance you’ll know
I don’t make a lot of money
But enough for one to sow
I took out my book
On the cover spelt something something “God”
On the subject of theology
And heretical orthodoxy
I hear some people say
Ah, whatever
As long as it’s something to read
On the journey to my destination
I have my mind to feed
I know it’s nothing to rid me of anguish
So I’ll fill my mind with good musings
And not magazine rubbish
So I sat and I read
And minded my own business
Until someone asked me what’s on the cover
So I showed him
“how (not) to speak about God” by Peter Rollins
He asked “are you a Christian?”
I answered “yes” with some hesitation
“I’m sorry,” I whispered a prayer
For my cowardly reservation
Of course this was not my intention
For my cowardly faith allegiance
Cause this is Malaysia
I want to respect other religions
So I listened to that guy
He went on rambling
Talking about a place
Where miracles and healing took precedence
I think there was a Muslim
Sitting in between
Hearing this man talking
About other who shared his faith
Turning from Islam to Christian
Here in Malaysia it something forbidden
It’s a law they put up with historical leanings
This guy drew me a map Of where they worshiped
On my book by Peter Rollins
He scribbled with a pencil
And soon I arrived at my destination
And with me I had a conversation
Reading about God
In a train with my pain
Still needing some form of healing.

20110716-012948.jpg

Sometimes we just evolve in our thinkings about God

I used to be radically charismatic. I believed that if you didn’t have the gift of tongues, you didn’t have the Holy Spirit in you. I used to wake up in the morning in search of that tingling experience where following what Benny Hinn wrote in his book, I’d have that sort of heavenly experience trickling over me. I used to hear God speaking to me, in a still small voice, I had no doubts. But I guess I didn’t experience them all as I’ve been taught. There were real encounters but most, if I’m honest, were my own projections. I was “slained in the Spirit” but when I fell, I felt pain. I guess I thought that something was wrong with me. But that was my concept of God back then. 

Then I went to bible school, to make myself equipped for ministry. They gave us Grudem and Erickson to read. I read positions where people were critical of anything charismatic and that’s when I digested fundamentalism. I was Reformed to be specific. I was snobbish and highly critical of views than ran counter. I evaluated sermons and saw gaping holes in the preachers doctrines. To me God was the author of our life, which is true of course. I guess I swam too much in the curents of predestination until it became too much part of how I thought about God. God was nicely bracketed and caged in my well structured doctrines. God was Reformed. But soon inchanged my views eventually. 

A tragic accident and staring at death in the face broke my well intentioned stance of God being boxed in doctrines. I was reeling in the death of a friend who I held till his last breath on our way to the hospital. That for me was the longest day. It felt like time had stopped. I started questioning God after that. Too many questions, if you will until I almost lost all faith in God. But then instarted reading stuff on Emergent and Emerging groups. They asked questions and were far more generous in how they believed in God. Their questions became mine and soon thought that God was still something worth believing. I read stuff by N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight and others to name just a few. Jesus was Jewish? Jesus was deeply steeped in history? That marked my recovery from agnostic to Christian again, or rather a follower of Jesus. 

I’m still very much in still trying to understand God. I try to unlearn what needs to be unlearned and learn new things and be open. I remain optimistic with new ideas when people come up with them. I value more conversations rather than trying to answer every question. I love dialogue rather than arguments. I mean we all have good point to learn from one another. To me, God is not an open ended question and answer kind of thing. It takes us constant wrestling with the biblical text we read as our basis for foundation. We should be open with new strands of thought that comes to picture. After all, we have minds given to us to think through stuff. We should not neglect we are learners at best. 

I think right now is another transition. Sometimes I’m tired to be relegated back again to the same old drawing board. But it is a needed thing to do all our journeys. A frien once gave me a good quote. Intraced it back while reading through my old posts, thinking about something to write. I also had a good conversation last night over the same line of thought as what I’ve written above. It would do us good to learn from the quote.

“if your concept of God is radically false, the more devoted you are, the worse off you will be.” William Temple

The Concept of God as Trinity and a Response to Modalism

The Shield of the Trinity is a diagram of the ...
Image via Wikipedia

Introduction

The doctrine of the trinity is one of the most hard to grasp and explained teaching in Christianity. Many Christians steer away from trying to understand it or flee whenever questions asking about their understanding of it (the trinity) comes about. But when people try to explain it in various descriptions and models, their explanation of the trinity either lead their views to embrace tritheism; the understanding that God is three or modalism; the understanding that God is one but has revealed himself to us in three forms; Father, Son and Holy Spirit at different points of time.

Concerning this Doctrine in Malaysia, most Christians ascribe to it in the form of information. But upon further investigation, the majority explain or understand the trinity taking modalism as their reference point. Being a multiracial country with diverse religions, the turn towards monotheism and in that conjunction, modalism, is a logical jump to take.

This study will be in response to modalism which Christians in Malaysia have in understanding God, where, although ascribing to monotheism, refutes embracing the Christian doctrine of a monotheistic Trinitarian God. This study will consist of the historical development of the doctrine of the trinity particularly tracing the developments of modalism. Next, the biblical perspective is investigated, but responding first to the question of how the early Christians made the radical jump ‘from’ their monotheistic faith to embrace the concept of the trinity. The remainder of the study will look into the implication and importance of this doctrine for the Christian faith.

 

1.      The Development of the Doctrine of Trinity in History

This doctrine (trinity) has seen it being developed over a long period of time in an attempt to respond to a problem that the early believers that time were grappling about where integration of three different beliefs “the heritage of monotheism, the confession of Jesus’ lordship, and the experience of the Holy Spirit,”[1] were to be merged together. In order to give some detailed understanding concerning modalism, it is best to see it in the light of historical development.

In the development of this doctrine based on the considerations above, Grenz observes that there are two phase of the development in history, where, firstly, focus was turned to God’s relationship to Jesus and second, was concerned with the nature of the Holy Spirit.[2]

The early discussion surrounding Trinitarian debate focused on early Christological debates- in the “mid-second century” which focused on the explanation known as the “logos Christology” dealing with passages found in John 1 and also in the creation of the world in Genesis to the implication of this Jesus, who is ascribed as divine, also being fully human. 73 But some were not happy with this explanation labelling the explanation above not monotheism but believing in two gods. Dynamic monarchism, which can be ascribed to Theodotus in Rome at about A. D. 190 and Paul of Samosata[3] is the theory “that the divine power descended upon the man Jesus, so that he was not ontologically God but merely the carrier of the divine power, an inspired man.”[4]

The other known as the “modalistic monarchism” tried to explain that the three forms Father , Son and Spirit are three ways in which God had revealed himself to people[5] and also that they did not stand for exact distinctiveness.[6] Erickson, sees some hope in this doctrine because it seeks to adhere to the concept of the trinity, where all three are divine and one. But as mentioned previously, it is the oneness that is emphasised because they do not see Father, Son and Spirit as distinct persons.[7]

Controversy again arose from a deacon named Arius of Alexandria who wanted to defend the monotheistic understanding of God. For him Jesus was not divine and that he was a created being, this understanding which he derived from understanding the “biblical verb “to beget” means “to make”- the Father made the Son.”[8] Athanasius opposed this view by stating that it will dent the doctrine of salvation. And in Nicea 325 the affirmation of Jesus’ divinity was agreed.[9]

On the Deity of Spirit, basically, followers of Arius were the ones who raised this issue, stating that the Holy Spirit as the other creature created by the Father. This controversy is ascribed to Macedonius who was Bishop of Constantinople.[10] This again was further opposed by Athanasius who noted that the Holy Spirit is placed on equal footing with the Father and the Son in the baptismal formulas, apostolic benedictions, and Trinitarian doxologies found in the New Testament and in the early Christian literature.”[11] 77 But the most important pointer noted by Athanasius pertaining the argument is its connection with soteriology where the Spirit that enters us upon conversion must be the very spirit of God. This question was settled in the “Second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in 381.”[12]

Taking note of the shifts in Christian history concerning how the doctrine of the Trinity was developed, it does reveal to us that issues concerning the trinity, in the case of modalism, are not new. For this particular study which seeks to trace the development of modalism through history, one sees that earlier proponents especially those who were modalistic monarchism, although trying to keep the concept of trinity failed to see their mistakes in the designation and understanding that they sought to hold concerning the trinity. This view is known popularly now as “Oneness Theology,” where instead of holding on the concept of “One God, three Persons,” because of the difficulty in ascribing to this Trinitarian modal opted for a more monotheistic bent. Therefore, we now move to the bible to help us discern the thought progress concerning a biblical Trinitarian modal that is a move away from modalism.

2.      Trinity: In Biblical Perspective

This particular part of the paper will seek to see how concepts of the trinity were developed among the Early Christians and then tracing this development (albeit assumed) to the Old Testament and it’s clearer picture in the New Testament. The question of the Early Jewish Christian is treated first in the hope that discoveries in this development might assimilate data from the subsequent study concerning the data found in the Old Testament concerning hints towards a plurality in the Godhead. This will thus lead to the investigation in the New Testament which speak more clearly concerning the concept of the trinity.

                                                                                          

a.      The Early Christians: Did the early Jewish Christians disregard their monotheism?

 One of the constant questions that I have whenever thinking about trinity and reading through material that pertains to it is the question regarding, “How did the early Jewish Christians overcome their monotheistic leanings and embrace the addition of Jesus in the equation of their monotheism?”

I think if one wants to overcome barriers pertaining to the study of the doctrine of the trinity might find some hope in seeing how the early Christians overcame their strict monotheism. Because for them, it was a significant jump that they too, knowing so much that monotheism was at the centre of their belief in God.

Thomas H. McCall has probed some interesting insights in the acceptance of the early Christians of somewhat ‘modifying’ their monotheism. His survey of the development is gained from looking through the period of Second Temple Judaism, a period which relate to the understanding of the NT writers.[13] Jews during those periods were strict in their monotheism. The highest form of exclusive monotheism was worship which was central.[14] It is interesting to note in McCall’s survey, he quotes Bauckham as saying

“Jewish monotheism clearly distinguished the one God and all other reality, but the ways in which it distinguished the one God from all else did not prevent the early Christians including Jesus in this unique divine identity. While this is a radically novel development…the character of Jewish monotheism was such that this development did not require repudiation of the ways in which Jewish monotheism understood the uniqueness of God.”[15]

This is to say that, the form of monotheism that was held to was in no aspect distorted by the early Jewish Christian by placing Jesus as worthy of worship.[16] This is important information that we gain concerning what forms what can be termed monotheistic. But it needs further clarification.

In 1 Cor 8:1-6 Jesus is infused in the Shema, which is the foundational framework to the monotheistic ascription to God. Gaining perspective from Bauckham and N.T. Wright, who both explain that this was not a distortion of the Shema’s concept of monotheism, but rather both scholars see that Paul was merely ascribing Jesus to be included to the unique identity of God.[17] This is not a violation of the Shema, explains McCall, but rather the notion of the Shema does not designate the understanding of “numerical tropes of divinity” but on the understanding of absolute devotion to the one God. McCall states that the meaning of “one” (echad) in the Shema where,

“…the word used here is a word that actually allows for interpersonal relationship-it is the very word used of a man and woman becoming “one flesh.” The original Shema is a statement of monotheism, but it is much more concerned with exclusive devotion than with informing us about the acceptable maximum number of divine tropes.”[18]

Thus, taking this view, that the monotheism was not seen in numerical terms that people now understand them, they as McCall recalls in studying Bauckham, was more of fixed to a call for their ultimate devotion.

b.      OT Developments of the God’s plurality

I find it necessary then to probe the investigation of the concept of Trinity looking at it from the lens of the Old Testament. Caution must be taken when trying to build an argument concerning the idea of God’s plurality. We must take note that the full-blown revelation of the trinity is only developed in the New Testament.

In Feinberg’s chapter on the trinity in his book that concentrates on the doctrine of God, he spends some pages noting passages in the OT that show us intimations of the plurality of God. They deal much with the way words are used by the OT writers in particular elohim which is in plural form, linguistics in the OT passages which do not equate in the normal use of how sentences are structured and formed (e.g. Gen 1:26; 20:13; 35:7 2 Sam 7:23), designation of angelic beings being ascribed to as God but in some ways distinct from him, passages in the OT that somewhat address speculation that God has a Son, the divinity of God’s Spirit being at times distinct from God, and lastly some passages where divinity is ascribed to more than one person. Although the evidence is vast and wide, nevertheless, Feinberg does not over impose these passages ascribing to the teaching of the trinity. But this being the case, he does not deny that they somewhat imply some constructive thought in the idea that in the OT there is a slight hint bent towards the implication that there exists a plurality in the monotheism of Israel.[19] Ironically, ascribing to a similar stance is a Jew who is known as Maoz, whom, in Richard Harvey’s book surveying Messianic Jewish theology takes these considerations more seriously.[20]

c.       NT Evidence of Trinitarian Understanding

There can be no doubt (although modalists would disagree with me) that the New Testament is where this revelation of a Trinitarian understanding of God is developed more exhaustively. Matt. 28:19-20 is one of the most common descriptions of the Trinity presented in scripture. It is this very passage that becomes the very words a minister uses when baptizing a new convert. Erickson makes some observation about this rendering in saying that “name” is singular although the three are spoken of and that “there is no suggestion of inferiority or subordination” coming from reading the text. Paul’s passage in 2 Cor.13:14 also indicate the unity and equality of the Trinity.[21]

One of the things that are constantly unmistakable in the New Testament concerning the revelation of God being Triune is passages that describe the Godhead together in completing the task of our salvation and redemption.[22] This is especially indicated in 2 Cor. 1:21-22 where it states that “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit.” Apart from this Erickson also mentions other verses that fit this understanding which are 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Cor. 13:14 and Ephesians 3:14-19.[23]

One of the more interesting knowledge concerning the development of the Trinity is how this is not only developed based of references from just verses but as Erickson gleans from the study done by Arthur Wainwright is the indication of a Trinitarian framework of Paul’s letters found in Romans and Galatians. Here is one example taken from Romans

“The judgement of God upon all (1:18-3:20)

Justification through faith in Christ (3:21-8:1)

Life in the Spirit (8:2-30)”[24]

The witness of the fourth gospel also gives a compelling case for Trinitarian leanings gleaned from the New Testament which is the “strongest evidence of a coequal Trinity,” according to Erickson.[25]

Thus, the witness of the New Testament is compelling, in that it tells us that God exists in a tri-unity that is expressed in a coequal community which completes the redemptive work of saving us. Judging for a modalist point of view, evidence for ascribing to the concepts that God is one and descriptions like Father, Son and Spirit are not distinctions but rather the ways in which God has revealed himself to us in the course of time, is weak.

d.      Responding to Some passages that might assume modalism in the NT:

Some who ascribe to modalism are keen proponents to passages such as Col 1:15-18 and John 14:10-11.[26] These might be two passages we can focus on. This passage in Col 1:15-18 can be taken in a sense that Jesus, because he is the exact likeness of the invisible God, then the notion of the trinity is somewhat a misconception. It does so elude when the passage is not read with verses 19-20 in mind. Sometimes context and careful reading can eliminate our fleeting sense of thought.  V. 19 does indicate a clear distinction, “For God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in him,” because following the train of thought why would one be please of a response of another if not for the sense that there is a strong sense of plurality here? Clearly then, reading through this, there are clear distinctions intact.

Let us now look at John 14:10-11. Ascribing to the equation of modalism in this passage seems to be hindered by the word “in the Father” or “the Father living in me.” But a simple reading through of the passage also indicate that the rendering which speaks of “in the Father” simply speaks of the Son perfectly representing the Father, for this is the basic understanding that is derived from these verses.

I assume that confusion arise not by people unable to understand what they are reading but is mainly because of the inability to remove the theological lens that one is wearing. Modalists, taking up this view because of the inability to ascribe to the understanding of the oneness of God amidst plurality, become trapped because they are unable to shed their theological lens and see the vast description that leads to the understanding of the trinity.

3.      Implication and Importance of the A Trinitarian Understanding of God  

Once a Trinitarian laden perspective is presented, it needs to have some theological bent towards why this doctrine is important for their life and also what it then means for the Christian church as a whole. There are three points that I would like to develop concerning a Christian Trinitarian understanding.

First, when one takes the Trinity seriously there is a renewed understanding of God’s redemptive work. In a recent study by Frank D. Macchia, he highlights the importance of having the Spirit as the very substance of justification. Taking the Spirit out of the ‘equation’ of redemptive work has sometimes been our fault as Christians. But when we do recognize this Macchia states that “Only by placing the Spirit at the very substance of justification is it possible to arrive at a Trinitarian integration of imputed and imparted righteousness. Justification as a Trinitarian act must be accessed by the Spirit and in relationship with the Son.”[27] Therefore, integrating this into the understanding of God’s complete redemptive work, we see the Trinity at work together in unity to complete the work of redemption in us. Thus, our understanding of the doctrine of soteriology can take a more Trinitarian perspective.

Second, a Trinitarian understanding of God is the basis for modelling Community life. Jesus’ prayer in John 17:22-23, especially when it says “…that they may be one as we are one.” This passage is a clear indication for us to grasp the depths in understanding the deep sense of community and unity that consists in the God head. Their perfect community compels us to model our Christian church in this manner, to which Jesus prayer was and is that we are “brought to complete unity,” in the pattern that is revealed to us in the Triune oneness of God.

Thirdly, a Trinitarian understanding of God is the basis for building on the understanding of mutual love among believers. In 1 John 4:16b which tells us that “God is love,” it somewhat implies that in an ontological state, before creation God is love. For love to be real it has to have been shown and responded to. But those are human terms of love for it to be a proper analogy concerning God and the Trinity. But however muddied our human description may be, love originated with God in the community of the Godhead, in what we know now as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their love thus, is an analogy for us to replicate. F. LeRon Shults quotes Moltmann which I find compelling to complete this explanation on love concerning the trinity,

“…the way in which they mutually share power is the model (and the hope) for human social relations. The biblical idea of the “kingdom” or “rule” of God must not be conceptualized as dominion, but as the manifestation as the shared love of the Father and the Son in a through the Spirit.”[28]

 

Conclusion

Modalism is a concept that seeks to ascribe to monotheism and it is a view that Christians in Malaysia mostly ascribe to in trying to articulate the understanding of God as trinity. But what modalism does is actually distorting what scripture has revealed about the trinity. As this essay tries to state, trinity is a biblical idea, although the very word we use to designate God as trinity does not exist. But looking at the scriptures there seems to be an unmistakable witness. And as I have laid out the implication and importance of this doctrine, we can say that trinity is not a foreign concept made up by theologians. It is a concept derived and interpreted from scripture. And thus concluding, modalism, is not what people might perceive it is. Modalism in fact distorts who God is as the Bible reveals to us.

 

Bibliography:

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology (2nd Ed). (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1998)

Fienberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. 2001)

Grenz, Stanley. Theology for the Community of God. (Nashville. Broadman &Holman Pub, 1994)

Harvey, Richard. Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach (Colorado Springs, Patenoster. 2009)

Macchia, Frank D. Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 2010)

McCall, Thomas H. Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?: Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphisics of Trinitarian Theology. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.2010)

Shults, F. LeRon. Reforming the Doctrine of God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005)


[1] Grenz, Stanley. Theology for the Community of God. (Nashville. Broadman &Holman Pub, 1994) p.70

[2] Ibid. p.73

[3] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology (2nd Ed). (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1998) p. 359

[4] Grenz, Stanley. Theology for the Community of God. p.74

[5] Ibid.

[6] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology (2nd Ed). p.360

[7] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology (2nd Ed). p.360

[8] Grenz, Stanley. Theology for the Community of God. p.76

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. p.77

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] McCall, Thomas H. Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?: Philosophical and Systematic Theologians on the Metaphisics of Trinitarian Theology. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.2010) p.57

[14] McCall, Thomas H. Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? p.59-60

[15] McCall, Thomas H. Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? p.61

[16] The Philippians passage in 2:5-11 which presents to us the description where Jesus was ascribe as divine, because the passage where it says, “that every knee should bow and every tongue will confess…” is ascribed to YHWH, seen in Isaiah 45:23. But there is also a clear distinction between God the Father and Jesus; Jesus is not infused in the Father, but distinct from the Father. McCall states that “Paul is convinced that Jesus is fully divine, but he understands him to be distinct from the Father even as preincarnate.” see McCall, Thomas H. Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? p.62

[17] Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism? p.62-63

[18]Ibid.  p. 64

[19] Fienberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. 2001) p. 448-456

[20] “The ‘plural’ nature of God is demonstrated from the Hebrew scriptures, following the traditional pattern of Christian apologetics. The plural term for God (Elohim), the occurrence of plural verbs (Gen 1:26, etc), the Angel of the LORD, references to the coming Messianic figure as ‘God,’ and the threefold invocation of the name of God in the Shema (Deut 6:4) all point to God’s ‘plural’ nature, despite the attempts of some to give alternative interpretations. Maoz does not deal with alternative traditions of interpretation, or the hermeneutical and historical-critical issues that arise from such argumentation.” see Harvey, Richard. Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology: A Constructive Approach (Colorado Springs, Patenoster. 2009) p. 68

[21] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology (2nd Ed). p.355

[22] For a more exhaustive view concerning a recent study that presents the Spirit indwelling us which make the justifying work of Jesus whom God sent framed in Trinitarian understanding is Macchia, Frank D. Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 2010)

[23] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology (2nd Ed). p.356

[24] Ibid.

[25] See more in, Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology (2nd Ed). p.357

[26] These are two passages which I assume (judging from recent conversations), most would go through in ascribing their modalist leanings judging from the response that I had concerning the question I posted out on a social site concerning the other people’s view concerning the trinity.

[27] Macchia, Frank D. Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 2010) p. 296

[28] Shults, F. LeRon. Reforming the Doctrine of God. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005) p.149

Trinity, is it a Non-Issue?

Baroque Trinity, Hendrick van Balen, 1620, (Si...
Image via Wikipedia

A recent theological paper that I wrote not long ago was written responding to modalism. Modalism is a concept of God that says that God reveled himself to us in different forms at different points of time as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although many take the doctrine of the trinity for granted, in away that they ascribe to it but have no idea what they understand about it.

Many, I perceive in Malaysia fall into the modalist camp. I say this because of the many models people us of explaining the trinity. Examples like using an egg, 3 in 1 packet of coffee, ice or the sun; all lean towards modalism. I don’t mean to label people but the ideas they ascribe to.

I’ve studied this issue to some extent but I think I still need more research in this topic. It has become one of my obsessions really. I always was marveled with the concept but have left the need to try to explain it until now.

I’ve tried to present my views on a social website but some thought that ascribing to trinity was telling people about three gods. The respondent said that if I tried to explain the trinity to people it was sure to be met with difficulty. The bible, is simple, the respondent added. So much for dialouge.

I did not mean to sound like I was refuting anyone. But I just presented my case concerning the issue awaiting a reasoned reply. Sometimes I scratch my head after presenting what I thought was good reasoned texts that speaks about the concept.

But I do know that trying to box explanations of the trinity to models or anything for that matter fails. I would steer away at explaining it to people who are still new to the faith. I the person does ask about it then explanations should come up.

But on this issue, of ascribing to the trinity, is it an essential doctrine we ‘must’ ascribe to?

(I’ll probably post my views concerning the Trinity soon.)

Trinity as Perfect Community

The doctrine of the Filioque, from the Boulbon...
Image via Wikipedia

One of the most difficult subjects or rather doctrine in the Christian faith to explain exhaustively is the trinity. I’ve blogged about this here. And I’ve also found this blog post by Kevin DeYoung very helpful. I’m not so much a fan of DeYoung but he did a good job explaining the trinity. I hope to expand what I’ve written here for an assignment that I’m doing taking trinity as a case for explanation. These are my thoughts on rough edges.

Explanations could either confuse or become a case where Christianity is rejected. How can Christians believe in one God yet have the trinity as a core doctrine to ascribe to.

Rather than trying to explain the essence of trinity and its complicated nature, probably one of the best explanations is understanding the doctrine of the trinity as a community, a perfect community that represents oneness.

There are many benefits to this type of explanation. Like marriage between two persons is considered a coming together that represents oneness. A company consisting of many people is considered one company who have many departments who work together and creates a company. A family that consists of a certain number of individuals represents one family. So, it seems to me that trying to understand the trinity it would be helpful for it to be understood in the form of a community. Although this does not clear every explanation to the logical explanation of each person in the trinity as to why they are considered one, it does marry the strong sense of unity that brings them together as one. Especially in the New Testament, borrowing the list of bible references from DeYoung, (Matt. 28:19Gal. 4:61 Cor.12:4-61 Peter 1:1-22 Cor. 2:21-2213:14; Eph. 1:13-14; 2:18, 20-22; 3:14-17; 4:4-6; 5:18-20; 6:10-18) we see trinity at working together in unity, as a perfect community where diversity is implied and the work of togetherness is applied.

God in an ontological sense was before history, was before anything created. So how can the idea of community exists if there was no ontological presence of the idea of community if it did not exist in the first place. So is love. The bible clearly states that God is love. but for love to be something foundational it must exist at the very beginning starting with God. If creation is patterned after the one who created it, it must assume that at the very beginning “love is.” Thus taking this into consideration, for the idea of community to have meaning, it must have a state where it had already existed.