I’ve noticed a growing practice within certain groups of the church, one in which the Holy Spirit is referred to as simply “Holy Spirit”, i.e., without use of the definite article “the”. For example, “Holy Spirit is our close friend.”Continue reading
Category Archives: Trinity
Example of Making Abstract Theology More Earthy
I wrote an article this week on the need to put abstract theology to death, or at least dial it back quite a bit. Take a peek if you can.
I received some pushback on the article, both here at the blog and on Facebook. And I welcome the pushback. It helps refine my own thoughts.
My whole point is that, many times when we talk about theology, it is in very lofty, ethereal and abstract terms. It’s not really practical, human, earthy. This happens when we talk about God, Christ, church, salvation and a host of other theological topics. Continue reading
The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 6)
The Great Trinity Debate has now officially concluded over at Parchment & Pen. The sixth installment of Bowman, the Trinitarian, can be read here and Burke’s, the Unitarian, can be found here. Or, if you would like to find all articles at once, you can visit this link.
It was by no means the smoothest of debates, in that both Bowman and Burke found it hard to keep the continued interaction going on a regular and consistent basis. Burke had given many rebuttals in the allotted comments section of Bowman’s earlier articles and he is presently catching up on the final two rounds. Bowman stopped after round 2, but has now also provided rebuttals in each of the comment sections of Burke’s six articles.
I will say that, from the Trinitarian perspective, Rob Bowman’s final article was his best, giving a concise yet thorough case for biblical Trinitarianism. There are still a few points I wish he had addressed in his articles, mainly the reality of the development of doctrine in the early centuries of church history.
Dave Burke commences his final presentation with 10 points that undergird biblical Unitarianism. They are as follows:
- Is the original, first-century Christology
- Enjoys greater compatibility with the Biblical evidence
- Allows a more natural reading of the text
- Eliminates alleged “paradoxes” and “contradictions”
- Maintains the essential connection between the OT, Second Temple Judaism, and first-century Christianity
- Preserves the cultural and ideological context of original Christian beliefs
- Is logically and rationally superior to Trinitarianism
- Commands the earliest historical support
- Offers a coherent high Christology, grounded in OT typology and comprising a consistent doctrinal arc stretching from Genesis to Revelation
- Provides the basis for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and Christ
I thought I might address these 10 specific points in this final article if mine, though, when I approach some of the successive points, I might simply refer back to statements on previous points while also adding a few more thoughts.
1. Biblical Unitarianism is the original, first-century Christology
One major contention from Burke that is also connected to this bolded statement above is this – Trinitarianism is not the original, first-century Christology.
In theology, we are not only called to present a positive case for our particular standpoint, but also show the opposing standpoint is not biblically viable. As has been argued from Bowman, and every other studied Trinitarian, such language as Trinity, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, hypostatic union, etc, are not found in Scripture. From the start, this could seem a defeating point. But the overly unnecessary and stringent view of biblical literalism – where every single theological word and phrasing must be literally founded in Scripture – has already been established as lacking.
Taken to its extreme, none of our theology and doctrine would be biblical, since it was written in completely different languages from our own English. But, we don’t need to be extreme here.
What we recognise is that, within the context of the revelation of Scripture, to help us understand certain things, we provide systems of theology on particular topics. Thus, in the discipline of systematics, we formulate our Christology, pneumatology, eschatology, soteriology, etc, from a full survey and collection of the biblical data on a particular topic.
A lot of words within eschatological discussions are not employed in Scripture – i.e. rapture, dispensationalism, postmillenialism, amillenilaism, premillenialism, etc. But such words are acceptable within our English linguistic framework in helping to describe and understand particular eschatological developments across Scripture. It is acceptable.
So, we do not and will not find such words-phrases as Trinity, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. But, what Trinitarians are convinced of is that we find solid Scriptural evidence that allows us to develop particular words and phrases within the systematic framework to help sum up what is taught across the full tenor of Scripture about Christ, about the Holy Spirit, about the nature of God, etc.
But why were these particular theological terms (or their Greek or Latin counterparts) employed a few centuries after the Scripture was written. I believe Burke even identifies something about this within his own article:
Historically, doctrine always develops from the minimal to the complex, evolving as it is exposed to new influences and adapting in response to perceived heresies.
Burke’s comment was not made as an endorsement of what I am about to propose, but it gets us thinking about the concept of doctrinal development. I mentioned the point of the development of doctrine in church history in my comments, part 5. For some to consider such a development notion of doctrine, this is an anathema. They will remind us that we are called to utilise Scripture and Scripture alone. Well, even the motto sola scriptura sees Scripture as the starting point and measuring stick for our doctrine, but not the only source. Interesting how Burke turns to reason and church history himself, which I believe is fine and acceptable.
So why did these doctrines of the Triune God, hypostatic union and personality of the Holy Spirit come forth much later? Well, as even Burke seems to recognise above, these were unnecessary to work through and consider until there was actual questions and discussion that began to arise. You don’t usually address a problem in any area of life until you are aware of that problem. You don’t address sin in your own life until the revelation comes forth that something needs to be dealt with.
Thus, after a few centuries of varying fathers of the church putting forth some varying teachings on the nature of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, etc, there was a sense, a providential sense, that certain issues needed addressing. Such was the time. Hence, the major councils of the first few centuries were an opportunity to work through the Scripture, consider all points at hand, and faithfully conclude what was the underlying teaching of Scripture. The particular terms and words were not specifically found within the Scripture. But the conclusions were not found to be non-Scriptural nor anti-biblical.
This is a major point that Burke does not seem willing to concede. He quotes many a church fathers in the second and third centuries to show varying doctrines on the nature of God and Christ and the Spirit, and such is worth noting. But what makes Burke think that the fathers of the third, fourth and fifth centuries were not able to faithfully consider the Scripture and come to faithful conclusions about its teaching?
In the end, the early fathers could not be moved away from the reality that the Scripture taught that the Son was eternal, divine, he created all things, he was worshiped and honoured above all, he was Saviour, he was Lord of all, he was King of kings, etc, etc. And the developments of early Christology would subsequently lead to developments in fully understanding the teaching of Scripture on the Holy Spirit.
But no one sat down one day on their own and said, ‘Oh, we need to make sure we understand the nature of Jesus Christ better.’ It came forth as differing views began arising, through major discussions and gathered councils who intricately discussed the nature of God and of Christ, and who came to conclusions that did not contradict the actual teachings of Scripture, but nonetheless did ‘flesh out’ that teaching more.
2. Biblical Unitarianism enjoys greater compatibility with the Biblical evidence
I don’t need to add much more to what I just said above, but, again I state that, from first glance, this bolded statement seems an easy one to accept. But, just as Trinitarians are left with difficult texts to deal with (i.e. John 20:17), so Biblical Unitarians are similarly left with difficult passages (i.e. Colossians 1:15-20).
Of course, Biblical Unitarians have an explanation for Colossians 1:15-20 and Trinitarians have an explanation for John 20:17. Neither group is left with an easy task at times. But to say Biblical Unitarianism enjoys greater compatibility with the Scripture is not really that helpful. I could say the same of Trinitarianism. But, we hit a place like John 20:17 and we must think it through. They hit a place like Colossians 1:15-20 and they must think it through. There are difficult points on both sides.
Let this not lead to us giving up our searching of Scripture and the God who has revealed Himself. But let us keep reading, studying, discussing, reading other authors, and even be ok with coming to conclusions that utilise words that aren’t found specifically in Scripture but are helpful in summing up the full biblical data.
3. Biblical Unitarianism allows a more natural reading of the text
This has been addressed in points 1 and 2, but I cannot help but note that, whereas Trinitarians are accused of butchering specific passages to fit their mould, I really believe the same is true of Biblical Unitarians. To say that Colossians 1:15-20 speaks of the new creation, as they claim, and not the original creation, is beyond comprehension. Am I reading the wrong passage? To say that passages like John 17:5, and similar passages, in no way speak of Christ’s pre-existence, I am baffled.
For the Trinitarian, the natural reading of those two passages is quite clear. In the end, both groups could easily be charged with creating their own readings different from the natural reading. Thus, we have to get into each of the texts individually, as well as consider them within the full scope of Scripture.
4. Biblical Unitarianism eliminates alleged “paradoxes” and “contradictions”
This is simply not true, which I point out in this recent article – Paradoxes of Our Faith. What Biblical Unitarians must admit is that the Bible presents a plethora of paradoxes and tensions that we can attempt to explain (which is fine), but, in the end, they are not fully resolvable. We have to leave the tensions. And Biblical Unitarians do this as well (at least if they want to stay faithful to Scripture).
Some examples of biblical paradoxes:
- The kingdom of God is both present and not fully present yet.
- Jesus Christ was both the presenter of the sacrifice for sin and the object that has been sacrificed.
- God is both transcendent (another word not in the Bible) and intimate (another word not in the Bible).
- Believers are told they are both secure in God’s hand and that they must persevere to the end.
And the tensions and apparent contradictions continue on and on. That is the nature of our faith that is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).
Let me take a moment to address a particular ‘contradiction’ that Burke might consider a fatal blow to Trinitarian Christology. He highlights what he believes are contradictions and inconsistencies about the Trinitarian theology on Christ. He claims:
Since the Trinitarian Jesus is believed to be God, everything in Scripture which applies to God must necessarily apply to him. But this results in many contradictions:
- Visible despite being invisible (Colossian 1:15)
- Seen but “never seen” (John 1:18, 1 Timothy 6:16)
- Tempted even though God cannot be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11; cp. James 1:13)
- “Made like his brothers and sisters in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17), yet not really made like them at all, since he is God and does not possess “fallen nature”
- “Died” on the cross despite being eternal (1 Timothy 1:17)
- “Raised from the dead” (Matthew 28:7) and “released from the pains of death” by the Father (Acts 2:24), though he never truly died
- Omnipotent yet dependent upon the Father’s power for his miraculous works (John 14:10)
- Omniscient yet lacking knowledge (Matthew 24:36)
- Simultaneously “God” and “not-God”
Burke fails to truly try and understand the theology of the incarnation from a Trinitarian perspective. There are a few minute, varying differences amongst some explanations of the incarnation, but as a whole, we believe Jesus ’emptied himself’ and fully became like a man. He did not cease being the eternal God, but he did cease to grasp at that right and privilege as the eternal God, entrusting himself completely to the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the great thesis of Paul in Philippians 2:6-7.
If Burke would simply take time and not blow off incarnation theology as contradictory, irrational and inconsistent, I think he just might understand what is being laid out. But I have yet to find him willing to even graciously concede these words: You know, I don’t think Trinitarian Christology is fully faithful to the Bible, but I do understand where they are working from.
But, no doubt such is probably unacceptable.
5. Biblical Unitarianism maintains the essential connection between the OT, Second Temple Judaism, and first-century Christianity
The thing is that the new covenant faith and the gospel is paradoxical itself. Let me explain: There is both continuity and discontinuity within the framework of the new covenant gospel and the old covenant faith.
It is true that the new covenant came forth from the old covenant faith and we must not forget it’s roots. The old covenant was a pointer to, a foreshadowing of what is the true substance. Thus, we must admit our faith has strong Jewish roots and we can find enrichment from learning about Old Testament and first century Judaism.
But, at the same time, there is also discontinuity. To deny such is to deny the gospel. There have been changes, there has been a progression. As always, I liken it to an acorn. Within the acorn, there is the potential of a full oak tree. But the acorn is not the full oak tree. And neither is the oak tree and acorn. But the full oak tree came out of the acorn.
That is a picture of our new covenant faith. Many things were set in motion to prepare and point to the full substance, that being Christ and the new covenant gospel. In a sense, we have moved forward from what was a more immature faith into a more mature faith. In a sense, we know more about God and His purposes than those of the old covenant. This is at the heart of passages like Colossians 2:16-17. The mystery of the gospel has been unveiled. The old covenant had not allowed for the full revelation of the gospel. But now it has come forth in the new covenant.
In all, my point is that, while we are rooted in the old covenant faith, the faith has developed. We must always recognise this. The New Testament lays out much more understanding on our salvation, the nature of God, the nature of the Messiah (the Christ), the workings of the Holy Spirit, new gifts are given by the Spirit, etc, etc.
So, yes, our faith is connected to the old covenant and first century Jewish understanding. But it has also surpassed it. It must have, for those who still hold to a purely old covenant or first century Jewish faith are, to this point, not included in Christ and his kingdom.
6. Biblical Unitarianism preserves the cultural and ideological context of original Christian beliefs
Lest I bore you, I refer you to my comments in point 1 above.
7. Biblical Unitarianism is logically and rationally superior to Trinitarianism
This idea is somewhat addressed in the section about paradoxes, but there are a few more words to add. Trintarianism is not necessarily illogical and irrational. Biblical Unitarianism might seem more rational on the nature of God as one divine being-essence. But, I must admit that I do not believe it is the most logical conclusion in regards to faithful, biblical Christology.
I believe there has been an enormous amount of explaining away from Biblical Unitarians on the Scriptures emphasis on the eternal, divine, creative, prayed to, worshiped and honoured nature of Jesus Christ. An extreme amount of hoops to jump through here. I cannot begin to imagine how this continues to be done. Jesus is not simply God’s agent. Oh, he is. But he is by no means merely God’s agent. He is Lord of heaven and earth, worshiped by all of heaven, all believers and will one day be worshiped by all humanity.
As to the irrationality of the Trinity, I point you to some words of C.S. Lewis, which I already had posted up in a previous article:
You know that in space you can move in three ways – to left or right, backwards or forwards, up or down. Every direction is either one of these three or a compromise between them. They are called the three Dimensions. Now notice this. If you are using only one dimension, you could draw only a straight line. If you are using two, you could draw a figure: say, a square. And a square is made up of four straight lines. Now a step further. If you have three dimensions, you can then build what we call a solid body: say, a cube – a thing like a dice or a lump of sugar. And a cube is made up of six squares.
Do you see the point? A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional world, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.
Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures. On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube. Of course we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint, of something super-personal – something more than a person. It is something we could never have guessed, and yet, once we have been told, one almost feels one ought to have been able to guess it because it fits in so well with all the things we know already. (Harper Collins version, p161-162)
8. Biblical Unitarianism commands the earliest historical support
Again, for this point, I refer back to my comments in point
9. Biblical Unitarianism offers a coherent high Christology, grounded in OT typology and comprising a consistent doctrinal arc stretching from Genesis to Revelation
My points 2, 3 and 5 can be reviewed.
10. Biblical Unitarianism provides the basis for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and Christ
Burke also makes this comment near the end of his article:
The Biblical Unitarian Jesus is a Messiah you can relate to, because he can relate to you. Unlike the Trinitarian Jesus, he genuinely understands your pain and sympathises with your temptations, because he is truly human. He once experienced the very sufferings that you endure (and more!)
Trinitarians could not agree more with this statement. This is not privy to Biblical Unitarians. Of course, in practicality, some Trinitarians might struggle with seeing how Jesus could understand us if he were also God. I address this in my own article on Jesus’ humanity, which Burke also quoted from in his final post. I hope these words can help us think through more what this means. It does not present something nice and neatly packaged with a bow on top. But it still helps us understand beautiful statements like this in Hebrews:
14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:13-15)
So the debate has ended. Well, kind of. A couple of more rebuttals are still to be posted by Burke in some comment sections, and comments are now open to the ‘general public’. So this might go on for a few more weeks.
In the end, as I believe I have mentioned before, I have come to respect Dave Burke and his Biblical Unitarian position. I am still a Trinitarian, worshiping the one true God who has manifested Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I have appreciate Burke’s articles and the personal interaction he has afforded me.
If anything, I hope that Biblical Unitarians can learn to interact with Trinitarians in a way like Burke. Who knows? It might just lead to sharing the same, biblical theology in the future. I don’t want to hear those words – Ah, that’s impossible. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
The Great Trinity Debate (Comments Part 5)
I am a few days behind in posting some comments in regards to Part 5 of The Great Trinity Debate over at Parchment & Pen. For Rob Bowman’s fifth installment, click here. For David Burke’s fifth installment, click here.
I must say that this debate has not developed as I had hoped. What I mean is that, after the first two weeks, there has not been much interaction following their main articles posted. No rebuttal and/or counter-rebuttals as of late. Burke went back in round 3 and posted a whopping 14,500 words of rebuttal to Bowman (which I have yet been able to read). But that’s been it for the past few weeks. I know these guys are busy and have other things to focus on than just a debate about the Trinity. But I had hoped for more interaction.
We will see what the final week brings. Hopefully there can be a lot of tying up loose ends and even some interaction via the posts of the final round.
I want to also say that Dave Burke has presented his case exceptionally well. I have had some personal interaction with him over these weeks, and it has been quite pleasant (I only hope he can say the same from me). And I am thankful for such respectful interaction from Burke.
By no means am I the expert on Trinitarian theology. By no means! At first it wasn’t my intention to interact with the debate. But I left some comments over at Theologica about the debate and, then, I thought, ‘This comment is so long, it could just become a blog post.’ So, lo and behold, I decided to stay up on the debate and interact with each round.
But I wanted to give credit where credit is due. Dave Burke has been a great person to read from the Unitarian-Christadelphian view. There are lots of challenges he presents that must be thought through. I still believe God has revealed Himself as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But I have come to respect the more Unitarian position and Burke’s approach to Scripture.
So now the interaction with round 5, mainly, as usual, with thoughts on Burke’s installment.
From the section: The Divine Hierarchy: Father, Son & Angels
From the beginning, Burke lays out the divine hierarchy that he believes is shown within the pages of Scripture:
- God the Father
- Jesus Christ
- The angels
Burke goes on to state:
Thus we see that the Father is utterly supreme. He is the source of everything that exists; He is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological. The Son is subject to and dependent upon the Father for his very existence, while the angels are subject to the Father and Son.
What I have noticed now is that the words divine and deity are different words in the vocabulary of Burke. I believe he would argue that, Jesus, post-resurrection, had attained divinity, but Jesus is not deity (which is synonymous with God). Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that.
Burke has thrown out the challenge that Trinitarians misuse the two words being and person, in that we state that God is one being (or essence) but is manifested, or exists, as three eternal persons. I guess certain words will take on certain meanings within the context of each individual’s (or group’s) language.
I’d love to hear Burke flesh out the difference between divinity and deity. Of course, I am not sure I would agree. But he definitely doesn’t agree with the philosophical differentiations between being and person amongst Trinitarians. To each his own, right?……
But let me go back to one statement in the quote above from Burke’s opening section: He [God the Father] is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological.
Of course, for the Trinitarian, there is no ontological difference between the three persons of the Triune God. This simply means that we believe there is no difference in being (or essence) between the Father and Son (or the Holy Spirit). They are all of one being, or essence, and that essence is that they are God.
As Burke would let us all know, there is no book, chapter and verse to quote to prove such an exact statement. Rather, this comes forth as Trinitarians consider the whole tenor of Scripture’s teaching on Jesus Christ. We are convinced He is the divine, eternal Messiah and Son of God. Thus, because there is only one God, the conclusion is that Christ is of the same ontological being as the Father. Yet, this is also why we differentiate between the personhood of the two, as it is quite obvious they are two distinct persons.
Yes, this is all quite philosophically heady. But, whereas Scripture is clear that there is one God and one God alone, Scripture is also clear that Jesus is eternal, worshiped, prayed to, creator, first and last, Lord of lords, King of kings, honoured by the heavenly hosts, etc. Thus, we conclude He is God. And, therefore, we differentiate between the one God in being-essence and the three persons of the Triune God.
If you want more to chew on, at least from a philosophical standpoint, I would encourage you to read these thoughts I posted from C.S. Lewis on the Trinity, which come from his Mere Christianity.
Finally, on this topic, though I’ve just spent a little time addressing the ontological question of God in three persons, I think it might be worth addressing the functional question. Again, Burke states: He [God the Father] is above the Son and the angels in every conceivable way, whether functional or ontological.
Trinitarians differ on some aspects of the functional nature between the three persons of the Triune God. Some would argue that, in their being as the Triune God, there is no functional difference. All three are intimately committed to honouring the others of the Trinity. Yet, some Trinitarians would argue for the functional difference between the Father and Son (and Spirit), at least from the incarnational perspective of the eternal Son becoming human. In that act, He laid aside his rights as the divine, eternal Son (i.e. Philippians 2:6-7). Christ became fully man and, in such, He had chosen to be completely reliant on the Father and the Holy Spirit as He walked out His Messianic call.
For me, I would definitely recognise the functional subordination in the incarnation of the Son becoming human. It’s quite obvious He relied completely on the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit in His life. I find it hard to dance around that teaching in the text. But, it is also highly plausible that the Son has a functional subordination even now as the reigning King of heaven and earth:
20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)
Passages like these are real and have to be dealt with. As do passages post-resurrection where we read:
Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” (John 20:17)
Similar statements are also made in Paul’s writings, such as:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3)
There are three other examples like this in Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 11:31; and Ephesians 1:3.
These words challenge Trinitarian thinking. For Burke, this is proof that the Son is subject not only functionally, but also ontologically. But, again, for the Trinitarian who is convinced of Scripture’s teaching on the eternal nature of the Son, His divinity-deity, creator, worshiped, prayed to, etc, there can be no doubt He is God. But not a second god or less-than god, since Scripture also testifies to there only being one God.
Therefore, Trinitarians are usually not too bothered with recognising the subordination of the Son to the Father – in the incarnation, and possibly post-resurrection. But the argument could then arise is: In choosing to become human, did the Son also choose to become functionally subordinate to the Father for the rest of eternity? I’m sure such questions are silly and extreme to the Unitarian, but suffice it to say, these questions cannot really be answered. We can only produce conjecture. And that’s not a problem for me.
Of course, there is no desire to take on full subordinationist theology that says the Son (and Spirit) are fully subordinate to the Father in both being and function. Rather, it is more from the functional perspective. And, normally, this would be seen as a choice from the Son and Holy Spirit, rather than a dictated commanded from the Father.
I expect sneers from some. But, I hope, at least, as I am willing to respect Burke’s theology, those who disagree with someone like myself would be willing to respect where the Trinitarian is coming from. Scripture is clear that there is one God. One and one alone!! But we are clear that Scripture lays out the eternal existence, the creative power, the worthiness of worship before and after His resurrection, and the great honour of all heaven and earth for the Son. No one can receive such honour, glory, worship and respect than God Himself. No one!!
Later on in the same section, Burke states:
Note that Scripture never includes the Holy Spirit in this hierarchy (further evidence that the Holy Spirit is not a person). Even the book of Revelation contains no vision of the Holy Spirit, despite portraying God, Jesus, the heavenly court, and the redeemed saints in multiple instances.
Two points: 1) I would say this ‘divine hierarchy’ is more established by Burke than the full tenor of Scripture. Even if we recongise the functional subordination of the Son and Holy Spirit to the Father, this is by no means hierarchical. There is joy and love in the submission of the Son and Spirit. 2) Of course the Holy Spirit is referred to in Revelation. The Holy Spirit speaks to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. There are other passages as well (i.e. 14:13), not too mention that some theologians argue that the ‘seven spirits of God’ are a reference to the Holy Spirit.
But maybe I am misunderstanding this statement of Burke: Even the book of Revelation contains no vision of the Holy Spirit.
From the section: Father, Son & Holy Spirit: in the Bible’s Own Words
Burke brings forth this argument once again:
Galatians 4:4 reinforces this picture, telling us that Jesus was “made of a woman.” The Greek word for “made” here is ginomai as in John 1:3. Both occurrences refer to something which was brought into existence. Thus, Jesus’ existence has a commencement in time.
No Trinitarian would disagree that the humanity of Jesus began, commenced, or was brought into existence at His conception-birth through Mary. But the divine, eternal Son had always existed with the Father ‘from the beginning’ (which is a statement of eternality).
Again, I’m aware this could be brushed away by non-Trinitarians as absolute foolishness – that somehow a divine soul inhabited a shell of a body. The description of how it all came together is not easily grasped. For the Unitarian, they might even say they have a better and much easier way to describe it all within the framework of their theology. But, as I repeat myself continually, I have failed to be convinced that Jesus is anything less than the eternal, divine, worshiped Son. And, thus, my (our) theology allows for this combination of the divine and human natures in Christ. The term normally used for this is the hypostatic union.
Moving on, Burke makes this comment, of which I take up just two words from it:
How does Jesus refer to the Holy Spirit? As the Father’s divine power and presence (occasionally personified), which guides, inspires and empowers.
Occasionally personified? Huh? I wish I had a count for how many times the Spirit is spoken of in personal terms. But let’s just start in John 14-16. How many times does the personal pronoun ‘he’ show up? Again, that isn’t THE proof of the Spirit’s personhood. But just count in those three chapters how many times Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit in personal terms. The count I have in John 14-16 alone is that the Spirit is personally referred to 17 times.
Then move on to Acts. Then move on to Paul. Then move on to the other letters of the New Testament.
Whereas wisdom is personified a little in the Proverbs, the Holy Spirit is personified an outstanding number of times. The Proverbs are poetic and so wisdom will be personified, just as there was the adulteress who stood as if she was personally embodying adultery itself. In the prose narrative of John 14-16, you would not expect the literary feature of personification. You would expect a straight forward record. That’s what you get on Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit.
So, the Spirit is not occasionally personified. He is referred to in personal terms on a very regular basis.
From the section: Jesus Christ: Son of God
Burke makes this comment about the church fathers views on the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
None of these early church fathers were Biblical Unitarians — but they weren’t Trinitarians either. In fact, even as late as the 4th Century AD, Christians were hopelessly confused about the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Similar words come forth in two other places:
Rob is vague about the point at which he believes the church embraced true Trinitarianism, but I receive a general sense that he perceives an implicit Trinitarian Christology within the NT which gave quickly rise to fully-fledged Trinitarianism. Precisely how long this took and what process was involved, Rob does not say. But the history of Trinitarianism — as admitted by its own theologians — reveals an excruciating mess of debate, controversy and confusion spanning several hundred years.
How can Trinitarianism be the doctrine once preached by the apostles, whom the Holy Spirit would “lead into all truth” (John 16:13)? It bears no resemblance to their preaching in the book of Acts, or the doctrinal statements in their epistles to fellow Christians. It is absent from the earliest extra-Biblical writings (e.g. the Didache) and the works of the first-century church fathers (e.g. Papias and Polycarp). It is contrary to reason, antagonistic to Scripture, and undermined by the record of history.
There is no doubt that there was not a uniform understanding of the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit until a few centuries following the writings of the New Testament. But let me say something that many might not like to hear – evangelicals and Unitarian-Christadelphians alike: We need to be willing to recognise and be open to a sense of the development of doctrine in the course of church history. It happened and it happens. Hence, why you had councils and creeds.
I know the arguments: Scripture first. Yes, I agree! When theological matters are discussed, we utilise Scripture as our starting point. That is very important. If we have developed a belief about the relationship between the Father and the Son, which was one of the first matters discussed, this has to line up with Scripture. And, so, a Trinitarian would recognise: 1) the Trinitarian beliefs are not always explicit in the New Testament, but 2) such beliefs are implicitly there and that which was developed a few centuries later is not in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture. They did test it against the tenor of Scripture.
To not allow for development of doctrine, if taken to the extreme, means we must take on the complete first century mindset and not shift from that. But such is impossible, and I am convinced God does not desire such. Well, He would only desire such if he were a static, concrete God, which He isn’t. Again, Scripture is our foundation. But it is a foundation for an ever living faith that is continually breathed out by our God who is still alive.
Another great example is the development and realisation that the Sabbath rest of God is not a 24-hour period (Saturday or Sunday). Rather it is Jesus Christ Himself (I share more here). Is it explicit? No, not really. But it is there. The Trinitarian is convinced of the same with the Trinity. It’s there, but not necessarily fully fleshed out in that 30 verses can be quoted and we move on to the next topic. Matter of fact, this stands true for a large portion of the doctrine we all hold to.
From the section: Jesus Christ: Sacrificial Lamb
Burke lays out to important points for the atoning sacrifice that God would provide:
The sacrifice itself demands two essential qualities: mortality and moral perfection.
I would love for him to flesh out the first quality a little more – mortality. By that word, I believe he means human. Some Christians believe that all people are created immortal. Some believe, as with Christadelphians, that only God is immortal (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:11-16).
So I assume that Burke is saying the sacrifice must be mortally human and morally perfect. I am ok with this. Regardless of whether we believe in the immortality of the soul or that all humanity is mortal, Jesus fully took on human flesh. I might have more to say in the future, as I am currently reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope.
In the same section, we read:
But Biblical Unitarians do not believe in “original sin” or “total depravity.” We believe that human nature is capable of sin and prone to sin, but humans are not regarded as sinners until they sin. Thus Jesus’ human nature did not preclude the potential for sinlessness.
I would love to see Burke interact with Romans 5:12-21. But, if Jesus was just like us, and we are both capable and prone to sin, what in the world kept Jesus from sinning? Listen, I don’t want to walk the path that says Jesus could have never sinned. I believe He had to be able to sin to actually really suffer and experience and be tempted like we are. But if man is both capable and prone to, and we all actually end up sinning, what did keep Jesus from sinning? A good conscience? A strong and disciplined enough will?
These questions are not easy to interact with. But, I simply think Burke needs to be challenged in his theology that says all humans are prone to sin, which we all do end up sinning in the end, but somehow Jesus did not sin. If we are all the same, including Christ, how did he ‘pass the test’?
As Burke would later on say, is the answer this? His sinless life was made possible by his superior mental and intellectual qualities (Luke 2:46-47).
What? I don’t really understand this. Did He have an advantage above us? I thought He was fully like us? Or was it because the Messiah-Son of God actually enjoyed the right (maybe ‘perfect’) relationship with the Father and Holy Spirit?
I, by no means, say this is easy to answer, as how the functional subordination of the Son to the Father works itself fully out. But I do challenge Burke to rethink some of his points on this.
I look at one final statement:
Rob believes Jesus could be tempted, yet was incapable of sin (Putting Jesus In His Place, p.122)
Here, Burke is challenging Rob Bowman’s theology. I haven’t read Bowman’s book, so I don’t know the full context, but I do have something for consideration. When a Christian makes a statement like this, I think it could be either unacceptable and acceptable theology. Here is how it is unacceptable.
If one means that, unequivocally, Jesus could have never sinned, then I think it cuts away at the reality of Jesus being fully human and tempted. If one cannot possibly choose the ‘sin option’, then it is not really temptation. It’s like if a woman who decides to tempt an unmarried man to have sex with her, and he also happens to be a eunuch. Well, there really is no temptation there, since he has no organ for sexual intercourse. The ‘temptation’ kind of defeats the purpose, since the sin act could never actually take place.
I believe Jesus, in His humanity, could have chosen sin. He had to have been able to or the temptation is cancelled out.
To say Jesus was incapable of sin can make sense in retrospect as we note who He is. In Jesus’ time, very few were convinced of His identity. But, centuries later, all believers are convinced. And knowing who Jesus really was, we can remark that He would have never sinned, or at least He would have never chosen to sin. The divine Messiah who would be the sacrifice for all of mankind would never sin. He was tempted and could have chosen to sin. But we can be assured such an action would have never played out knowing who He was and His mission.
I hope that makes sense. I’m sure some might disagree. But I was at least trying to flesh out the statement that Burke challenged from Bowman’s book. It’s not a completely wrong statement if all the implications are considered.
Ok, that is enough from me. Much more than I originally thought I would post. The next round, whenever it is released, is the final round. We shall see how it all unfolds. I only hope for more interaction in the coming week between Bowman and Burke.
Jesus Gives the Holy Spirit
I have recently been posting my own thoughts and comments in regards to The Great Trinity Debate over at Parchment & Pen. This week’s focus, round 4, was centred around the Holy Spirit. Here are some specific thoughts I posted.
In my article, I pointed out some interesting theology that had developed in the New Testament in regards to the uniqueness of the Holy Spirit. Developed, one may ask? What I mean is this.
Most who deny the personal deity of the Spirit (Judaism, ‘cults’) would say that the Spirit is actually an extension of the Father’s own personhood, not a distinct person Himself. For when the Spirit acts, it is the Father Himself acting, because it is His Spirit.
And, I believe this would be faithful theology if we only had the Old Testament. But we cannot stop there or let the beginning of the story determine our full theological understanding on any subject matter. Rather, we have the New Testament, which is the final capstone on God’s redemptive revelation in Jesus Christ. Thus, I am convinced the New Testament sheds the greatest interpretive light on the Old Testament and all of God’s revelation. To deny such is, I believe, missing the mark.
Thus, it is the New Testament that becomes most helpful in forming both our Christology and our pneumatology.
One of the important developments we see in the New Testament is that the Spirit is not just the Spirit of the Father, but also the Spirit of Jesus Christ. That is very important to recognise. Here are three passages to begin with: Acts 16:6-7; Galatians 4:6; and Philippians 1:19.
And part of recognising such significance is noting the role Jesus played in sending the Holy Spirit. This is made clear in the great Johannine passage on the Spirit, John 14-16. Specifically, we see these words in John 15:26:
But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.
It is the Spirit that would be sent by the Son from the Father. Now, I know that a Unitarian would still argue that it was the Son who sent the Spirit from the Father. Thus, the Spirit remains the Spirit of the Father, merely His power at work in the world, rather than a unique divine person. But I believe this negates the reality of many other passages that confirm that the Spirit is not just the Spirit of the Father, but also the Son. Again, I point out Acts 16:6-7; Galatians 4:6; and Philippians 1:19.
All of these confirm the Spirit as the ‘Spirit of Jesus’, the ‘Spirit of His Son’, and the ‘Spirit of Jesus Christ’. Now attempts could be made to say that this is the Spirit of Jesus, but this Spirit is more a ‘spirit’ (lower-case) of Jesus rather than the Holy Spirit of the Father. But, rather than provide a ton of expositional thoughts on each of the three passages referred to above, I think I can just ask you to read the fuller context of each of the three Scriptures and you will see that the Spirit of Jesus is none other than the Holy Spirit. For starters, simply look at Acts 16:6-7:
6And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
Look at the parallel between the reference to the ‘Holy Spirit’ in vs6 and the ‘Spirit of Jesus’ in vs7. We are talking about the same Spirit, the Spirit of God Himself. and I believe the context in all three passages clarifies this truth as well.
Therefore, it’s interesting that the Spirit is now, from the New Testament teaching, not only connected to the Father, but also to the Son. As I said in my comments #4 post, this has major implications for both Christ and the Holy Spirit.
But another passage that I had been thinking about just yesterday was Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in John 20. We read these words in vs21-22:
21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
There is much debate on whether this was the real and/or full giving of the Spirit, or was it a prophetic precursor to Pentecost. I tend to lean towards the Spirit being given here in some sense, but also pointing to the greater outpouring that would come at Pentecost not many days from then.
Nonetheless, Jesus is showing His ability and role as Spirit-giver. The giving of the Spirit was a co-working event between the Father and the Son, not just the Father.
This is echoed in Peter’s proclamation following Pentecost:
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:33)
The proof in the pudding that Jesus was reigning as both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36) was that He would give the Spirit to God’s people. Again, the Unitarian would highlight that Acts 2:33 designates that Jesus ‘received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit’ and, thus, it was not really Christ’s Spirit, but still remains the Spirit of the Father alone.
But I believe such arguments fail when we recognise that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ as well. Knowing the the Spirit was also the Spirit of the Son helps us understand the importance of the Son being intricately involved in sending the Spirit. And so, John’s record of Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit becomes important:
I [Jesus] will not leave you as orphans; I [Jesus] will come to you. (John 14:18)
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I [Jesus] will send him to you. (John 16:7)
This is all important for both our Christology and pneumatology. From the full revelation of Scripture, which includes allowance for the New Testament to bring better clarity than the Old Testament, but not shunning the Old Testament, we see that the Spirit is unique from the Father, also being connected to the Son. I believe this 1) points to the unique divinity of the Son and 2) points to the unique personality of the Spirit.
This, I believe, represents true biblical theology in regards to Christ and the Holy Spirit.