Monday, November 25, 2013

J. P. Moreland on the Abandonment of Cessationism

Cessationism is the idea that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, such as prophecy, healing, miracles, and tongues (see 1 Cor. 12:8-10; 13:8-10), ceased with the death of the apostles and, thus, are no longer available today.  Fewer and fewer Christian scholars hold to cessationism, and it may fairly be called an increasingly marginalized viewpoint.  This shift in scholarly opinion has been partly responsible for the renewal of miraculous ministry in the Western church (non-Western Christians are almost never cessationist in orientation).

If you are a cessationist, please do not misunderstand my point.  I was trained in a cessationist seminary and have great respect and love for my cessationist friends.  Cessationists have tirelessly and faithfully called the church back to the Bible as the final authority for ministry and practice.  The church owes their cessationist brothers and sisters an incredible debt for this, even if not for their cessationist conclusions.

Moreover, the simple fact that cessationism is an increasingly minority position does not prove it is wrong.  However, this observation is of limited value.  If a viewpoint is an increasingly minority position among learned folk and yet one continues to accept that viewpoint, one needs to be able to explain why it is losing favor in such a way that one can continue to accept the position with intellectual integrity.  For example, if one can show that for historical, sociological, or spiritual reasons, people have a vested interest in retaining a majority viewpoint even though it is false and perhaps, less rational than the marginalized position, this this carries weight.

Precisely this strategy is what critics of evolution use in arguing that, while in the minority, Intelligent Design and various creationist theories are better justified than evolutionary alternatives.  But this strategy is a hard sell regarding the waning of cessationism.  Indeed, a growing number of noncessationists have come from the cessationist camps, and they have a solid understanding of the case for cessationism.  Moreover, it is hard to find sociological, historical, or spiritual reasons that adequately explain the growing and widespread acceptance of noncessationism among Evangelical scholars and pastors.

Because of this, I urge my cessationism brothers and sisters to reconsider their viewpoint.  At the very least, the direction of Evangelical thought on these matters should cause cessationists to lower the degree of strength they take themselves to have regarding the truth of their position.  In other words, even if one continues to assert cessationism, one should be far less confident that it is true than was possible, say, forty years ago.  This means that the harshness and rigidity that sometimes characterized cessationist advocates should be tempered, not merely because all of us need to dialog about our differences in a gracious manner, but because it may well be intellectually irresponsible to embody that sort of certainty with respect to cessationism that sometimes fuels such harshness and rigidity.  [Bold added]
--J. P. Moreland, The Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan, 2007), pp. 175-176

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Francis Schaeffer on Humanity as Fellow-Creature

In my systematic theology class for high schoolers we began to discuss the doctrine of humanity.  I began with talking about how as created beings we share a kinship with the rest of creation.  We often move so quickly to our uniqueness as humans being created in God’s image that we fail to recognize our shared creature-liness with other created entities.  I read some of the following from Francis Schaeffer’s work Pollution and the Death of Man (1970).  All pages numbers are from The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer—vol. 5 (Crossway, 1982).

As a Christian I say, “Who am I?”  Am I only the hydrogen atom, the energy particle extended?  No, I am made in the image of God.  I know who I am.  Yet, on the other hand, when I turn around and face nature, I face something that is like myself.  I, too, am created, just as the animal and the plant and the atom are created.  (p. 30)

Therefore, intellectually and psychologically, I look at these animals, plants, and machines, and as I face them I understand something of the attitude I should have toward them.  I begin to think differently about life.  Nature begins to look different.  I am separated from it, yet related to it.

Notice the phrase “intellectually and psychologically.”  This is a very important distinction.  I can say, “Yes, the tree is a creature like myself.”  But that is not all that is involved.  There ought to be a psychological insight, too.  Psychologically I ought to “feel” a relationship to the tree as my fellow-creature.  It is not simply that we ought to feel a relationship intellectually to the tree, and then turn this into just another argument for apologetics, but that we should realize, and train people in our churches to realize, that on the side of creation and on the side of God’s infinity and our finiteness we really are one with the tree! (p. 31)

The value of the things is not in themselves autonomously, but that God made them—and thus they deserve to be treated with high respect.  The tree in the field is to be treated with respect.  It is not be romanticized, as the old lady romanticizes her cat (that is, she reads human reactions into it).  That is wrong because it is not true.  When you drive the axe into the tree when you need firewood, you are not cutting down a person; you are cutting down a tree.  But while we should not romanticize the tree, we must realize God made it and it deserves respect because He made it as a tree.  (p. 32)

Christians, of all people, should not be the destroyers.  We should treat nature with an overwhelming respect.  We may cut down a tree to build a house, or to make a fire to keep the family warm.  But we should not cut down the tree just to cut down the tree.  We may, if necessary, bark the cork tree in order to have the use of the bark.  But what we should not do is to bark the tree simply for the sake of doing so, and let it dry and stand there a dead skeleton in the wind.  To do so is not to treat the tree with integrity.  We have the right to rid our houses of ants; but what we have not the right to do is to forget to honor the ant as God made it, in its rightful place in nature.  When we meet the ant on the sidewalk, we step over him.  He is a creature, like ourselves; not made in the image of God, but equal with man as far as creation is concerned.  The ant and the man are both creatures.  (p. 43)  

Hunting game is another example of the same principle.  Killing of animals for food is one thing, but on the other hand they do not exist simply as things to be slaughtered.  This is true of fishing too.  Many men fish and leave their victims to rot and stink.  But what about the fish?  Has it no rights—not to be romanticized as thought he were a man—but real rights?  On the other hand, it is wrong to treat the fish as though it were a human baby; on the other hand, neither is it a chip of wood or stone.  (p. 44)

When we have learned this—the Christian view of nature—then there can be a real ecology; beauty will flow, psychological freedom will come, and the world will cease to be turned into a desert.  Because it is right, on the basis of the whole Christian system—which is strong enough to stand it all because it is true—as I face the buttercup, I say: “Fellow-creature, fellow-creature, I won’t walk on you.  We are both creatures together.”  (p. 55)

Here are a few items of relevance:

Francis Schaeffer on Ecology

Habakkuk and God's Concern for the Environment

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Charismata in Other Countries: A Dialogue

A few years ago I engaged in a dialogue about charismatic gifts in other countries.  My first comment was merely to call for expanding our interest in what is happening in other countries.

Perhaps another perspective to consider is the exclusive focus of this discussion (so far) to the North American scene. Philip Jenkins in his books (“The Next Christendom” and “The New Faces of Christianity”) shows us that churches in the “Global South” are very much alive with healings and exorcisms. The larger church community is reading the Bible and their background experiences bring different sets of questions and answers to the text. For example, Tod K. Vogt was a church planting missionary among the Fon people of Benin, West Africa. He has written in interesting essay “Jesus and the Demons in the Gospel of Mark: Contrasting Secular and Animistic Interpretations” in which Fon believers are noted as to their reflections on the demonic in Mark and their experience. Vogt’s essay can be accessed here worth looking at is Amsalu Tadesse Geleta’s study for the Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, “Case Study: Demonization and the Practice of Exorcism in Ethiopian Churches.” Gelata documents 20 cases of exorcism in which 16 Gelata was personally involved. Gelata’s study can be found here discussion of cessationism/continuationism should also include perspectives from outside our own culture and time.
Jim says:

Rick, could not find any material on healing sickness at this link you sited. I have heard alot of stories and a lot of books have been written but I or any of my church associates have never seen a genuine healing through another person. I agree with Michael…..if it’s happening it certainly is either not that amazing or not happening very often IMHO. The whole North America might not be getting it concept suggested by Richard is rather amusing. ….easy to say things are happening when one isn’t there to verify. Not trying to sound too annoyed but I get tired of hearing of great healings and neither the believer or unbeliever recognize it.

Jim says: 

Sorry, last sentence should read. neither the believer or unbeliever are acknowledging en mass as what was happening during Christ’s ministry.

Jim,I don’t mind disagreement but let’s not put words in my mouth. You wrote: “The whole North America might not be getting it concept suggested by Richard is rather amusing.” I did not suggest any such thing. Go back and read my comments. My post had to do with other perspectives outside the North American context. I made no claim as to what North America may or may not be “getting.” Since many of the claims being made in this discussion revolve around experience then we should be willing to look outside our own cultural context to hear of their experiences as well. That was my point, plain and simple–nothing amusing about as far as I can tell.

Jim Z. says:

Richard, I’ve heard the “geographic argument” before and find it, frankly, appalling. Sorry if that sounds harsh. I don ‘t direct it at you personally, but rather at that argument. What it seems to say is that 1.) God has rejected the modern world in favor of the primitive world, 2.) God’s gifts depend on the receiver’s faith, 3.) God no longer loves the modern world (say the USA) but loves the primitive world. The “geographic argument” seems to have grown from the liberal Christian stream that in its self-loathing says that everything Western is bad and everything non-Western is good, so why would God want to do anything in the West? I grew up with that sort of teaching.
But beyond that, where the “geographic argument” get quite nasty is when it robs someone of hope that God loves them and CAN heal them regardless of where they live. I, like Michael, have a badly arthritic back and I think one of my knees is going down the tubes, too. I need the hope that regardless of whether I live in Wisconsin or Papua New Guinea God loves me enough to heal me.
It is interesting, is it not, that all of these reports of miraculous healing and raising of the dead in the global south take place in areas where there is virtually way to authenticate them by expert medical eye witness? How come we never hear of an instantaneous, complete, and permanent healing of a disfigurement by a charismatic in, say, Johns Hopkins? How come we never hear of a medically certified dead person being brought back to life by a charismatic Christian in, say, the University of Wisconsin Hospital? Is it because the patients at those type of places don’t have enough faith, or even as much faith as a native of some slum in Benghazi?
I’m not opposed to the idea of healing. Lord knows, and He does, that I desparately want it for myself and my father who was just diagnosed with cancer. Rather, I believe that miraculous healing is something that God does and it doesn’t depend on location or standard of living. If He chooses not to heal me, I’m fine with that. I know that His grace and love for me doesn’t depend on whether He chooses to heal me. I submit to Him and not the other way around.

Jim Z. says:

Richard, just for clarification: The way that I have always encountered the “geographical argument” is with people telling me something along the lines of “if only we Americans would get it like the people in the Third World do, then God would do those sorts of miracles here, too.” The other, less common, way that it has been told to me is “We have so much to learn from global south Christians. look at how God is blessing them with miracles”.
That is just my experience. It is always in the sense of people castigating western Christianity for not being blessed like the global south is being blessed. I have never heard spoken any other way. Perhaps you and others have. I’ve only heard people speak of reports of the miraculous in the Third World as meaning that there is something wrong with, most often, Christianity in the USA.
Back to the subject at hand.

Jim Z.You need to read my response to Jim. Almost everything you say in your post (#10) is completely irrelevant to what I wrote. Your thoughts are worth saying and I’m not trying to shut you down but the fact that you direct the comment at my comments shows a real disconnect between what I wrote and what you wrote in response. I did not present a “geographical argument.” I made a suggestion to consider the voice of others from outside our own cultural context. This is simply an aspect of Christian charity as well as an attempt to refrain from limiting our experiential horizon.Furthermore, you continue to make claims that go beyond the evidence available. There are those who seek to bring self-critical analysis to miraculous healing claims. As one example see David C. Lewis’s essay “A Social Anthropologist’s Analysis of Contemporary Healing” in “The Kingdom and the Power” edited by Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer (Regal, 1993). I wonder if you have not raised the bar of authenticity too high when you speak of “expert medical eye witness” testimony. Must this be American medical expertise? What do you think of the testimony outlined in Jack Deere’s book “Surprised by the Power of the Spirit” (pp. 203-206) in which he narrates the raising of a man’s son. Deere claims to have seen the death certificate with the official seal and even provides the address for the boy’s family in Zaire. Does this count as evidence–if not, why not? The bigger issue is that the Spirit doesn’t often choose to operate under the framework of clinical medical trials. But then why would we expect him to do that? Someone said he is like the wind–he blows wherever he wishes.

Jim Z.,Thanks for the clarification in post #11. Just to further clarify–I never wrote or said any of the things you are bothered by in your post. I did not castigate North America or elevate the Global South. I did not say “we have so much so to learn from the Global South.” I did not say that we Americans “need to get it.” You might be fighting an opponent but it’s not me!

Jim Z. says:
Richard, I’ve tried hard not to direct anything at you personally and please don’t take it that way. It is certainly not intended by me to be read that way and anyone who does so is wrong and totally mis-reading what I wrote.
My intent was merely to state my views based upon *my experience only*. Why not “expert eye witness testimony”? To be sure, all new “miracle drugs” have to go through extensive FDA testing before they are released on the general public. New types of surgery have to be peer-reviewed. So, if someone is claiming healing powers, why would that be exempt? Are we not supposed to “test the spirits”? Your comment about Jack Deere saying that he saw the death certificate and published the boy’s address. I have not read Deere’s book. But did he print a copy of the death certificate in the book? Was it subjected to any scrutiny at all? Here’s the issue that I see–and I was reporter during my college days (back in the day when reporters were real skeptics! ): You’re talking Zaire, not exactly a bastion of governmental integrity, where someone could certainly buy a phony death certificate. Indeed, if a charismatic *REALLY* raised someone from the dead (maybe he really did), don’t you think that it would merit more than just mention in charismatic circles? Wouldn’t we have at least one story on it in a major-market news outlet? I mean, really, this is the definition of news–a person certifiably dead is brought to life at the command of another person. You’d think that it would at least show up in the AP’s “World News In Brief”. That tells me that someone somewhere probably looked into the story and said that there is no real “there” there.

Jim Z.,I’m not taking anything personally so don’t worry about that. I’m enjoying the discussion with you. My concern is that somehow my initial comments led you to think that I was putting forward a “geographical argument.” This was an error on your part. Go back and read my comments. It was not a “geographical argument.” I certainly understand if you want to speak to your experience about others who may have put forward a “geographical argument” but this is not something I did. I hope that distinction is clear.  Regarding your standards of evidence you delineate. Be careful of the reasoning here. I think I understand the trajectory of it but it begins to sound like the unbelievers who say things like: “If Jesus rose from the dead why isn’t there more mention of him and this event in the ancient literature?” (This apologetic challenge can be met by the way.) The concern here is an unhealthy skepticism. When evidence is brought forward it seems that there is always some reason to discount it. If a medical certificate is brought forward, well, now it is the “wrong kind” from people with a bad government. I can imagine that even if someone did meet your burden of proof then you could potentially say, “Well, that’s only one! We should expect a lot more if continuationism is true! And why is it not happening at John Hopkins (or wherever else your standard dicatates)?” Surely the path is somewhere between naive gullibility and hyper-skepticism.Thanks for the interchange, Jim.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Marriage & Society: The Big Picture"--ADF's New Video

Here is a new video from Alliance Defending Freedom which argues for the importance of marriage and why government should take a stand on this issue.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hemorrhaging Woman and Jairus' Daughter: Thematic Parallels

There are a number of thematic parallels between the two episodes.[1]

Mark 9.18-26

Hemorrhaging Woman
Jairus’ Daughter
Number “12”

She has “had a hemorrhage for twelve years” (v. 25)
“…for she was twelve years old.” (v. 42)

Jesus addresses her as “daughter” (v. 34)
Jarius refers to her as, “My little daughter” (v. 23)
Wealthy background
She “had spent all that she had” (v. 25)
Daughter is lying in a separate room.  This would be a sign of wealth for the family.

Woman touches Jesus (v. 27)
Jesus takes “the child by the hand” (v. 41)

Jesus mentions woman’s faith      (v. 34)
Jesus urges, “Do not be afraid, only believe” (v. 36)
Restoration of Fertility
Potential restoration of fertility due to healing of hemorrhaging (v. 29)
Culturally marriageable age (12); raised up to potentially marry/bear children
Ritual Impurity

Menstrual impurity based on Leviticus 15.25-30
Dead body becomes a source of uncleanness (Numbers 19.11-13)

     [1]  John DelHousaye, “Jesus and Jewish Menstruation Traditions: Implications for the Liberation of Women” (Unpublished paper), 4-5.

Demon Possession and the Christian

Here are a few exploratory thoughts regarding demon possession and the Christian.  This is not as fully developed as I would like and this should be seen as tentative in relationship to the two articles I contrast.  I would recommend reading both articles to get a flavor for the differing types of reasoning involved.

          Among evangelicals there has been debate regarding the question, “Can a Christian be demon possessed?”  A variety of biblical texts and theological reasoning are thrown back and forth but with, seemingly, little movement in the discussion.  By re-framing the discussion and looking at commonalities between the two positions a larger arena of agreement may be achieved.  The first goal will be to locate the hinge of the debate regarding demon possession.  What exactly is being debated when evangelicals speak of “possession?”  By paying careful attention to what those who deny Christian possession are willing to grant can happen to a Christian it will be seen that the divergence between the two positions is not that great after all.  The second goal will be to briefly discuss how to best minister to a Christian who is experiencing an especially acute struggle with the demonic.
            For purposes of this paper two articles, which lay out contrary positions regarding the Christian and demon possession, will be compared.[1]  Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller in their article denying demon possession of a Christian state early on in their discussion:
Thus, the issue is not the translation of the verb [δαιμονίζομαι], but the location of wicked spirits relative to the believer.  In other words we may ask: Can demons control Christians from within or only oppress them from without?[2]

Grimsley and Miller, thus, isolate two factors to be considered: location (within or without) and influence (control or oppression).  However, the manner in which they explicate this is deficient for they only render two possibilities flowing from these two variables.  They completely overlook a third option: Demonic control of the Christian from without.[3]  Of course, there will be a spectrum of possible meanings for “control” but this option should not be overlooked.  In fact, Grimsley and Miller come very close to just such a proposal later in their article.  In speaking about those “dramatic cases” appealed to by those who argue for the possibility of Christian possession they write:
It seems that demons would be capable of producing certain audible, mental, and bodily phenomena from a position external to the Christian in order to create the illusion that the Christian is, in fact, possessed.  If they can convince believers that they have the power to control them, then such believers, though actually in control of their own wills, will grant the powers of darkness a degree of control by default.[4]

Notice the two key features of the demonic as “external to the Christian” and the granting to the “powers of darkness a degree of control by default.”  This is a fascinating admission that contains the seeds for fruitful discussions that may serve to bridge the two viewpoints.
            As a starting point it is first helpful to recognize that the issue of “location” is not the central concern.  If a Christian can be placed, or place oneself, under severe demonic control then it ultimately does not matter whether that control is obtained by demonic spirits inside the believer as opposed to from a position outside the believer.  Sam Storms helpfully articulates this concern: “Is it necessary for a demon to be spatially ‘inside’ a person’s mind to infuse or to suggest words, thoughts, or for that person to ‘hear voices’ not their own?”[5] 
            Granting that demons can interject thoughts and words into a Christian’s mind how much influence might this have on the Christian?  It is here that Grimsley and Miller’s discussion should be nuanced.  They spoke of how oppressed Christians are still “actually in control of their own wills,” but still, nevertheless, “grant the powers of darkness a degree of control by default.”  What does this mean exactly?  Perhaps headway can be attained by looking at an analogous situation in which a Christian has been victimized by abuse and noticing the effects produced upon the will. 
            Dr. Steven Tracy articulates some of the effects that traumatic abuse can have on people.  Some of these effects include: hyperarousal, intrusion, and numbing.[6]  These effects can influence the nature of human responses.  In other words, the “will” may be constrained in certain ways that narrow the range of human choice.  Tracy explains:
This isn’t implying that abuse survivors have no responsibility for their behavior, but it’s simply pointing to the truth that the effects of trauma are very complicated.  Many of the effects of trauma are not consciously chosen by the victim.  Abuse victims do not choose to have amnesia, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, or increased heart rates.[7]

If the traumatic abuse from another human being can produce such effects might it not be possible that demonic oppression can produce similar results?  If such a possibility is granted then there is reason to envision a scenario in which a Christian can come under demonic oppression to such an extent that profound influence is exercised by such demonic beings.  The Christian’s “will”—the ability to choose—may be significantly impaired or constrained.  Such a scenario fits well the view mentioned earlier: Demonic control of the Christian from without.  Thus, with a bit of expansion regarding the notion of the will as being constrained and a move beyond the issue of the location of the demonic (i.e., insider versus outside) the two positions can come to common ground.  There will, of course, continue to be potential disagreement on the nature and extent of the “control” or “influence” that the demonic can have on the Christian.  Nevertheless, the common ground reached is not insignificant. 

     [1] Brent Grimsley and Elliot Miller, “Can a Christian Be Demonized?,” n. p. [cited 18 October 2013].  Online:  Sam Storms, “Demonization and the Christian,” n. p. [cited 18 October 2013].  Online:
     [2] Grimsley and Miller, “Can a Christian Be Demonized?,” Online.
     [3] Logically there is a fourth option stated here for the sake of completeness but otherwise irrelevant to the discussion: Demonic oppression from within.
     [4] Grimsley and Miller, “Can a Christian Be Demonized?,” Online.
     [5] Storms, “Demonization and the Christian,” Online.
     [6] Steven R. Tracy, Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 97-104.
     [7] Tracy, Mending the Soul, 104.

The Trinity: Some Quotations

I'm teaching a systematic theology class for high schoolers and we just covered the doctrine of the Trinity.  Here a few quotations on this important topic.

Some Definitions:

God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.  
                                                     –Wayne Grudem[1]

Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
                                                   –James White[2]

So God is one, but somehow also three.  The fact is difficult to understand, but it is quite unavoidable in Scripture and central to the gospel.  The doctrine of the Trinity attempts to account for this fact and to exclude heresies that have arisen on the subject.  Its basic assertions are these: (1) God is one.  (2) God is three.  (3) The three persons are each fully God.  (4) Each of the persons is distinct from the others.  (5) The three persons are related to one another eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   –John Frame[3]

Importance of Doctrine

For we must always remember that as we study this fact, we are not dealing with a doctrine about God, with an abstract concept, or with a scientific proposition about the nature of Divinity.  We are not dealing with a human construction which we ourselves or which others have put upon the facts, and which we now try to analyze and logically to dismember.  Rather, in treating of the Trinity, we are dealing with God Himself, with the one and true God, who has revealed Himself as such in His Word.[4]
                                                            --Herman Bavinck

But to have the “right” answers about the Trinity, for example, and to actually believe in the reality of the Trinity, is all the difference in the world.  The advantage of believing in the reality of the Trinity is not that we get an A from God for giving “the right answer.”  Remember, to believe something is to act as if it is so.  To believe that two plus two equals four is to behave accordingly when trying to find out how many dollars or apples are in the house.  The advantage of believing it is that we can deal much more successfully with reality.  Just try dealing with it as if two plus two equaled six.

Hence, the advantage of believing in the Trinity is that we then live as if the Trinity is real: as if the cosmos environing us actually is, beyond all else, a self-sufficing community of unspeakably magnificent personal beings of boundless love, knowledge, and power.  And, thus believing, our lives naturally integrate themselves, through our actions, into the reality of such a universe, just as with two plus two equals four.  In faith we rest ourselves upon the reality of the Trinity in action—and it graciously meets us.  For it is there.  And our lives are then enmeshed in the true world of God.[5]
                                                            --Dallas Willard

The doctrine of the Trinity was formulated by followers of Jesus Christ to safeguard the good news that in Jesus Christ we encounter God face to face.  It was not devised to make God less understandable, or to make God so mysterious that the common people would have to depend on clergy and theologians to understand it for them as the JWs charge.[6]
                                                            --Robert Bowman

What then is lost from Christian theism, when we cease to think in trinitarian terms?... The conviction that God is love is the major casualty of unitarian theism.

The other  losses of non-trinitarian religion are of a piece with this major casualty.  Christ becomes one inspired man among others; and the Spirit a universal divine immanence within creation.  We no longer have a living Saviour, by incorporation into whose Body we too can say ‘Abba, Father’; we no longer can think of our prayers and worship as taken up into the inner movement of God’s life.[7]
                                                            --Brian Hebblethwaite

Why was the church so concerned about the doctrine of the Trinity? Is it really essential to hold to the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit? Yes it is, for this teaching has implications for the very heart of the Christian faith. First, the atonement is at stake. If Jesus is merely a created being, and not fully God, then it is hard to see how he, a creature, could bear the full wrath of God against all of our sins. Could any creature, no matter how great, really save us? Second, justification by faith alone is threatened if we deny the full deity of the Son. (This is seen today in the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe in justification by faith alone.) If Jesus is not fully God, we would rightly doubt whether we can really trust him to save us completely. Could we really depend on any creature fully for our salvation? Third, if Jesus is not infinite God, should we pray to him or worship him? Who but an infinite, omniscient God could hear and respond to all the prayers of all God’s people? And who but God himself is worthy of worship? Indeed, if Jesus is merely a creature, no matter how great, it would be idolatry to worship him—yet the New Testament commands us to do so (Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 5:12-14). Fourth, if someone teaches that Christ was a created being but nonetheless one who saved us, then this teaching wrongly begins to attribute credit for salvation to a creature and not to God himself. But this wrongfully exalts the creature rather than the Creator, something Scripture never allows us to do. Fifth, the independence and personal nature of God are at stake: If there is no Trinity, then there were no interpersonal relationships within the being of God before creation, and, without personal relationships, it is difficult to see how God could be genuinely personal or be without the need for a creation to relate to. Sixth, the unity of the universe is at stake: If there is not perfect plurality and perfect unity in God himself, then we have no basis for thinking there can be any ultimate unity among the diverse elements of the universe either. Clearly, in the doctrine of the Trinity, the heart of the Christian faith is at stake. Herman Bavinck says that “Athanasius understood better than any of his contemporaries that Christianity stands or falls with the confession of the deity of Christ and of the Trinity.”Bavinck, The Doctrine of God p. 281. He adds, “In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion: every error results from, or upon deeper reflection may be traced to, a wrong view of this doctrine.”Ibid., p. 285.[8]
                                                            --Wayne Grudem

Trinity in the Old Testament

The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted; the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before.  The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but only perfected, extended and enlarged.[9]
                                                            --B. B. Warfield

           Trinity in NT as already fully developed

It is clear, in other words, that, as we read the New Testament, we are not witnessing the birth of a new conception of God.  What we meet with in its pages is a firmly established conception of God underlying and giving it tone to the whole fabric.  It is not in a text here and there that the New Testament bears its testimony to the doctrine of the Trinity.  The whole book is Trinitarian to the core; all its teaching is built on the assumption of the Trinity; and its allusions to the Trinity are frequent, cursory, easy and confident…The doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the New Testament in the making, but as already made.[10]
                                                            --B. B. Warfield

Experiential Trinitarians

The disciples were, indeed, “experiential Trinitarians.”  They had walked with the Son, heard the Father speak from glory, and were now indwelt by the Holy Spirit.[11]                                                            --James White

Problems with Modalism

                                               i.     The cross is emptied of its drama.

Rather, these Fathers clearly understood that what was at stake in this battle was the authenticity of God’s self-revelation.  They understood that if the relationality found throughout the New Testament between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit was something that God merely assumed in time for the purpose of our salvation, as the modalists maintained, then even when we come to know God as he truly is.  For what God is “truly” like, according to both ancient modalists and contemporary Oneness believers, lies in the supposed “undifferentiated Oneness,” which is hidden behind the three (or more) “masks” he wears in time.

In other words, in Oneness theology the three temporary “roles” of God do not arise out of God’s essential eternal being.  God “plays” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But in his heart of hearts—whoever he is—he is not these three.

The big question, then, was whether the history of salvation was to be thought of as a sort of stage where God merely acts out certain roles that are otherwise foreign to his essential self, or whether this history reveals the innermost heart and internal depth of the eternal and infinite Godhead.  Does God simply wear masks before us, or does he lovingly envelop us into the very depths of his essential and eternal being?  The early Fathers, thankfully, perceived that the latter was the truth.[12]

                                              ii.     Love between the Father and Son is compromised

Perhaps the most tragic implication of reducing the Father/Son personal distinction to a mere distinction of natures (or even outright “illusion”) is that it completely undermines the genuineness of the Father’s personal love for the Son and the Son’s personal love for the Father spoken of so poignantly throughout the New Testament.  [David] Bernard specifically addresses the issue of this apparent loving relationship between the Father and the Son when he writes:

John 3:35, 5:20, and 15:9 state that the Father loves the Son [forget the numerous other texts!], and John 17:24 says the Father loved Jesus before the foundation of the world.  In John 14:31 Jesus expresses love for the Father [again, one verse!].  All of these statements do not mean separate persons….What these verses express is the relationship between the two natures of Christ.  The Spirit of Jesus loved the humanity and vice versa….Remember, the Son came to the world to show us how much God loves us and also to be our example.  For these two objectives to be achieved, the Father and Son showed love for each other.  [David Bernard, The Oneness of God: Series in Pentecostal Theology, vol. 1 (1983)]

                                    Greg Boyd adds:

Therefore, in beholding the love of the Father for the Son and the love of the Son for the Father, we are not seeing anything that concerns the eternal heart of God himself.  God could just as well have done without this pseudo-interpersonal “projected” love.  Since the two “persons” are projected, and the love is expressed only for an example, none of this can tell us how God really is, how God really feels, what God is really like.  In the Oneness view, we only know that God is “absolutely one,” so whatever he is like, he is not like he appears when the Father and Son are portrayed as distinct and as perfectly loving one another.  And thus in the end the Incarnation shows us, not what God is (compare John 1:14, 18), not even what God is like, but only what we human beings should be like![13]

[1] Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), 226.
[2] James White The Forgotten Trinity (Bethany House, 1998), 26.
[3] John Frame The Doctrine of God (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 621-622.
[4] Herman Bavinck Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey of Christian Doctrine (Baker: 1956 [originally 1909]), 143.
[5] Dallas Willard The Divine Conspiracy (Harper Collins, 1998), 318.
[6] Robert M. Bowman Jr. Why You Should Believe in the Trinity: An Answer to Jehovah’s Witnesses (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 138.
[7] Brian Hebblethwaite, “Recent British Theology,” One God in Trinity (Westchester: Cornerstone Books, 1980), 168-169.
[8] Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), 247-248.  Available online:
[9] Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” 141-142.
[10] Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,”143.
[11] James White The Forgotten Trinity (Bethany House, 1998), 167-168.
[12] Gregory Boyd, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (Baker, 1992), 178-179.
[13] Gregory Boyd, Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (Baker, 1992), 183-184.