T&S Post: Don’t Debate the Trinity

2013-06-10 Trinity_knight_shieldAfter a little bit of a break from posting at Times And Seasons over the past few weeks, I’m back in my usual Monday morning slot with a post about the futility of debating the Trinity between Mormons and mainline Christians. Check it out, if you are feeling theologically inclined. (There’s also a gratuitous Star Wars reference to help things along.)

4 thoughts on “T&S Post: Don’t Debate the Trinity”

  1. I think it has more to do with the Creator/creature metaphysical divide that had become prominent in Christian thinking since the second century A.D. (see Keith Norman’s BYU Studies article: https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFLibrary/17.3NormanExNihilio-fa3c5949-b8d0-4944-8d98-431062701212.pdf). The Arian version of subordinationism placed Jesus on the creature side of this divided ontology. The Athanasian alternative sought to maintain the divinity of Jesus and His rightful role as Creator. For that, I think we as Mormons should be grateful. It is also worth noting that deification played a prominent role in the development of the Trinity:

    “Ultimately, though, the Arian position was untenable simply because it reduced to incoherence the Christian story of redemption as it had been understood, proclaimed, prayed, and lived for generations…For Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and many others, it was first and foremost the question of salvation that must determine how the identity of Christ is to be conceived. And they understood salvation, it must be appreciated, not in the rather impoverished way of many modern Christians, as a kind of extrinsic legal transaction between the divine and human by which a debt is canceled and the redeemed soul issued a certificate of entry into the afterlife; rather they saw salvation as nothing less than a real and living union between God and his creatures. To be saved was to be joined to God himself in Christ, to be in fact “divinized”-which is to say, in the words of 2 Peter 1:4, to become “partakers of the divine nature.” In a lapidary phrase favored, in one form or another, by a number of the church fathers, “God became man that man might become god.” In Christ, the Nicene party believed, the human and divine had been joined together in a perfect and indissoluble unity, by participation in which human beings might be admitted to share in his divinity…Only God can join us to God. And so, if it is Christ who joins us to the Father, then Christ must himself be no less than God, and must be equal to the Father in divinity.” (David B. Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009, 205-206.)

    See also Keith Edward Norman, “Deification: The Context of Athanasian Soteriology” (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 1980).

  2. Philosopher Christopher Stead was struck by the “flexibility of the [Greek] term” ‘homoousios’. He states that the “basic meaning is ‘made of the same kind of stuff’.” (Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity. Cambridge University Press, 1994, 167)

    He further explains,

    “Christian writers naturally turned to the Bible for their teaching on the nature of God. But the use of it was often influenced by the philosophical thought of their own day. The Hebrews…pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though trascending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures. Such a conception, set out in the earlier books of the Old Testament, retained its authority despite some later changes of emphasis. But this biblical view…was radically modified in the teaching of Philo of Alexandria…[who] presents him as the metaphysical first principal of the universe, without bodily form or human passions, indeed without any sensible qualities: a perfectly simple, unchangeable, unfathomable being…Christian writers developed a broadly similar view, partly because they were influenced by the same philosophical authorities, partly through direct imitation of Philo himself. To this they added their doctrine of the Trinity…” (pg. 120)

  3. Larry W. Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, finds that the claimed resurrection of Jesus led to a number of religious mutations and innovations. First and foremost, an outgrowth of the Jewish divine agency tradition that placed the exalted Jesus at the right-hand of God, making him an object of devotion. This included hymnic practices, prayers, the use of the name of Christ, the Lord’s Supper, confessions of faith in Jesus, and prophetic pronouncements of the risen Christ.[1] The binitarian inclusion of Jesus in the Godhead (part of the Two Powers in Heaven tradition) led to a clash between Jewish Christians and “a group of Christian writers called “heresiologists,” the anatomizers of heresy and heresies, and their Jewish counterparts, the Rabbis.”[2] Early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr defended the binitarian stance against Christian Modalists and Jewish Rabbis who claimed the doctrine was ditheistic. It was not the doctrine of the Logos that was unique to Judaism, but that the Logos “became flesh among us” in the person of Jesus. Ironically, “in the move to a trinitarian theology within which the entire trinity is both self-contained and fully transcendent, Athanasius and his fellows insist that God alone, without a mediator, without an angel, without a Logos, is the creator. Logos theology is, ultimately, as thoroughly rejected within Nicene Christianity as within orthodox rabbinism.”[3]In other words, one of the earliest Christian claims about Jesus was implicitly rejected by the orthodox position.

    1. See Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, 2nd ed. (London: Continuum, 1998), specifically Ch. 5; Hurtado “Religious Experience and Religious Innovation in the New Testament,” Journal of Religion 80:2 (2000).

    2. Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 2.

    3. Boyarin, 2004, 139.

  4. I’m also quite excited to see you quoting your dad’s manuscript (I will contain myself and not beg you to send me a copy). I agree that Mormons and orthodox Christians can find much in common via the Trinity. After reading Ostler and others, I’m inclined to embrace a form of Aristotelian metaphysics, the difference being that I do not associate the First Cause with God Himself. I find that this “ground of all Being” or “Being Itself” could easily fit within Mormonism’s concept of “intelligence,” “divinity,” or “eternity” (both in quantity and quality).

    I’m convinced that Christians (including Mormons) assume too much. They think they know much more than they do. Even with the Restoration and the certainty that accompanies Mormon testimonies, we still know very little.

    See my blog post on this subject: http://theslowhunch.blogspot.com/#!/2013/02/hearing-and-knowing.html

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