Saturday, September 07, 2013

Grudem 14d: Trinity Errors

My summary-evaluations of Wayne Grudem's chapter on the Trinity continues.
C. Errors on the Trinity
In the previous section, Grudem has conceptualized the Trinity in terms of three statements he believes capture biblical teaching: 1) God is three persons, 2) Each person is fully God, and 3) There is one God. In this section, he discusses various historical perspectives on God that fail in regard to one of these three.

1. Modalism
Also called Sabellianism after the early third century teacher Sabellius, modalism understands the three "persons" of the Trinity simply to be three different forms or modes in which the one God manifests himself. In other words, modalism fails to see God as three distinct persons.  The United Pentecostal Church affirms modalism as one of its core beliefs.

Modalism is obviously strong in its affirmation of there being only one God and that he is supreme ruler (it is sometimes called "modalistic monarchianism") but it fails to capture relationships between the persons of the Trinity, such as we find at Jesus' baptism or in the intercession of Jesus and the Spirit to the Father on behalf of us.

2. Arianism, etc.
Grudem puts denials of the full deity of the Son and Holy Spirit under the heading of Arianism, although it is only the best known representative of this category.

a. The Arian Controversy
Arius taught that although Jesus was the greatest of all creation, he was created by God before God made everything else (cf. Col. 1:15). The Council of Nicaea in 325 decided that his views were false. The Creed of Nicaea said that Jesus was "begotten, not made."  The Nicene Creed, which issued out of the next Council of Constantinople in 381, clarified that this begetting took place "before all ages."

Nicaea also debated whether Jesus was "of one substance" (homoousios) with the Father or only of similar substance (homoiousios).  It concluded that Jesus was "of one substance" with the Father, which Grudem believes is true to biblical Christianity.

b. Subordinationism
As Grudem defines the heresy of subordinationism, it is to hold that the Son is inferior in being or attributes to God the Father. Grudem does not believe it is subordinationism to believe that the Son is subordinate to the Father in role or function (244 n.27). He will return to this issue later in the chapter.

In this section he also praises Athanasius for his role in defeating Arianism.  The Athanasian Creed probably does not come from Athanasius but is a clear affirmation of trinitarian doctrine used in some Protestant and Catholic churches today.

c. Adoptionism
Grudem mentions one form of adoptionism that existed in the early church, namely, the view that Jesus lived as an ordinary man until God "adopted" him as son at his baptism. Like Arianism, it did not affirm the eternal, full deity of Jesus. He also mentions in this section that the Nicene Creed of 381 added a statement on the deity of the Holy Spirit.

d. Filioque
In AD589 at a regional council in what is now Spain, the Western church added to the Nicene Creed a sense that the Holy Spirit proceeds not just from the Father but "from the Father and the Son." Grudem does not believe that Scripture has an explicit statement on this issue because John 15:26 and 16:7 are about Jesus sending the Spirit after his resurrection, not from eternity past. He considers it unfortunate that the Eastern church split from the Western church over this doctrine, although the underlying issue had more to do with the authority of the Pope and the Western church.

On the whole, Grudem thinks the idea that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son makes sense. Might not the relation in time in John 15:26 match the eternal relationship of the Trinity? In any case, he does not believe that it warranted such a division in the church.

e. The Importance of the Trinity Doctrine
Grudem believes that the Trinity is crucial for six reasons. First, he believes Jesus could not have born the full wrath of God if he had not been fully God. Second, he believes that justification by faith alone would be in peril. Could we depend on him for salvation if he were not fully God? Third, if he is not infinite God, should we pray to him or worship him? Wouldn't it be idolatry to worship him then?

Fourth, we then begin to give credit for salvation to a creature rather than to God himself. Fifth, the personal nature of God comes to be at stake, because there are then no personal relationships within the Trinity. Sixth, Grudem sees the unity of the universe at stake--how can the diverse elements of the universe have any unity if in God there is no plurality in unity?

3. Tritheism
Few persons in the history of the church have actually held that the three persons of the Trinity are three separate Gods, although Grudem suggests many evangelicals may unintentionally fall into this category by recognizing the distinct persons but not the real "unity of God as one undivided being" (248).

Grudem's account is overwhelmingly orthodox, for the most part. The one area where there is significant debate is whether he has accurately caught the sense of subordinationism. Grudem does not believe that subordination of role or function counts as a heresy, only inferiority in being or attribute. As we will see later in the chapter, serious questions can and have been raised about this interpretation of subordinationism.

Grudem's six points on the importance of the Trinity are perhaps more open to discussion. It is true that Gregory of Nazianzus in the late 300s said that, "What has not been assumed cannot be healed." He was arguing that Jesus must have become fully human for atonement to work. Grudem's argument is somewhat of the flip side--Jesus needed to be fully divine for atonement to work.

This is a fully orthodox perspective, although Grudem predictably focuses more on God's wrath than early Christian tradition did. And while it is orthodox to believe that Jesus needed to become human to heal humanity of its sin, it is highly debatable whether God, in his sovereignty, couldn't have justified us, pronounced us "not guilty," by divine fiat and command. This is arguably an ironic defect in Grudem's sense of God's sovereignty.

Grudem's arguments about the importance of relationship in God or the importance of plurality seem obscure and highly debatable.  Again, it is ironic that Grudem seems to be using the creation in order to argue for a certain understanding of God, as if God needs to have certain items on his pre-creation resume in order to relate to us.

Surely God, as God, may have his own well of creativity. The Trinity may make sense of a God who creates a world with relationships and unity in plurality, but surely Grudem does not want to suggest that God could not have created such things without the Trinity. Grudem seems to be creating God in the image of the creation.

It might be worth adding that it was not at all clear in the 300s who would emerge the winner and what would end up being considered Christian orthodoxy. It is easy for us to look back and condemn people like Arius, but it was not at all clear at the time who was correct. There was a time in the 300s when more Christians were Arian than Athanasian.

Finally, it is probably significant to point out that it was more theology and philosophy in the early church that solidified this orthodox understanding rather than biblical teaching itself.  For example, neither Athanasius nor Grudem for that matter would not have written Colossians 1:15 the way it is, that Jesus is "firstborn of all creation." The emphasis is indeed probably on Jesus' pre-eminence, but might not some in the audience of Colossians have easily assumed that Jesus was something like the logos--not created like the rest of creation, but not uncreated like God either?

What Grudem calls "biblical Christianity" is arguably more than just biblical.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks to you (and Grudem) for the fine theology lesson.