Enter the Neo-Trinitarians
By Ross Drysdale
New Kid On The Block
The oneness movement today is faced with a new challenge to its teaching of God-In-Christ. Having battled for years against the twin enemies of Arianism, as exemplified in Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Classic Trinitarianism, with its “three divine individuals; we must now stand our ground against a new form of Trinitarianism. This doctrine, which I have personally labeled Neo Trinitarianism, shares aspects with the old Trinity teaching with which we are so familiar (Classical Trinitarian). In addition it has several strange and innovative refurbishing, designed to polish up the, traditional Trinity Dogma and make it more appealing.
Roots Of Neo-Trinitarianism
The roots of this Neo-Trinitariansim can probably be traced to the Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth. He Taught that the word “persons” had become inadequate to describe the Trinity, substituting “modes of being” instead. Karl Rahner another German theologian jumped on the band wagon with “manners of subsistence.” And Gregory Boyd, self styled champion of the Anti-Oneness Crusade, offers up “personally distinct ways of existing” (Boyd, 169), “distinct fashion” (Boyd, 63), or by human analogy, “aspects” (Boyd, 175). If the word person must be used, Boyd puts it in quotation marks to indicate he doesn’t mean a literal person.
Have We Misunderstood The Trinity?
Dr. Boyd says the idea of the Trinity as God existing in “three individuals,” or having “three minds,” “spirits”, or “separate consciousness ” is a “caricature” (Boyd, 174), and a “straw man” argument. Notice: “the general oneness portrayal of the Trinity is a rather crude portrait of three separate people in heaven” (Boyd, 171). So we Oneness are to blame for the “three persons in the Godhead” doctrine! The “traditional” belief of the church he says, has nothing to do with three separate minds, wills, spiritual forms, etc. (Boyd, 171), and the thought that God could be “horizontally conceived of as some sort of committee” is against scripture. And we Oneness believers are “missing the point” when we attack “this crude view of the Trinity” (Boyd, 172).
So not only did we Oneness believers invent this “Straw Man Trinity”, (this crude caricature of 3 persons), but we have wasted nearly 80 years attacking it! How we misunderstood what they were saying! Now find out they really do believe in just One Spirit, (Boyd, 164) and He has just “one mind” or “consciousness.” There never were three beings in the Godhead! “Trinitarians have always agreed that the doctrine of “God in three persons’ cannot be understood to legitimize picturing God as three literal divine people in heaven…” (Boyd, 173). How dumb we were to think that’s what they meant these last 80 years! Why, all they were really talking about was God existing in three “ways” or “fashions.” Nothing wrong with that!
But something is wrong! How do they account for the thousands of sculptures found in all the great churches of Christendom which show the Trinity as an Old man, a young man and a dove? How do they explain the multiplied thousands of paintings, by Trinitarian artists, endowed with church funds, which depict the Trinity in this “crude” manner? The museums are filled with paintings of the Father as a real person along side his Son, another real person. Funny, if this was never the “traditional teaching of the church,” why would they finance such a “misapplication of creedal language” in the field of art?
Trinitarians Define The Trinity
Let us now examine some Trinitarian writers to see if we have been fighting a “straw man” of our own invention.
“Perhaps we can compare the Godhead to a divine Committee of equals, but with specific areas of responsibility” (Gerald Wheeler, Is God a Committee, p.47)
Three Centers Of Consciousness, Three Wills
“It is both reasonable and scriptural to say that there is one divine essence or nature which all have in common and yet there are three mutually related and distinct centers of consciousness…and will” and “the fact is that each one – Father, Son, and Holy spirit – is conscious of Himself as a distinct person, in the exercise of his will, use of personal pronouns, and association of himself with other persons” (Carl Brumback, God in Three Persons, p.64).
Two Or More Bodies In Trinity
“Deity sets on a throne seat in Heaven. In his hand is a book sealed with seven seals. Who is this one? Is it Jesus? No, it is not Christ as we shall see. If it is not the Father, who is it? …He (Christ) steps forward and takes the book out of the hand” It is clearly the son approaching the Father, and He takes the book out of his hand.” (Gordon Lindsay, The Trinity of the Godhead, pg.43).
“The true God exists in the form of three divine Spirit persons.” “Therefore if it was God’s purpose for one of these divine spirit Persons at a certain tine in world history to transfer his center of intelligence and identity…to this earth”(Peter Barnes, The Truth About Jesus and the Trinity, p.12).
United Group Of Gods
“Hear 0′ Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord! (Deut. 6:4). The proper translation should be: The Lord our Gods is a united Lord ” “That Elohim means ‘Gods’ is further substantiated in Genesis 1:26” (Henry H. Ness, Dunamis and the Church, p. 7, 8).
Three Adorable Gods
“Elohim is the plural of Eloah, and literally rendered, means, the Adorable Ones…in the beginning the ‘Adorable Ones’ created the heaven and the earth”(J. Narver Gortner, Water Baptism and the Trinity, p.57).
“The Father from eternity begat and always begets and never will cease to beget his Son”(F.J. Lindquist, The Truth About the Trinity, p.3).
Like Husband And Wife
“He is one in the same sense a husband and wife are one” (Ibid, p.21). NO
No Jealousy Among Three Gods
“There is no strict order of mention of the three persons of the Godhead…which emphasizes the deity of each and underscores the fact that there is no jealousy there” (F. Donald, and Ronald A Harris, The Trinity, p.27).
Conference Meetings Of The Three Gods
“At that time the Father said, I will have to judge that man. The Son said, Because we love him, I’ll go down and die for him. The Father said, I’ll send you. And the Holy Spirit said, I’ll go down afterwards…”(J. Vernon Magee, How Can God Exist in Three Persons, p.23).
Aware Of Each Other And Talk To Each Other
“Trinitarians believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three ‘persons’ in the sense that each is aware of the others, speaks to the others and loves and honors the others” (Robert M. Bo an, Why you Should Believe in the Trinity, p.13-14).
“The witnesses of this sacred scene (Christ’s Baptism) and the readers of the four Gospel accounts, were conscious of three distinct Beings.”(Ibid. B ck, p.47)
Apparently we Oneness believers didn’t have our perception of the Trinity so wrong after all. In their own Trinitarian literature, drawn from a popular cross section we find: Divine Committees, Three Centers of Consciousness, Three Gods, Three Wills, Separate Bodies, Three Spirit Persons, Three Adorable Gods, eternal Begettings and Begottens, Conferences, Three Beings and Three Way Conversations. Inspite of all this Boyd refuses to “wake up d s 11 the coffee” even while its boiling out of its co-equal, co-eternal spouts! “Therefore, that Oneness Pentecostals think it is tritheistic is more the result of their misunderstanding of what this ‘ doctrine is all about….”(Boyd, 50). If we have misunderstood it, how much more so have they!
“Illusory Speech” Of The Trinitarians
After answering us that God is only One Spirit with one mind or center of consciousness, Neo Trinitarians seem unable to control themselves any longer. Their obsessive lo affair with “distinct persons” in the Godhead seems to be so -thing they just can’t shake. We find these “ways” and “fashions” are beginning to talk to each other, like individual persons. They are revealed as “bursting” with love for each other (Boyd, 189). They have “loving communion,” They socialize and have loving “interaction.” They have an “eternal tri e celebration of lave!’ These different “ways” are shown having a very personal “I-Thou” relationship (Boyd, 192), and we discover this is possible because of a sense of genuine “personal otherness” within God. Now this is all very strange and contradictory behavior to be going on in one mind, in one center of consciousness! And it is even more strange that it is going on between “ways” and “fashions” and not individuals! No, there is definitely trouble in the doctrinal Paradise of Neo-Trinitarians. They were doing so well and now this! For it is self evident to anyone that for true and meaningful love to exist there must also exist two separate minds, two separate centers of consciousness, two wills; otherwise you have a charade, “a transient illusion.” This applies equally well to conversation, co ion, and personal interaction. If there is an “I”—Thou” relationship in the Godhead then there are two minds also. Thus Neo Trinitarianism is shown to be the truest example of “illusory” speech we have yet encountered. After rousing our hopes that they might finally have seen the light on the “three persons” heresy, they are right back where they started from, and worse! For now they have to reconcile their “one mind” doctrine with their threeway love and communion teaching. And that they cannot do. They are at the end of the line and the Cappodocian Fathers can’t help them now!
No matter how they argue it, they are stuck, and stuck hard. If there is only “one mind” in the Trinity, and just one “center of consciousness” as they maintain, then there can not be love that “bursts forth” between the persons. Genuine and authentic interpersonal love requires two minds at least and two wills. One mind must will to “burst forth” with love, and the other mind must will to receive these loving bursts” and return them! So when we hear talk of the “totally interpenetrating loving union of the three ‘persons’ of the Trinity”- this is nothing more than a disguised way of saying “three separate individuals.” One solitary mind, or consciousness can not have meaningful love or conversation; that always requires more than one mind. And more than one mind means more than one individual! So all this talk about God being defined as “ways”, “fashions”, and “aspects” is just a deceptive smokescreen. They really mean three individual Beings. And all this talk about the Trinity having just one mind or consciousness is absolutely incompatible with the socializing activities of the Trinity which they describe. “I-Thou” relationships require two minds or re!
Classic Trinitarians VS. Neo-Trinitarians
The old Classic Trinitarians didn’t have this problem. They freely talked about three Spirits, three wills, three minds, and even three gods. Of course they had another problem just as serious-trying to convince people this was somehow just one God! At least the Classic Trinitarians were consistent on one point-their three persons were always presented as three separate divine individuals, each with its own mind and will. Not so with the “three persons” of Neo-Trinitarians. They are always “switching” them back and forth. One moment they are just three distinct ways in which the One God exists; just three fashions or modes of the one mind. Sounds nice and Oneness. But then the next moment these, “fashions” are talking to each other, loving each other, etc. This is clearly three individuals with three minds, not just three “ways” of one mind at all. They are the most flexible “three persons” ever known in theological history. Our Oneness doctrine is ridiculed for “role switching” and “transient illusion” by our Neo-Trinitarian opponents. They should keep silent, for they surely hold the gold medal for that event!
This article “Enter the Neo-Trinitarians” by Ross Drysdale is excerpted from his book published by Apostolic Truth Press, 1994.