Three Stages in the Decline of a Religion

I was listening to a sermon by Ravi Zacharias in which he credited the poet Lord Byron with the following.

Three Stages in the Decline of a Religion:

1) Heresy – when true God is worshiped with false worship
2) Idolatry – false gods worshiped while we suppose them for true God
3) Witchcraft – adoration for false gods knowing them to be wicked

My friend who directed me to the sermon pointed out that this seems to loosely follow the pattern Paul lays out in Romans 1. I briefly looked but could not find any other reference to Lord Byron. [it actually comes from The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon]

Over a year ago I wrote about my begrudging acceptance of a sect of Christianity which I find disgusting but still within the camp of Christian orthodoxy. What I like about Byron’s Bacon’s three stages is that it defines such believers as heretics but still worshipers of a true God.

I would place Mormonism in the classification of “idolatry” because its description of God is so wildly different than that of orthodox Christianity. In turn I think the classic Christian understanding of God is idolatrous if Mormon theology were to be the standard (and appropriately deemed “apostate” – outside the faith).

The place I probably struggle the most in Byron’s Bacon’s paradigm is the description of “knowing the false gods to be false.” I think this might better describe an individual’s posture of religion than a religion itself. I think there are individuals who know their gods are false, but worship them anyways. But I think each religion is at least attempting to direct people toward worship of a true god.

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89 thoughts on “Three Stages in the Decline of a Religion

  1. “I think each religion is at least attempting to direct people toward worship of a true god.”

    That’s my perception as well. “Attempting” is the key word. Only the religion that knows the correct way (Jesus) to get to God is successful.

  2. “I would place Mormonism in the classification of ‘idolatry’ because its description of God is so wildly different than that of orthodox Christianity.”

    If you forget about the King Follett sermon, which is confined to a dusty, neglected closet most of the time, Mormonism’s description of God is not wildly different than that of orthodox Christianity—or evangelical Christianity for that matter. (Incidentally, what’s the difference, if any, between evangelicalism and orthodoxy?)

    If Mormonism is so wildly different that it can only ATTEMPT to get to God, how come God showed so spectacularly at the time the Kirtland temple was finished? (I’m displaying my new knowledge of LDS history as I read Rough Stone Rolling. :<)

    Thanks in advance for the answer, Tim, or whoever answers.

  3. Kirtland Mormonism was wildly different than post-Nauvoo Mormonism. The Lectures on Faith were Mormon scripture and were even more Trinitarian than the Book of Mormon.

  4. I, for one, am among the believers that see the council of men who created the definition “Trinity” were the ones teachings “another gospel”.

  5. How can that be when we see the Trinity all over the New Testament? Just look at the story where Jesus is Baptized. If you can’t see the Trinity there, then you will never see It.

  6. Tim, are you saying that you recognize that the move of God in the Kirtland temple was God?
    I’m not familiar with the Lectures on Faith. Please inform me.

  7. The place I probably struggle the most in Byron’s paradigm is the description of “knowing the false gods to be false.” I think this might better describe an individual’s posture of religion than a religion itself. I think there are individuals who know their gods are false, but worship them anyways. But I think each religion is at least attempting to direct people toward worship of a true god.

    There was a big internet apocalypse earlier this year among neopagans as to whether fictional characters like Batman are appropriate objects of hero cultus and worship. The two sides were, more or less, (1) reconstructionist pagans who believe that their gods have separate, individual and objective reality and (2) new-age neopagans who believe that the gods are something more like powerful archetypes in the human collective psyche.

    It is such a fundamental divide on the nature of deity that I think it represents a deep enough division to properly say that they are two different religions, regardless of how they get lumped together or categorized. And the new-age neopagans are in fact giving adoration to false gods while actually believing that they are false.

  8. Tim said:

    The Lectures on Faith were Mormon scripture and were even more Trinitarian than the Book of Mormon.

    The fifth Lecture on Faith, which describes the nature of the Godhead, is more “Trinitarian” than modern Mormon teaching only in that the Heavenly Father is portrayed as a “personage of spirit,” albeit one in human form, rather than a “personage of tabernacle” (i.e., flesh) in the way that Jesus is.

    In other aspects, it sounds nothing like orthodox Trinitarianism: The Godhead has two personages, who possess the same mind, which is the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Godhead, but not a personage. The lecture also very strongly teaches a deification in which believers will ultimately share that same mind in the same way Jesus does and, like Jesus, become one with the Father. There is nothing about the three members of the Godhead sharing the same “substance.”

    It also isn’t clear that the lectures and accompanying catechism were considered scriptural, although they were printed with the scriptures until 1920.

  9. Tim, are you saying that you recognize that the move of God in the Kirtland temple was God?

    All I’m for sure saying is that if Mormonism remained at its Kirtland phase Eric would still be a very content Mormon and I’d have very little to say about Mormonism. I would embrace it as an orthodox (though slightly weird) Christian sect.

    As for the spiritual manifestations at the Kirtland Temple. . . .I don’t know what to make of them but its a bit frustrating that no one ever brings up the fact that someone left and brought back liquor so as to increase the spiritual visions. That doesn’t completely nullify the spiritual experiences people described but it’s an important part of the story that shouldn’t be left out.

  10. As for the spiritual manifestations at the Kirtland Temple. . . .I don’t know what to make of them but its a bit frustrating that no one ever brings up the fact that someone left and brought back liquor so as to increase the spiritual visions. That doesn’t completely nullify the spiritual experiences people described but it’s an important part of the story that shouldn’t be left out.

    My friend Sannion would be excited to hear about that.

  11. Tim — It took some digging, but I figured out that what Zacharias attributed to Lord Byron actually came from Francis Bacon. You can find what Bacon wrote here; search on the page for “idolatry.”

  12. Nice job!

    (24) This matter of divinity is handled either in form of instruction of truth, or in form of confutation of falsehood. The declinations from religion, besides the privative, which is atheism and the branches thereof, are three – heresies, idolatry, and witchcraft: heresies, when we serve the true God with a false worship; idolatry, when we worship false gods, supposing them to be true; and witchcraft, when we adore false gods, knowing them to be wicked and false. For so your Majesty doth excellently well observe, that witchcraft is the height of idolatry. And yet we see though these be true degrees, Samuel teacheth us that they are all of a nature, when there is once a receding from the Word of God; for so he saith, Quasi peccatum ariolandi est repugnare, et quasi scelus idololatriæ nolle acquiescere.

  13. Oh, looks like Ravi Zacharias confused Bacon’s use of “declination,” which he appears to mean as in linguistic declension, i.e., a system for categorizing variants on a root, with “decline” in the ordinary sense.

    In other words, Bacon appears to have been categorizing false religions and ordering them by their qualitative degree of deviation from true religion, not setting out a trajectory for good religions that go bad.

  14. The old adam—The three members of the Godhead are all over the New Testament, but the manmade definition “Trinity” is not in God’s Word in the Bible.

  15. fred, I’m as eager to get into it with you over the Trinity as the next orthodox Christian (because regardless of whether the word “trinity” is anywhere in the Bible, the Triune God we worship most certainly is written into every single page), but since that would basically be a thread-jack on this post, I’d like to point out a couple of other posts on this blog where that’s been the center of the conversation:

    Ah, the Trinity (an older post, but one where we’ve gone back recently and had a really good debate in the comments)

    “But whom do you say that I am?” (something more recent)

    There’s no rule I know of against commenting on old posts, and I’m sure that if you go to one of those and leave a comment regarding whatever it is you want to say about the Trinity, someone will gladly oblige you the discussion. Make sure to read the existing comments though, to help you get oriented and to save yourself from looking foolish.

  16. Using different words, I replied to “1) Heresy – when true God is worshiped with false worship” by saying that there are those of us who believe the the heretics were the men who narrowed God’s Word by adding thier definition “Trinity” between men and the Bible.

    The second post was in reply to old adam.

    So Kellervo, why do you believe the men who got togeather and added the definition “Trinity” between God’s Word and us got it right and not the heretics?

  17. The definition “Trinity” is one of the biggies between our understandings of God’s Word. Why do you say it is unimportant?

  18. And for the record, coming from a church that teaches that Jesus is eldest of the spirit children of Elohim and one of his many Celestial wives who was born on earth into a mortal tabernacle like ours (except that it was the genetic offspring of Elohim and Mary) and foreordained to become a god but who did not receive of the fullness at first but “continued from grace, until he received a fullness,” and who suffered in the garden of Gethsemane to open the way so that we can earn our exaltation and become gods, and who was resurrected into a glorified body of flesh and bone (but not blood) and who now dwells with Elohim (who is a completely distinct being that is also a glorified mortal man with a body of flesh and bone) on a planet near to a star called Kolob, not any of which is in the Bible, you are pretty much in no position at all to go aggressively and/or sanctimoniously accusing anyone of heresy.

    Just for the record.

  19. Tim, I found your answer very interesting.
    (Tim’s answer was, “if Mormonism remained at its Kirtland phase Eric would still be a very content Mormon and I’d have very little to say about Mormonism. I would embrace it as an orthodox [though slightly weird] Christian sect.”)

  20. Cal, Tim has taken that position many times. Basically, during the Kirtland period, very few of what we now think of as distinctive Mormon doctrines had been introduced. There was the Book of Mormon, but taken at face value the Book of Mormon is arguably Trinitarian.

  21. Yes Cal, there are plenty of Mormons that accept the orthodox view of the Trinity, the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is one example.

  22. Yes Cal, there are plenty of Mormons that accept the orthodox view of the Trinity

    On this point there are a several Mormon churches I’m happy to concede are Christians and tens of thousands of followers to boot.

  23. fred,
    In Matthew 28:16, Jesus commands us to “go and baptize…” in whose name?

    “Man-made definition of the Trinity”…right, fred. Jesus must have just made that up on the spot, just for kicks.

  24. In Mat 28:19 Jesus commands His 11 diciplies “go and baptize…” in in the name of and authority of The members of the Godhead.

  25. Ok fred, let’s do this.

    First, make sure you know what the doctrine of the Trinity actually is. Tim posted this infographic awhile back that explains it from an orthodox perspective pretty well. Keep in mind that what Mormons think of as “the Trinity” is is not the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity at all, but Modalism, a heresy once taught by the Sabellians (and now taught by Oneness Pentecostals). Accordingly, most Mormon criticisms of the Trinity (other than procedural criticisms that are really questions of how and by whom true doctrine can be brought to light, as opposed to actual substantive doctrinal criticisms) are strawman arguments because they are really criticisms of Modalism, which Trinitarians reject anyway.

    This talk by Jeffrey R. Holland is a perfect example. The Biblical evidence that Holland presents as contra the Trinity really doesn’t refute the Trinity at all; it refutes Modalism. This is a crucial point, because the very scriptural passages that Mormons use to attempt to refute the Trinity (Jesus’s baptism, Jesus’s prayers to the Father, Stephen’s vision) are the ones that Trinitarians use to demonstrate the Trinity.

    The Bible presents believers with an apparent contradiction that has to be resolved: the Old Testament (at least as understood by first-century Jews) says that there’s only one God, but the New Testament shows us Father, Son and Holy Ghost. So if you’re going to believe both the Old and New Testaments, you have to somehow reconcile (1) God’s explicit oneness (in the plain sense that God is a unique being and only one of him exists, and explicit because the text comes out and says it over and over), with (2) God’s apparent threeness. Because on the face of it, oneness and threeness are mathematically contradictory.

    Sabellians, Oneness Pentecostals and other Modalists reconcile this by denying God’s apparent threeness. They point to the fact that God’s oneness is explicit and his threeness is merely implicit, and draw the conclusion that since the oneness is explicit, and oneness and threeness are logically contradictory, the threeness must be merely illusory. In other words, they teach that God appears to be three but is in fact one, because the Bible explicitly says so; God’s apparent threeness is therefore an erroneous perception.

    Mormons accept God’s apparent threeness fully, but then “reconcile” it with God’s oneness by defining oneness in a way that is different from its ordinary meaning. In other words, they teach that, although the Bible says there is only one god, God is manifestly three; the Bible’s apparently explicit teaching of “one God” is therefore an erroneous interpretation.

    Trinitarian Christians instead accept both God’s explicit oneness (only one God exists) and God’s apparent threeness (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), and say that both are completely and fully true.

  26. Kullervo, as usual, it was theoldadam who started the threadjack on the Trinity, Fred was merely rising to his bait.

    Also, whipping out the Godmakers narrative?

    Trolling Fred much?

  27. And since we are all devolving into trying to throw out our own slogans, I’ll add mine.

    The LDS Church has no problem with the concept of Trinity.

    Once other Christians are willing to divorce it from the nonsensical, and completely worthless Greek philosophical concept of “substance” – we’ll all be peachy.

  28. There are several points I neither believe nor disbelieve.

    Come on Kullervo, you’ve been around the block a few times. Surely you know exactly what you’re doing here?

  29. I don’t really care to. You and I have interacted long enough that you don’t need me to explain this to you, I imagine.

  30. theoldadam, If I can assist fred by get to the point of the common Mormon claim that the Trinity (oneness and threeness at the same time) is not in the Bible: The whole point is that if the doctrine of the Trinity is/was so unbelievably crystal clear in the actual text of the Bible, its a mystery why Church leaders of the time felt the need to produce extra-biblical statements to clarify. Why not just point to the Bible when heretics rise up? – hint – Because the Bible isn’t clear enough on the matter.

  31. Christian J.;; I find the idea that the definition of “Trinity” was understood in different ways before the council was held to define it. There were enough Church leaders who disagreed, so the big wigs got together to force their understanding on the rest of the world.

    Many Church Fathers understood the Godhead to mean that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost were separate and distant beings, joined together in one purpose.

    As we do today. It is why many see the definition “Trinity” as “teaching another gospel”.

    Some how, the political leader that headed the council some how kept most of those who disagreed with him away.

    As for my being a troll, I am only going by what is said on this blog’s about page;
    ” This is a conversation between Evangelical Christians and Latter Day Saints. We discuss our differences so that we might find common ground.”

    Did I understand the intent of this blog correctly?

  32. As for my being a troll, I am only going by what is said on this blog’s about page;
    ” This is a conversation between Evangelical Christians and Latter Day Saints. We discuss our differences so that we might find common ground.”

    Did I understand the intent of this blog correctly?</blockquote?

    Seth was not accusing you of being a troll. He was accusing me of trolling you.

  33. Why are you certain that there has to be a non-mysterious explanation?
    I’m not. But mystery is confusing and uncertain, all the mysterious explanations seem very similar to me. Sort of like multiplying any number by zero gets you the same answer.

  34. gundek, If I could ever get to the point in a conversation with a traditional Christian, where they admit that the fundamental doctrine of their faith is not explicitly spelled out in the Bible, then I would have to admit that the credal Trinity is actually a very good attempt at reconciling the onesness and threeness. And very understandable considering what the Church was up against at that time. But, I’ve never arrived at that point in the convo.

  35. Christian J,

    If by explicitly spelled out, you mean there are a couple of good proof texts that irrefutably show the developed Trinitarian formulas, then it certainly it is not explicit. I would add that many doctrines cannot be found in an explicit proof text formula and require a process of understanding.

    Instead of explicit many would say the Trinity is a “necessary consequence” of the whole council of God that cannot be avoided unless a person intends to have more than 1 God, deny that either the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit are God being equally worthy of praise, worship, glory.

  36. Jared,

    To be honest with you I don’t know the physics behind 3 persons and one divine being anymore than I understand how a human’s spiritual soul inhabits and enlivens the physical body. I believe both are biblical.

  37. Fred,

    Here is my question, it is an hones one, not a trick. When a Mormon says godhead what do they mean?

    I also don’t buy the conspiracy theory that Constantine forced the Trinitarian formulas down the Church’s throat. The controversy at the time was not 1 being or 3 separate beings. The controversy was if the Second Person of the Trinity was a created being or eternally God, “There never was when He was not” Vs “There was when he was not”.

  38. If you’re saying that oneness and multiplicity in reference to Deity is found everywhere in the Bible – I completely agree.

    Well now we’re getting somewhere. 🙂

  39. Gundek;; The definition “Trinity” came from the conflict you spoke of. After decreeing what Jesus was, it had to be justified. By cherry picking the verses that look to back them up and ignoring the verses that show Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as separate beings they built their definition.

    The Godhead is a way to speak oh The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as one in purposes with out saying that they are one being. They are one God.

  40. Fred,

    That’s an interesting, if historically challenged, take on the road to Nicaea.

    Where do we find that godhead means one in purposes with out saying that they are one being, is that how it is used in the New Testament? Better yet how are we to understand that unity purpose is the underlying attribute of oneness in God?

  41. Thanks for the Kirtland vs. Nauvoo Mormonism info, guys.
    Do you guys see Smith as a backslider, and not totally corrupt from start to finish? What’s your take on J. Smith before he went berserk?

  42. (“One in purpose” is also extra-Biblical)

    And why is that a problem? Heavenly Father never closed the canon of scripture.

  43. Fred,

    Ignoring for the moment if the canon is closed or open, if I were a presbyter on my way to the Council of Constantinople in the 4th century, how would I know that unity of purpose is the principal attribute of oneness in God?

  44. Hang on for a minute, because (as we discussed in the Ah, the Trinity thread) although the issue is God’s oneness, “God’s oneness” is not a phrase in scripture; it’s a phrase I brought into this discussion as a defined term to reference the idea, found amply in the Bible, that only one god exists (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:35, 2 Samuel 7:22, 1 Kings 8:60, 1 Chronicles 17:20, Isaiah 37:20, Isaiah 43:10, Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 45:5, Isaiah 45:21, Isaiah 46:9, Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 8:4, and 1 Timothy 1:17).

    My point is, the hypothetical 4th century presbyter on the way to the Council of Constantinople wasn’t thinking about “God’s oneness” and meditating and praying on all the different things that could mean. I don;t think that fred should get to use my defined terms in this argument to shoehorn semantic shenanigans into ancient Judaism and/or Christianity.

  45. The definition “Trinity” came from the conflict you spoke of. After decreeing what Jesus was, it had to be justified. By cherry picking the verses that look to back them up and ignoring the verses that show Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as separate beings they built their definition.

    Ok fred, stop. Seriously, stop stop stop. Go back and actually read my comment, because it sounds like you didn’t. Go back and look at that infographic I linked to. Make sure you understand what we are talking about when we talk about the Trinity because Mormons almost never do.

    Once you have done that, come back here, and read the following, slowly and carefully:

    Trinitarians don’t ignore the verses that show God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as separate persons. Trinitarianism is actually based on those verses.

    Read that again. Seriously. Okay, now I will rephrase it and make it bold for you, because you seem to be struggling with it:

    Those verses that you use to show that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate beings? They are the same verses that Trinitarians use to demonstrate the Trinity.

  46. gundek, If I’m a 4th C. Christian, trying to reconcile the oneness and multiplicity that I find throughout the Bible, I would be mighty puzzled by John 17:11 or 21:

    “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.”

    “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

    Of course, by “in us”, you could try to say that he means -one with us in the Spirit – . But the rest of what he’s saying is clearly – that the apostles and believers be one -. I don’t think he means that they be one in substance. (Heaven forbid that they be one in substance with God) Yet, a Trinitarian would have to believe that right?

    You may have a fresh take on this, but every time I hear a Trinitarian use this verse, they essentially say “isn’t it great that we get to be one in mind and spirit and purpose with The Father and Jesus!” Not realizing the other half of what Jesus is saying. I guess we can pick apart the meaning of “JUST AS”. Anyone know ancient Greek?

    FWIW, I don’t think “one in purpose” is a slam dunk either. I’m comfortable with scripture not being clear on the subject. I’m convinced that God’s comfortable with it too. (I realize that is not a traditional Mormon response).

  47. I think that we do in fact participate in the life of the Trinity through communion.

    God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are the Triune God, one in substance but three persons, co-equal and co-eternal, existing in perfect communion with each other. At the same time, Jesus is Incarnate, fully man and fully God, participating in and being a aprt of creation although at the same time he is still the second person fo the Trinity. And Jesus offers us the bread and wine–which are food and pieces of creation but at the same time, they are themselves incarnate with the real presence of Jesus. We take communion, bringing that presence of Jesus into us, entering into unity with Christ,and thereby rising through Jesus into the eternal communion of the Trinity.

    So yeah, I think that’s exactly what Jesus was saying, but I think it cuts for Trinitarianism, not against it.

    Further up and further in!

  48. ( Those verses that you use to show that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate beings? They are the same verses that Trinitarians use to demonstrate the Trinity)

    Even among the nonMormon Christians there is, and has been, an on going disagreement about which verses are to be taken literally and which verses represent something else.

  49. Because when you say,

    Even among the nonMormon Christians there is, and has been, an on going disagreement about which verses are to be taken literally and which verses represent something else.

    in response to me saying,

    Those verses that you use to show that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate beings? They are the same verses that Trinitarians use to demonstrate the Trinity.

    It makes me strongly suspect that you don’t know what I’m talking about, which means you also don’t know what you are talking about.

    For what, the third time now? I’m going to spell this out for you. You accused 4th centure Christians of “By cherry picking the verses that look to back them up and ignoring the verses that show Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as separate beings they built their definition.” What are these verses that they ignored? Jesus’s baptism, Jesus praying to the father, Stephen’s vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, what else?

    Trinitarians don’t say that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are the same person. That’s not the Trinity; that’s a heresy called Modalism. Trinitarians say that God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost are three persons. One God. Three persons.

    So all those verses you say show that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are separate beings, are the very same verses that Trinitarians use to show that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are three persons. Nobody is ignoring any verses.

    (Well, except for Mormons, who are ignoring the verses that say there’s only one God).

  50. RE: the original post.

    In the case with TBN, why is it enough to simply say you worship God, when your all of your actions indicate you worship something else? It seems like TBN is closer to witchcraft than heresy.

  51. Christian J,

    I don’t think that we can isolate a passage like John 17:11 or 21 and expect to find the meaning. John 17 the High Priestly Prayer comes at the end of the Farewell Discourse (13:31-17:26). At the beginning of the Discourse Jesus give a new commandment, “love one another” (13:34-35), immediately after that Peter is told he will deny the Lord. For Peter, there is the command for unity, followed by prophesy of your failure. Crushing, except in the very next sentence, God’s grace is revealed, “let not your hearts be troubled.” Taken as a whole, I don’t think the text allows us to make a one to one comparison between what is shared by the Father and the Son by nature and what the disciples and believers will receive by grace.

    The second point I would make comes in John 17:5 when Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.” This is a point where Mormons cosmology runs directly into Christian Christology. In the Mormon Creation narrative everyone preexisted, in Christian theology and Christology this can only be said of God. As I understand this passage Jesus is not only claiming divinity but, also a unique unity with the Father and sharing of divine glory. This equality between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is divine and a one to one comparison with disciples and believers doesn’t fit.

    I simply do not think that the weight of this either John 17:11 or 21 rests on the meaning of καθώς. Comparison between the disciples being one can only be analogous to the unity shared by the Father and the Son. This does not alter the radical nature of unity that Jesus is praying about for his disciples, you only have to read Paul and his use of “in Christ” to see that the unity in John 17 changes everything.

  52. Kullervo,

    My intent is not to ignore Deuteronomy 4:35, 2 Samuel 7:22, etc. I really just want to understand 1 why Mormons use “godhead” and what they mean by it and 2 how unity of purpose trumps all. To be perfectly honest the next question would be how the preexistant Jesus was unique compared to the preexistant anybody else in the preexistence?

  53. gundeck, the LDS position is pretty simple. Call it extra-biblical if you want, but it is simple.

    We believe that they as profoundly unified as you can be in purpose and love. But three distinct persons.

    And since we don’t have to do all the theological gymnastics around the concepts of “substance” and “essence” and “ousis” and what have you, it’s a pretty non-problematic stance.

  54. Yes, I’m being flip – but this seriously doesn’t strike me as a problem as long as you aren’t reading the Bible through a lens of Greek identity philosophy (which is admittedly hugely ingrained into Western thought and culture).

  55. What’s problematic about that?

    Because, as I said above (which still nobody appears to have actually read), the doctrine of the Trinity arises from the need to harmonize God’s explicit oneness (i.e., that there is only one God) in the Bible with God’s apparent threeness (i.e., that we and hear about see Father, Son and Holy Ghost) in the Bible.

    Note, again, that I’m not getting anywhere near substance, Platonism or Greek philosophy. Set all of that aside.

    You have many places in the text (and in 1st-century Jewish belief based on the text) where it explicitly says that there is only one God. That’s monotheism. God’s oneness (a term I am using not in a philosophical or platonic sense but purely to refer to the basic principle of monotheism).

    You also have in the New Testament, the appearance and discussion of Father, Son and Holy Ghost in a way that makes it sound like all three are divine. Threeness.

    On the face, this is contradictory and it’s disingenuous (or just sloppy thinking because you’re skipping steps) to pretend otherwise. Monotheism contradicts “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” One contradicts Three. So, these have to be reconciled somehow.

    One approach is to reject threeness in favor of oneness, i.e., to say that God’s threeness (because it is implicit in the text whereas God’s oneness is explicit) is merely illusory. It looks like there’s three but there’s only one. The name for that is Modalism; it’s what the Sabellans did and its what the Oneness Pentecostals do now.

    Another approach is to reject oneness in favor of threeness, i.e., to say that the idea of God’s oneness, even as made explicit in the Bible, is a false interpretation. This is what Mormons do. Re-defining “one God” to mean something other than one God doesn’t really help your case.

  56. Are you saying that God is behind Greek philosophy? Are they part of the bedrock upon which the New Testament sits?

    Shakespeare wrote in English in the context of English culture. You miss reread Shakespeare when you don’t understand this.

    In the same way, the New Testament was written in Greek in the context of Hellenism. The Gospel of John was written in direct response to Aristotle’s search for an ultimate “logos”.

    I’m saying you can’t dismiss the New Testament or Christian theology for “having too much Greek philosophy” when that was the cultural context in which it was developed. You might as well say “Mozart’s music is totally based on Italian music philosophy. Once you strip that away there’s not much too it.”

  57. Re-defining “one God” to mean something other than one God doesn’t really help your case.

    I know you’re operating under the assumption that the Trinity solves the oneness and threeness problem. But, real-deal monotheists would disagree with you and have – for hundreds of years – accused traditional Christians of re-defining what it means to believe in one God.

    True story: A Muslim friend of mine, upon reading Trinitarian texts in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 15), gave me all the well established Muslim arguments against Trinity. When I explained to him that the contemp. Mormon view God is actually different, he essentially said this in response: “you and the other Christians are about 2 inches apart from each other compared to the many miles apart you are from monotheism. You both have different ways of explaining how the square peg fits into the round hole, but just saying that it fits doesn’t make it so.”

    I’m convinced that the ONLY way to reconcile the divinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is to completely re-define the meaning of one God. Isn’t that the traditional Christian view of why Jesus was crucified anyway? Claiming a divine relationship with his Father?

  58. Also gundek, I don’t really understand what you’re getting at. Are you under the assumption that a Father, Son and Holy Ghost (or oneness and threeness at the same time if you like) view of God is not a radical shift from the monotheism of the Hebrews?

  59. I’ve written before that I acknowledge multiplicity and oneness throughout the Bible. An explanation of how that works, of course, is not in the text. Thus the need to explain it outside the text. (we’ve been here before)

    I appreciate your careful thoughts however.

  60. I’ve written before that I acknowledge multiplicity and oneness throughout the Bible. An explanation of how that works, of course, is not in the text. Thus the need to explain it outside the text. (we’ve been here before)

    I think this is at least the right discussion to be having though.

  61. Christian J,

    Apophatic theology has a long tradition in the Church, sometimes it may be best to know what cannot be said about God.

  62. You have not named the sect that you grudgingly accept (and feel happy about that it is still heretical Christianity). I thnk, you miss Bacon’s point. True Christianity alone stands supreme. One may fall from there to Heresy, and then onto Idolatry and finally to witchcraft. All these deviate from the truth in degrees, but they are falsehood nonetheless. G.K.Chesterton wrote: There are many angles at which one can fall but only one one angle at which one can stand straight.

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