Just what IS "orthodox Christian theism"?


#1

Just what IS “orthodox Christian theism”? It’s one thing for the Catholics; another for the Calvinists, yet another for the Fundamentalists, etc., etc., etc. In other words “orthodox Christian theism” is the theism in which my church and I believe. All other beliefs are heresy.


Why Orthodox Christian Theism is important for Universalism
#2

Or in my world view all other beliefs are heresay :wink:


#3

Heh, cute Jeff… :laughing:

All those groups would, nominally anyway, agree in affirming a set of doctrines about God, His characteristics and His relation to creation (including as Christ); which set is typically called “trinitarian orthodoxy”. (Nominally they would also agree in affirming the filioque as part of this doctrinal set, over against the Eastern Orthodox congregations who tend to deny or at least do not affirm that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father. I affirm the filioque with the Western Orthodox, by the way: who include the three groups you mentioned.)

I thought it was topically obvious that I was talking about trinitarian theism, including in the paragraph you quoted (not to say all my other posts in this thread since then), and especially since I was referring back to a previous discussion on the topic began by Gregory in his original web journal (a second comment thread of which was begun when this forum was created).

In essence, the doctrinal set I’m talking about is summarized in the trinitarian faith statement drafted sometime after the Chalcedonian Council, traditionally called the Athanasian Creed (though its first appearance postdates Athanasius by a few centuries):

Historically, this creed tends to be supplied with some wrapper-statements talking about how one must perfectly believe this creed or be hopelessly damned. The wrapper statements have no direct connection to the theology actually expressed in the creedal statements, however (and are frankly gnostic anyway, broadly speaking).

While the Eastern Orthodox congregations wouldn’t affirm the “of the Son” in the paragraph concerning the distinctive relationships between the Persons, Western and Eastern Orthodox both recognize today (even if grudgingly so in the past :wink: ) that each group essentially shares the same theology otherwise.

“Orthodox”, consequently, in this context, is meant as a historical category reference of grouped beliefs; not simply as a declaration that this family of beliefs is more correct than, for example, Coptic Christianity (which is still trinitarian but which has intentionally stepped apart from the so-called “orthodox” group in a break of communion, over the question of the two natures of Christ. The Coptic Church was concerned that the two-natures doctrine wasn’t sufficiently protecting the divinity of Christ, by the way. I affirm the two-natures doctrine with the “orthodox” group.)


#4

Not all Fundamentalists subscribe to Trinitarianism. In historic fundamentalism the “five fundamentals” were:

  1. The inspiration and the inerrancy of the Bible.
  2. The deity of Christ. (Appendage: The virgin birth of Christ).
  3. The substitutionary death of Christ.
  4. The physical resurrection of Christ.
  5. The physical return of Christ to the earth.

I think the United Pentecostal Church as well as the various apostolic churches would classify themselves as Fundamentalists, but they are not Trinitarians. They believe that God is a single divine Individual who portrays Himself with three different “faces” or in three different “modes”. Nor do the five fundamentals require Fundamentalists to be Trinitarians.

Is the “filioque clause” of such magnitude as to require you to affirm it as your personal belief? I doubt that it was really that important even to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches with regard to their split in 1054 A.D. It was merely the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. Their differences had been brewing for a long time.

Why should that be obvious? Your phrase was “orthodox Christian theism”, and such a phrase is applied by everyone who regards their set of beliefs to be the correct one. Being new on the forum, I am not aware of your previous discussion, of course.

Why should the creed formed by the Chalcedonian Council be the “doctrinal set” which defines orthodoxy? Why not the “doctrinal set” of the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. for example? No hint of Trinitarianism can be derived from the original Nicene creed:
“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, i.e., of the nature of the Father. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both things in heaven and things on earth; who for us men and for our salvation came down and was made flesh and assumed man’s nature, suffered and rose the third day, ascended to heaven, (and) shall come again to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Spirit. But the holy and apostolic church anathematizes those who say that there was a time when he was not, and that he was made from things not existing, or from another person or being, saying that the Son of God is mutable, or changeable.”

Though the Council of Nicea has the reputation of propogating Trinitarianism, in actuality it appears to have upheld the historic teaching of the Church — the Father being the One True God as Jesus Himself affirmed when He addressed the Father as such, and God’s only begotten Son, begotten before all ages as an act of God, and not a continuous process, and that the Son is divine in consequence of His being begotten by the Father — the ONLY begotten son indeed “the only begotten God or Deity ( as in John 1:18 according to papyrus 66 [about 150 A.D.] and papyrus 75 [about 180 A.D.] ).
Justin Martyr illustrated His begetting with the analogy of starting a small fire from a larger. The small fire is of the same essence as the larger, and yet is separate from the larger. The larger fire is in no way diminished by lighting the smaller fire from it.

Dog beget dog and the offspring is canine. Man begets man and the offspring is human. God begets God and the offspring is divine.

Later, as Trinitarianism developed, the concept of the begetting of the Son was altered from a single act to an “eternal begetting (whatever that means). The concept was meaningless to most people, and so it was largely dropped so that today, the begetting of the Son “before all ages”, as the early Christian leaders taught, is no longer accepted. Now the begetting of the Son is thought to refer to His having been begotten in the womb of Mary. So what is the “orthodox” teaching concerning Christ? Was He begotten as an act of the Father before all ages? Or was He begotten from the womb of Mary only? Or is it the case that He was begotten, is being begotten, and always will be in the process of being begotten?

You quoted from the “Trinitarian Creed”:

That won’t do scripturally. Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28) and Paul affirmed that “though he was in the form of God”, He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:6). Thus He hadn’t been already equal with God, or there would have been no question of Him grasping after such equality.

The creed you quoted has an answer to my first objection:

This, of course, is never stated in the Scripture. Jesus didn’t say, “The Father is greater than I with regard to my humanity.” He made no qualification whatever! He simply said, “The Father is greater than I.”

What is meant by “God” in this text? Is it the Trinity? If so, it is an inadequate analogy, for there would three divine Individuals in that “one Christ” rather a single one as in the “one man”. Is it Christ only? But it can’t be Christ only unless one views God as a single Individual as per Modalism. Is “God” used here in a non-personal way as some type of “substance”? In some generic way, perhaps “deity” as applying to the individual members of the Trinity is a way analogous to “humanity” applying to all individual human beings?

I can’t make sense out of this paragraph. Would you rephrase that for clarification?

Two natures WHEN? When He walked this earth? At that time He had only ONE nature, His human nature. He had divested Himself of ALL of His divine attributes and became a complete human being (the divine self-emptying)

…[He] although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6,7 NASB)

He had no more power on earth than an ordinary man, but He relied on His Father for everything. All of the miracles were accomplished by the Father THROUGH Him. He demonstrated what can be accomplished through a totally intimate relationship with the Father. The only aspect of His deity which He retained was His identity.


#5

Hi Paidion,

Are you considering the historical context of the Nicene Creed?

The Nicene Council refuted Arianism, which taught that God created Christ before the creation of time and Christ created everything else.

I want to make sure that I understand your view of the historic teaching of the Church. Would you please answer some clarifying questions?

What do you believe that the historic Church taught about the following:

  1. Should a believer worship anything other than the one true God?

  2. Did the Father exist before the origin of the Son?

  3. Is the Father and Son one God or two Gods?


#6

The early church taught that Jesus, the Son of God, ought to be worshipped along with the Father. For the Son is divine, being the exact expression of the Father’s essence ---- or as the ESV has it: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). There is no other worthy of worship than the Father of all, and His only begotten Son, who is Another just like His Father.

The Father was causally prior to the Son, but not temporally prior. The early Christians taught that the Father begat His Son “as the first of His acts of old”, and that He begat Him “before all ages”. Since the Son was begotten as “the first of God’s acts of old”, this act marked the beginning of time. I take a simple view of time — a measurement of the passing of events. Time didn’t have to be created. It is not a substance. It came naturally as a result of the occurrence of events. So if the begetting of the Son were, in fact, the first event, then there was not “before”. For “before the origin of the Son” implies that there was time prior to His begetting, and “time prior to the beginning of time” is a contradiction.

We have all been taught, or have at least absorbed, the idea that there is an infinite regression of time into the past. It is difficult for us to conceive of time having had an actual beginning. But it is even more difficult to conceive of no beginning to time. For what was God doing for an infinite amount of time before begetting the Son, and creating the Universe through Him? Was He doing absolutely nothing at all? To me, that is inconceivable.

To answer your question with either “no” or “yes”, is to imply that there was time prior to the begetting of the Son. There wasn’t. So your question cannot be answered. It is a bit like the question, "Can God create a rock so large that He cannot lift it? If you answer the question “yes”, then there is something God cannot do, namely lift the rock. So the answer “yes” denies God’s omnipotence. On the other hand, if you answer the question “no” then there still seems to be something God cannot do, that is, create such a rock. This answer, too, seems to deny His omnipotence. So the question has no answer, since contradictions are not objects of power.

In summary, the Father was simply “there” when He begat the Son at the beginning of time. Yet He didn’t exist temporally before the Son because there WAS no “before”. So Arius was in error when He stated, “There was a time at which the Son did not exist.” There was no such time, not even a millisecond.

Let me bring forth this analogy. Suppose I pull out from my pocket, a picture of Barak Obama. I show it to you, and then I tell you, “Now I want to show you another picture”. Then I pull out another print of the same image and show it to you. You then exclaim, “That’s the same picture!”

“No, it isn’t,” I reply. “Look, here are the two pictures” and I hold up both prints. Who is right? It all depends on what is meant by “the same picture” and by “another picture”. In one sense, it is the same picture, and in another sense, it is a different picture.

Hebrews 1:3 referred to Jesus as “the exact imprint of God’s nature.” After Thomas asked Jesus, “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied,” Jesus responded, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In the case of the pictures, “Whoever has seen the first picture has seen the second.” Since Jesus is exactly like His Father, then there is one sense in which they are “the same God”. But because the Son is a different divine Individual, then in that sense “They are two Gods”.

Genesis 1:26 records God as having said, “Let us make man in our image.” To whom was God talking? I believe He was talking to His Son. I have never studied Hebrew, but the Greek Septuagint uses the plural pronoun for “our” (as in the English translation) and a singular noun for “image”. So there are two divine Individuals bearing the same image ---- a bit like the two prints of Obama bearing the same image. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen the other! TWO INDIVIDUALS…ONE IMAGE!

Jesus indicated that He and the Father were TWO, in response to the Pharisees’ accusation that because He bore witness to Himself, His testimony was not true. But Jesus answered:

In your law it is written that the testimony of two people is true; I bear witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me." John 8:17,18

So He indicates here that His testimony IS true, since there are TWO people bear witness to Him, He Himself, and the Father.


#7

Finally!–I think I’m caught up and can post now! {whew}

There seem to be two somewhat different topics here: one being the history of “orthodoxy” as a doctrinal movement, and what constituted its doctrines; and one being whether trinitarianism should be considered “orthodoxy” in the sense of being “right representation” of God.

I’ll split up my reply accordingly, then; and some of the latter portion will actually be addressed over in the two big catch-up threads I’m posting in today as well (recent crits from scripture and recent metaphysical crits). First, the more historical discussion.

An excellent point, which I had forgotten. But then, you gave two examples of dedicated Trinitarians, and most “fundamentalists” would also be (at least nominally) ortho-trin, though you correctly point out that nothing in the “five fundamentals” necessarily addresses this (those “fundamentals” being originally insisted upon over against rapidly emerging trends of scholarship at the time.)

Including in the paragraph you had previous quoted?? Not even counting all my other posts in that thread since then?!

I grant, it might not be obvious if all you did was stop at the title (i.e. of my thread on “Why Orthodox Christian Theism is Important for Universalism”). But the second sentence in my initial paragraph (which you quoted) instantly connects back topically to Gregory’s thread on why the Trinity is a big issue (a defense of his against the charge that his orthodox trinitarianism is irrelevant to him at best), and I continue from there on out using “orthodoxy” (and cognates) synonymously with trinitarianism.

I’m curious how you could think that I wasn’t talking about trinitarian theism (back in that thread) when I was talking about “orthodoxy”. It makes some sense to complain that everyone thinks their own beliefs (if they have any) are “orthodox” in the sense of being right representations of God. (Even atheists are “orthodox” in that sense!) I’ve already explained, though (even in that original thread), that I was using “orthodox” as a historical label for a particular (and fairly large) set of theological doctrines within the various types of Christianity. But if your complaint is that I wasn’t obvious I was talking about trinitarian theism from the outset, then I recommend reading the material I wrote (including, but not limited to, the paragraph you quoted).

Which is why I bothered to discuss it a little in that opening paragraph. (Which you quoted.)

Again, I’m using the term as a historical group label, for purposes of identifying continuity with a particular doctrinal set. Historically, the so-called “orthodox” groups trace their agreements with each other back to those Councils and creeds. Agreement with those creedal statements (some interpretative differences notwithstanding), means that their theologies are identical up to that point.

It may be inconvenient for one group to establish a public position on a term or phrase as a labeling title, but I don’t spend time complaining that those Eastern Orthodox over there are using the term “orthodox” in the name for their congregations, or that the Catholics are using the term “catholic”, or that the Church of Christ is using the term “Church of Christ”, or the Church of God “The Church of God”, or the Assembly of God “The Assembly of God”, or (if I was part of a group of united pentacostal trinitarians) the United Pentacostals “The United Pentacostals”, or heck the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”. Or various Apostolic churches “Apostolic”.

Three distinct persons, all of Whom are deity; and Who in the terminology of the debates which led to the Nicean statement share one “substance”. One of the main debating points between the Arian and the Orthodox factions, was whether the Son (and the Spirit, but most of the debate centered on the Son) was uniquely one God with the Father. The “orthodox” party insisted on three distinct persons (as did the Arians), all of Whom are the one God (which the Arians rejected). It was the “orthodox” party, not the “Arian” party (who nevertheless continued to have a lot of serious power throughout the rest of the century, including at Imperial and military levels), who drafted the Nicean statement you quoted.

The statement “by (or through) Whom all things were made”, is supposed to refer to Christ, and is quoting numerous scriptures to that effect. It’s somewhat inaccurate to punctuate the statement as though the phrase is reiterating that the Father is the creator. The counter-Arian “orthodox” party certainly wasn’t denying that Christ was co-creator with the Father; that was one of the points they shared in common with the Arian party, although each side had a different ontology in mind, with the Arians presenting Christ as a first-created demiurge or dyad. The Arians even agreed, in their own way, that the Son was “begotten before all the ages”.

The Nicean agreement has to be kept in context with the debate. The Arians wanted (and rightly so) to avoid bi-or-tri theism, and Arius in particular was also very concerned (and rightly so) to avoid modalism. Their complaint was that the “orthodox” were promoting one or the other of those doctrines. The Arian solution was to insist on one true God Who acted in regard to the rest of creation through a cosmic regent (incarnated as Jesus Christ) who himself was not (and could not be) the one true God. They would have been entirely fine with your (apparent?) stress that there is only one God and Jesus isn’t Him. But they would have censured (and did later censure, with their own rounds of excommunication when and where they were in power), on precisely that ground, the idea that the Son is very God of very God “of one substance with the Father”.

All of which are positions agreed to by trinitarians, especially the privative aseitists. But the positive aseitists, like myself, still agree that the begetting of the Son and the submission by the Son to the Father are one eternally self-consistent and self-generating action. It isn’t a continual natural process; and while at the level of God’s existence it might be called a continual process perhaps, it isn’t as though this means God keeps shifting back and forth from Father to Son to Father to Son. So it isn’t a process in that sense.

Trinitarians also profess, though, as you yourself quoted in that early version of the Nicean statement, that there is only one God, and thus only one entity of that “substance”. There are not two entities of that “substance” (in the parlance of the debates of that time); that would be bi-theism. (Or tri-theism, for three such entities.)

Again: the Arian and the orthodox parties were both concerned with avoiding modalism, and were both concerned with avoiding bi (and tri) theism. No one disputed that the Arian theological solution avoided both modalism and bi/tri-theism. The Arians were disputing that the orthodox solution avoided both those positions. The orthodox party strongly denied they were doing either of those, but of course the charge would then be made that they were conflating two mutually exclusive ideas. The orthodox reply was that if the scriptures, when put together, were testifying to the “orthodox” doctrinal set, then that was the end of the matter: the distinction of Persons and unity of Substance couldn’t be mutually exclusive (even though they might appear that way to us). And so the debate returned to the scriptural testimony. And that was where the orthodox party won their case (in the eyes of the majority of representative bishops anyway. The history of the doctrinal set could be traced back through a majority of the congregations, too, but in principle that could be trumped by an exegetical argument demonstrating that the congregations had gone off track.)

Yes, and exists separately, too. Ditto the reproduction of species. That would be bi-theism, ontologically speaking. Which the Nicene “orthodoxy” party was as hot to avoid as the Arian party. Multiple dogs are multiple dogs. Multiple Gods are multiple Gods, regardless of whether one such entity is named “God” and another one is named “Lord”.

Still a single act in trinitarianism. And the concept is borrowed from the NT application of the begetting of the Son “today” as a timeless (or age-transcending) action.

That’s popularly how the doctrine is often understood, true; but that isn’t how the NT deals with it, nor trinitarian scholars, who (along with some other doctrinal groups of course) deny that the Son only became begotten at that time.

Trinitarian orthodoxy is a pretty complex set of theology, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there are misunderstandings by people who aren’t trained to keep all the pieces in mind. Heck, I routinely run into nominally orthodox theologians who fail to keep all the pieces in mind, too. (As I’ve noted elsewhere, they especially have trouble continuing to affirm it while also trying to affirm non-universalism. :wink: )

You also recall that I quoted from the AthCreed:
“equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead;
and inferior to the Father, as touching His humanity.”

That covers a lot of the kind of scriptural refs your talking about, although the subordinate distinction of being begotten (regardless of the incarnation) does, too. Which of course is also stressed in the AthCreed.

The phrase about none being greater or less than another, in context of the debates and discussions leading to the AthCreed, is an ontological affirmation. Subordination within the Trinity is not an ontological problem. (Whereas subordination of the human nature of Christ is a given anyway.)

The “equal to the Father” in regard to His Godhood, is an inference from scriptural claims (including by Jesus Himself) elsewhere. It’s a Shema-unity claim.

The Creed already stated, after spending a lot of time talking about the distinction of the Persons, one Person being the Son, that Christ was the Son of God; it was the Person of the Son Who became Christ. The Father and the Spirit have to be operating in relation to Christ, too, continually–I’ve pointed out elsewhere in another thread that the other Persons must even share in the crucifixion in a way–but the distinct Person of the Son is the one being Incarnated.

I’m sure the “generic” idea (like a ‘genre’) is meant, too. And taken by itself, the phrase could just as easily be talking about either a group of lesser gods (themselves dependent for their existence upon something more fundamentally real) or about cosmological multi-theism.

I was just pointing out that if one looks up the AthCreed, you’ll find it also says things like this opening statement: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith, unless anyone shall keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” In the middle of it, after expounding on the distinction of the Persons and the unity of the Substance, the Creed states, “Therefore, he that will be saved must therefore think this about the Trinity.” Before going on to discussing the Incarnation, the Creed states, “Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly about the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” At the end, the Creed states, “This is the catholic faith, which except a man believes faithfully, he cannot be saved.”

Most people who know about the AthCreed know that these “wrapper statements” (which begin and end the two parts of the Creed, thus ‘wrapping’ them as I call it) are included with the Creed. I didn’t want to pretend that they just aren’t there, so I try to be honest about their existence.

However, there is nothing about the content of the creed being ‘wrapped’ by these statements which leads to the notion of these statements. On the contrary, the wrapper statements promote a gnostic understanding of Christian salvation, a salvation by right doctrinal knowledge; which for reasons I don’t have room to go into here, I understand to be heretical to the theology actually professed by those wrapped statements. (The thread from which this discussion was culled originally, was about why I believe universalism follows from orthodox trinitarian theism. Whatever else those wrapper statements are, they aren’t universalistic! {wry g})

The next comment will address the scriptural and metaphysical complaints more directly.


#8

This comment addresses the scriptural and metaphysical issues more directly. (I think most of it, hopefully all of it, is represented in my notes for the two catch-up posts on recent crits vs. trinitarianism which I’m putting up today as well.)

Actually, yes, it is. And Western and Eastern Orthodox branches both have serious reasons to consider it theologically important within trinitarianism. There’s very little if any reason for a non-trinitarian to consider it important, though; and aside from dedicated scholars (though also the vast RCC vs. EOx congregations, in a way, who have coded the difference into their artistic and ritual affirmations), I expect most trinitarians would have no idea that there’s anything to be disputing about.

Those who affirm the filioque are concerned that nothing more than a mere semantic difference is otherwise being stated between the Son and the Spirit; not so much that the two Persons would be the same, but that the distinction between ‘proceeding’ and ‘being begotten’ amounts to nothing. There might as well be two ‘proceedings’ or two ‘begottenings’ (to coin a word.)

Those who deny the filioque are concerned that the distinction between Father and Son is being obliterated, maybe even in a modalistic fashion.

The scriptural evidence, if weight of references means anything, seems about evenly split to me; but the filioque position has the advantage of including both kinds of reference without having to read around references that might indicate the Son is hierarchically and (in at least one way) operationally superior to the Spirit. Nowhere does canonical scripture state that the Spirit doesn’t also proceed from the Son. Thus, as is often the case, the issue comes back to metaphysical coherency.

In my own case, the decisive factor is positive aseity (God depends upon God for God’s own existence) instead of privative aseity (God depends upon nothing at all, not even God, for God’s own existence). The former is another way of saying that God is actively self-begetting and actively self-begotten, which in turn has very strong connections to the idea that God is love; while the latter tends to deny that action is even intrinsic to God’s essential existence (which if anything would point toward atheism being finally true!) Ironically, most Christian philosophers and theologians have traditionally been privative aseitists, even among trinitarians. But the point is that if I accept that the relationship of the Father and the Son is constitutive of God’s own self-existence, then not only does this provide a clear distinction between ‘being begotten’ and ‘proceeding’, but it means that the Spirit depends upon the relationship of the first two Persons for that Person’s own existence. Thus, the Spirit proceeds from the active self-generation of God, the Person of God self-begetting and the Person of God self-begotten. (This keeps the proper distinction and hierarchical relationship between the first two Persons, too, which as I previously noted is a key worry among opponents to the filioque.)

It should be noted that my affirmation of the filioque is directly connected to my reasons for believing that “orthodox” Christian theism (speaking of the historical term) is important for universalism.

Actually, the hymn in Phil 2 grammatically stresses that because He was already and continuing in the {morphe_} of (and thus as) God (the concept of a form that properly expresses the essence, in Greek of that time), He did not count equality with God a thing to be seized/grasped/achieved (depending on how that verb is translated, any of which are appropriate enough), but made himself human, pouring himself out. The reason there was no question of Him grasping after such equality, was because He already had it. Had He not been already (and continuing to be) essentially God, there might have been some question of Him attaining to deity; but that would have been answered sufficiently by stressing that he didn’t grasp after it (whether he was awarded it or not). There would have been no need to answer by stressing that He was already essentially God.

I’ve discussed this passage at some length already in that 76 page scriptural digest I posted up a week (or two or three now :mrgreen: ) ago. Among other things, Christ takes upon Himself not only the {schemati} or outward appearance of a man, but also the {morphe_} of a man. It’s a lot clearer in Greek that St. Paul is talking about the incarnated Christ having two true natures, human and divine–and that Christ always had and kept on having the divine nature. The “true form” notion fits into the concept of Christ being the visible Presence of YHWH from the Old Testament, too. Again, see the digest for more details and discussion on this topic.

Trinitarians certainly don’t think that the Son was equal in personal identity to the Father. However, both you and we trinitarians would agree (in somewhat different ways) that the Son was in fact already equal with God before the Incarnation, in the sense of having the {morphe_} of God.

It’s true that trinitarians have been sometimes inconistent about doctrine, in how they treat the kenosis of Phil 2. As noted above, though, whatever the pouring out of Himself means, it doesn’t mean He became less divine; in fact the Greek of the Phil 2 hymn stresses that He continued having the {morphe_} of God.

Trinitarians accept this, too. However, even non-trinitarians (those who accept the personal pre-existence of the Son with the Father anyway) typically agree with strict trinitarians that the Son’s complete reliance on the Father Who works through the Son, was true about the Son from before the incarnation as well.

That being said, trinitarians (and some other Christian groups) notice that in the scriptures the Son personally works the miracles–up to and including His own resurrection! It isn’t only the Father working through the Son, although the Son couldn’t (and wouldn’t try) to work them without the Father.

And yet, you seem to have stated earlier that the Father is the one true God. So, the Father is the one true God and there is another one true God just like Him…?

If there are two true Gods, then it would be better to say that than to say that there is only one true God. Be we right or wrong, trinitarians are at least consistent about there being only one true God: the distinction of the Persons does not involve distinction of the Substance. If the Father and Son are distinctly separate existences, though, with the Son being dependent on the Father, then either the Son cannot be the exact expression of the Father’s essence or else there are two true-God entities in existence. (But one of those true-God entities would not be self-existent, unlike the Father; which rather means that there is only one true God. Thus the Son cannot be as much the exact nature of the Father as in trinitarian theism or modalism.)

This either means that the Son’s existence is only temporal (in which case He cannot be the exact expression of the Father’s essence, “just like” His Father), or it means that the Father is also only temporal–which you don’t seem to be saying, but then the Son could be Another just like His Father. And yet, though in a way you don’t seem to be saying the Father is temporal, you seem to think the Father has no active existence apart from temporal existence either: it is inconceivable to you that the Father was doing nothing apart from begetting the Son temporally and creating the (temporal?) universe through the Son; but if the Father was doing anything else (such as a different creation than ours) then all created things could not be dependent upon the Son as well as the Father (though the scriptures teach that they are). Or there would have to be multiple temporally begotten Sons, one for each temporal creation. (But then the Son is not the only-begotten Son of the Father in some truly unique way, which is not what the scriptures teach.)

The only solution would be for the Father to simply exist in static transcendence not active transcendence to temporal creation. An intrinsically non-active Father as God, however, leads to even more dire conceptual problems (pun half-intended. {wry g})

The active self-generation of God, “before” all worlds (causally, not temporally speaking), solves these problems: God is fundamentally active, not inert; the begotten Son is uniquely the only-begotten; all subordinate realities depend on the Son, not only our own subordinate reality; and the Father and Son would be sharing a Shema-unity. Moreover, the Son would be the maximally possible “exact expression” of the Father that a distinct Person could be, sharing the very essence of and with the Father. And there would be one true God (of singular substance) worthy of worship alone, yet the distinct Persons (of the compound unity or AeCHaD of YHWH as the Hebrew Shema puts it) would each be worthy of worship for being that one true God alone.

Obviously trinitarians interpret the plural-and-singular grammar of the OT there (and elsewhere) in a somewhat similar way. Except that we don’t have to equivocate about there being two Gods, and in fact would emphatically deny it. (Though we would certainly agree about the distinction of the Persons, as modalists would not.)


JRP addresses recent metaphysical crits of trinitarianism