Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Trinity, Accuracy and Crypto-Modalists

What follows concerns the post The Discernment Gap: Showing a Lack of Passion for God's Honor and Glory at the AOMin Blog.

I am not totally sympathetic with Dr. White here for one reason: he and most other trinitarians themselves are not as accurate as they could and should be concerning the doctrine(s) of the Trinity. For example, Dr. White writes:

When asked if God manifests Himself in three ways, or exists in three divine Persons, he said that "neither one of them totally get it for me." Now there is a ringing profession of Trinitarianism if I ever heard it.

And later:

Ah yes, we need to outgrow this need for accuracy in what we teach about God…err, I mean, theological hair splitting. Let's outgrow it so that we can tell the world about…well, just what are we supposed to tell the world about? Oh yes, Jesus! But, what if they ask who Jesus was and is? As soon as we respond we will be engaging in…well, theology, right? Was Jesus two persons, a manifestation of the one God, the Father and the Son? Did Jesus pre-exist? And what did He come to accomplish? Make men savable, or actually save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21)? Oh my, it seems that to have anything to say to the world we need to do this theological hair-splitting, which, of course, is another way of saying "honoring God by carefully handling His Word, testing our traditions, and holding fast to that which is good and just and honorable and true." It says volumes about what some people think evangelism is that they can so denature the message and still think they are speaking the truth.

Presumably Dr. White would rather TD Jakes say “God exists in three divine Persons” while also calling for people to be accurate in both ideas and verbal expressions of those ideas. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, so how is it justifiable to say that God “exists in three divine Persons”? The adposition “in” is a locative preposition--in other words, it is a preposition that speaks of locations. So again, how accurate is it to suggest that basic trinitarian doctrine is this: that there are these three divine persons here and that God exists in and occupies the space which these three divine persons also occupy? Does that sound like trinitarian theology to you? It does not, yet that is precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity should be if common statements like “God exists in three divine Persons” and “Within the Godhead are three distinct persons” are accurate and precise.

Meanwhile, you might be remembering that it is merely the prototypical use of the word “in” that is locative in function and meaning; after all, the word is sometimes used to indicate instrumentality and other things (e.g. “The message was written in blood”). This observation about the use of the word “in” may be interesting, but in this case it is irrelevant. For it is clear that trinitarians subconsciously are thinking in terms of location when they say “God exists in three divine Persons,” because by analogy there is also the statement “Within the Godhead are three distinct persons” where the locative preposition “within” is used. So it hardly seems to be the case that “God exists in three divine Persons” means God exists at any and all given times as the three divine persons when most people say this, if someone were to assert this in White’s defense.

Again, it is clear that virtually no one is expressing the proposition that God exists at any and all given times as the three divine persons when they say “God exists in three divine Persons,” because if this is what trinitarians had in mind when they say this then they would have become fully aware of the seeming incoherence of the Trinity vis-à-vis Leibniz and the transitivity rule of identity long, long ago and would demonstrate an awareness of this as do only a very limited number of trinitarians. What that means is that the average trinitarian has a fuzzy concept of God’s trinitarian nature. And if the average trinitarian has a fuzzy concept of God’s nature, can the same be true of TD Jakes and other supposed crypto-modalists? Either way, Jakes and White are practically in the same boat.

And yes, fuzziness condemns and kills. Has everyone now heard of Michael Sudduth’s conversion to Hinduism?


D.B. said...

Do you think TD Jakes is not a Oneness Pentecostal modalist?

Kwame E. said...

Haven’t kept up with Jakes, to be honest. Likewise, talk of “manifestations” and baptisms done “in Jesus’ name” obviously point to a Oneness background or seem to do so.

Still, it seems clear to me that not everyone is a dyed-in-wool this or that. A lot of people associate with like-minded people and bear the same names, but there you go: they’re like-minded and not one in thoughts and beliefs. That’s why you can have atheist pastors in Holland, MLK’s heterodoxy flying under the radar, pro-choice Catholics, people who hang around in certain congregations before eventually leaving for ones which preach orthodoxy, etc. And when people leave behind a former set of beliefs and ways of doing things one should expect them to carry some baggage with them.

In any case, James White’s clumsiness of language over the years in attempting to accurately describe or speak of God’s triune nature suggests that he doesn’t entirely know what he is talking about or trying to say; and even that is because he simply doesn’t have the means of making sense of a certain philosophical paradox or two. And that means there is conceptual vagueness that exists in his mind. I actually think the same may be true of Jakes, based on what I’ve heard from him in the past. Of course, with social pressure being what it is then if you’re around Trinitarians you’ll lean more in their direction and if you’re around Oneness Pentecostals you’ll lean more in their direction.