When T.D. Jakes was labeled a “modalist” (e.g. C. Michael Patton’s “T.D. Jakes Not Modalist?”) it came to the surprise of some Oneness Pentecostals that their theology proper was equated with that particular ancient heresy. Why? Well, while many Oneness Pentecostals explain their view of God using terminology and word-pictures that are essentially descriptions of modalism most of their theologians have worked hard to avoid such pitfalls. It would be argued that these efforts have been fruitless, but I think it is fair to give their best thinkers the microphone. We Trinitarians do not want people to call Trinitarianism “Tritheism” because some of us using tritheistic language to explain the Trinity. We should give the best formulated, well-articulated thinkers the right to represent their group.
Modalism in general is the idea that Father, Son, and Spirit are three “modes” that the one uni-personal God adopts. Some people explain this as something successive (God was “the Father” to Israel, “the Son” on earth in the incarnation, and “the Spirit” after Pentecost), but this is rare.
Sabellianism is a form of Modalism attributed to the third century theologian Sabellius. He argued that Father, Son, and Spirit are more or less like “masks” worn by the one God in his cosmic drama. Some have argued that this isn’t far from Tertuallian’s use of three persona in one substantia. Others have argued that it is an important difference–as different as seeing the Father, Son, and Spirit as unique though united or merely “roles”.
Modalistic Monarchianism suggest the same thing, but it emphasizes that the one unique “person” of God is the Father who can become the Son/Spirit.
To be fair to critics of Oneness Pentecostalism, all these explanations have been given in the name of their position of the doctrine of God.
Yet Daniel L. Segraves and Jason Dulle have articulated a version of Oneness doctrine that is distinct from what has been offered above. Unlike Modalism the difference between Father and Son is not one of “mode” but transcendency of the incarnation (Father) and the incarnation (S0n).
These are two graphs offered by Jason Dulle in his article “Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgment and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son”:
What makes a difference between classical Trinitarianism and Oneness theology is not simply persons/modes, but how the incarnation defines Father/Son. Trinitarians argue that Jesus was the Logos of God and that the Logos of God was incarnate while Oneness adherents simplify it to say that it was God incarnate. Trinitarians agree since the Logos is God, but uniquely so in relation to the Father and Spirit. Oneness theologians see this distinction as anti-biblical pointing out that we don’t see Father, Son, Spirit until the incarnation.
Whatever one may think of their unique views, whether it is “essentially Trinitarianism separated by semantics” or “essentially modalism separated by semantics”, or something all of it’s own this is how it has been described and I think if Trinitarian and Oneness theologians are going to have a conversation about each other’s views we need to listen to the best articulations.
Thoughts? (Please (!), not proof-texting…I just want to know if you think this is a clear description of the differences.)
I find the charts a bit dated, if they are indeed from Dulle. Dulle seems to now refuse to use the term “natures” in describing the Incarnation … choosing rather ” modes of existence”. See this post: http://theosophical.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/reifying-%E2%80%9Cnatures%E2%80%9D-two-persons/
He essentlally says that David Bernard and other Oneness believers have proposed a form of Nestorianism … seemingly, if they keep the term “natures”. I view this a form of hyper-Oneness of sorts. Other new gen Oneness types seem to be on board.
@Daniel: It’s possible Jason has changed his views. I think this reflects Dan Segraves views though even if Jason’s has morphed.
I don’t know … I’m not one of those Godhead ninjas that splices language … but I would not say his view has changed as much as his word choice. Although those two are inextricably linked, huh?
Have you read that post? What do you think? I think he’s recognized a flaw in the Oneness view and has sought to rectify it.
I appreciate Jason’s willingness to critique his fellow OPs, but I’ve found his desire to be essentially creedal in all areas except the Trinity to be a bit confusing. I’m not sure why Nestorianism is all that bad if creedal affirmations regarding the Trinity can be rejected. I may read his article to see what he says.
Agreed. I think some OP’s would be surprised on where he stands on the be-all and end-all … Acts 2:38.
When you read it, Brian. Be sure to read the comments he makes as well. I am interested on your take.
Has anyone presented the Scriptural evidence first and the Doctrines second? Has anyone, in particular, presented the son, anointing/anointed and spirit of the TNK in relationship to the Holy Spirit (God is Spirit) in the NT? Is the Trinity a composite doctrine derived from the differing doctrines in the NT (John, Paul, etc)?
It is always a disappointment to me to read doctrine first. I think people are afraid of being heretics – of choosing their explanatory words.
No, I do not refuse the term “nature” when describing the incarnation. I fully embrace the word, and if I’m not mistaken, I use it frequently in my works. It was by God’s assumption of human nature that He became man. I apply “mode of existence” to what results from adding human nature to God’s person. God has come to be a man in virtue of His assumption of human nature, and the result is that God now exists in a human mode of existence all the while continuing to exist in a divine mode of existence in virtue of His eternal divine nature.
As for Nestorianism, I do think that this has been a plague in Oneness circles, but I don’t recall ever identifying Bernard as a Nestorian. He has made statements in the past that sounded very Nestorian, but those were balanced out with other statements that were not. At best, his position seemed confused…at least insofar as it was presented. But this was in his older works. More recent works of his seem to have moved away from his older Nestorian-ish sounding language. That’s not to say that our Christologies are identical, but it is to say that I don’t think he was or is a Nestorian.
As for Acts 2:38, where is it that you think I stand on that matter?
I don’t desire to be creedal per se, but neither do I desire to be anti-creedal. I desire to be Biblical in my views, and when there are good ways of explaining the Biblical teaching that are found in creedal statements, I am fine with affirming those.
I simply do not think Trinitarianism is the best way of systematizing the Biblical data. There are strengths to the Trinitarian view, and it does a lot of work in explaining some rather difficult passages. But for all of its strengths, I don’t think it does as good of a job as does Oneness theology in explaining all the Bible has to say on the topic of God and Christ.
I guess I see the “biblical” data as a bit diverse and wide spread. There is a reason why everyone from Trinitarians to JWs can find their favorite texts to support their views. I think you realize this to some extent, which is why you’ll often frame what your against (e.g. Nestorianism) using concepts the church condemned. It does seem like Trinitarianism is the only “orthodox” affirmation with which you part ways.
@Brian Leport and @Jason Dulle
It does seem the definition of terms (ie, God, Person, Trinity) has changed over time. It’s hard to read “persons” as meaning a distinct self conscious into the writings of the the Early Church Fathers. Today’s Trinitarianism has also turned the word “GOD” into the name of a corporation, family, or community group.
3 person one GOD
is like saying
I am not saying this is classically the case, but it does seem the case by many who are explaining the Trinity today; their does seem to be an heir of trithiesm. This can be seen in the fact that trinitarianism is no longer seen as mysterious, but easily explained. It is also seen how the theology of christian community is heavily vested in the interaction of the members of the Trinity. The word GOD now serves as a reference to the name of members of the corporation GOD. The unity of God has unfortunately been increasingly distilled.
It would seem like oneness Pentecostal teaching today is pretty similar to Economic Trinitarianism. Seeing the Threeness of God as it relates to function. Of course the incarnation does create a very real distinction between the Father and Son.
Very well written..from a Oneness Pentecostal view
I didn’t know there was a ‘label’ for what I ‘am’ now, once I came to understand God is the Holy Spirit, “the Father” to Israel, “the Son” on earth in the incarnation, and still “the Holy Spirit” (before and after Pentecost) – Penecost was when His Spirit filled our tabernacle (body)! Praise God! No ‘church’ or ‘teacher’ taught me this. Simply the Spirit of the LORD in His Word. So, I found ‘Oneness’ was the label and I love listening to their theology. However, I don’t know ALL there is to know about the ‘other doctrines’ of Sabellianism or Modalistic Monarchianism, etc. I personally don’t like ‘labels’. I just follow the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth, so help me, God.
Growing up oneness and having a deep knowledge of trinitarian theology i would agree the ancient definition of God in three Persons amounts to God in three manifestations does it not
There are similarities, but (obviously) there are important differences as well. Sometimes some Trinitarians may share very close views with some Oneness Pentecostals, but as a whole what begins close sets different trajectories that become self-evident as one continues the theological task.
No idea. I’ve never met any ‘Oneness Pentecostals’, nor am I familiar with Sabellius. The nature of God is a large mysterious topic.
I know I’m late to the table, but I’ll chime in. I went to a Oneness Bible College (independent, not UPCI), but I must say the concept of modalism was nowhere in our theology. There was never a sense that God put on different “hats,” sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, sometimes the Holy Spirit. Instead, God was understood to be a Spirit (John 4:24), invisible (Col 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 11:27), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10, 1 Kings 8:27). Furthermore the OT concept of God is that He is one, singular, unitary Being (Deut. 4:5-6, Isa 45:20-21). On this point there can be no argument or confusion. Thus, it was this one, singular God who “emptied himself” and was “found in human form,” (Phil 2:7-8) who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Thus, Jesus is the physical representation of the God who is a Spirit.
The idea of God being a “Father” is uniquely Christian, and was propagated solely by the Son of God, Jesus. Thus God, who is one, who is Spirit, is Father, first to the only-begotten, then to us, His adopted children.
The name/title “Holy Spirit” spans the Old and New Testament, and is universally understood in the OT to be God Himself (who was called “Father” by Jesus). The term “Spirit of God” or “Holy Spirit” is the preferential term for God in His spiritual activity among men (as opposed to His other, more fantastic manifestations). Thus the terms “Holy Spirit” and “Father” are relational terms, not personal names of God.
Thus, God is indeed Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But not in the Trinitarian sense. God is a Spirit, who took on flesh to accomplish His plan of redemption.
This was the theology I was taught. It is not without error, but I think the main points are a valid interpretation of the Biblical data.
Brian do you elsehwere have more of a critique in as clear/plain a way as you laid out Oneness Pentecostalism today as you understand it?
I did a series guiding people who want to leave Oneness Pentecostalism: http://nearemmaus.com/2011/05/11/walk-on-a-guide-to-exiting-from-oneness-pentecostalism-series-summary/ w. more at http://nearemmaus.com/2009/10/05/yes-i-left-no-it-is-not-sad-oneness-pentecostals-and-i-in-context/ and http://nearemmaus.com/2009/09/04/why-i-left-oneness-pentecostalism/
I’ve given reasons for denouncing the doctrine of initial evidence: http://nearemmaus.com/2010/07/02/why-i-denounced-the-doctrine-of-initial-evidence/ and I did a series explaining how I read Luke-Acts on this subject: http://nearemmaus.com/2009/09/04/the-holy-spirit-in-luke-acts/
I’ve linked to Ben Barkley’s solid posts on the subject: http://nearemmaus.com/2012/07/26/ben-barkley-on-the-trinitarianism-and-the-doctrine-of-oneness-pentecostals/
But I don’t think any of this quite qualifies as a systematic deconstruction of Oneness Pentecostalism in general.
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