Posted by: Kenn Hermann | March 15, 2006

Are Evangelicals Trinitarians?

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Are Evangelicals in the “emerging church” movement Trinitarians or not? That’s the question for today. One of the salutary effects of my encounter with the ’emerging church’ (see “Was I in Church?”) has been a spur to re-examine the core doctrines that the Church has hammered out over two millennia. Many others share my experience — and consternation — with the insipid and shallow theological gruel that is often ladeled out to congregants in this movement. The doctrine of the Trinity is currently in deep distress among Evangelicals in this movement, in my judgment.

In my experience (having grown up as one) and study Evangelicals have had a Trinity-lite theology. Although they have not had the theological term for it, their views could best be described as Modalist: God the Father in the Old Testament; Jesus in the Gospels; and, the Holy Spirit in Acts. This is a ‘trinity’ of persons to be sure, but not THE Trinity which the Creeds call us to confess. Evangelicals have been most comfortable with the Jesus of the Gospels. The great bulk of their songs, sermons, and Christian book store displays focus on Jesus. “What will you do with Jesus?” or “what would Jesus do?,” they ask. But even this ‘Jesus’ is a truncated image of the fullness of the ‘Jesus’ we are shown in John’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. It is there that we are shown in unmistakable terms how this Jesus was the very Word of God present at the creation of the world, the image of the invisible God.

As this meaning dawned on the Early Church, it declared, after a long and bitter theological and political battle, that Christian belief required belief in the Trinity, one God in three persons, as stated in the Nicene Creed. Jesus was “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Jesus, apart from union with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, is just a man, not a Savior. If Jesus is not fully human AND fully divine, he cannot save anyone, and Easter is a sham. How many Evangelicals understand this?

And now, it seems, if my experience with the ’emerging church’ is any indication, that the Evangelical Trinity-lite has morphed into the image of the 19th century Liberal view of Jesus, the Good Man who loves us all. How comforting.

I still remember, after all of these years, how my Early Church history professor in college waxed eloquent on the significance of homoousia, the Greek word for “begotten,” to describe Jesus’ relation to the Father in the Trinitarian formula first agreed to at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. This single word is as essential in combatting an impoverished view of Jesus today as it was in the 4th century.

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