I do not know if it’s happening throughout worldwide evangelicalism or is restricted to the more intellectually inclined; but I have noticed a curious phenomenon on the internet—a movement amongst evangelicals from trinitarian to unitarian faith. This movement does not necessarily entail the rejection of the teaching of Jesus nor even rejection of the confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a unitarianism that can accommodate the kind of subordinationism characteristic of some of the second and third century Church Fathers: Jesus and the Spirit are “divine” (in some sense), but only the Father is the one God. Consider, for example, a recent blog article by Kermit Zarley: “Can Genuine Christians Be Trinitarian or Non-Trinitarian?”
Zarley begins his article with the announcement that through scripture God has enlightened him “that being a Christian has nothing to do with being Trinitarian. Contrary to church dogma, you don’t have to be a Trinitarian to be a Christian. And being a Trinitarian doesn’t disqualify you from being a Christian. I can prove these things from the Bible.”
This really is hard to resist. Since starting Eclectic Orthodoxy a year ago, I have tried to avoid the usual Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox debates. The apologetics wars are soul-killers. I discovered that back in my days when I strode the internet world as THE PONTIFICATOR. Okay, that does sound a bit over-dramatic. I was nothing more than a minor player; but for a couple of years I did actually have a real audience for my now-defunct Pontifications (the original blog site, alas, long ago disappeared into the black hole of the cyber-universe). Pontifications even received a couple of awards. Perhaps most illustriously, I was inducted as protomember of the Order of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch! My children formally presented the Holy Hand Grenade to me on Christmas Day 2005, and it still sits proudly on my bookshelf. Subsequent inductees into the OHHGA include Neil Dhingra, Shawn Tribe, Michael Liccione, Gabriel Syme, and Keith Kenney. I appear to be the only member of the OHHGA still actively blogging. Even the high priest of the order, Bernard Brandt, has retired from the fray.
I thought the Pontificator had died some seven years ago; but when philosopher Dale Tuggy chimed in with his enthusiastic thumbs-up of the Zarley article, I felt a tingling up and down my spine. “No, no!” my soul cried out. “Stay dead, stay dead!” I tried to push the silver stake back in with my right hand but the left hand was too powerful. Years of battle with the passions were undone in a single moment—the Pontificator is reborn!
Oops. I’m falling back into melodrama. Internet apologists can take themselves so seriously. Back to the topic at hand.
Zarley tells us that God has revealed to him the falsity of Trinitarianism. Apparently it’s not enough simply to offer arguments. We need to preface them with a claim to divine inspiration. Well, I refuse to be intimidated. No one plays the divine inspiration card better than we Eastern Orthodox. Catholics may have a Pope whom the Holy Spirit protects from grievous error under specific, limited conditions, and charismatics may have a Holy Spirit who helps them to find parking spaces; but we Eastern Orthodox not only have the Great and Holy Ecumenical Council of Nicaea to undergird our faith in the Holy Trinity, but we also have godly theologians who have been filled with the uncreated energies of the Creator—all of whom, without exception, confess the Deity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But what about Zarley’s claim that God has taught him his unitarianism through the Bible? Yawn. People have been “proving” all sorts of things from the Bible for two millennia. But this does bring us to an important question: Why should the witness of these texts matter? Why should this collection enjoy more authority for Christians than, say, the orations of St Gregory of Nazianzus, the commentaries of St Cyril of Alexandria, or even the pontifications of the Pontificator? Presumably, I would think, because these writings are the inspired Word of God. And how do we know this? Because, and only because, this is what the community that has preserved, read, prayed, and preached these texts says about them. The Bible didn’t fall from heaven. It wasn’t given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni. It wasn’t originally sold as a book by Barnes & Noble. It is a product of the Church for the Church. And it just so happens that this same Church interprets these texts as teaching the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
There is something very odd about someone invoking the authority of the Scriptures of the Church to reject an understanding of God that the identical Church has dogmatically affirmed for the past 1700 years. If the Church is wrong about its central teaching about God, isn’t it also quite likely wrong about its confession of the inspiration and authority of its Scriptures? How can it be possible to divorce the Bible from the very society that brought these texts together as canon and acknowledged them as Scripture? Or as St Augustine of Hippo famously put the matter: “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.”
Yet apparently it is important to Zarley and Tuggy to authoritatively ground their rejection of Trinitarianism in the Scriptures of the Trinitarian Church.
(Go to “Reading Scripture as non-Scripture“)