When I worked at the library at Dallas Theological Seminary during the days of my formal training, I had many beloved friends with whom I worked. We often talked about our dreams of ministry and changing the world through the Gospel of Christ. There was one girl that I worked with who was a foreign student from Burma. I will call her Stephanie. Stephanie and I became good friends. We found we had so much in common. She was incredibly passionate about the Gospel. Her relationship and commitment to Christ was something that I could not help but take notice of. She was in training to be a missionary, hoping one day to take the Gospel back to her home which was in such desperate need. Much of our conversation, naturally, turned toward theology. While we had some minor disagreements here and there, it was never anything significant through the years. She was solid theologically and in love with the same Lord as me. At least I thought . . .

It was just before I graduated that I found something out that would hit like a 10.0 on my theological richter scale. During a conversation we were having, she told me in confidence that she was Modalist. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it is a belief about the doctrine of the Trinity that has been condemned as heresy over and over again throughout church history. In essence, Modalists believe that there is one God who displays himself in three different ways, not persons. In other words, the Modalist does not make a distinction between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the Son and the Son is the Holy Spirit. God shows himself wearing three different masks. Historic Christianity formally condemned Modalism in 268 at the Council of Antioch and has not looked back since. God is one in essence, three in person. One what, three whos.

Getting the doctrine of the Trinity wrong is not a minor thing. Sure, I believe that people can ignorantly hold to false views of some things, being undiscipled. But what about illustrations like my friend here. She was trained at DTS. She was taught the orthodox understanding of the Trinity left, right, and center. Yet she denied it in favor of a false view.

I did not know how I was supposed to process this. For years I had no reason whatsoever to question the legitimacy of her Christian confession. Her “fruits” were ripe in every other area and every other doctrine. But now, I was left wrestling with the Lord about whether or not she, a convinced modalist, could really be a Christian.

This is a question that I have often struggled with over the years. It can hardly be denied that Christians can have beliefs that are wrong such as false views about the interpretation of certain passages of Scripture, the age of the earth, and end times (hey, someone has to be wrong). It is also true that Christians can have misunderstandings about more important doctrines such as the nature of the Trinity (modalism), the grace of God (legalism), and the will of God for your life (health-wealth Gospel). In all of these areas I concede that Christians, indeed even Evangelicals, can and do have wrong doctrine from which the church needs soldiers of the truth to rescue them. Even Paul sought to rescue the Galatians from a slide into legalism as believers were in danger of returning to the bondage from which their belief in the Gospel had rescued them. Yet, I believe that it is pretty clear that Paul still believed that they were genuine Christians.

So how bad can a Christian’s doctrine be? I don’t really know the answer to this question, but I did notice something today in reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that I had not taken notice of before. Paul is warning the Corinthian believers who he considers to be “strong” not to make the “weak” stumble. It would seem that the “strong” believers were eating meat sacrificed to idols and in doing so were causing much spiritual consternation among the “weak” who thought it sacrilegious to their new faith to participate in such a practice.

Paul says,

“Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. ” (1 Cor. 8:4-11)

Paul readily admits that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat that was sacrificed to an idol based upon the fact that the gods that the idols represented did not exist. In other words, good theology tells us that there is only one God. This is basic monotheism 101. It is a theological bedrock of the Christian faith. You cannot be a polytheist who believes in many gods and be a Christian, right? It would seem that this is the case, but what do we make of Paul’s exhortation here?

In this passage, Paul defines “strong” Christians as those who have a monotheistic worldview and act accordingly. But then in verse 7 he does some interesting. He says “not all have this knowledge.” There are two important questions here: 1) What is the knowledge? and 2) who are the “all” that don’t have this knowledge?

What is the knowledge? The knowledge that there is only one God and that the other gods don’t actually exist. Who is the “all”? We understand that the Roman culture in Paul’s day did not have the knowledge that there was only one God, as they were polytheistic. But the problem is that the “all” is not those outside the Church, but Christians within the Church. Notice, these people were “accustomed to the idol until now” (v. 7; emphasis added). Before, they worshiped the idols; now they worshiped Christ. Notice also in verse 11 Paul says that these people were brothers “for whose sake Christ died.” Could it be that Paul was conceding that there were redeemed individuals in the Corinthian church who did not know or truly believe yet that there was no such thing as other gods? Was Paul speaking of Christian polytheists? It would seem to be the case.

If I am right, this would in no way lighten the burden of the church for teaching good theology. In fact, it only strengthens it. Paul calls those who have bad theology “weak” and those who have correct theology “strong.” I know the intent of this passage is how to show grace to those who are weak in their faith, but it is a strong case that good theology is the foundation for Christian strength. If the Corinthian church was dealing with polytheism within its ranks, how much more should we, who did not have the Apostle Paul as our visiting teacher, be on the look out for those who need to have their foundation strengthened with the basics of the faith.

Is there such a thing as a Christian with bad theology? Yes. I think we all have some bad theology. I think we will all have adjustments to make when we enter eternity. But how bad can a Christian’s theology be? Can there be Christian polytheists? I don’t know, but in the Corinthian case there seem to have been. Can their be Christian Modalists? My friend I spoke of above has always served as a fly in the ointment for what would otherwise be my black and white view of this stuff. 

What do you think?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    87 replies to "How Bad Can a Christian’s Doctrine Be Before they Are No Longer Christian?"

    • Hodge

      BTW, I take it by your arguments that you all are universalists? Would that be correct? If not, how would you argue against universalism?

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      Sorry for misunderstanding your post. Some days this brain just isn’t in full gear. 🙂

      “I simply find this idea that God would be fine with people identifying Him correctly through His actions but incorrectly in regard to His being as something contrary to what we see throughout the Bible.”
      I am distinguishing between being in a practical sense (qualities) and being in a philosophical/abstract sense (definition).

      Let me use water as an illustration. You can describe water in terms of its function, in terms of its properties, or in terms of its chemical formula. You must know what water is good for and what its properties are to understand it and use it. You do not need to know its chemical formula before you start using it. Knowing its chemical formula may become useful (and possible) after you already have it.

      In the same way, it is necessary to know what God has done (how to be saved and such) and what God’s attributes are (that he is good and just and all-powerful and so forth) in order to be a Christian. The philosphical description of God as a trinity or anything else is not a deal breaker any more than not knowing that water is H2O prevents you from drinking it. That’s not to say that a philosophical description of God is unimportant.

      Jews are not unsaved because they believe in the wrong God or believe the wrong things about God. They are unsaved because our current instructions are to have faith in Jesus (that is, to have faith that he died to forgive our sins-that is the extent of Biblical instruction we are given). It is the result of this, rather than the cause as you seem to be claiming, that they have a flawed definition of God.

      I like your wife vs. dishwasher example. You know “who she is” based on her individual characteristics and her specific relationship to you. You do not need to provide a full legal definition of “spouse” to understand who she is.

    • Josiah

      Can someone please tell me how belief in the Trinity is life changing? Transformational to our walk?

      I have yet to see some poor sinner…or some struggling believer fall to the ground with tears streaming and cry “Amazing doctrine of (insert heady intellectual orthodox teaching/idea/doctrine)! I once was blind but now I see! I once was lost but IT (insert doctrine of X) set me free!”

      Do I find value & intellectual comfort in the orthodox? Yes. But honestly, does it make me a better Christ-follower? No.

      I accept the words of John “He is anti-christ who denies the Father & the Son” at close to face value. If some unorthodox belief requires words with more than three syllables to explain why its “anti-christ”, chances are it’s NOT.

      Anyway, just my two cents.

    • Hodge

      Phantom,

      I think where we’re missing each other is that you are assuming “being” in the abstract sense and then saying that you can define it by its function. Yes, you can define water by it’s function, but you cannot identify it by its function.
      Now, if you have one glass of water in a million glasses of poison that look like water, how is one to differentiate between the water and the poison? You are assuming you already know what the water is. That is not the case. You must identify the water by its properties if you want to live.

      In the same way, God must be differentiated by His nature. I’m not arguing that the delineation of the formula must be followed exactly, or even understood exhaustively. I’m simply saying that the true God and true Jesus are in a sea of other gods and “Jesuses” who cannot save, even if one puts the right labels on them as “God the Father” and “Jesus.” Simply drinking the glass that says Jesus, when there are thousands of glasses that say that, is not enough to save the individual from the fact that they did not drink from the real glass.
      The wife analogy doesn’t work in regard to her relationship with me because I must know her/identify her before and after I begin a relationship with her. Otherwise, a wife can be confused with a dishwasher or another woman. Your use of “characteristics” cannot be in terms of what she does, simply because other women do those things. Her characteristics must be seen in what differentiates her from those others, in her uniqueness in terms of who she is, and therefore, I must identify her correctly in order to have a relationship with her.

    • Hodge

      Josiah,

      “But honestly, does it make me a better Christ-follower? No.”

      It doesn’t make you a better Christian to follow the true God as opposed to a false one? A true Christ as opposed to a false one? Isn’t this like asking how knowing where my job is makes me a better employee? If Christianity were only a matter of works and not a faith relationship with the one true God, then you might have a point; but if otherwise, the point seems to fall flat.

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      I agree that it is vital to know who God is. I disagree that it is vital to be able to describe the trinity to know who God is. In other words, I do not think abstract philosophy is necessary for identification.

      You can identify water without knowing that it is H2O. Chemists, in fact, were able to distinguish between identical substances for centuries before we knew about chemical formulas or even atoms. They did this by knowing that substances act and react in known ways and have known properties.

      Same applies God. I can identify a false god from the true God without resorting to abstract constructions like trinitarian philosophy. I can describe the true God as creator, judge, all-powerful, all-knowing, patient, good, jealous, etc. These are all concrete descriptions of who God is, and anyone can understand them. Furthermore they are all explicity taught in scripture.

      The fact is, it takes some background in philosophy to correctly articulate the trinity. Every Christian I know can tell me who God is, and strive to live in a way that reflects that understanding. Most couldn’t explain the trinity to me in a way that would be acceptable to theologians. Does that mean all my Christian friends are actually not Christians and are going to hell?

    • Hodge

      “I disagree that it is vital to be able to describe the trinity to know who God is.”

      I’m arguing for the need to believe in the Trinity, not describe it.

      “Philosophy” is really being used disparagingly here. We’re really talking about the logical ordering of Scriptural data. Hence, theosophia, not philosophia. And I can simply state what you did to show that God is not identified correctly if limited to the things mentioned:

      “I can describe the true Allah as creator, judge, all-powerful, all-knowing, patient, good, jealous, etc. These are all concrete descriptions of who Allah is, and anyone can understand them. Furthermore they are all explicity taught in scripture.”

      “Every Christian I know can tell me who God is, and strive to live in a way that reflects that understanding. Most couldn’t explain the trinity to me in a way that would be acceptable to theologians. Does that mean all my Christian friends are actually not Christians and are going to hell?”

      There’s a lot of question begging here. How do you know they’re Christians? You’re assuming that they are and then arguing based on your belief that they are without a true knowledge of God. Now, I again, would say that I’m not talking about articulation or the mere misunderstanding of who God is. I’m talking about 1. identifying the God you worship in distinction to other gods when that distinction is revealed to you. 2. Accepting that truth in submission rather than evidencing the void of the Spirit in rebelling against the truth of God’s nature.
      So my question is this: “Are Muslims going to heaven?”

    • cherylu

      Hodge,

      Since it is explicitly the Trinity being discussed here in these last few comments at least, what is your answer to the question, “Are those that claim to be Christians but don’t believe in the Trinity going to Heaven?” Do you think that those that have some form of understanding of who God is that doesn’t include a belief in the Trinity per se are not Christians? Modalists for instance? I’m specifically wondering what you think about those that would certainly say Jesus is God. (If you have already answered that question, I don’t remember.)

    • phantom

      How can you be said to believe in the trinity if you can’t describe it?

      Muslims are not going to heaven because they don’t believe forgiveness of sins is through Jesus, not because they don’t believe in a trinitarian God. They could believe in a trinitarian God, believe everything about Jesus that Christians do, and still not go to heaven because they believe you earn heaven through the observance of five pillars rather than through faith in Jesus.

      Let me add to the description of God that I gave previously, since it was very incomplete: I can describe the true God as creator, judge, all-powerful, all-knowing, patient, good, jealous, etc., and I know that he sent Jesus to earth to die for our sins, and that we are forgiven through faith in him. If you truely believe this, you are saved. Note it did not require an elaboration of the trinity.

    • Hodge

      Phantom,

      “How can you be said to believe in the trinity if you can’t describe it?”

      Because it’s a matter of belief. I know tons of evangelicals who were modalists in their thinking, believing they were submissive to trinitarian thought, and continued to believe once the true doctrine was described to them. This is the same to me as the Jew who then believes in the triune God once articulated to him. Again, this is a rebellion or submission issue.

      “Muslims are not going to heaven because they don’t believe forgiveness of sins is through Jesus, not because they don’t believe in a trinitarian God.”

      So if I believe in Hitler as God, and believe that Hitler sent Jesus to die for my sins, you believe that I’m saved? And, of course, since it’s a matter of just believing that the abstract Jesus (in my new religion Jesus is a giant butterfly that becomes a man), I don’t need to know who He is either, correct? So it just comes down to me believing that a man, one that does not have to be known, dying for my sin so I can be reconciled to an abstract God that has the same qualities that a hundred other gods have.
      I think it’s just easier to believe the Bible when it says, “This is eternal life, to know the only true God and Jesus Christ who He has sent.” I mean, do you believe Paul when he says that some who were ministers of Satan were preaching “another Jesus”? How can one preach another Jesus? In your view, would just be a Jesus who didn’t die on the cross? So as long as one has a Jesus that dies on the cross for the sins of man, that Jesus, whoever he may be, is sufficient?

      And if Muslims suddenly did believe in a fully human Jesus prophet that died for their sins, but still believed he was just a man, and Allah was God, you believe they would be saved? Are JW’s saved?

    • Hodge

      Cheryl,

      “Do you think that those that have some form of understanding of who God is that doesn’t include a belief in the Trinity per se are not Christians?”

      No, by definition they are not Christians. Christians follow the true Christ, not a false one. They would be considered followers of antichrist (i.e., a christ who replaces the real Christ). Now, whether someone is saved, only the true God is life to those who have a relationship with Him. Only a relationship with Him will save, just like only an oxygen tank will give life to someone who cannot breathe, not a tank of laughing gas. One may label the tank oxygen, and ask why that isn’t good enough, but it seems rather silly to suggest that it will still save his life. In the end, God will judge those who do not have a relationship with Him, and it’s not for me to do so. I can only go on what I have from the Scripture/Church, and those who reject the HS communication through that, according to that, do not have eternal life, but are anathema.

    • cherylu

      Hodge,

      I’m sure you know that I am a firm believer in the Trinity. However, the problem that many would say (and have said on this issue) is that to them the Bible isn’t all that clear on this subject. It seems quite clear to me, but obviously not everyone is so convinced. So, I don’t know if this one is as cut and dried as that or not.

      I do, however, believe that there are certainly “false Christ’s and false spirits” out there that many believe in. I am just not l00% convinced that not believing in the Trinity puts a person into this camp. I have certainly known “oneness” people that appeared to be very sincere Christians except they were modalists.

    • Hodge

      Cheryl,

      I think this is where I part with many Prots, as I believe that the councils are led by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, although I firmly believe on my own that identifying God and submitting to the truth He reveals about Himself to us is essential to knowing Him, the fact that the Church has declared this to be an essential issue seals the deal for me.
      Now, I could argue that many Mormons seem like very sincere Christians as well; and according to Phantom’s argument, they ought to be considered Christians as well, unless he wants to argue that only people who believe in faith alone are saved. I just don’t believe the Bible supports the idea that worshiping Marduk instead of YHWH just because one believes Marduk sends Jesus to die for our sins cancels out the necessity to submit to YHWH as YHWH identifies Himself through the Scripture and the Church.

    • phantom

      “This is eternal life, to know the only true God and Jesus Christ who He has sent.” Exactly! My point is that it is possible to know the only true God and the true Christ without being able to articulate the trinity. “To know” does not equate to “be able to create a comprehensive theological description of its being.” The writers of the Bible never needed the trinity to know who God was and wasn’t.

      Mormons are not Christians because they are polytheists, among other things. They reject the clear, scriptural doctrine of one God (so of course it follows that they also reject the trinity as we understand it). If I believed Hitler was God I would also not be a Christian, because Hitler isn’t God! Any three year old could tell you that without resorting to trinitarian theology to make the distinction.

      Hodge, are you saying that everyone who is a Christian needs to be right about everything concerning God, or they are in rebellion and doomed to hell? Or are you just assigning special importance to the trinity? Are Catholics going to hell for believing in faith + works, a subject that is actually explicitly addressed in scripture?

    • Hodge

      Phantom:

      So the nature of God being One rules out polytheists? Why? They fell into the group that believes God is X, Y and Z as you delineated.

      “Hodge, are you saying that everyone who is a Christian needs to be right about everything concerning God, or they are in rebellion and doomed to hell?”

      It’s a bit of stretch to take my position from having to submit to what makes God distinct from other gods, especially when that requires real faith to show itself, and caricature me as saying that everything having to do with God must be correctly known in order to be saved. The nature of God shows us who He is in distinction to the Mormon God. You believe just as exclusively as I do. You just subtract the Trinity as essential. So now Mormons aren’t saved because they’re polytheists. How about JW’s? Telling me that Hitler isn’t God misses the point. I’m asking you if I believe that Hitler is God and sent Jesus, what would you say about my salvation and be consistent with what you have said about what is necessary? Apparently, you wouldn’t be consistent precisely because God must be correctly identified by us.

      I have no idea how your Catholic comment relates to the nature of God, which is the issue we’re discussing. Catholics don’t have a distorted view of God’s nature. A modalist does. And let’s be clear, the historic Church assigns special importance to the Trinity. To reject that is to reject the Holy Spirit’s leading through the Church. But as I said, the Scripture says “to know the only true God and Jesus Christ who He has sent.” John tells us that God is known through what He reveals of Himself, and what He reveals in John is that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in essence unity and in Person distinction. This is the only true God who must be known. To not know Him is to not have eternal life.

      “a subject that is actually explicitly addressed in scripture?”

      So you only believe that the something is essential if the Bible…

    • Johnfom

      Just been re-reading the thread.

      Doesn’t this talk of polytheism take us back to what Michael was talking about in his post?

      “Can there be Christian polytheists? I don’t know, but in the Corinthian case there seem to have been.”

      What is the difference between Paul’s polytheists and the Mormon polytheists?

      I don’t think we can argue Paul’s polytheists were unknowing ignorants (not having been taught). It seems to me from the passage that it was more likely that monotheism didn’t fit their world-view and was therefore rejected, but I can’t say that for certain.

      Where does that leave Paul’s Christian polytheists in light of what Hodge has been saying that ‘the acceptance of what God tells an individual through the Bible/Church displays one’s salvation, and the rejection and rebellion against it displays one’s lack of salvation.’ (post #33)?

      And, to use the analogy of post #61, it is equally silly to suggest that when giving the breathless person oxygen from a tank they mistakenly think has the nature of laughing gas that it wont save them. The knowledge of the nature is irrelevant, it is the relationship between the gas and the circulatory system which saves them, regardless of the understanding of the recipient or the insistence of the one teaching them that it is the nature of oxygen which is saving them, not laughing gas.

    • Johnfom

      A quick case study:

      I have the good fortune to know some culturally Muslim Christians. The trinity is one of those doctrines which is stumbling block for them. It just doesn’t make sense. They believe without doubt that Jesus is the one who saves them by the grace of God, but they frequently cannot accept the trinity. This isn’t just a case of ‘I didn’t know’ but it is ‘This cannot be.’

      Now they have faith in God, they work for His kingdom, they worship God individually and in community with other Christians. On almost any test you with to give them they would score as Christian, except that they cannot, in good conscience accept the trinity. For many of those who do end up accepting the trinity it takes a dream of Jesus himself telling them it is true.

      Does that mean that the others are not Christian? Or is this an area where a Christian can be in error and still be Christian, just like in many other doctrines?

    • Johnfom

      A quick case study:

      I have the good fortune to know some culturally Muslim Christians. The trinity is one of those doctrines which is stumbling block for them. It just doesn’t make sense. They believe without doubt that Jesus is the one who saves them by the grace of God, but they frequently cannot accept the trinity. This isn’t just a case of ‘I didn’t know’ but it is ‘This cannot be.’

      Now they have faith in God, they work for His kingdom, they worship God individually and in community with other Christians. On almost any test you with to give them they would score as Christian, except that they cannot, in good conscience accept the trinity. For many of those who do end up accepting the trinity it takes a dream of Jesus himself telling them it is true.

      Does that mean that the others are not Christian? Or is this an area where a Christian can be in error and still be Christian, just like in many other doctrines?

    • Hodge

      Johnfom:

      If you’ll note on that thread, I rejected Michael’s interpretation of that. I believe the use of knowledge there is talking about experience, not information. Their experience is that food sacrificed to idols is done solely to worship the gods. When offered it once they become Christians, they cannot partake. So I don’t believe there is any such thing as a Christian polytheist, unless we’re talking about someone who is just uninformed.

      “And, to use the analogy of post #61, it is equally silly to suggest that when giving the breathless person oxygen from a tank they mistakenly think has the nature of laughing gas that it wont save them. The knowledge of the nature is irrelevant, it is the relationship between the gas and the circulatory system which saves them, regardless of the understanding of the recipient or the insistence of the one teaching them that it is the nature of oxygen which is saving them, not laughing gas.”

      So you’re arguing that God/the oxygen is the default. In other words, one is already worshiping God and it doesn’t matter how one identifies it, since he is automatically hooked up to the tank. That, of course, is not biblical. One’s identification of which tank is which is mandatory if he or she is to live.

      “On almost any test you with to give them they would score as Christian, except that they cannot, in good conscience accept the trinity.”

      The stumbling block is different for everyone. If the messengers/followers of antichrist are clothed as angels of light then we would expect conformity on all sorts of issues except for at least one that matters. You’re entire remark in terms of their serving God and His kingdom, of course, begs the question. Christ said to the Jews, “Unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” This is true for Muslims too.

    • Hodge

      BTW, Christ’s nature is connected to the gospel, so trying to separate them is a misunderstanding of the historical issues involved in the Church condemning the modalists and Arians.

    • phantom

      Hodge,
      Is it possible that God expects different levels of understanding from different people? I am very much a philosopher, and so God has gone to great lengths to correct my doctrine. It is vital for me to understand who God is. If I were to reject the trinity, it would be in rebellion. I’m honestly unsure whether God would send me to hell for that.

      On the other hand, there are people who are primarily relational. They are the wisest people when it comes to our relationship with God and with others, but they have little interest in theology. God won’t send them to hell for being unable to articulate the trinity.

      I guess what I’m saying is maybe we’re both right. For some people, to reject the trinity constitutes rebellion against God which could constitute the worship of a false god. For others it is simply a lack of understanding or a lack of need for understanding. People like me need to understand the trinity to distinguish between false gods and the true God, but there are better people out there who can know God without all the theological terminology.

    • Hodge

      Phantom,

      I think we’re in agreement. I think there are a lot of genuine Christians in the second category. I don’t think the girl about whom Michael was originally speaking falls into that category, but do think there are plenty who do. I also agree that it is definitely rebellion for us when we who have a greater ability to understand what is being taught reject it. Thanks for the good discussion. God bless.

    • William Mayor

      I may be late to this conversation but might I note two things, both relate to the Corinthian correspondence. First, I have been studying Corinthians recently, and it seems that Paul’s reference to “strong” Christians may have been the Corinthian’s self-assessment, not Paul’s. The main place one woulkd have been eating meat was in a pagan temple or some other venue with strong pagan overtones. Further it would have been strongly linked with associating with the “proper” people. Thus the theology involved in being “strong” would have more to do with being in the proper social group than God. Secondly, in 2nd Corinthians, while Paul does seem to support the Trinity, he seems to be supporting the “economic” Trinity rather than the “transcendent” Trinity. You seem to be supporting the “transcendent” version.
      Bill

    • Alex

      Is correct Doctrine/Theology a prerequisite to Regeneration?

      If Regeneration is Monergistic, then must God impart a “correct” understanding and articulation of Doctrine/Theology for one to be Regenerated?

      Or rather, God Regenerates the Elect and we “see through a glass darkly”. What is “born of the Spirit is spirit”…and Doctrine/Theology are secondary and not a prerequisite to Salvation. It cannot be. If ones “understanding” of “correct” Doctrine/Theology is a prerequisite it suggests Synergism.

      The Native in the deepest darkest jungle who has a divine appointment with a Missionary…how much “correct” Doctrine/Theology must the Native have for God to Regenerate them? How much “correct” Doctrine/Theology did the Thief on the Cross have when he was Regenerated by God and Jesus confirmed He would “see him in Paradise”…

    • Jacques

      Hodge,

      The way you present Jesus’ description of himself as I AM is a choice that you and others make based on your theology.

      The passage itself uses the same Greek words a number of times to identify the speaker with the person under discussion. It is only translated as I AM in this specific case and leaves me questioning whether this is an accurate translation.

      It makes a lot more sense that Jesus is describing himself as the messiah since this is the context of the dialogue with the Jews.

      It is belief in Jesus as messiah that is imperative to our salvation, not necessarily believing him to be YHWH.

      In John 8:24 Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah and uses the term ἐγὼ εἰμι to identify himself as such. The ESV translates correctly and those that follow exhibit progressively more bias:

      * “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” – English Standard Version (©2001)

      * “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.” – New International Version (©1984)

      * “That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” – New Living Translation (©2007)

      * “That is why I told you that you will die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” International Standard Version (©2008)

      It is also interesting to note that in the Greek LXX the focus of God’s self-revelation in Exodus is not even really on the “I am” but on what follows ego eimi ho on, translated as, “I am The One Who Is.” (Ex. 3:14 NETS). As such Jesus’ use of the first part of the statement without the next is nowhere near the divine name of Exodus. The truth is that the messiah existed, whether physically or potentially in the mind of God way before Abraham was ever born. Therefore Abraham placed his hope in the…

    • Hodge

      Jacques,

      Actually, according the theology of John and the immediate context, the issue is Jesus as the divine Messiah, not just the Messiah. Note that Jesus is talking about where He comes from. That’s why John specifically uses the “I AM” (a translation of the Hebrew not the Greek) in reference to Christ’s divinity. The same goes for how John uses “Son of God,” and “Father” in relationship to Jesus. It’s all over the place in John, and specifically in chapter 8.
      I’m sure I see it because I have been given eyes by historic orthodoxy, but it is there all by itself. Take for example, the Jews already know Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah. They also think He’s just crazy for claiming to be old enough to have seen Abraham. However, it’s not until this statement that they pick up stones to kill Him for blasphemy: Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM” (8:58). The connection of ego eimi to the divine name was well understood in the context, and John certainly wants his readers to acknowledge it.

    • Hodge

      And, of course, the Hebrew name YHWH is simply the third person singular of the first person singular ‘ehyeh, so they are absolutely connected in the Hebrew, not to mention that the actual phrase in Hebrew is the same, “I AM who I AM,” and He continued, “thus you will say to the Israelites that I AM has sent me to you.”

    • Jacques

      I’ve always been a Trinitarian, but have been really challenged recently by some of the arguments used by biblical Unitarians. I’m honestly struggling to find the Trinity in the Bible. I’d like nothing more than to see it more clearly but its far easier to see subordinationism, Arianism or some other form of strict monotheism than it is to see Trinitarianism.

      I trust that God will continue to guide me, either he will continue to lead me towards Unitarianism because it is true or eventually he will show me how to see Trinitarianism again.

      I don’t think God will forsake me just because I’m sincerely struggling to see something that other Christians seem to find so easily. I certainly don’t feel like I’m rebelling against clear teaching. I just don’t see it at the moment. I did in the past, though I always struggled with certain passages (like Jesus saying, “the Father is greater than I”). I think it would be much easier just to be a Trinitarian, to be considering Biblical Unitarianism is not the path I would have chosen for myself.

    • Hodge

      Jacques,

      I appreciate the struggle to understand. I read your site last night and wanted to just put in a bit of information to help you process things. There’s a statement there that when YHWH is being referred to in the NT, the article is present. That’s actually not the case. There are multiple places where YHWH is clearly referred to and no article is present. For instance, in John 1 uses theos numerous times (see v. 18 as an example) without the article when referencing YHWH.
      A further note of help is in understanding that kurios in the NT, when talking about Christ, especially in contexts that refer to Him as Creator or being glorified and praised, etc., is most-likely the LXX translation of YHWH, rather than just saying Sir or Mr. Jesus. It can mean that, but it is more likely to refer to the Greek translation there of the divine name.
      Note also that the term “greater” is an issue of hierarchical authority. Men are also said to be greater than other men. This does not give them a superior nature, but a superior rank (cf. John 13:16, same word).
      The last thing I would suggest to you is that be careful in reevaluating your doctrine. What most people don’t realize when they do this is that they are unwittingly TRYING to see the Scripture differently, in this case, as a non-trinitarian. The results will no doubt be what the experiment seeks to prove. We think we’re being objective by doing this, but that is not the case. We’re just not allowing, or trying hard to suppress, a particular interpretation of a passage in the name of objectivity. There is, of course, no such thing, and God has provided the Church as teacher/interpreter for a reason, especially when it comes to His nature.
      Those are just some things I would offer as advice, as I feel compassion for you struggling with the issue. I just want you to be as informed as you can be. Take care.

    • Jacques

      Hodge,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read some of my struggle, I really appreciate it.

      The reference to John 1:18 is certainly helpful and I will be meditating on your assertion that Jesus as Lord may be better understood as a reference to YHWH than as a title of authority.

      I also agree that I find it very easy to enter into the mindset of another and understand their position. I once considered this a gift, but recently I have not enjoyed this ability as much. It leaves me floating on a sea of doctrine with no anchor to hold me down and no rudder to steer me towards the truth. I once thought Jesus was enough truth to hold me secure but this latest challenge has upset that foundation considerably.

      I have a question for you if you don’t mind. You commented earlier that you differ from many Protestants by your belief that the Councils were guided by the Holy Spirit. Why then are you not Catholic or Orthodox since many of the “lesser” decisions of the councils lay the foundation for Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Ecclessiology and Theology?

    • Hodge

      Jacques,

      No I don’t mind at all. I get the question a lot. 🙂 However, it is a complicated one that I would not be able to answer very well in short blurb; and unfortunately, I’m getting ready to leave on a huge trip, so I’ll try to just briefly, and insufficiently, answer this way:
      I believe the Bible lays the foundation for the HS ongoing direction of the Church through its teachers/pastors and elders in terms of what deals with the gospel and issues of salvation (i.e., knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ). I believe it is directed in its ethical issues as well, as they deal with our doing good in the world as opposed to evil. The early ecumenical councils fall along these lines. I don’t believe the issues of church government, which are largely set up to mimic the Roman Empire, and issues that frankly are things limited to their culture, are necessarily for us (although they may still have been led by the HS on those things for their time). The problem I have, as a magisterial Reformed individual, with the RCC and EO is that 1. I see them adopting heresies in a practical sense, where some of their current doctrines assume what they deny explicitly in order to maintain continuity with the early Church, and 2. that they are largely frozen cultural expressions of the medieval religious ideas more than they are genuinely carrying on NT Christianity. You can see this to a minor degree in the styles of churches, vestments, the use of medieval Latin or Byzantine Greek (although some of these have begun to erode in the twentieth century in favor of adopting twentieth century religious expressions instead–a point reflective of many doctrinal and ethical changes as well).
      I see the Reformation, in terms of the salvific doctrines, and ethical issues to some degree, as continuing in the line of the early Church decisions. Much of what I find disagreement in the gospel with RC and EO is found in how we interpret the early condemnations of semi-Pelagianism…

    • Hodge

      at Orange. I see them assuming what they explicitly deny in their soteriological systems. Of course, there would be much disagreement over that statement. That’s simply my position in short. I’m sorry I can’t draw it out at the moment, but this will have to do, even though it probably raises more questions than it answers. I will continue to pray for you and your struggle to understand these difficult things. God bless.

    • oliver marks

      Hey I only had one year of bible college and share the same red nose problem as you but mostly it flares up with those in ministry that should or rather and hopefully could know better, I do like that you are routinely trying to shed orthodox thoughts on so many little tidbits within X’n culture. I also really like that when you say something you show it through with some expository scripture rather than just quoting it then leaving one to look it up or just take your word that you actually have the right scripture. regards Oliver

    • Ronald Boyd

      Think about Paul’s approach to the Athenians on Mars Hill. How could he say that agnostos theos was Jesus? Also, how could Abraham have known that the god of Melchizedek was his God to such an extent that he paid tithes to Melchizedek?
      The point is, God is defined experientially. What I mean is that He is known by a host of many attributes which describe him as he interacted with Israel as a nation and as an individual. I AM THE GOD WHO was followed basically by a fill-in-the-blank need you have in your life. It is that god whom Jesus declared Himself to be. Paul then extended Jesus to be agnostos theos to the Athenians. All throughout the OT the Holy Spirit is mentioned and is extended into the NT. There could be hundreds of ways God can be known by us, and we would enumerate hundreds of different names for Him, all valid. God revealed Himself to Moses with an unpronounceable name for some reason, maybe just to maintain the fact that He is one. Jesus likewise has a multitude of titles, Counselor being the one equating Him with the Holy Spirit whom He sent after He left. How has God revealed himself to you, even before you became a ‘Christian?’ He is still the same god, but hopefully you have a greater understanding of Him than you did back then. There is always going to be the problem of communication between human minds but it is the same one true God which exists apart from our feeble attempts to describe Him. That’s where Jesus came into the world and into your life.

    • JN

      Andy C., your response was beautiful.
      I would add to this all,
      God sees us as individuals, just as Jesus saw each of his disciples as individuals. As such, He understand that we each have different levels of spiritual and intellectual comprehension. The only problem I see is if one understands scripture and refuses to believe it. Now honestly, how many of us understand the Triune God perfectly? Or even begin to fathom just exactly how God became flesh?
      It all comes down to this, as I see it in my imperfect understanding: If you love God, if you claim to follow Jesus, then you have to believe exactly what He believed. And He believed every word of scripture to be truth.
      But if someone has a limited understanding of scripture because of intellectual or physical reasons beyond their control, and God has not chosen in His wisdom to overcome those difficulties, I don’t believe He will judge them for their misunderstandings. I know many people of faith who love the Lord and have limited intellectual understanding of the Word. Are they not saved because God has not chosen to open their understanding fully?
      Didn’t Jesus say, unless we become as little children we shall by no means enter the kingdom? Doesn’t He extend mercy because “He knows our frame” and our weakness?
      If salvation, as some here gave suggested, is based on having precise knowledge of the Word and every doctrine, then no one would be saved.
      I feel like many of us here are trying to say that unless one recieves near-perfect revelation from God regarding the meaning of His word and the nature of His being, we must not know Him at all.
      I think that is a beam in your eyes, my friends.

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