Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christ Our Mediator: He Cannot Fail

Hebrews 7:20-25:

(20) And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath,
(21) but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever.'"
(22) This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
(23) The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office,
(24) but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
(25) Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.


The mediatorial ministry of Christ in heaven is crucial for salvation, according to Hebrews. By his eternal life, permitting him to intercede forever on our behalf, Jesus Christ can “save us to the uttermost.”

What does that mean? Hebrews contrasts this with the Old Testament sacrificial system, and points out that while the former required frequent, daily sacrifices, offered again and again, Jesus made a once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27). So, in contrast to the Jewish understanding, salvation is not something that needs repetitive and recurrent input from human beings to either accomplish or maintain.

This is what we call the doctrine of perseverance or of preservation: those who truly belong to God, those called and regenerated and justified, cannot be lost. In other words, since Jesus is the one who saves and keeps us, we who belong to him cannot be lost. Even we can’t screw this up, because it wasn’t our work in the first place.

This teaching is found elsewhere in Scripture. Jesus told the Jews that whoever came to him, he would never cast out (John 6:37). Why? Because he came from heaven not to do his own will, but the will of the one who sent him (that is, the Father) – John 6:38. And the Father’s will is that Jesus lose none – none! – of those the Father gave him, but raise them on the last day.

(John 6 certainly presents a pile of problems for the Oneness position, as well. How can Jesus say he came to do not his own will but the Father’s, if he is himself the Father? How can the Father “give” anything to the Son if there are no can be no meaningful personal distinction between them? How can the sovereign monergism (i.e., “Calvinism”) of John 6:44, 65 be compatible with the fundamental Arminianism (if not outright Pelagianism) of Oneness theology? But, provided he has the time, I’ll leave the detailed explication of these problems to my brother Mike, who’s spent a lot of time in John. I merely want to expand upon the problems that the doctrine of perseverance found in John 6, and Hebrews, raises for the Oneness worldview.)

See, Oneness theology holds that a believer must maintain himself in a state of holiness in order to retain his salvation. By observing strict codes regarding dress, haircuts, and the like, the person keeps himself “saved.” This idea, that the retention of one’s status as “saved” depends on one’s own effort, is antithetical to the teaching of Scripture. We’ve just seen Jesus teaching in John 6 that this preservation, this perseverance by the believer, is a result of Christ’s work in holding believers safe in his hand – work that is direct obedience to the Father’s will that no believer who has come to Christ be lost.

Now this does not mean that anyone who expresses and professes faith in Christ is therefore safe, as if they’ve “punched their ticket” and they are good to go no matter what they do. That’s easy-believism, and it ignores the fact that the Bible plainly warns that people can be deceived about the state of their souls (eg. Matthew 7:21-23). Only those truly regenerated by the Spirit, who have been moved to faith and repentance by the Father’s drawing and who have put a genuine trust in Christ, can be said to be secure. But mark this: they are secure because of God’s work, God’s promise, not because of human effort. A true Christian will do good works, certainly, and the lack thereof is evidence that a true change of heart has not happened; but these works are the result and fruit of God’s work in saving and preserving the believer, not the cause (immediate or intermediate)! So that is the role of good works: not to secure or preserve salvation, but to proclaim and witness to it.

So back to Hebrews. John 6 tells us the what of preservation: Jesus will not lose any the Father has given him. Hebrews 7 and on tells us the how. What preserves the believer after justification, what “keeps him saved,” is the continuing intercessory work of Jesus before the Father above: “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). When we stumble, when we fall, and the righteousness and holiness of the Father is impugned, Christ pleads for us. He reminds the Court that the punishment for that sin was already paid. He reminds the Judge that those failings were laid on Himself, and that we are positionally and legally righteous because His own perfect, spotless righteousness are wrapped around us like clothing. Christ preserves us and keeps God’s grace flowing so that we may be picked up, dusted off, and cleaned up to continue growing in holiness.

As our Mediator, Jesus is able to save us to the uttermost. Not just get us into a state of salvation that we are then responsible to maintain through good behaviour; that maintenance is itself the result of Christ’s continuing work. But this is impossible in Oneness modalism, for at least two reasons:

(1) Since Jesus is himself the Father, we really don’t have a mediator in the Oneness perspective. The Judge and the Intercessor (or Defence Attorney) are the same person. This is hardly a situation that engenders confidence. Jesus’ mediation and intercession are reduced to a mere charade.

(2) In some forms of Oneness modalism, the mode or manifestation of the Son has passed to be replaced by the mode or manifestation of the Spirit. This means that our Mediator no longer exists. Hebrews 7 is a nice story, but cannot be real – at most a puppet show.

So therefore, it is not Christ who saves us to the uttermost in Oneness theology. He helps; he gets us started, or gives us the tools, but it is ultimately the believer who is responsible for salvation “to the uttermost.” And since it was our own thickheaded sinfulness that got us into the predicament of lostness in the first place, having our eternal salvation rest even in part upon our own performance is scary in the least – and downright foolhardy.

Oneness theology leaves no place for a doctrine of preservation or perseverance of the believer. In this construct, there is no eternal security. And without such security, assurance of salvation is utterly impossible. A Oneness believer can have the right baptism, speak in tongues, rigidly observe the holiness codes, and yet still be in fear of losing his salvation because, after all, who knows what moral catastrophe may befall him in the future? Who knows what spiritual stumble may occur just before death?

I’ll say it again. If Jesus is not in some eternal and personal way distinct from the Father whom he intercedes with, the entire idea of intercession and mediation is reduced to a mere charade. Charades are no ground for confidence, nor for the efficacy of one’s perseverance.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christ As Our Mediator: Psalm 110, Hebrews, and the Oneness Position

Psalm 110:4

(1) The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."
(2) The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!
(3) Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.
(4) The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."
(5) The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
(6) He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
(7) He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.


This psalm has tremendous implications for the doctrine of the Trinity, and especially for the doctrine of Christ as our Mediator with God. As it is quoted in Hebrews twice in establishing the superiority of Christ, it is a natural place to begin when looking at Christ’s role as our Mediator.

Verse 1: Note here that the LORD, Yahweh, is addressing the king here. The cross-reference in Hebrews 1:13 makes plain that this statement is ultimately directed to Christ.

This raises two practical questions for our Oneness interlocutors:

(1) How can God address God, if He is not a Trinity? Would this not be rather schizophrenic? Now the Bible has plenty of references to Jesus addressing the Father, and speaking of (or sending) the Spirit. A Oneness advocate could explain these as Jesus’ human nature addressing his divine nature, but here in this passage that will not work. We have here the divine addressing Christ in a context that Hebrews clearly quotes to establish Jesus’ divinity. So this cannot be a case of addressing Jesus’ humanity alone.

(2) How can Jesus sit at the right hand of Yahweh if there are no interpersonal distinctions between the Father and the Son? I can’t sit at my own right hand. And I’ve already shown that this cannot be a case of separating the divine from the human natures of Christ.

Let’s move on, then, to verse 4, also quoted in Hebrews (7:21). This raises the same question for Oneness adherents. Hebrews clearly states that Jesus was made a priest without an oath, like the old priesthood was – the meaning here is that the old Jewish priests took an oath. Instead, Jesus was made a priest by the one who “swore and will not change” his mind – God. Hebrews’ entire point in 7:21 rests on that fact that Jesus made no oath, because God made the oath. How is this possible, if there are no personal differentiations within God?

I already debunked the idea that God could be addressing Jesus’ human nature, because the context of Hebrews 1 was concerned with asserting his divinity (the Hebrews being addressed had no problem with Jesus’ humanity). However, let’s assume for the sake of argument the Oneness position (not adopted by all Oneness believers, it should be noted) that God is addressing the human nature of Jesus here. Jesus Christ is then our mediator only in his human nature, not his divine nature. This has several devastating implications for Christian theology:

(1) it means that the one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5) does not, in fact, partake of both natures, and so removes a key plank in Hebrews’ case for the uniqueness of Christ as our mediator. After all, Moses, another covenantal mediator between God and man, was only human;

(2) it means that Christ’s ministry as high priest in the heavens (which rests on this foundation) is only as a human being and not as God. This is plainly impossible, because Christ as high priest offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins (7:27), and only a person who is infinite God could bear the full penalty for all he saves;

(3) it means our salvation is not fully “from the Lord” as Jonah 2:9 tells us, as a critical part of the economy of salvation is accomplished by human nature alone;

(4) it means that “the power of an indestructible life” that is the reason he became a priest must be something inherent to Jesus’ human nature alone. Therefore, perfect living is possible by human effort without contribution from God. This, by the way, would account for the Oneness priority on human living as an active contribution to one’s salvation.

Next time I’ll look more closely at Hebrews 7:25 and its implications for our argument.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Reconciliation of the Genealogies of Christ in Matthew and Luke

Posted on behalf of Jeff Jones.

INTRODUCTION

The two genealogies of Jesus Christ given in the Gospels have for centuries puzzled scholars and laymen alike. The obvious differences between the accounts of Matthew and Luke pose an important critical question and stand as staples of lists of biblical difficulties.[1] The genealogical issue has given occasion for enemies of the Christian faith to question the inspiration of the Bible and the true ancestry of Christ.[2]

For evangelical Christians who are committed to the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, it would be inconsistent with their beliefs to simply declare the lists as irreconcilable. Furthermore, while there are biblical difficulties that must be simply accepted as beyond the ability of modern scholars to solve at this point in history, this is not one of those. Proceeding on the assumptions of the unity and infallibility of Scripture, this paper endeavours to demonstrate that the Gospel genealogies can be harmonized.

PRELIMINARY GENEALOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Before delving into the various approaches that scholars have suggested to solve the genealogical puzzle, it is necessary to first examine some pertinent issues that are necessary for a good understanding of the problem. First among these is the matter of the importance of genealogies in the Jewish culture of the first century. It is beyond doubt that the Jews of Jesus’ day attached great value to their genealogies, vital as they were for legal issues such as inheritance and marriage,[3] and so maintained detailed public registers. It was these registers that the Evangelists likely consulted when compiling their genealogies, though some have raised questions about whether the public registers were actually available to the Gospel writers. This doubt is based chiefly upon a statement by Julius Africanus, quoted in the church history of Eusebius, alleging that well before Christ, Herod, embarrassed by the circumstances of his birth, had the registers burned to prevent their discovery.[4]

However, Africanus himself threw doubt on this report, saying: “Whether this be so or not no one could give a clearer account.”[5] The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writing well after Christ, makes absolutely no mention of the alleged Herodian destruction of the registers, and indeed cites them himself: “Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found it described in the public records.”[6] Furthermore, the repeated emphasis in Paul’s epistles on genealogical controversies (1 Tim. 1:4, Tit. 3:9) presupposes that the records were available as fodder for speculation. The existence of the registers can thus be considered an established fact.

Second, it must also be observed that, while Jesus’ legitimacy as Messiah was continually challenged by the Pharisees and other opponents, there do not appear to have been any serious questions raised about his Davidic lineage. This lineage in no way is dependent on the two Gospel lists, as plenty of other evidence supports the point. Jesus repeatedly allowed himself to be referred to as the “Son of David,” Peter mentioned his Davidic background in his speech at Pentecost (Acts 2:29-32), and Paul cites him as being a descendant of David at least three times (Rom. 1:3, 2 Tim 2:8, Acts 13:23). Fairbairn observes that one of the objections that was raised against Christ, that of his Galilean heritage, was due to the conviction that a descendant of David was expected to arise from Bethlehem.[7] Since Jesus’ home in Nazareth should have provided his “adversaries a prima facie ground to question [his Davidic lineage]… that these doubts did not find any audible utterance or assume a tangible form, can only be accounted for by the conclusive evidence which existed of His royal parentage.”[8]

Third, the Gospel genealogies, taken as they were from Jewish public records, can be expected to reflect certain idiosyncrasies common in Hebrew genealogies. For example, it was common that a man would be known by more than one name,[9] a fact that could account for some (though certainly not all, or even most) of the differences seen in the Gospel accounts.[10] This fact must be used with care, however. Gregory of Nazianzus attempted to argue that the two names listed as “fathers” of Joseph – Heli and Jacob – were one and the same man, but as Aquinas pointed out in response, the two are stated as descending from different sons of David.[11]

Another very important genealogical feature is that the Hebrews considered a descendant to be the “son” of even a distant ancestor,[12] meaning that genealogical tables could skip generations while committing no real error. We see this in Matthew’s table, where Joram is said to be the father of Uzziah, though from Chronicles we know that Joram’s direct son was Ahaziah, who fathered Jehoash, who fathered Amaziah, the biological father of Uzziah. In the case of Matthew’s list, his reason for passing by some is clearly to conform his list to a pattern of three fourteens.

Furthermore, differences between the lists may reflect a lack of standardization in spelling, the fact that written Hebrew of the time had no vowel points, and the subsequent translation of the names of the public registers into Greek. An example of this can be seen in Matt. 1:15 and Luke 3:24, where the name given in the second generation before Joseph is “Matthan” by Matthew and “Matthat” by Luke; there can be little doubt that the same person is meant.[13]

Finally, Jewish legal practice with regard to adoption and marriage would have impacted the genealogical lines. One outstanding example of such practice is levirate marriage, of which more will be said later. For now it is sufficient to cite the Old Testament example of Jair, whose lineage is cited in 2 Chron. 2, Num. 32:41, and Deut. 3:14-15. In Chronicles, Jair descends from Judah, but the Penteteuchal accounts both refer to him as a Manassite. The oddity is resolved by looking to 2 Chron. 2:22-23, which explains that Jair’s grandfather married the daughter of Machir, Manasseh’s son, and had Segub, who fathered Jair – who thus took his inheritance in Manasseh, while another grandson of

Hezron, Asshur, had his inheritance in Judah.[14]

Fourth, there appears to be some textual problems with both the Gospel lists. Luke lists a second Cainan between Shelah and Arphaxad (v. 36), who is not listed in the Hebrew genealogy (Gen. 10:21-24). Most extant Septuagint copies have the name, but not in the corresponding genealogy in 1 Chron. 1; the Septuagint used by Josephus, Theophilus of Antioch, and Africanus does not seem to have had the name; and Jerome, working from the Hebrew, omits any mention of Cainan in his commentary on that very verse.[15] Augustine, however, writing in the fourth century, had the name in both his Septuagint and copy of Luke, suggesting that “Cainan” entered the Greek textual tradition before that time – probably starting with a scribal error in a copy of the Septuagint and later incorporated as a correction to Luke.[16] The evidence seems to lean against the name having been in either the original Hebrew or Greek, of both Testaments, but it is impossible to be certain.

An easier textual problem is found in Matthew’s account, which, though it purports to present a genealogy arranged in three sets of fourteen generations, lists only 41 generations rather than the expected 42. It has already been observed above that Matthew omits generations (in the case of Uzziah’s forebears), and this is done intentionally to conform the genealogy to his intended three fourteens. It is unlikely that, with this intent, Matthew would have miscounted and dropped too many generations, and so there has likely been a name dropped somewhere in the process of transmission. The most likely place is in the generations of Josiah and Jeconiah, as Josiah is said to have begotten Jeconiah and his brothers around the time of the exile – a statement that is historically suspect.[17] Josiah, well before the exile, actually fathered Jehoiakim, who around the time mentioned by Matthew fathered Jeconiah (Jehoiachin). Jeconiah is listed at the beginning of the third set of generations, and this set, being not only the post-deportation set but also having only thirteen names if Jeconiah is not counted, seems to be the rightful place for the deported king. This, however, leaves the middle set with only thirteen if David is counted in only the first set. When one considers that the difference in the Greek between the two names is one letter (Jehoiakim is VIwakeim and Jehoiachin is VIwaceim), and the letters chi and kappa in the uncial (X and K) are extremely similar, it seems very likely that a scribe inadvertently dropped one name thinking them to be the same.[18] If Jehoiakim were added into the lineage after Josiah, all sets would have fourteen, and the total number would again be 42.

THREE POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS

The early church fathers, like scholars throughout history, struggled with the genealogical differences in the Gospels. Ambrose, for instance, believed the two genealogies represented a kingly and priestly family of Christ.[19] His student, Augustine, building on Ambrose’ foundation, expressed the opinion that due to her relationship with Elizabeth, the wife of a priest, Mary was actually a member of the tribe of Levi. This, to him, was an allegorical clue that Luke’s genealogy was priestly, though he still believed it was that of Joseph.[20] This had the appeal of having Jesus’ lineage traced from both David as king and from Aaron as priest. From this supposition, Augustine, interpreting allegorically, saw Luke’s genealogy as being a “priestly” genealogy, as Aquinas explains:

“But in Luke's genealogy the washing away of our sins is signified," which is effected by Christ's sacrifice. "For which reason Matthew traces the generations downwards, Luke upwards." For the same reason too "Matthew descends from David through Solomon, in whose mother David sinned; whereas Luke ascends to David through Nathan, through whose namesake, the prophet, God expiated his sin."[21]

However, this is a rather fanciful interpretation, based as it is on Luke’s use of an ascending order and on a namesake! Augustine’s allegorical approach carries the weakness of subjectivity – one can find almost anything they want in the text. Interpreting the text from a grammatical-historical approach, one finds no foundation whatsoever for this perspective.

Lea and Black, in describing the genealogical issue, list three primary suggestions offered by New Testament scholars as potential solutions to the genealogical problem,[22] of which two will be examined in this section. The first of these is the idea that Matthew lists Jesus’ adoptive lineage through Joseph and Luke provides his biological ancestry through Mary.[23] Various scholars through church history have held this view. Calvin, though he rejected it, refers to this view and its adherents,[24] and Fairbairn, writing in 1858, lists at least seven of its supporters.[25] Gleason Archer advocates this view in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties:

This seems to be implied by the wording of v.23 [of Luke 3]: “Jesus… being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph.” This “as was supposed” indicates that Jesus was not really the biological son of Joseph… It further calls attention to the mother, Mary, who must of necessity have been the sole human parent through whom Jesus could have descended from a line of ancestors. Her genealogy is thereupon listed, starting with Heli…[26]

However, this view poses another difficulty: how could Mary’s line have, after David, diverged from Joseph’s, converged in Shealtiel, and then diverged again afterwards? One possible solution is to assert that the Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in each account are different from the pair in the other, but having identical (very prominent!) names and generations in the same epoch of Jewish history indicates that they are indeed the same. Furthermore, Luke does not mention Mary in the genealogy at all, and it would have been abnormal in the cultural and historical context to trace a genealogy through the mother.[27]

Fairbairn notes that the “Mary’s genealogy” view seems to have been a Reformation-era development, as the early church writers were in general agreement that the two genealogies traced through Joseph, not Mary.[28] Indeed, one of the earliest to advance this view was Annius of Vitterbo around 1490.[29] Ambrose, stating that Mary’s lineage was included in that of Joseph’s, argued that Luke’s genealogy was that of Joseph and that Jesus, “being born according to the flesh, he must follow the usage of the flesh, and he who came into the world must be described in the custom of the world”[30] – that is, by his father’s ancestry. Hilary explicitly said, “…the origin of Joseph instead of Mary is recounted,”[31] and even Augustine stated the lists give two fathers (one natural, one adoptive) for Joseph.[32]

The next approach mentioned by Lea and Black is that of explaining the differences by reference to levirate marriage. This approach starts with the difference in the accounts about Joseph’s father – said to be Jacob in Matthew, and Heli in Luke. This raises the obvious question: how can a man have two fathers? The Roman emperor Julian the Apostate raised this objection as part of an overall attack on the Christian faith, holding it as evidence that the Bible was hopelessly riddled with contradictions.[33] The practice of levirate marriage holds a potential answer to this question. Essentially, levirate marriage involved one man uniting with the wife of a deceased and heirless man in order to produce an heir to continue the latter’s name. The Old Testament law laid down the parameters of these arrangements, and as seen above in the case of Jair, they were widely practiced.

This is an ancient proposal. The third-century writer Africanus, as cited by Eusebius, stated:

“Since the names of the families in Israel were numbered either by nature or by law; by nature, in the succession of legitimate birth; by law, when a man begat children in the name of a brother who had died childless… by following this kind of genealogy some succeeded in the legitimate order of father and son, but others were reckoned in name to one father though the children of another, the memory of both was retained, both of the actual and of the fictitious parents. Thus neither of the Gospels misstates, reckoning both nature and law.”[34]

Proponents of the levirate solution, beginning with Africanus, held that Matthew gave the actual lineage of Christ through Joseph’s biological father Jacob, and Luke gave the legal lineage through Heli.[35]

The problem with this view is that it explains too little. At best, it would account only for the differences in the postexilic period, because the two genealogies converge immediately after the exile. Both writers (Matt. 1:12-13 and Luke 3:27) give the same two names at the start of the post-exilic period: Shealtiel and his son Zerubbabel. There is little doubt that these are the same people, as this is the same Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, referred to repeatedly in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah as the leader of the Jews returning from Babylon. A levirate marriage producing Joseph would, even if involving representatives of different families, still have these common ancestors. As observed previously, the pre-exilic genealogies are descended from different sons of David, and this theory will not account for this difference. In fact, a levirate marriage involving Heli and Jacob’s generation would go back no further, because as discussed above, the names previous to them in each genealogy – Matthat and Matthan, respectively – most likely refer to the same person![36] Therefore, the levirate idea fails to fully solve the problem.

A ROYAL AND A NATURAL DESCENT

So if Luke is not giving an allegorical account or the line of Mary, as the two accounts were both intended to give Joseph’s lineage, and if levirate marriage cannot account for most of the differences in the genealogies, how are they to be reconciled? Lea and Black give a third option, which they attribute to J. Gresham Machen,[37] that is a far more likely possibility. In this scheme, Matthew gives the legal ancestry of Jesus – that is, the Jewish line of royal succession – and Luke provides (generally speaking, as shall be seen below) Jesus’ natural descent.

Though attributed to Machen by Lea and Black, this view is actually far older than the twentieth century. John Calvin was one of the first to articulate this view. In his Harmony of the Evangelists, he refers to Africanus’ comments, and elaborates:

Matthew and Luke unquestionably do not observe the same order; for immediately after David the one puts Solomon, and the other Nathan; which makes it perfectly clear that they follow different lines. This sort of contradiction is reconciled by good and learned interpreters in the following manner. Matthew, departing from the natural lineage, which is followed by Luke, reckons up the legal genealogy… the kingdom, which had been established in the person of Solomon, passed in a lawful manner to Salathiel [Shealtiel – ESV].[38]

Thus Calvin, in referring to “good and learned interpreters,” does not take credit for this idea himself, but suggests that others either contemporary or prior to him held the same opinion. He goes on:

There is no absurdity in supposing, that Luke traces the descent of Christ from Nathan: for it is possible that the line of Solomon, so far as it relates to the succession of the throne, may have been broken off. It may be objected, that Jesus cannot be acknowledged as the promised Messiah, if he be not a descendant of Solomon, who was an undoubted type of Christ. But the answer is easy. Though he was not naturally descended from Solomon, yet he was reckoned his son by legal succession, because he was descended from kings.[39]

Calvin points to a critical assumption in this scheme: that since the two lists are derived

from different sons of David, there must have been a “failure” in the Solomonic royal line. Consequently, the royal succession passed to the descendants of his brother Nathan. The question is, when did this occur?

Calvin held that the break occurred with the death of Ahaziah when the kingship passed to Joash, who he believed to be of Nathan’s line.[40] He believed that the wicked queen Athaliah, who attempted to kill Joash, would not have done so if he was Ahaziah’s son, because she could have ruled as regent without interference, pretending to be his tutor.[41] Against this view, however, is the fact that the genealogies are still much different after this point, not converging until Shealtiel. Furthermore, there is no reason why Joash’s particular descent would have made any difference in Athaliah’s ability to serve as regent.

Fairbairn, following the same general scheme, offered a better explanation of the Solomonic line’s failure. Instead of locating the break at Ahaziah, he points to the judgment of God on the Jewish king Jehoiakim (Jer. 36:30):[42] “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.” Therefore it is extremely unlikely that Jesus is Jehoiakim’s physical descendant. If this prediction was indeed fulfilled, and there was a previous break in the royal line as Calvin believed, then there would have been two failures in the line of succession, resulting in the need for yet another adoption or levirate marriage to bring the genealogies together. It seems simpler to dismiss the idea of a failure at Ahaziah and accept the break as occurring after Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim’s son, who in Matthew’s line was succeeded by Shealtiel. As Shealtiel was also in Luke’s list as the son of Neri, the solution is obvious: Shealtiel was the biological son of Neri and the physical descendant of Nathan, and assumed the title to the throne when Jehoiachin died without an heir.[43] As such, Shealtiel (and later Jesus) was a legal, though not biological, descendant of Solomon.

At this point there is another issue to be resolved. In 1 Chr. 3:17-19, Zerubbabel is listed as the son of Pedaiah, Shealtiel’s brother. Whose son was he? One possible resolution is to follow certain Septuagint manuscripts that drop out Pedaiah, but the Hebrew texts are far more likely to be correct.[44] Machen’s solution is that Pedaiah raised up an heir for a presumably heirless Shealtiel in accordance with levirate law, and Luke then counted Zerubbabel as Shealtiel’s son on that basis.[45] This requires a modification of the hypothesis, as Luke does not rigidly provide simply a biological ancestry, but in a general sense gives the natural descent of Christ. Luke thus follows close family and adoptive relationships, while Matthew’s list “involved breaks where the scion of a more or less widely separated collateral line had to be taken into the succession of the heirs to the throne.”[46]

This view explains the differences in the tables up to Shealtiel in the post-exilic period. Yet the two lists depart from one another again, either after Zerubbabel or Abiud (Matt. 1:13) – who may be the same as the Joda listed by Luke (3:26).[47] They do not coincide again until Matthat (Matthan), Joseph’s grandfather. How can this be explained? If the hypothesis that Luke provides Jesus’ natural descent is correct, then the lines did indeed diverge between Abiud and Matthat. They came together again with Matthat, probably the actual son of Levi (Luke 3:24), as the royal succession came to him from Levi’s relative Eleazar (Matt. 1:15), who must have not had an heir of his own. Otherwise, there was perhaps a levirate marriage involved with Levi producing Matthat as an heir for Eleazar.

From here, the problem of Joseph’s biological parentage is easily resolved. Matthew’s Jacob, son of Matthan, and Luke’s Heli, son of Matthat, must in fact be brothers, sons of the same father.[48] Fairbairn postulates that Jacob may have had only daughters, and Joseph, being Heli’s son, married one of these – either before his marriage to Mary, or that she was herself Jacob’s daughter.[49] Joseph would then have become Jacob’s heir with respect to the kingly succession. Furthermore, if Mary was indeed Jacob’s daughter, she and Joseph would have been first cousins – a marriage arrangement hardly foreign to Scripture. As Fairbairn points out, this:

…perfectly accords with Jewish practice… It was the constant aim of the Jews to make inheritance and blood-relationship, as far as possible, go together. And it could not seem otherwise than natural and proper, that the daughter of the nearest heir to the throne of David, should be espoused to the next heir. Nor is it undeserving of notice – as, at least, negatively favouring the supposition respecting Mary – that, while we read of a sister, we never hear of a brother belonging to her; excepting Joseph, female relatives alone are mentioned. [50]

Thus the differences between the Matthean and Lucan genealogies are, quite simply, a matter of emphasis and intent. One of Matthew’s great concerns, as a Jewish writer, was to vindicate Jesus’ claim to be the promised Davidic Messiah who would fulfill the covenants with Abraham and David.[51] To that end, he provided his genealogy to show that Jesus was, through his adoptive father, the rightful and legal heir to the Davidic throne. Luke, on the other hand, was a Gentile writing to Gentiles, who lived in a culture steeped in philosophy that downplayed the importance and goodness of material and fleshly things. His concern, as shown in his list’s culmination in Adam, was to demonstrate Jesus’ relation to the whole human race,[52] as a real human being, with a real family, standing in the line of humanity from its beginning.

CONCLUSION

Apparent biblical contradictions may seem daunting at first, especially to the evangelical Christian committed to the unity and perfection of Scripture. Problems like the Gospel genealogies teach us that, inspired of God as it is, Scripture is also a production of the hands of men, reflecting the culture, priorities, and personality of human writers. They should not serve as a reason to question or abandon the faith – much less as a pretext to attack it – but rather as a humbling reminder that man’s wisdom is far below that of God. By submitting to the teaching of Scripture regarding its perfection and consistency, rather than dismissing it as inadequate in light of fallible human first impressions, Christians are forced to look harder and deeper at what God has inspired. In doing so, valuable lessons may be learned that would be otherwise missed. Such difficulties are a useful reminder that understanding God’s Word is a discipline that requires dedication and hard work, but which promises rich and lasting rewards to those willing to humbly search for God’s truth.


[1] Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on the Incarnation, in Summa Theologica, Third Part [book online]; available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/summa.TP_Q31_A3.html; Internet; accessed 19 October 2006.

[3] Thomas Lea and David Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 173.

[4] Eusebius, The Ecclesiastical History, vol. 1, trans. Kirsopp Lake (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949), 63.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Flavius Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, in The Works Of Flavius Josephus, vol. II, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974), 4.

[7] Patrick Fairbairn, Opening Scripture (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1858; reprint, Vestuvia Hills, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Publications, 2005), 181 (page citations are to the reprint edition).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 190.

[10] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Vol. 1, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981)

[11]Aquinas.

[12] Frank Stagg, “Matthew,” in General Articles, Matthew-Mark, The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 8, ed. Clifton Allen et al (Nashville: Broadman, 1969), 81.

[13] Fairbairn, 196.

[14] Ibid., 194-195.

[15] Ibid., 197-98.

[16] Ibid., 198.

[17] Ibid., 19

[18] Ibid., 199.

[19] Ambrose, “Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 3:12-13,” in Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, vol. III, ed. Thomas Oden et al (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 70.

[20] Augustine, “Harmony of the Gospels 2.3.5,” in Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, vol. 1a, ed. Thomas Oden et al (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 4.

[21] Aquinas.

[22] Lea and Black, 174.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Calvin, 80.

[25] Fairbairn, 187.

[26] Archer, 316.

[27] Malcolm Tolbert, “Luke,” in Luke-John, The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 9, ed. Clifton Allen et al (Nashville: Broadman, 1970), 41.

[28] Fairbairn, 186.

[29] Stagg, 81.

[30] Ambrose, “Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 3:4,” in Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, vol. III, ed. Thomas Oden et al (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 70.

[31] Hilary, “On Matthew 1.1,” in Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, vol. 1a, ed. Thomas Oden et al (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 4.

[32] Augustine, 4.

[33] Aquinas.

[34] Eusebius, 55, 57.

[35] Lea and Black, 174.

[36] Fairbairn, 196.

[37] Lea and Black, 174.

[38] Calvin, 85.

[39] Ibid., 87.

[40] Ibid., 86.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Fairbairn, 194.

[43] Ibid.

[44] J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1930), 206.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., 205.

[48] Fairbairn, 196.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid., 197.

[51] Stagg, 80.

[52] Tolbert, 41.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The importance of the Trinity

Sadly, there are surely many professing evangelicals who do not understand the Trinity in even a cursory manner, and when asked to explain the doctrine, fail miserably. It is no surprise, then, that those who reject it often misconstrue it, and invest their time into assaulting straw men. Even those who accept it cannot articulate it. I have myself heard it explained wrong many times, and in the past I have held a view that was, in my ignorance, contrary to the revelation of Scripture. Thankfully, grace abounds, and my God and Savior opened my heart to receive the truth of His nature with joy.

Let us briefly examine the motivation for learning this doctrine accurately.

First and foremost, it is absolutely necessary that we hold in our minds the true image of God. The fact is that we make idols out of everything. And when we try to understand concepts, we relate them to things that already exist. There is no way around this - think of how often we try to describe something by relating it to something we already know. We do this same thing with God, in various ways. We try to relate Him to us, and in that way we 'humanize' (anthropomorphize) Him. We try to relate His nature to objects in reality. While this can be helpful to understand a particular aspect of God's nature, pushed far enough or analyzed thoroughly enough, the analogy will be inadequate and flawed - simply put, wrong.

The sin of idolatry is to make a false image of God. That is, every human who has elevated an idol or a concept to the status of god believes to some degree that this representation is accurate, and in many cases, that this representation is true. This includes the postmodern concept of ambiguity - holding an image of a God that is indiscrete, thoroughly foggy and ambiguous is itself an 'image.' So then, it is fundamentally important that we hold in our minds the true image of God, or else we worship a false representation of Him. James White articulates this clearly:

True worship must worship God as He exists, not as we wish Him to be. The essence of idolatry is the making of images of God. An image is a shadow, a false representation. We may not bow before a statue or figure, but if we make an image of God in our mind that is not in accord with God’s revelation of Himself, then we are not worshipping in truth. Since sin and rebellion are always pushing us toward false gods and away from the true God, we must seek every day to conform our thinking and our worship to God’s straight-edge standard of truth, revealed so wonderfully in Scripture. We must be willing to love God as He is, and that includes every aspect of His being that might, due to our fallen state, be offensive to us, or beyond our limited capacities to fully comprehend. God is not to be edited to fit our ideas and preconceptions. (The Forgotten Trinity, p. 18).1

Secondly, it is important for obedience and relationship to God to understand these truths precisely as the Scripture has taught us. Some think that these 'theological details' are only for theologians. This assertion is ridiculously self-contradictory and absurd. Let's quickly examine why.

We are commanded to love God. We are also commanded to love our wives (spouses). As a human being, it does no good for me to say I love my wife, and not care to understand her desires, needs, fears, weaknesses, strengths, etc. In fact, none of you would feel loved if you were with someone who did this, and rightly so. He or she demonstrates an apathy in caring for you, as you would if you did this. Moreover, if my wife has made an effort to tell me about her desires, her fears, and she has invested in causing me to know her and put effort into the relationship, then I am doubly guilty of failing to love her.

This is how we love. We love when we joyfully exist to make much of another with all our heart, strength, and mind.

So if we are told to love God, and we talk so much about a relationship with Him, as is the modern evangelical speak, then is it not absolute lunacy and gross hypocrisy to say "I love God" and make little to no effort to know who He is in every way we can, especially since He has revealed so much through the written Word in Scriptures? In order to have a living faith, in order to have a relationship with God, you MUST know Him as He has revealed Himself to us. It is my strong suspicion that many use the 'mystery of God' concept (which, incidentally, is completely removed from the Biblical concept of the mystery of God) as an excuse for their own apathy and unwillingness to invest in knowing God through the Scriptures. Knowing anyone is hard work, and it requires a great deal of self-sacrifice to love someone. How much more, then, is needed to love God? Jesus demanded absolute self-denial - it is no wonder so many supposed Christians wallow in ignorance willingly: To pursue God means to lose oneself - and many love themselves to much to do that.

Now that I have discussed the importance of knowing truths like the Trinity for our relationship with God, let us look at how it relates to obedience.

1 Peter 3:15
14  But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,15  but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;16  yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Simply put, it is a command from God to be prepared to give a defence, an argument, an apologetic for our hope - motivated by an unwavering perception of the holiness of Jesus Christ. We have all, I am sure, failed to do this many times. In order to give a defence for our hope, we need to understand our hope, and we need to understand the God on whom our hope rests: Then we can give the reason why our hope is true - because it is promised by the certain and unchanging Word of the one, true, Creator of heaven and earth; the Triune God. Basically, if you do not understand the God of the Bible, and you do not care to know Him, you demonstrate clearly how much you love Him, and you will fail to be able to give a coherent, consistent, and truthful defence to those who ask you the reason for your hope, and you will find yourself the willing tool of disobedience, working against the very hope and God you claim to love.

For this reason, I think a series on the Trinity would be beneficial, and I am in the process of preparing one.

Notes
1. James White's book, The Forgotten Trinity, is a solid, biblical overview of the doctrine of the Trinity, and well worth picking up. I found it quite helpful in my own past studies, and in producing the document upon which this post is based. You can find it here: http://www.aomin.org/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=47

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Modesty And The Excluded Middle

It seems that my quotation has raised a bit of a ruckus. Scott thinks I'm advocating sexual licentiousness. Let's talk about this for a minute.

Scott said:

"Do you want to know what is actually taught, or do you feel more comfortable saying what is believed while actually not knowing."

I always study carefully before asserting something about another position. I've read Oneness writings, listened to debates with Oneness advocates, studied the testimonies and reflections of former Oneness Pentecostals, and, yes, interacted with Oneness believers.

If you think something I've said is unfair, make it plain. Say, "I don't believe that." And if you don't, or if it can't be shown to be a reasonable conclusion from your stated beliefs, I'll concede that. But you haven't done so yet.

Scott:

"The idea of modesty and nakedness specifically is not relegated to "Pentecostals"."

I wish you'd remembered that before writing your screed.

Scott:

"In fact most denominations 60 years ago believed and looked the same way. Women had long hair, wore dresses and there was a standard for modesty. Now to even state that there should be some modesty is "Legalism"?"

No, and that's not what I said. Modesty is not legalism. Modesty is dressing in a manner that demonstrates discretion and respect for God and one's own body.

Prescribing a specific dress standard (i.e. long dresses) and then threatening adherents with loss of salvation if they do not comply, however, is not modesty, but legalism - because it makes a certain kind of human performance necessary for salvation. In fact, insofar as it represents a temptation to think you are "better" or "more holy" than others, it can potentially be the exact opposite of modesty.

Scott, I have a wife and a daughter. Modesty is of great value to me. I have no problem with long hair and long dresses. And I know our culture is hypersexualized and has a far lower threshold of what is "acceptable" than should be the case. As a husband and father, that scares me. However, I don't see how the fashions of the 1950's are the biblically prescribed answer. You keep talking about denominations some forty years ago. Why only go back that far? Why not go back to the 17th century and hoopskirts? Why not dress like the Inuit in furs from head to toe? What about burqas? What is your standard, Scott? What sets a certain outfit apart as modest, over and against what is immodest? Why does your dress standard please God, over and against, say, the hijabs of fundamentalist Muslims?

I do have a problem with mandating a specific cultural expression of modesty from a specific time period as the only acceptable expression of modesty – and I really object to the aspersions cast upon those who still dress conservatively and as fits their gender as distinct, but who don't see the dress of rural America in the 1950s as being the only way to glorify God in modesty. And when it becomes a test of salvation, that's a big line to cross. You now have to prove not that modesty is a Gospel issue, but that long dresses, segregated swimming, and the like are Gospel issues.

Scott:

"So, we should feel free to walk around virtually naked, save for a fig leaf over our private and frolick in public with the knowledge of Grace and Love, because lust and impure thoughts never enter the mind of a grace effected person."

Now here is a textbook example of "the fallacy of the excluded middle." Because I think that making boys and girls swim at separate times and in full body swimming suits is excessive, I am obviously advocating that they swim together, and naked. This statement is ludicrous, and insulting.

But it underlines my point: the UPC's entire approach to this issue commits the same error. There are two stark alternatives: nakedness, or total separation and full body suits. What makes this legalistic is that it prescribes a law – say, men and women can't swim together - that the Bible never explicitly states (which should matter to you, Scott, since you're fishing for an explicit Biblical verse defining the Trinity) and makes it binding on the conscience. Why stop there? Why not separate the men and women in worship, like Orthodox Jews? Why not separate them in the marital bed, like the Shakers? Where's the line?

This example was cited not because I approve of G-strings or other sexually titillating swimwear (I most certainly don't), but because it represented an extreme reaction in the other direction. UPC theology leaves no room for wisdom and discernment, but sets up a series of laws instead. It may keep a person safe from sexual sin – but it encourages trust in the rules to keep one safe rather than developing Christian discernment and judgment.

And this is a Gospel issue. The foundation for our salvation is the finished work of Christ, alone. What saves us is not the proper mode of baptism, but a living and repentant faith in Jesus Christ (itself a gift bestowed by God). What keeps us saved is not our own efforts, but that same finished work of Christ pointed to again and again by our Advocate and Mediator, Christ, before the throne of the Father. In your theological system, since Father and Son are essentially the same, you have no mediator, and so salvation is something you have to "maintain" by your own efforts. You have to "stay saved." Thus, rules and regulations that focus on behavior while neglecting character, that point to the law instead of to Christ and what we are called to be in Him.

Scott:

"I will endevour to put something together to demonstrate for you what specifically I believe how works and faith function together."

Looking forward to it. Please explain, as part of this, how it is that Christ can truly be called a "mediator" and the Holy Spirit "intercede" with the Father, if they are merely parts that God plays.

Scott:

"I do think your writing demonstrates a complete lack of Biblical understanding in the rank and file of evangelicals in the area of basic ideals of modesty, because the pulpit has been silent so long, there is not even a memory of what these same pulpits have said on these issues just a few decades ago."

I'll be the first to say that modern evangelicals are forgetting their heritage. And many an evangelical church has capitulated to the culture in the area of modesty. But conceding that's a far cry from proving that I am now advocating boys and girls swim naked together!

You'll have to show me how it is that the dress standards of rural America from the 1950's are the only biblically acceptable expression of modesty. You'll have to show me why, biblically speaking, boys and girls can't swim together. You'll have to show me why, biblically speaking, pants of a conservative fit can't be acceptable for women, but dresses are (I don't know if that's what you believe, but many UPC people do, so let me know). What are your criteria for discernment? What are the explicit biblical teachings for these things, like the ones you want for the Trinity? And if your convictions are based on a "whole-Bible" theology, just why can't such an approach be adequate for proving the Trinity?

Scott:
"amazing."

Indeed. I must go - my darned wife is putting a diaper on our daughter, and I won't tolerate any of that clothing stuff for my kids....

I'm praying for you, though. Soon I'll have a bit more on the concept of Christ as Mediator.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

God Is Not An Actor

The Grim Consequences of Legalism

A classmate of mine wrote me the following some time ago, and I thought it an instructive testimony about the devastating impact of Oneness theology:

“We have a close Christian friend who was very mixed up by the United Pentecostals. His theology is just BAD. The worst part is how badly it messed up his children. We visited his adult daughter on our holiday, and she broke down and told me how hurt she had been by the rigid belief system, and restrictions as a child her father demanded, although she loves him, and he is a very loving man... I believe this doctrine of the Oneness movement to be very damaging. I remember that when they went to UPC summer camp as children, they put black plastic around the pool fence, and the boys and girls swam at separate times, in full body bathing suits! This kind of legalism shocked me.”

Theology matters, and bad theology can have horrendous consequences. In the case of this family, the legalism required by UPC beliefs disrupts even a loving family. It’s not for no reason that Paul warned the Colossians that legalism and observing outward regulations is of little value (2:23). Indeed, such obsessive law-keeping is a sign that one has not truly died with Christ to the world (Col. 2:20).

A Distorted Picture of God

But why does Oneness theology tend in this legalistic direction? Put simply, Oneness theology has driven a wedge between, on the one hand, what God “really is” in Oneness theology, and on the other, what God inconveniently “appears like” in the New Testament (and I would argue the Old as well). This dichotomy means that all of the New Testament teaching showing God as an interpersonal being – showing the Father relating to the Son, the Son mediating between the Father and mankind, the Spirit interceding with the Father on our behalf, showing love and affection between members of the Godhead, etc. – is all really just a “show.” These are nothing more than mere “modes” or “manifestations” appearing to relate, to feel, to communicate, to interact.

So while God reveals himself as three temporary and illusory “masks” or “faces,” the reality behind the mask, the “who” of God, what God really is, is still elusive and shrouded. And as one former Oneness Pentecostal put it, “When one’s God is hidden, one must grab onto gods more tangible.” And so the UPC and other Oneness denominations present a God obsessed with appearances and performances, who then gathers a people similarly obsessed with outward appearances. This is a deity who, because he is ever hidden behind the masks he shows to the world and is ever acting like something other than what he truly is, expects (and gets) the same from his people.

It Doesn't Depend On Us, Actually

What a contrast from the gracious (and revealed!) God of the Bible and of Trinitarian theology. The gospels offered by Trinitarians and modalists could not be more different. In the Sabellian modalism of the UPC, God saves a person based ultimately on their own performance. In Trinitarian theology, God saves a person based upon Christ’s performance. The Father sends the Son to redeem the world; the Son submits to the will of the Father and offers himself as the victim of the Father’s righteous wrath against sin; and the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to apply this salvation to human hearts as an act of adoration and exaltation toward Christ.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Trinity Matters

The "Oneness" God: Obsessed With Appearances

I was exposed to the Oneness Pentecostal movement when still juvenile in my faith, and that helped sharpen my conviction about the absolute necessity for the Trinity in Christian faith. Put simply, Oneness Pentecostals (like the United Pentecostal Church) are modalists - Sabellians. They believe in three "modes" or "manifestations" of God but reject any personal or eternal distinctions within God's being.

The sad thing is that this reduces God, in biblical revelation, to a mere actor wearing masks. What's more troubling is that the entire thrust of Oneness theology has been fatally tainted as a result. They believe in a God who is ever changing faces, or who is ever revealing a different face - a God who, in short, is extremely concerned with appearances. It's no coincidence that these denominations then require strict dress codes (in some places in Atlantic Canada, the term "Pentecostal" implies not so much tongues and passionate worship as it does floor-length patterned dresses and hair back in a bun) and threaten their members with loss of salvation if they do not comply. Their stress on "Jesus only" baptism as being required for salvation is a further mistake derived from this foundational error.

We Have No Mediator?

The most devastating effect of modalism, however, is that since the Father and Son are identical in person - the same person simply playing different roles - it therefore strips the Christian of his or her Mediator before God. In orthodox theology, while we stand before a Judge being accused by Satan, we also have a Divine Mediator who can argue on our behalf and point to His own work as a basis for mercy toward us. In Oneness theology, there can be no such distinction between Judge and Mediator - the Mediator is the Judge, and thus we have no mediator. Consequently, the believer is left to argue his own case before God without intercession on his or her behalf by either a distinct Christ or a distinct Holy Spirit. It's no wonder, then, that the UPC and other Oneness denominations functionally deny justification by faith alone, adding requirements like Jesus-only immersion baptism, long dresses, short hair on men, tongues-speaking, avoidance of TV, and other "works" or "performances" as requirements for salvation. Without an Advocate before the Father, they have to prove their own worth.

This is just one example of why the Trinity is so critical for Christianity, and why orthodox Christians have held that a denial of the Trinity is heresy. One need not understand the Trinity to be saved - as if any of us ever could - but an informed denial of it is tantamount either to a belief in multiple gods or a denial that we need a Mediator between God and man and an Advocate before the Father. The Trinity is non-negotiable.

Not A Fringe Movement

And just in case anyone reading this thinks that this is just a fringe movement, it's not. It's actually quite influential even in evangelical circles. TD Jakes is one example of a modalist "evangelical leader." The CCM group Phillips, Craig, and Dean are all UPC pastors and all teach Sabellian modalism, and yet their music is all over the Christian airwaves and sung in our churches. I personally think it terrible how low evangelical discernment has fallen. We'd never put music by Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses on Christian radio, precisely because of their Trinitarian heresies (polytheism for the former, subordinationism for the latter). Why, then, are PCD embraced as evangelical Christians when their very conception of God is so radically different from (and incompatible with) ours? Why are UPC pastors, who not only accept but are required to teach salvation by works, embraced as theological role models for evangelical kids?

If we think the Trinity matters, brothers and sisters, it has to matter not only in our classrooms but on our radio stations (and church worship sets) as well. Does it?