MacArthur’s Christomonism

One thing I’m pretty sure of is that if God exists as Trinity and has created humans in God’s image, then most of our monisms and dualisms are distortions of the way the world really is.

At monism is defined…

Monism: the reduction of all processes, structures, concepts, etc., to a single governing principle; the theoretical explanation of everything in terms of one principle.

I’ve found a new word which seems to get at some of what my angst is toward typical American Evangelical pop-theology. The word is Christomonism. This is what I take it to mean.

Christomonism: a cultural accommodation of the Christian faith based upon the exaggerated focus on the autonomous individuality of discrete human persons resulting in a de facto denial of the Trinitarian nature of God and a reduction of the gospel to a distorted Christological monism.

That’s not a definition out of a book, that’s just my understanding of the word. I’ll tease it out a little bit.

Radical individualism (which pervades the American Christian culture perhaps more deeply than any other sect of our society), results in a autonomous view of the person. Radical individualism says that we are essentially disconnected individuals over and against the view that we are essentially connected persons. I think the church has, to the extent (which I believe is extremely high) that it has bought into radical individualism, become coopted by this cultural construct.

Much of my concern about the theology that people like John MacArthur seem to represent is that it reduces the whole story of God, the entire bible, to the saving work of Christ on the cross, largely ignoring extremely important parts of the story such as creation, the living presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit’s continued work in the life of the church, the central, essential & Trinitarian nature of the resurrection, etc. It results in a whole system of theology which, while professing to “believe in the Trinity,” fails to offer a truly Trinitarian faith. Instead it offers a Christomonistic faith that either distorts or ignores the role of the 1st and 3rd persons of the Trinity and focuses solely on the 2nd.

With a monistic view of the person, it does not surprise me that people like MacArthur would begin to distort the Trinitarian faith into a Christomonism that reduces the scope of God’s redemptive project to saving discrete individuals from hell, wholly ignoring the other parts of the story of God. One primary result is an over-emphasis on a now distorted Soteriology and a complete denial of the eschatological nature of the church and the already-not-yet kingdom of God. In MacArthur’s own words, eliminating the guilt of sin is “the only reason he [Christ] came.” That’s Christomonism. That’s really not orthodox Christian thought.

Sometimes I wonder if, in 200 years, when one surveys the Christian landscape, the modern evangelicalism will have morphed into a sort of Christian cult religion – something akin to Mormonism – that is largely seen as a distortion of the true message of Christ. If that is the case, I think it will be in large part due to the exaggeration of Christomonism.

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  • very interesting thoughts tim. through my intro to theology class, and specifically through readings from daniel migliore and elizabeth johnson on the subject, i have felt convicted to reevaluate the presence of the three persons, the Trinity, in my faith.

    both authors discuss the radical equality of the relational-trinitarian-God. here there is no hierarchy, and each one finds purpose in the other…redeemer, creator, sustainer. God literally is the embodiment of koinonia, of fellowship as was meant to be.

    i mean, you read the gospels and see that Jesus was anointed by the Spirit at baptism…a separate person, empowering Jesus for His ministry (this is especially evident in Luke’s account). but how often do we pray for the Spirit? how many sermons have you heard about the Holy Spirit?

    i think, and this is just my opinion here, that Christomonism leads to an attitude of ownership of Truth and Beauty within the Church (meaning Truth and Beauty cannot exist outside of Christians).

    the Spirit is not in the possession of Christians. we do not own God. and while the Father, Spirit and Son all belong to one another, at they same time they aren’t owned by another. (am i making any sense?) God’s Spirit blows where it pleases (John 3). so, i also believe that the Spirit is not ONLY ushered into the world and other people’s lives through stated belief in Jesus Christ alone (i guess i side with Eastern Christianity Trinitarian views here). the Spirit can be in nature, or inspire those who do not yet know Christ. such was the case for me. i was not raised in the Church, i had no awareness of Jesus Christ as being the Son of God or the bestower of Spirit for the first 17 years of my life. yet somehow, I always believed in Divine Energy or God or Creator moving me and things around me. maybe this is natural when you are the daughter of an artist. watching a thunderstorm or listening to music somehow drew me into the presence of God. I looked around and saw a haunted, grace-filled world. i eventually, in my late teens, found a community of Christians that also seemed haunted with this Spirit. i began learning who Jesus Christ was, and in learning about him and his life, i was drawn to God in just as powerful ways as music and thunderstorms had growing up. it just connected the dots for me.

    whoa. rant. sorry tim. yay for theology and yay for tough questions.

  • Hey Casey,

    Good thoughts. You are really thinking about stuff. One thing that came to mind when I was reading your post…

    One other issue pertains to a general theological approach to the doctrine of God. People like MacArthur would say that sovereignty of God is God’s foremost attribute. But somebody like, say, Moltmann or Pannenberg or John Zizioulas would say (as Zizioulas did actually say) that love is God’s supreme ontological predicate, i.e., before God is anything, God is love. That means that before God is anything else God is relational, down to God’s very being. Zizioulas would say that this means God’s essence is not contained in God’s substance, but in God’s relationality. Those are very different starting points, Sovereignty or Love, and they will have you end up in very different places theologically. I think one of the real problems with using sovereignty as the starting point is that you end up with a functional Christomonism. Not that I would argue against God’s sovereignty, not in the least. But God’s sovereignty is rooted in God’s supreme ontological predicate: love.

  • wow, i have never heard that before. i can totally see how those two starting points could lead to very different theological tracks. looks like i have more exploring to do.

  • The part on the double movement is from p.221 in the chapter on Ministry and Communion. I think you are right that you can use the double movement idea sort of like a tool to consider how to view any arena. The reason I think it can go to any relationship (between the person and the state, other people, their vocation, etc.) is because it sees ontology in relational terms. My being is fashioned after the creator whose being is personal (three persons, one essence). Thus when I consider any relationship – say vocation for instance – I relate to my vocation as a person in two ways. First, I’m a new person, i.e., new creation through Christ, and thus my work does not define me as a person. This is what is made real by my baptism. Then as I consider how I relate to my work, I do so through my identity in Christ which is existentially bound up in the church. That is to say, I even relate to my work through my community of faith. I think that is what he is saying, anyway.

    He uses the Latin terms ad intra and ad extra to denote these two relatings. I love the idea that no matter what my vocation is, through it “the world is assumed by the community (not just me as a person by my community) and referred back to the Creator.” P.224 His conclusion is then, “The mission of the Church in the world is, therefore, inconceivable in terms of an attitude vis-à-vis the world. The relational character of the ministry implies that the only acceptable method of mission for the church is the incarnational one: the Church relates to the world through and in her ministry by being involved existentially in the world. The nature of mission is not to be found in the Church’s addressing the world but in its being fully in com-passion with it.” p.224

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  • Would you consider Col 1:18, Eph 1:10, and 2 John 1:9 as "Christomonistic"?

  • Mike,

    Thanks for you question. I would not consider any of those scriptures to be Christomonistic. In fact I don't consider any scriptures to be so.

    Col 1:18 is part of one of Paul's great Christological hymns. The passage is about the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus is Lord of all, his place is at the head of the church, he is the first to experience the resurrection that we all are promised in Christ.

    Eph 1:10 is about the scope of salvation, i.e. "all things." The unity spoken about is a dynamic unity – the Hebrews called it "shalom," or peace – it refers to a future when everything relates rightly as it was created and purposed by God. John 17 explores this, as well as Ephesians 4. There the unity is described like a group of soldiers who no how to march in unity.

    2 John 1:9 is explicitly opposing a Christomonism – but is an early movement toward a Trinitarian understanding of the doctrine of God. It is one of the verses we rely on for the doctrine of perichoresis as well.

    My purpose in writing this post way back then, was this: I believe that many, MacArthur included, have bowed down to the false God of individualism & that it has clouded their view of God and the gospel.

    I'm a committed Trinitarian, though, so we probably approach this conversation very differently. Cheers!

  • Anonymous

    Hello all-this is new for me. I'm a first time blogger. I found this link while looking for ideas on another topic and found your comments intriguing. Christomonism, interesting word. I get the idea that you feel some are overemphasizing Jesus to the exclusion of the Father and the Spirit, but if (since) He is the chief cornerstone, and if (since) He is the only way to the Father, wouldn't it make sense to begin with Him. The Spirit is the One who draws us to the Son who introduces us to the Father. Or, am I not fully understanding your thoughts?