Trinity or Unity: Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Trinity or Unity: Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place August 1, 2015

That’s me regarding my Christian fellowship and church. Damned if you don’t, and damned if you do. Damned if you don’t believe in the Trinity, thus that Jesus is God, and damned if you do believe in it. I’ll get to that later clause shortly. But first, the Trinity belief.

Almost all Christians believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, thus that Jesus is God. Actually, eminent church historian and Trinitarian, Phillip Schaff, rightly states that church developed the doctrine of the Trinity because it had earlier declared at the Nicene Council in 325 that Jesus is “very God of very God.” It declared that if you don’t believe Jesus is God, you are not a Christian and you are “anathema” (stated many times in the original Nicene Creed) which means “condemned” to hell. For me, this is the “rock” I’ve been forced under.

I think this subject should be openly discussed, but it’s not. Why? Most Christians think it was totally settled over sixteen hundred years ago by the Catholic church at their so-called first two ecumenical councils and that there is no sense reopening that can of worms. I disagree because I think they got it wrong. Those so-called “holy fathers” were men, and even the most honored clerics among men can get some things wrong when it comes to the subject of God. Just look at what happened to Jesus.

I attended Sunday school in a Nazarene church from age six to thirteen in West Seattle, where I grew up. Then my Sunday school teacher led me in private prayer to receive Jesus in to my life as my Lord and Savior. That’s when I was “born again,” spiritually, as Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3.3-5.

When I went to college five years later, in Houstone, Texas, I renewed my Christian commitment, became involved in the fledgling Campus Crusade for Christ, and attended regularly an independent Bible church, Berachah Church, where the Bible was taught six days a week as sort of a mini-seminary.

That’s when, for the first time in my life, I was taught the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one essence consisting of three co-equal and co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. I was also taught the corresponding doctrine of the hypostatic union, that Jesus had two natures–a divine nature, in which he was God, and a human nature–all of which made him a God-man.

I believed all of this for the next twenty-two years. I never questioned it and didn’t have any friends who questioned it or believed otherwise. I was an evangelical, and most of my close friends were evangelicals. As a pro golfer on the PGA Tour, I was involved in Christian ministry there. My closest friend on Tour was Babe Hiskey. As Tour players we co-founded the PGA Tour Bible Study in 1965, my first full year on the Tour. We had also attended regularly the same church in Houston. The doctrine of the Trinity had always been a settled issue with us and everyone else in the Tour Bible Study.

Then in about 1980, I had a eureka moment one day while reading my Bible. Ever since college I had specialized in studying Bible prophecy, thus eschatology. Thus, that day I was reading Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, which I knew fairly well. I had that enlightening moment when I read Jesus’ statement about his yet future second coming, “But about that day and/or hour no one knows, neither the angels of/in heaven, nor the Son [referring to himself], but only the Father” (Matthew 24.36; Mark 13.32). Because of the hypostatic union, I then said to myself, “That makes Jesus look like a liar. He said he didn’t know when he would return, but he really did because he is God.” After pondering this for a while that day, I concluded, “I will stand on the integrity of Jesus. I must look into this.”

And did I ever! For the next twenty-eight years I launched into a very serious, in-depth study about the identity of Jesus of Nazareth as he is presented in the Bible. I estimate that during this time I read about a thousand books on the identity of Jesus. And it was not easy for me to get most of those books. In fact, it was pretty difficult. I had to first learn who were the most credible authors on this subject. That was quite a learning process in itself.

During the 1980s and into the late 1990s, I lived in Friendswood, Texas, a southern suburb of Houston. The only Christian seminary in Houston was St. Mary’s Catholic seminary on the north side of Houston, about foty miles from where I lived. I went there many times. I also used the Rice University library. And after I started the Senior Tour, thus reviving my pro golf career after a hiatus for a few years in my late forties, I then traveled the Tour just over half the year and visited many seminary libraries throughout the country, researching my topic of the identity of Jesus. My favorite library to do this was Harvard University’s theological library, though it was so old and dusty that I always got allergic there. And my best discovery in this entire Jesus quest of mine was at that library.

Especially at these schools, I read many hundreds of Bible commentaries. I would search what they said about the critical texts on this subject in the Bible. From the viewpoint of New Testament scholars, the main texts for the Jesus-is-God position are John 1.1c, 1.18, 10.30, 20.28, Romans 9.5, Philippians 2.6-7, 2 Thessalonians 1.12, Titus 2.13, Hebrews 1.8-10, 2 Peter 1.1, and 1 John 5.20. So, I looked up each of these texts in many hundreds of Bible commentaries and read what they said.

But for the most part, I had to get the leading books on Jesus’ identity through the inter-library loan system. (I didn’t care about books on Jesus that were not centered on the Bible.) That means that each time I found out about a book on this subject by a distinguished scholar, I had to go to a public library, fill out a form, and thus order the book. On average, it would take me about two or three weeks for the book to arrive at my library. Of course, I would then have to drive to the library and get the book, go home and read it within about three weeks, and then return the book to my library.

Folks, compare all this effort to what most professors have to do when they write books about Jesus. They already know who the most distinguished authors are on this subject, and some of them are their friends. It’s their job to know. Then they are professors at schools that usually have good theological libraries. They often teach college or seminary classes on the subjects they write about. And they may be involved with peers in discussion groups on these subjects, which is very beneficial when writing books about these subjects. And they may have some of their students do some work for them that has to do with the books they write. Sometimes, they have other people do the indexing.

I had none of this. Yet the result of my twenty-year quest was that during this time I wrote a 600-page book on this subject, entitled The Restitution of Jesus Christ, and it was published in 2008. In it, I cite over 400 scholars and their works. I wrote this book with a pseudonym–Servetus the Evangelical. (Google Michael Servetus.) Why? I had various reasons. One is that I knew I would be denounced as non-Christian and therefore certainly be regarded as non-Evangelical. But I had been an Evangelical Christian all of my adult life and more, and I believe I am still an Evangelical. The main precept of Evangelicalism is that the Bible is the final arbiter of faith and practice. This was also the motto of Protestantism.

But I have much difficulty getting Trinitarians to talk about this subject. For most, it is a closed subject. I have challenged a few Trinitarian to publicly debate me about it, and they have refused.

Despite all of this, I have always attended Trinitarian churches. Why? There usually is no other choice if you want to attend a church that is centered on the Bible. Yet I lately have involved myself in a small, somewhat worldwide movement that is anti- or non- Trinitarian that believes like I do–that every major thing the church has taught about Jesus is right except Jesus is not God. These people call themselves Biblical Unitarians or Monotheistic Christians or some such name. I just call myself a One God Christian. But a lot of these people do the same thing Trinitarians do–they say if you are a Trinitarian you are not a Christian but a polytheist because you worship three Gods/gods. That’s what most religious Jews and all Muslims say about Christians, since almost all Christians are Trinitarian. (The Qur’an has several statements that denounce the doctrine of the Trinity and thus “people of the book,” referring to the Bible, who are Trinitarian Christians.) The people in this non-Trinitarian movement that I have somewhat attached myself to may not quite say it like that–some will say God is the judge, not us–but that is what they really mean. For me, this is “the hard place” I now find myself under.

I make it clear in the last two paragraphs of my book that I am very oppposed to denouncing Trinitarians as non-Christians. I really don’t want to be involved with people in this so-called Biblical unitarian movement who say this. Some of them say the God and the Jesus that Trinitarians believe in is not the God and the Jesus of the Bible, so that they don’t believe in God or Jesus at all–thus they are polytheists.

One of my favorite heroes of the Christain faith is Sir Isaac Newton. He was the great mathematician and scientist who discovered gravity. Sir Isaac was a very devout Christian. He had a inner circle of colleagues, called “the Newton circle,” most of whom believed like he did about God and Jesus, including the honorable Samuel Clarke.

Isaac Newton said he was a Christian because of fulfilled Bible prophecy. Sir Isaac and I also have that in common. It did not become known to the world until about 1990 that he wrote more on theology and alchemy (less on that, and it was more like science then than later) than all of his writings on science and mathematics. He says repeatedly in his theological writings that people who believe God is multiple persons are not genuine Christians but idolators. I very much disagree with my hero about that.

I was most certainly a Christian during the twenty-two years that I was a Trinitarian. I also was a Christian during the previous five years and in all subsequent years to this day. How so? I believed in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Folks, that is the main message of Evangelical Christianity. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. God proved it by raising him from the dead. Believing that is what makes a person a Christian, plus that truly believing this about Jesus will change your life! If it doesn’t, you never really believed in Jesus.

That’s why I say that we must also make Jesus the Lord of our lives. Yes, no one is perfect. All of us Christians sin. But to some extent, if we really believe in Jesus we will allow him to be our Master. We will learn some of what he taught as recorded in the four gospels in the New Testament. And we will seek to follow his teachings even though we don’t do so perfectly. That will prove we belong to Jesus. And we should do what Jesus said to his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.35). Whether or not we believe God is a Trinity of Persons and thus Jesus is God, if we believe Jesus died for us and he is our Lord, we all should love one another.

And notice I said that God raised Jesus from the dead. That is what the New Testament repeatedly declares. Thus, this foundation of Christainity–that God raised Jesus from the dead–is one of the many ways in which the New Testament distiguishes the one God from Jesus. God did not raise God from the dead. And Jesus now sits with God at his right hand on God’s throne. That is not two Gods sitting there.

So, again, this needs to be discussed by people who call themselves “Christian.” Yet, I’m not hung up on that word. It doesn’t matter to me what you call yourself, just what you believe. We are not being non-Evangelical if we openly discuss this subject, even in our churches. I do not think that believing in the Trinity, thus believing Jesus is God, has anything to do with being a Christian. The question should really come down to what the Bible says, not what church councils say, that determines what is the truth for Christians. This needs to be discussed openly among Evangelicals. If it was, then I wouldn’t be between a rock and hard place anymore.

…………….

To see a list of titles of 130+ posts (2-3 pages) that are about Jesus not being God in the Bible, with a few about God not being a Trinity, at Kermit Zarley Blog click “Chistology” in the header bar. Most are condensations of my book, The Restitution of Jesus Christ. See my website servetustheevangelical.com, which is all about this book,  with reviews, etc. Learn about my books and purchase them at kermitzarley.com. I was a Trinitarian for 22 years before reading myself out of it in the Bible.

"You are asking many things. I believe when all people die their unconscious souls go ..."

Gibson-Wallace Planned Film on Jesus’ Resurrection
"Before the TEA party, there was the Bush administration and a revival of cold-war campaigning. ..."

The Republican Party’s Reputation Is Shot ..."
"What happened between Christ's death and Resurrection? Did he go and preach the Good News ..."

Gibson-Wallace Planned Film on Jesus’ Resurrection
"Curing diseases will probably be grudgingly accepted, but there will be class issues. Will perfect ..."

Many Christians Will Oppose Transhumanism

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David Kemball-Cook

    Hi Kermit

    Yes, most Christians think there is nothing much to discuss, and unitarians are beyond the pale

    I have just posted this question on one of the Unbelievable show discussion forums
    http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Unbelievable-Can-Christianity-be-true-if-Christians-can-t-agree-on-doctrine-Andrew-Whyte-vs-Nabeel-Qureshi

    ‘If the apostles believed that Jesus is God (even in your ‘declarative identity’ sense), why did they keep it quiet in the preaching of the gospel (as recorded in
    Acts)?
    Likewise there is no mention in Acts of the threeness of God?
    Why should they not mention either of the two (supposedly central) doctrines of
    Christianity?

    Nowadays if anyone (like me) says that he does not believe in the Trinity, he is told he is not a Christian. So assent to ‘Jesus is God’ and ‘God is three’ is regarded as essential for being a Christian.
    So it looks like the first Christians were not actually Christians.

    Why then were these supposedly essential doctrines omitted from the earliest preaching?
    Maybe four options, but there could be more I suppose
    1) The apostles believed that Jesus was God and that God is three, but did not think their audience needed to be told as those doctrines were not essential for
    salvation

    2) They believed and preached them, but Luke does not record the preaching

    3) John alone believed that Jesus was God, and not the others, and he kept quiet about it when Peter told them all that they had to do to be saved was repent and be baptized.

    4) They did not believe in those doctrines

    I think 4) is the case.

    Are there any other options?
    What do you think?’

    I don’t think trinitarians find this sort of question easy to answer
    I really don’t know what I would say, if asked this during my days as a trin
    What would you have said?
    I suppose one might say that everybody knew that Jesus was God, so it was all understood, and no point in Luke recording it. But that would invite ridicule.
    Usually people walk away at this point

    regards
    David

    • kzarley

      I like this. Great.

      • What about the 3rd element–the Holy Spirit? Are we worshipping two Gods, then, instead of three? I read your blog to my wife and we both enjoyed it immensely. But she asked, “Where is the Holy Spirit in this?”

        • kzarley

          Hi Cuz. In my RJC book, I have an appendix: “The Nature of the Holy Spirit.” I think I posted it on this blog. Search Categories and you might find it. Here is my view: “The Holy Spirit is to God what the human spirit is to man because man was made in the image of God.” Thus, since man’s spirit is not a person, God’s Spirit is not a person. Everything God does in relation to man he does by means of his Spirit unless he sends an angel to do it.

    • Joe Martin

      Good discussion. I feel I have the same basic faith I had at thirteen when I accepted Jesus in my home community church. I prefer not to be “against something” but rather “for something.” I am for the biblical Jesus. For the biblical God. For devotions this morning I reread Acts 3,4. Great theology, christology, and simple faith. “This Jesus… you killed, God raised from the dead and we are witnesses.” “His Messiah would suffer…”