God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.John 4:24
If you are still reading this, first of all I would like to commend you for persevering to the end. I know how difficult this subject is, and the fact that you haven’t tossed this book in the trash is both humbling and encouraging. Even if you remain unconvinced, I am grateful nonetheless for the time that you spent to hear me out; moreover, I hope you feel that your investment has not been utterly in vain. And secondly, even if you vehemently disagree with my conclusions, my ardent hope is that this book has merely served as the catalyst that compels you to wrestle anew with God’s Word.
Indeed, if the only outcome of this book is that God has rekindled a latent desire to immerse yourself in Scripture then I will happily claim that as a victory. Do I believe that the Trinity should go the way of the dinosaur? Of course. And do I hope that the Filium offers a Biblical perspective on “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” which will aid our understanding of Scripture rather than hinder it? Absolutely! But regardless of your personal verdict regarding the fate of the Trinity, my prayer is that you have found a new resolve to spend more time in the Word of Truth and not simply be content with “what has been said”…because God’s Word is what really matters.
Thus I will not be offended or otherwise demean you if you choose to stick with the Trinity as your working theological framework. I may disagree with your decision, to be sure, but it is not a matter worth parting fellowship over. For contrary to the stern warnings of the Athanasian Creed, our salvation is not contingent upon adhering to a Trinitarian view of God. We are saved through having a genuine relationship with the Father through the Son, not on the basis of understanding how their relationship supposedly works. And ultimately, every saint in heaven gets there in spite of their theology…not because of it.
Just to be clear, any lack of theological acuity on our part is not meant to imply that theology is therefore irrelevant or that you can believe whatever you want. Far from it! There are clearly some essential things about God that we must believe to properly be called Christian – just go back to the Old Roman Creed – but the Trinity simply isn’t one of them.
I’m sure that many staunch Trinitarians will not share this sentiment, given that nearly 2,000 years of church history have conditioned us to reject any teaching (and hence the teacher) that violates the doctrine of the Trinity. But that’s not really the issue. The salient question isn’t whether or not the Filium contradicts the Trinity – since, after all, the Trinity is not found in Scripture – the only question that truly matters is if it contradicts actual Scripture. For as Martin Luther rightly observed:
“It is indeed true that the name ‘Trinity’ is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man.”
Again, consider Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees. Even though the Pharisees started with what was true, the Law of Moses, in their strivings to keep and defend it actually ended up obscuring and even subverting it. Their traditions, dictates, and dogmas progressively warped the very fabric of Judaism, resulting in an untenable system that compromised the essence of the Law even as it maintained an appearance of righteousness and propriety.
Does this sound vaguely familiar?
Like the Pharisees before them, as the early church sought to ensure the integrity of the apostolic faith and protect it from errant speculation, they constructed an extra-Biblical framework that endeavors to speak where Scripture is silent. In the process, the Trinity became a law unto itself by virtue of the church’s repeated insistence that it was true; unfortunately, though, it also ended up usurping the very ideals and truths it was designed to protect. Why do I say this? Because when you try to reconcile the Trinity with Scripture it does little to illuminate Christianity’s most mysterious and yet distinctive aspect – an incarnate God who died to redeem Creation – and frequently generates more questions than it answers.
Mystery or Contradiction?
Accordingly, whenever we attempt to preserve or otherwise perpetuate the Trinity’s role as the arbiter of Christian orthodoxy, we would be wise to remember that:
- The Trinity is a doctrine that cannot be explicitly found in Scripture
- It relies upon exceptions and disclaimers to keep from falling apart
- It is formulated and couched in the terminology and concepts of Aristotelian substance theory
- Its definition and development took place over a period of more than 300 years, during which time key terms underwent a complete reversal
- The final definition of the doctrine had as much to do with political favor of the Emperor as it did an exposition of Scripture
- Its only real defense remains an appeal to tradition
Contrast that to the Filium, which relies not upon external sources to elaborate on the meaning of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” rather, it establishes God’s tri-partite designation squarely within the context of Scripture and attempts to take God’s Word at face value. That’s not to say that the Filium has the answer to every question, nor does it imply that there are no difficult passages. For instance:
No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.
While the Trinity would see this as an allusion to the Divine Son descending from Heaven to take on flesh, it could be a reference to Jesus having been taken up into Heaven before being sent back down to earth to complete His mission. After all, if Paul was taken up into the “third Heaven,” and we know from Revelation that John was given a glimpse of God’s throne room, is there any reason to believe that God’s Son was somehow not accorded that privilege? Granted, this is somewhat speculative on my part, but at least this view is based upon a precedent that is grounded in other passages of Scripture…rather than some philosophical construct borrowed from the Greek philosophers.
Furthermore, even if this verse is in fact a reference to God coming down from Heaven to become Incarnate in man, it really makes no difference whether God is a “single person” or the “second person” because both options attest to the full Deity of that participant. Then again, maybe it means something else entirely. In any case, though, since there is nothing about this verse that logically precludes the essential premises of the Filium, while it is certainly puzzling, it is not inherently contradictory.
And what about Jesus’ prayer that His Father would glorify Him?
Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
The Trinity sees this verse as evidence of the “pre-existent Christ,” specifically the Word of John 1, but here again Jesus may simply be appealing to the glory that He knows the Father has had in store for Him from before the foundation of the world. This explanation not only aligns precisely with the argument that Tertullian used in his discourse on the “Logos,” but it is also plainly declared by Peter:
He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.
1 Peter 1:20 (NKJV)
We could continue looking at any number of similar passages, but if I attempted to exhaust every last verse of Scripture this book would never end! Moreover, while I have strived to neither misrepresent any of the verses I have quoted nor ignore those that might invalidate my arguments, what I am really driving at is this: I have yet to find any outright contradictions that would prompt me to reject the Filium.
In short, whereas the interpretations of passages like these might initially strike you as evasive or disingenuous, as long as they are plausible the Filium continues to stand up under scrutiny. So although my inability to provide definitive explanations for a given passage may be frustrating – and there are still many difficult, perplexing passages, to be sure – these are ultimately part of the mystery that has yet to be revealed. Mystery I can live with, contradiction I cannot.
After all, we are not only guaranteed to encounter passages that are difficult to understand – regardless of the doctrine in question – but it is specious to assume that the answer to every question is just waiting to be found somewhere in Scripture. Just looking at Jesus specifically, there are clearly a lot of details about His life that we aren’t privy to. Not only that, but is God under any obligation to disclose every insight into His plans? Indeed, since there were details of the Father’s plan that even Jesus didn’t know, it would be absurd to assume that we are somehow more enlightened than Him. On the contrary, we know that God reveals only what is essential for us to know:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.
“Do you hear the secret counsel of God, And limit wisdom to yourself?”
When the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken and do not write them.”
Hence difficult verses notwithstanding, it is worth noting that the frailty of the Trinity is a direct consequence of the fact that its core premises cannot be found in Scripture. There is nothing about a Godhead, nothing about three persons within that supposed Godhead, and therefore no way to defend the Trinity when it comes up against Scriptures that declare something to the contrary. In other words, the Trinity’s reliance upon extra-Biblical ideas is why so many of the verses we have previously considered aren’t just difficult for the Trinity, they are downright lethal!
This sets the Trinity in stark contrast with the Filium, which can at least point to a broad base of Scriptural support for each of its central tenets and therefore doesn’t require any extra disclaimers and exceptions, a la the Trinity, for its survival. Admittedly, this Scriptural base doesn’t guarantee that the Filium is correct any more than the Pharisee’s twisted interpretations of Scripture validated their own errant teachings. That being said, though, at least the Filium is built upon a solid foundation to begin with.
The Bottom Line
So how does the unique union between Father and Son work in practice? I don’t know, and I clearly don’t need to. Because if it was vital for us to understand how their union actually works, God would have spelled it out. But he didn’t. He gave us enough information and enough light so that we could see that Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God. Anything beyond that is frankly part of the mystery of who Christ is and has to be taken on faith.
Thus when it comes to the details of the relationship between Father and Son, all we really need to know is that God has everything sorted out. He has done something unique in Jesus that permits us to honor Christ as Lord without violating His commandment to have no other Gods. He has done something in Christ that we cannot likely fathom, such that whenever we worship Christ we are not robbing God of His glory, we are in fact magnifying it! And so rather than concerning ourselves with questions that we cannot answer, all that really matters is that we follow the light that we have been given as we bow before our Lord and Savior. Because whenever we get caught up in trying to figure it all out, we are the ones who give rise to confusion.
In the final analysis, then, as children of God who desire to honor our heavenly Father, we don’t need to understand how Jesus can be Lord in order to be obedient, we simply need to trust that God isn’t confused as we emulate our elder Brother and offer God our willing devotion. For then an only then, by following the “Son’s” example as we yield to the “Spirit,” are we able to properly understand what it means to call God our “Father.” Or as Charles Spurgeon so eloquently noted: “The simplest act of obedience to Him is better than the profoundest knowledge.”
And so in closing, along with Martin Luther, I hereby declare that until I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by evident reason, this is where I’m taking my stand. May God help me. Amen.