A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Christian Theism Is Not Trinitarianism

Theologian Nicholas Lash's discussion of the Trinity* takes place against the backdrop of modern theism. He believes that the paramount influence of modern theism has caused the doctrine of the Trinity to cease to function as the Christian frame of reference for talking about God.

Lash notes that the term "theism" originated with Voltaire and denoted one who believed in a Supreme Being as the source of finite existence. It also referred to one who rejected revelation and the supernatural doctrines of Christianity. To put it simply, "theism" and "deism" were synonymous. It was not until years later that the terms became separated and theism lost its pejorative connotations in Christian doctrine. Originally, however, "the 'God' of modern theism was born of a deliberate decision to break with the Jewish and Christian traditions of authorized usage."

There are several things about theism that Lash views as problematic:

1) Theism starts with the assumption that there is a "central core" of beliefs about God that makes Christians, Jews and Muslims all theists. The differing beliefs about God are further additions to one's theistic faith. These further beliefs are where Christians, Jews and Muslims no longer agree. Lash maintains, however, that any belief about God cannot be divided into any kind of "central core" without perverting fundamental Christian, Jewish and Muslim belief about God. Thus a theistic account of God is unacceptable.

2) The God of theism is abstract. Without the doctrine of the Trinity ("as it is employed in defining, determining or shaping Christian life, prayer, action and suffering") "spirit" is an "empty word." It becomes an abstraction situated in the' 'broad framework of Cartesian contractions."

3) In theism "godness" is the nature of' "distant and enabling dignity." When the doctrines of incarnate Word and indwelling Spirit are construed as added beliefs to the doctrine of God the consideration of the nature of "godness" is muddled.

4) Theism says too much about God and makes him an "object" for observation. He is to be "identified, described, compared and contrasted with other objects." God is first of all discussed, then after nothing more can be said, the theist claims mystery. Yet Lash maintains that the doctrine of God's incomprehensibility requires us to confess God as mystery at the outset. Theism operates on a mistaken account of mystery. God does not offer himself for observation. "God is the creator of the world not its explanation; the world's
redeemer, not its solution." The theist talks about God too easily. Talking about God is dangerous. God should be discussed not in terms of what he is, but what he is not.

5) For the theist divine attributes are descriptions of God. Originally, however, they were discussions of grammar. They served as protocols against idolatry.
Allan R. Bevere, "Doctrine as Grammatical Constraint: Nicholas Lash on the Trinity." *Source material can be found at the end of the article.


James W Lung said...

This is why I bristle at the fact that the F-word has been exorcised from the worship of most UM churches. We invoke the name of "loving god" and "creating god" and "dear god" and "affirming god" and "nurturing god" but never the FATHER. Our doxology and gloria are modalistic parodies.

Allan R. Bevere said...


You are quite correct that Creator cannot be a synonym for Father. In the Creeds God is called Father precisely because of his connection to the Son, Jesus Christ.

Chris Eyre said...

It's only fair to say that I've responded to this... http://eyrelines.energion.net/?p=998