Greg Stafford and the Trinity

I haven’t been online for sometime and when I am online, I’m either at someone else’s home, the grocery store (where I am now) or library. But you know what, it’s kind of nice! :)

Anyhow, I came across this article by Greg Stafford. I’d really like to spend sometime on this, because I am of the opinion that these are issue that Christ’s Church needs to address in our day. As a matter of fact, I recently finished reading an article by Gerald Bray titled “The Trinity: Where Do We Go From Here?” In the conclusion of Bray’s article he states “a future Reformed Trinitarian theology must seek definition and clarity as far as possible.” I couldn’t agree more, especially in light of recent “arguments” put forth by various cultists.

I had asked someone else to comment on Mr. Stafford’s post and he did so here. The post written below was done before I saw Steve’s post. I hope my makes some sense, but Mr. Hays is certainly more well read then I am.

I’m not going to address every point in the article, frankly I have bigger things that need to be taken care of (e.g. reading books for Orientation at Greenville Seminary).

In typical cultic fashion, Stafford takes one verse (John 17:3) and runs with it, stating the JW understanding of the text is as clear as a bell. Reminds me of the Church of Christ (see post below) where they claim Acts 2:38; forgiveness of your sins is acquired by repentance and baptism. The Churches of Christ claim the exact same thing as Mr. Stafford does when he states “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have to assume their view of God, for it is stated clearly in the text…” I wonder if Mr. Stafford would agree with the Church of Christ, or does he do his systematics, coming to a proper view of baptism.

First, Greg wants all Triniarians to deny the God in whom they believe. Do you actually know what your asking for Greg? Reminds me of the atheists who wants the Christian to lay aside his Christian presuppositions, in order to prove God’s existence. Brothers (and sisters), this should not be. It’s not as though Stafford is calling us to be neutral. He wants you to adopt his presuppositions; denying the very God who has transformed your life.

One of Greg’s main point surrounds Ed Enochs’ statement on Trinitarianism:

I. There is but one God.
II. There is a plurality of persons within the Godhead.
III. The Bible calls the Father, “God.”
IV. The Bible calls the Son, “God.”
V. The Bible calls the Holy Spirit, “God.”

If you read Greg’s article, he seems to indicate that Trinitarians are all Hinnites.
You know what Hinnites are don’t you? They are followers of the teachings of Benny Hinn, who once stated that there were nine members of the Trinity.

Mr. Stafford tells us that we are equivocating on the Term God, with the belief that God in I means one thing (i.e. the Trinity), but God in III-V means something different. And the problem Mr. Stafford has is that these definitions are assumed when Trinitarians are in conversation…without proper justification. In once sense Greg is correct here. We don’t always give definitions of our terms. On the other hand, I know (well, I’m assuming) Mr. Stafford is a well read individual, so he has had to encounter the distinctions not only in words but the illustrations (i.e. the Triagle). So, I think Mr. Stafford on the other hand is blowing smoke. Mr. Stafford is just plain wrong when he states “yet, this difference is meaning for God is not made apparent to the reader…”

We see the same thing going on with what John Frame called triads. Take for example sanctification. In once sense, sanctification has one meaning, but theologically, there are three different aspects: definitive, progressive and final. We do not always spell out the three aspects of the one (i.e. they are assumed). But, the assumption is well founded and when teaching or writing on the subject, the differences are usually clearly spelled out (see any systematic theology). When we talk specifically about progressive sanctification, we don’t make the equivocation that this particular aspect is the whole of sanctification.

Mr. Stafford touches on, what I believe is his favorite objection, and that is the distinction made between “being” and “person.” The scriptures teach that there is one God, and this one God thinks, acts, loves, judges, etc. All these qualities fit into the term person or being. The term person, is not a scriptural term. The term is used to describe what we see going on in the Bible. The same is true for the term Trinity. Christians are monotheist and this monotheistic God is a person, not a bunch of abstract attributes. The Bible reveals that there are three persons that “carry” the same essence (i.e what makes something what it is). Point being, is that the Bible does not know of a “non-being” “person.” Mr. Stafford wants the Trinitarian to defend a straw man. I certainly won’t do it.

Stafford uses the word “never” quite a few times (see his article). Trinitarians would certainly disagree. Mr. Stafford is clearly carrying to the text his Unitarian presuppositions. Mr. Stafford’s condition is spiritual in nature. You see, Mr. Stafford is an atheist in a sense. He does not believe in the God of the Bible and has therefore sought to erect an idol of his own imagination (Roman 1:18-23). Mr. Stafford needs to repent of his false beliefs, which will keep in out of the kingdom of God. May God have mercy on his soul.

On the other hand, I believe Bray makes some valid point in his article I referenced above. So, I would commend it to my brothers and sisters.

I would also recommend that Mr. Stafford (and others for that matter) to pick up John Frame’s book The Doctrine of God.

PS. I know much more could be said in reference to Mr. Stafford’s article, but as I stated at the beginning, if it was not my intention to deal with every point. Perhaps I’ll pick up on some other aspects at another time. I do not plan to get into a back-and-forth written debate with Mr. Stafford, I frankly do not have the time. As most of you know I am preparing to begin grad school this fall (Aug. 20) and I have work to do before I start.

I do hope to address these kinds of issue throughout my education though. As I too continue to grow in my understanding of things (include the original languages), I hope to put some things together that will benefit the body of Christ.

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16 Comments

  1. July 30, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    “The Bible reveals that there are three persons that “carry” the same essence (i.e what makes something what it is).”

    Where did you get this “carry” that “[t]he Bible reveals”? Also, how do you know that “essence” is the essence of neo-Aristotelian substances with properties? I have never seen a Biblical reference to a “bare particular” that is a substance or objective “properties.” These are questions that I have yet to get answered from Trinitarian proponents.

  2. Jeff Downs said,

    July 30, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    I used the word carry for a lack of a better word. All I was stating that there are qualities that make up who God is. The qualities are what distinquish Him from His creatures…something Mormonism knows nothing about, which is why you are having such a hard time with this.

  3. July 30, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Jeff,

    No, my problem is with the near canonization of a metaphysic that is not found in scripture. In all the above you (and Stafford) are merely assuming a neo-Aristotelian metaphysic that simply cannot be found in scripture. In short, my problem is not with scripture but with the metaphysic that you and the Christian tradition impose on scripture when it provides no justification for such an imposition.

  4. nick70 said,

    July 30, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    The problem is not with the metaphysic (or the terms)… granted, Jewish writers would not have been thinking in Greek metaphysical terms — they were more concerned with identity than with being/persons — but you have to ask if the metaphysical terms later employed are in accord with what is known of God as revealed in Scripture.

    My question to you would be what is found in Scripture if not this metaphysic that you object to? In other words, what is the alternative?

  5. July 30, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    Nick,

    So a metaphysic is “Biblical” if it simply doesn’t contradict scripture? There would be a good many metaphysics, then, that would work.

    In relation to what the Bible seems to claim about the Trinity, the only place that I know of in scripture that speaks of the “nature” of the unity of the Godhead is in John 17, but there this unity is extendable to redeemed man, it can be shared, so it certainly isn’t the same thing spoken of in the Trinitarian dogma which is a non-communicable unity. If you can provide an alternative scripture that describes the Trinitarian unity in more neo-Aristotelian terms, then please provide it.

    One last point: I don’t think there is something that could be called “the alternative.” However, for those who claim Sola Scriptura and then demand that one accept the Trinitarian dogma with its peculiarly extra-Biblical metaphysic, I am decidedly perplexed. The usual claim is that the creeds simply state in more systematic form what is already in scripture, but I’m far from convinced on this point. Anything remotely like a neo-Aristotelian metaphysic is not in scripture and the burden of proof is on those who profess adherence to scripture and scripture alone for their belief to demonstrat otherwise.

  6. nick70 said,

    July 31, 2007 at 1:26 am

    Kevin,

    A metaphysic is Biblical if it accords with Scripture — I welcome any and all references to other metaphysics that fit the Biblical data.

    John 17 is a prayer for unity — ontological unity is not the focus of the prayer but even if it was then one could appeal to the Eastern doctrine of theosis as a model for how redeemed man is included in it.

    Hebrews 1:3; Philippians 2:6 come to mind immediately as showing a shared being/nature between the Father and the Son.

    On your last point — having no alternatives then what is your objection? Your being far from convinced about the elaboration of later Christian Creeds is supposed to mean exactly what to me? You clearly have a presupposition that won’t allow you to accept any line of evidence offered so what do you expect me to do?

    I’d love to address what is seemingly a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura but this isn’t the forum to do so.

  7. Mark McConnell said,

    July 31, 2007 at 2:01 am

    Kevin, what you are doing is something like the game “Taboo” turned around. You don’t know the meaning of the words “One, God, Father, Son, Spirit”. But you will not let us explain these terms using any other words than “One, God, Father, Son, Spirit”. It is as though you are asking us to leave you in your lack of understanding.

    You give us the challenge to explain the eternal and unchanging singleness of God without reference to any terms which might clarify what we mean, such as “perichoresis”, “hypostasis”, or “simplicity” or anything else besides the terms provided by the Bible. In other words, we must not explain. Only if we can repeat what the Bible says – which you already repeat without understanding – then you will believe us. This doesn’t come across as being an open invitation.

    If only no one ever got the idea, contrary to the Scriptures, that the Father one and the Son are different eternal intelligences, simply repeating the Bible would be sufficient. But there are such parties as think that a denial of the one God is Scripture’s doctrine. Therefore explanation is necessary for their sake.

    A metaphysical objection has been raised, against Scripture’s teaching. A misunderstanding has been introduced about the meaning of words like “One, God, Father, Son, Spirit”. For this reason, we need to distinguish what is revealed in Scripture from those contrary ideas which obscure the knowledge of God, and thus mislead from salvation.

    What if you deny that the Father and Son indwell one another, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father in the Son eternally, that these three are inseparable although distinguishable from one another, so that you cannot believe us that it is the one God Himself, infinite and unchangeable, who is Himself at work within us to fulfill his purposes, when we say that we have the Spirit of God? If it frankly sounds like nonsense to you when we speak in Biblical terms, then it’s for your sake that we offer you explanations.

    And so, we provide other terms specially adapted for clarifying what is taught by Scripture, to distinguish it from many misunderstandings. We use such terms in order to re-emphasize again that the Father is glorified in his Son, through the Spirit given to indwell us. But with each clarification, a new misunderstanding moves in and attempts to take away the meaning of what we have said. And so we clarify again. And again.

    We try to make it more obvious to you, why it is no gospel to preach that the debt of sin is transferred from one to another. We try to make more plain that the gospel that concerns God who indwells us, and who has become our life and our righteousness, in Jesus Christ. We employ metaphysical language in order to disentangle the gospel which concerns the one God, to distinguish it from ideas that are no gospel at all.

    We aren’t saying that the “metaphysics” are in the Scriptures – if by that you mean the terminology – but you know that. We are saying that the salvation revealed in Jesus Christ is God himself. What God has done in Jesus Christ concerns who God is, and our reconciliation with him in Jesus is our salvation. We are attempting to explain God’s explanation of Himself, which someone has misunderstood for “metaphysical” reasons – whether he would call it that or not. We are trying to explain for his sake, and to help those who believe to see the difference, why the gospel is in the oneness of God – and why it is not otherwise imparted than by God as He is, which is different from God as you imagine God.

    If the objector then speaks of “burden of proof” in such a context, rejecting our explanations simply because they are explanations instead of repetitions of the same language which he has misunderstood, this comes across as an empty and lazy objection. He might as well simply say that he doesn’t care.

  8. GeneMBridges said,

    July 31, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    eff,

    No, my problem is with the near canonization of a metaphysic that is not found in scripture. In all the above you (and Stafford) are merely assuming a neo-Aristotelian metaphysic that simply cannot be found in scripture. In short, my problem is not with scripture but with the metaphysic that you and the Christian tradition impose on scripture when it provides no justification for such an imposition.

    __________

    This would be true of the Scholastic Tradition to some extent.

    But there were discussions about personhood that went on before the Scholastic tradition.

    And within the Scholastic Tradition, “Aristotelean” metaphysics were heavily caveated and modified.

    So, it’s not ” a neo-Aristotelian metaphysic” that has not undergone several changes along the way. There are reasons for this, none of which you mention. Rather, you’re parroting Arian rhetoric.

    And your objections are soundly answered by works such as Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4, by Richard Muller. Have you interacted with this? If so, where is your interaction?

    Philosophical arguments are ancillary within the Reformed tradition itself. If you believe that a metaphysic is being imposed on Scripture in such a way that Scripture is subjected to it, you’ll have to demonstrate it and not assert it. You’ll have to interact with Muller’s work on Scripture, for example, as well as Scholasticism as a whole.

    I’d also add that the Alexandrian tradition was Platonic, not Aristotelean, yet it came up with the same and/or very similar exegetical conclusions. So, which is it, Aristotelean metaphysics or Platonic metaphysics that the Christian tradition is imposing upon Scripture?

    I would add that Arianism tends toward a Platonic metaphysic in the end, so it isn’t as if your objections are reversible on the view in view. One could just as easily say that the Arian is imposing Platonic metaphysics on the text.

  9. August 2, 2007 at 2:20 am

    [...] Jesus refers to the Father as “the only true God“. Steve Hays at Triablogue responded, as did Jeff Downs at Countercult Apologetics. Be forewarned, it’s somewhat [...]

  10. David Waltz said,

    August 2, 2007 at 6:46 am

    Having a bit more time on my hands than usual, I would like to make a few comments on the following blog entry:

    Jeff:>>Anyhow, I came across this article by Greg Stafford. I’d really like to spend sometime on this, because I am of the opinion that these are issue that Christ’s Church needs to address in our day. As a matter of fact, I recently finished reading an article by Gerald Bray titled “The Trinity: Where Do We Go From Here?” In the conclusion of Bray’s article he states “a future Reformed Trinitarian theology must seek definition and clarity as far as possible.” I couldn’t agree more, especially in light of recent “arguments” put forth by various cultists.>>

    I am a big fan of Gerald Bray, and as such, shall recommend his “Creeds, Councils, & Christ” to all. I have ordered the book in which the above referenced essay is published about a week ago, and as of today, still have not receieved it, so I cannot comment on the content the the essay right now. However, in advance, I sure hope that Dr. Bray is not advocating a monolethic view of “Reformed Trinitarian theology”, for such a beast does not exist.

    As for the phrase “various cultists”, I am somewhat disappointted that Jeff includes Greg Stafford in such a category, for an objective reading of his published works sure seems to place Mr. Stafford outside the bounds of a “cultist”.

    Moving on…

    Jeff:>> In typical cultic fashion, Stafford takes one verse (John 17:3) and runs with it, stating the JW understanding of the text is as clear as a bell. Reminds me of the Church of Christ (see post below) where they claim Acts 2:38; forgiveness of your sins is acquired by repentance and baptism. The Churches of Christ claim the exact same thing as Mr. Stafford does when he states “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have to assume their view of God, for it is stated clearly in the text…” I wonder if Mr. Stafford would agree with the Church of Christ, or does he do his systematics, coming to a proper view of baptism.>>

    Ouch…I cannot count the number of times evangelical preachers/commentators begin with “one verse” and then proceed run “with it.” Greg is clearly beginning with the context of “the one true God”, and cites John 17:3 as his locus. Greg, a neo-Arian (and NOT a Unitarian in the more historical sense), raises some serious questions, that from a stricly “Biblical” sense, cannot be resolved. Fact is, a neo-Arian/Eusebian interpretation is a valid intepretation of the appropriate Bibical texts—though, of course, not the ONLY valid one.

    Grace and peace,

    David

  11. Jeff said,

    August 2, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Mr. Waltz states…
    As for the phrase “various cultists”, I am somewhat disappointted that Jeff includes Greg Stafford in such a category, for an objective reading of his published works sure seems to place Mr. Stafford outside the bounds of a “cultist”.

    Why would you be suprised. I’m assuming your know very he is currently a Jehovah’s Witness. He denies central Christian doctrine, include the Trinity, holds to an open theism position, etc.

    Mr. Waltz states…
    Ouch…I cannot count the number of times evangelical preachers/commentators begin with “one verse” and then proceed run “with it.”

    Two wrongs do not make a right. There is much that Mr. Stafford misses, pointed out by Steve Hays and myself and certainly much more could be said.

    Mr. Waltz states…
    Greg, a neo-Arian (and NOT a Unitarian in the more historical sense), raises some serious questions

    I agree with Bray that in today’s context, we “must seek definition and clarity as far as possible.” Mr. Stafford brings this out in the context of cults.

  12. David Waltz said,

    August 2, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Hello Jeff,

    You said:

    >>Why would you be suprised. I’m assuming your know very he is currently a Jehovah’s Witness. He denies central Christian doctrine, include the Trinity, holds to an open theism position, etc.>>

    I am surprised because I have read pretty much all that Greg has written, and his writings are certainly not from the mindset of a brainwashed cultist. Greg clearly thinks for himself, as such, I think it is not only ‘bad form’, but a misuse of term itself when he is labeled as a “cultist”. Truth be known, I have personally experienced a few Calvinists who exhibit more of the classic cultic tendencies than does Greg Stafford.

    As for automatically labeling a person a cultist who is not a Trinitarian, this is a practice that seems to have originated with the late Walter Martin, and has been apopted by pretty much all of his ‘offspring’ in the “counter-cult” culture. But, most Christian scholars know better than to throw around the term “cultist” in such a loose fashion, and prefer to reserve the term for the followers of religouus leaders like David Koresh.

    Grace and peace,

    David

  13. Jeff said,

    August 3, 2007 at 1:22 am

    David writes “…Greg has written, and his writings are certainly not from the mindset of a brainwashed cultist.”

    If that is your view of a cultist, then yes, you woud certainly disagree with me labeling Greg a cultist. Notice, I didn’t label him this only because he denies the Trinity, but he denies other central doctrines of the Christian faith, and he is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    I’m certainly interested in how the word cult is used since I’ve been through this discussion a number of times with various individuals who want to loose the term. But, this is probably not the time to do so.

  14. August 3, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Mark,

    Sorry, I’ve been away at a conference. One comment, as time allows:

    “You give us the challenge to explain the eternal and unchanging singleness of God without reference to any terms which might clarify what we mean, such as “perichoresis”, “hypostasis”, or “simplicity” or anything else besides the terms provided by the Bible.”

    No, I am asking you to explain to me what the Bible means by referencing ideas from the Biblical worldview itself, from the culture and understanding of, say, a first century Christian. Instead, in relation to the Trinity, I am getting Biblical proof texts with the assumption that the authors subscribed to a neo-Aristotelian metaphysic that, in reality, wasn’t developed until a few centuries later! In short, I am asking for a Biblical understanding of God’s unity, one that is intelligible, say, from the perspective of Peter or John neither of whom were theologians.

    I ask this for two reasons: first, because Peter and John were not proto-neo-Aristotelians and, thus, they would be called a “cultist” by the same criteria that is being applied to Greg. Second, to show the anacrhronistic nature of Evangelical proof texts for the Trinity as they import an alien metaphysic into a pre-modern world. That is my problem and that is why I am not accepting the explanations given: it is not because the terms you mention are not in scripture, but that the meanings of those terms are not in scripture nor would they be intelligible to one of the scriptural writers.

  15. Aaron Snell said,

    August 3, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Kevin,

    Why do you keep insisting, here and elsewhere, on the early influence of “neo-Aristotelian” ideas on Christian thought, when Aristotle and his followers were generally despised by Christians until his full works were “rediscovered” by the West by the Scholastics in the Middle Ages via their Muslim preservation? Tertullian looked forward to watching him burn on Judgment Day, and even Gregory of Nyssa thought of him as an evil genius! Now, a Neoplatonic influence on, say, the development of the Trinity might be more arguable, but I have never understood your neo-Aristotelian claim.

    “In short, I am asking for a Biblical understanding of God’s unity, one that is intelligible, say, from the perspective of Peter or John neither of whom were theologians.”

    I find it interesting that probably most of your views of God would be as unintelligible to Peter and John as, as you claim, those of orthodoxy. Be that as it may, how exactly do you propose to go about gaining such an understanding? How exactly would those “proof-texts” work any differently should we restrict ourselves to a 1st Century Jewish “metaphysic”? I certainly see a the influence of Greek thought on some of the later formulation of the Trinity, but the core of it is the intersection of Jewish monotheism and Jesus’ claims to and reception of worship as deity, which doesn’t rely at all on Greek metaphysics but is rooted deeply in the worldview of Peter, Paul and John. That is where our explanations begin, not in some foreign metaphysic.

  16. Rubens said,

    August 6, 2007 at 7:02 pm

    I saw Mr Staffords comments and your reply when you say that “God is a proper name”.The biblical word Elohim is NEVER considered a proper name.
    It is applied to false gods as well to humans.Sal.82:6 ,2 Cor 4:4.


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