Tying a Trinity Knot—Part 4

knot3I’m trying to process Unitarian objections to Trinitarianism. I’ve been exploring this conversation in the context of Dale Tuggy’s writings. Here’s my struggle. Dale sees Trinitarianism and Unitarianism both as viable expressions of Christian faith because both share the earliest belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior. The earliest believers, Dale points out, didn’t have any developed belief in the Trinity. The faith was defined as trusting in Christ (his life, death, and resurrection) as God’s means of salvation—period. Beliefs outside of that act of faith shouldn’t be subject to condemnation.

How later conciliar expressions of the faith can legitimately be viewed as authoritative is an extremely important issue and I’m very interested in it. However, that’s a separate question unrelated to my interest here regarding the Unitarian’s openness to embrace Trinitarians as Christian believers. I don’t see how Dale can maintain that Trinitarian faith is compatibly biblical, Christian monotheism. Why do I suppose this? Because surely monotheism is essential to biblical faith generally and to the NT proclamation of the gospel and participation in its salvation specifically. But Dale has made it clear, or so I understand, that he knows of no trinitarian version of the faith that successfully qualifies as monotheistic. Even if one is what Dale calls a ‘one self’ trinitarian, one still advocates a faith and worship which are polytheist. It doesn’t seem to me that the Unitarian’s rejection of Trinitarianism is the rejection of one adiaphoron in favor of another more preferred adiaphoron. So I don’t see how Unitarians can regard Trinitarianism as other than polytheism and thus as not viably Christian. I should think Unitarians are bound to treat Trinitarians the way Orthodox Trinitarians treat Unitarians, i.e., as something other than Christian however historically related Unitarianism might be to Christianity and its first confessions. But in accepting the other as compatibly Christian, both Trinitarians and Unitarians compromise their commitment to what each must believe is fundamental to his/her view of God. Orthodox Trinitarians concede this already. My point here is that Unitarians also cannot maintain that their Unitarianism is adiaphorous to Christian monotheism.

Get thee behind me Satan, I think.


Back in the early 2000s, Greg Boyd and some friends (myself included) discussed the peccability/impeccability of Jesus, that is, whether Jesus was genuinely capable of sin (peccable = vulnerable to or capable of choosing sinfully; impeccable = not capable of choosing sinfully). It’s a question all Christians get around to eventually. Greg argued for the impeccability of the God-Man. His reasons were pretty straightforward:

Jesus is God.
God can’t sin.
Therefore Jesus can’t sin.

Years later in response to Dwayne and me, Greg clarified his Christology regarding Chalcedon (ReKnew, Jan/2014) and said that in becoming flesh, God sets aside the exercise of any divine attribute that contradicts what it means to be ‘human’ (‘omnipresence’, ‘omniscience’, and ‘omnipotence’ didn’t make the cut). But Greg argued passionately that God cannot set aside his perfect, loving, character; thus the impeccability of Jesus. Indeed, for Greg the one thing (actually the only thing) that makes Jesus divine is his perfectly loving character. For Greg, there’s no divinity apart from this essential benevolence and full divinity wherever you have it (whatever else you might not have).

However, to take the human journey does entail, Greg agreed, being capable of experiencing temptation. Greg leaned on the familiar passages in Hebrews which make it clear that Jesus suffered temptation. So in the end Greg’s position was the Jesus was not peccable, i.e., he could not sin, but he could and did genuinely suffer temptation to sin. To clarify, I’m just narrating the flow of an old conversation here. I’m not engaging Greg’s Christology at this point. Maybe I’ll weigh in on the question later. But for now I just want to reflect on Greg’s logic.

Greg was pressed to explain his commitment to Jesus’ impeccable character and goodness, and thus his inability to choose sinfully, on the one hand, and the reality of his temptations, on the other. After all, James 1 makes it clear that God’s impeccability precludes the capacity to be tempted. And if God cannot be tempted to do evil, he cannot do evil. And yet Hebrews makes it clear that the God-Man was tempted.

Greg eventually offered the following solution: Jesus was in fact incapable of choosing sin (impeccable), but he didn’t know this. Jesus was ignorant of his impeccability. He mistakenly believed himself capable of sinning. And being unaware of his impeccability was enough, Greg argued, to produce the required feeling of being drawn toward sin or, as temptationwe say, tempted. Even if Jesus could not in fact have followed through in choosing to sin, his ignorance of this fact permitted in him all the psychological aspects of temptation required to (a) fulfill an essential aspect of human being, and so (b) provide us the comfort, encouragement and inspiration we require as Hebrews 4 describes.

I’m not interested in agreeing or disagreeing at this point. I only want to show how Greg’s Christological move here is inconsistent with his kenotic view of the Incarnation and, more specifically, his objection to Chalcedonian Christology on the basis that it essentially makes Jesus’ suffering on the Cross a charade.

First, if it’s true that Jesus only thinks he’s capable of sinning when he’s not, as Greg holds, then clearly Greg doesn’t think Jesus’ false belief in his own peccability disqualifies his experience as genuine temptation. His temptations are no charade given his impeccability. This is similar to how an Orthodox person might use to make sense of a Chalcedonian view of Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross.

With respect to Christ’s suffering on the Cross as the God-Man, Greg argues that it is not enough for Jesus’ human subjectivity to suffer while the divine nature suffers not. With respect to Christ’s suffering temptations as the God-Man, however, Greg holds to the imperturbability of the divine nature with respect to its essential goodness. Jesus is impeccable and cannot sin, so his experience of temptation is grounded in his ignorance regarding his divine nature. The divine nature is truly impeccable, but the God-Man is nevertheless tempted.

So in relating Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to his genuine temptations, on the one hand, and his actual impeccability, on the other, Greg stands in the same challenging place that an Orthodox believer stands having to relate Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to God’s essential, unbroken triune beatitude, on the one hand, and the integrity of his being tempted, on the other.

Second, if a human nature can be created impeccable, incapable of sinning (as was Jesus on Greg’s account) without sacrificing the reality of temptation required to qualify Jesus as a true and representative champion of the human journey, then why wouldn’t God have created us all like that? If God can give a human nature perfect benevolence without jeopardizing the genuineness of those struggles and temptations necessary to human spiritual development and personal becoming, why would a benevolent God not give us all this immunity? If one can be truly tempted and develop as a human being without risking sinful choosing, why aren’t we all impeccable from the get-go? (I have my own answers to these questions. I’m asking them of Greg’s position.)

Third, if Greg’s argument against Chalcedon stands, namely, if it’s not enough for Jesus to suffer in his human nature on the Cross but not in his divine nature since that would make his suffering a charade, then the same logic should apply to Greg’s construal of Jesus’ suffering temptation while impeccable. Jesus’ temptations would also be a charade if in fact he was incapable of sin given his divine nature (to say nothing of the fact that James 1 not only make ‘willing sinfully’ an impossibility [to state it negatively] for God, but also ‘being tempted’ at all.) And if the charade Greg thinks is involved in Chalcedonian Christology empties Jesus’ life of its existential import for us, then it seems so would his account of Jesus’ temptations fail for the same reason. But if Greg’s claim that the integrity of Jesus’ temptations is not jeopardized by Jesus’ being nevertheless incapable of sin is true, then why cannot other types of human suffering (not just suffering temptation) be attributable to the God-Man without effecting change in the divine nature?

On the waters of the Void


The Real You

Suffering love – I know that is my life motto,
Losing everything, but still I win like a lotto,
Tears flow from my eyes, making streams in hidden grottoes,
But still I stick to the beat heavy, staccato.

On the waters of the Void in a perfect storm
But shining bright, like Freeza in perfect form;
Out on the deep, no boat, but I’m stroking.
In death’s face, I’m jokin, high like I be smoking.

Stay by me, locin, Lord you know I want to wild out,
But I’ll endure the pain like a man, take the child out,
Purge me with hyssop, melt me with the holy flame,
Break my chains, set me down, clothed and wholly sane.

You let me break my heart into bloody pieces;
All my false selves runnin’ free, I’ve lost the leashes;
You speak to me and say “Let them go, and then let me heal you.
Fall into my love, and I’ll release the real you.”

(Dwayne Polk)
(“locin,” pronounced “low-kin” is a gang term that means “going loco”)

Economics of atonement


Most Christians I know, even those who don’t adopt a penal-substitutionary theory of the sufferings of Christ, believe that God’s sufferings in Christ accomplish or effect something in God which makes our theosis a possibility for God. God contemplates his suffering (not just the incarnation as such, but his suffering as such) and the contemplation of this pain is that about God which opens space in God for us. I used to see things this way myself. I now think this is entirely mistaken. I don’t think violence or evil do anything on the divine side of the equation (so to speak) to create space in God for us or otherwise make it possible for God to forgive us or to secure our union with him. The sufferings of Christ are entirely an economic manifestation within our fallen context exclusively for our sake because we, not God, require it.

Ajna’s Song

Little Girl

If you know our blog much at all you probably know Dwayne and I work this together. I do the writing/posting, but we pretty much talk every day to process things so that whatever I end up writing has Dwayne in it as well. And though neither of us has shared much about the circumstances of his personal life, this post will be an exception. Dwayne has two beautiful children who suffer with autism. The oldest is a daughter, Ajna. She’s eight years old, but her condition prevents her from forming complete sentences, enjoying conversations, and her motor skills remain underdeveloped.

That said, let me switch to something very unrelated for a moment. I have a rich dream life. I have a highly active imagination, have traveled the world, living half my life overseas, and my dreams often involve dramatic encounters with highly symbolic narratives that involve family and close friends. I don’t always remember all the specifics of my dreams, but when I do recall enough that impresses or moves me, I take time to access the meaning and relevance. I take dreams seriously.

Back to Dwayne. So last night my dream included him and his daughter Ajna. As close as Dwayne is to me, he’s never made an appearance in my dreams, and it’s very strange that Ajna would show up. I’ve never spent time even trying to engage her on any level. So what occurred in this dream seemed very unusual to me and I thought I’d share it here.


My wife Anita and I were having dinner at somebody’s home. Dwayne was there, as was Ajna. There were a few other people I know who were there as well. Small apartment, loving atmosphere, great conversation. Dwayne was sitting opposite me at the dinner table. Ajna sat at my side of the table on my left. After dinner we were all still at the table enjoying dessert when Ajna leaned over on me, placed her arms around my neck and shoulder, and began singing very softly in my ear. It was barely above a whisper and everybody went quiet to listen. It was a new song. She was making it up as she sang it. Unrehearsed. But at different points I knew it as well and sang right along with her on just a line or two.

Others were slightly humming as well, totally into the moment. It was like we were being sung, like God was live-streaming through us. The beat and feel of it was just like those slow R&B love songs I know Dwayne likes. Everybody’s speech and movements were at normal speed up until Ajna began to sing, at which time everything went to slow motion, though the words and rhythm of the song didn’t slow at all. It was like a music video where the audio remains normal speed but the video is slowed way down though the audio stays synced with the lips of the person singing.

Ajna was perfect – physically and mentally. She had perfect pitch, and there was no autism present whatsoever. Perfect. Beautiful, piercing eyes like pieces of the darkest coal floating in seas of the whitest milk. Her eyes didn’t wander left and right as they’re prone to do now because of her autism. They were focused intently on me and those at the table. Actually, it seemed as though she was the most mature, developed body (as an eight year old of course) in the room, as if Ajna was the Platonic form for eight year old girls while the rest of us were imperfect semblances of our perfected forms. The only other thing I remember in the dream is everybody having a great time afterwards (back at normal speed) and Ajna playing games. Perfect poise, no need for diapers due to her autism, not having to be attended to because of motor imbalances. She was talking perfectly about what was going on in the room. Well, not talking exactly, because she didn’t talk when she spoke. If she said anything at all, she sang it. She was either laughing or singing, never just talking.

I remember bits and pieces of what she sang into my ear. It’s nothing I’ve heard before, but it was all in rhyme. I’m not a poet, though I like to try my hand at rhymes now and then. Typically I have to work hard through several edits to get things to rhyme. But Ajna’s song was finished. Who composed it? I have no idea. I don’t know how this stuff works. I remember the chorus best, and I even remember the tune/melody of the chorus. Been singing it all morning. I remember the verse lyrics less. They were a bit scattered and disjointed when I tried to recall them after waking up, but the main themes were there. As soon as I showered and could sit down to type out what I remembered, my fingers straight-up typed out what you see below without struggling to compose or edit as is typically the case with me and poetry. It was like somebody was live-streaming through me.

So here you have Ajna’s Song. Enjoy. I hope it speaks to whomever needs it.

Verse 1
A face is a beautiful thing,
Makes my heart wanna sing;
I don’t despise a pair of eyes,
a nose, and mouth that tell no lies.

Verse 2
Ears tuned to hear the harmonies
Of life blowing through the trees;
Faces tell the truth of One,
Reflect the beauties of the Son.

Somebody’s with you, somebody’s holding
      you are the apple of his eye –
Somebody sees you, somebody knows, his
      love for you is not a lie.
Somebody’s walking beside you
Somebody’s talking inside you.

Incarnation or nothing at all

godman“What could possibly be the point of a created universe entirely plunged in the darkness of unconsciousness, unable to know or appreciate that it is there at all?…The person is ultimately the key to why there is anything and not rather nothing.”
(W. Norris Clarke)

Clarke was a Catholic. Great mind. Loved engaging Hartshorne. Good banter back and forth. Here Clarke sees clearly that hypostatic-personal existence is the only consistently (Christian) theistic way to conceive of God’s purpose in any possible created order. The idea that God could have created any number of created orders, even some with no sentient beings at all, is complete, theological nonsense in light of Christology.

I wonder if ‘logic’ has been so divorced from theological conviction that theologians feel themselves forced to give an account of the faith in terms of innumerable ‘logically’ possible worlds, worlds the possibility of which have to be accounted for theologically so long as they generate no logical contradiction (strictly speaking) but which are unthinkable Christologically. This commits the Church to having to accommodate and understand herself in terms of possibilities which, Christologically speaking, are no possibilities at all, which can only undermine the Church’s vision of her identity and mission. My point is, the purpose of any creation, Christianly conceived, is “God all in all.” No creation could be intended for any other end, and that end is inconceivable apart from Incarnation.

Vita ex nihilo

val-hammond-coeurFor a moment, think of creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”) as vita ex nihilo (“living out of nothing”). It might let some light in on the what I’ve been trying to get at in exploring the Void.

In a comment intended to clarify the relation between the ‘natural’ and ‘gnomic’ will (between our ‘will’ as given and sustained by God as its ‘natural’ end, on the one hand, and its ‘deliberative’ capacity to determine itself relative to God, on the other), David Bentley Hart writes:

In the interval between these two movements [natural and gnomic] – both of which are rational – the rational soul becomes who God intends her to be or, through apostasy from her own nature, fabricates a distance between herself and God that is nothing less than the distance of dereliction. For, whatever we do, the desire of our natural will for God will be consummated; it will return to God, whether the gnomic will consents or not, and will be glorified with that glory the Son shares with the Father from eternity. And, if the gnomic will within us has not surrendered to its natural supernatural end, our own glorified nature becomes hell to us, that holy thing we cannot touch. Rejection of God becomes estrangement from ourselves, the Kingdom of God within us becomes our exile, and the transfiguring glory of God within us – through our [gnomic] refusal to submit to love – becomes the unnatural experience of reprobabtion. God fashions all rational natures for free union with himself, and all of creation as the deathless vessel of his eternal glory. To this end, he wills that the dependent freedom of the creature be joined to his absolute freedom; but an indispensable condition of what he wills is the real power of the creature’s deliberative will to resist the irresistible work of grace.” (emphasis mine)

All I want to pick out from this is its perspective on hell as the unwilling soul’s experience of God’s glory and beauty. I believe this is the standard Orthodox view of hell. What constitutes the torment of hell is not any kind of absolute absence from God to which the wicked are exiled, but rather the presence of God revealed to a heart and mind unwilling to receive him. Hell is unwelcomed intimacy. (Think of Sartre’s play “No Exit” which tells the story of three people bereft of eyelids and condemned to spend eternity together in a single room, hence Sartre’s “Hell is other people.”) Similarly, hell is how those who refuse God’s beauty in this life experience the revelation of it within themselves in the next. Their posture with respect to God, not God’s with respect to them, is their self-determined agony.

I think this is a kind of general principle true of all our struggles and difficulties throughout life. I’m not interested here in the doctrine of hell per se. I’m more interested in the idea that we create torment for ourselves by misrelating “within” a certain truth of God’s glory and beauty. I’m wondering if some of the difficulty that my passibilist friends (those who believe we are in a position to diminish and improve God’s experienced beatitude) have with the notion of an undiminished divine beatitude might be a reluctance to embrace the Void, i.e., the truth of our nothingness and contingency. It’s a very peculiar sort of self-awareness that goes beyond any academic recognition that we are not eternal, or self-sufficient, and that we depend upon God as Creator.

We want to mean something, to be something permanent. Fair enough. That’s our ‘natural’ will/desire at work. But for passibilist believers, this natural desire precedes rather than follows the truth that grounds it, and when that happens we misconstrue our ‘meaning’ as the difference we make to God rather than the difference God makes to us and so misinterpret our God-given desire to make-meaning. We may recognize that we “live and move and have our being in God” (Acts 17.28), but we live by construing our fullest meaning otherwise, partly at least, as the sense or measure in which God lives and moves and has his being in us. So to be in the presence of a beauty and delight that doesn’t need us, that isn’t improved upon or completed by us, ends up being viewed by passibilists not as the fulfillment of desire but as its denial and so as a kind of torment. Such was my own experience.

This all makes me think of hell as passibilism’s last stand, as the experience of wanting to mean something prior to and independent of what God means (to himself and to us), of wanting one’s meaning to be a meaning one introduces into the Meaning-Maker (God) who is source and giver of life, as opposed to an utterly receptive mode of meaning-making as vita ex nihilo, i.e., as accepting and celebrating one’s existence as a mode of divine self-expression. When this is thought not to be enough, glory and beauty become torment.