A Special Kind Of Arrogance
There is a special kind of arrogance that can look over more than a millennium of church history and theological development and say; “No, you’ve got it all wrong.” Yet, that is exactly what Ryan Hedrich and Drake Shelton have done. But they don’t just say this about some obscure or nonessential doctrine. They argue that theologians throughout church history have been completely wrong about the Trinity and that Christians everywhere should reject it. They say it is “false” to say that God is one being that consists of Three Persons, a belief held by all Christians everywhere and for all time. They say that rather than the belief that God is Triune, an idea they claim is “irrational” and nothing more than warmed over “Sabellianism,” the Father alone is the one true God and to Him alone is due all of our praise and worship. While Shelton admits he is a Unitarian (although he prefers to say he’s a Unitarian with a lowercase “u”), Hedrich wants to pretend he’s really a Trinitarian (I assume with a lowercase “t”).
To create this illusion that either Hedrich or Shelton are even remotely or nominally Trinitarian, they maintain that the Son and Spirit are divine persons in a limited and restricted sense as they lack self-existence and authority in themselves. Instead the Son and Spirit derive their existence from the Father who then delegates his authority to them. Neither the Son nor the Spirit are “autotheos” or God of themselves. Their divinity is derived and contingent on the Father’s essential and supreme divinity. According to Hedrich and Shelton only the Father can be called God in the fullest sense and the Son and Spirit are merely his messengers or servants both of whom act as pointers or emissaries leading people to the “one true God the Father.” Ryan calls Jesus Christ a “vicegerent,” which means that he is God’s deputy who exercises power delegated to him by the Father and something He lacks intrinsically and in himself. Shelton refers to Jesus as an “icon” who is not strictly speaking God incarnate (which in his warped mind would mean the Father is incarnate), but rather is “the representative of God on earth who has de jure authority over all men.” The important thing to keep in mind is that when these men say “God” they mean “the Father.”
One of the results of this subordination of the Son in being and power can be seen in a recent piece defending Hedrich’s rejection of the historic Christian faith that appeared on Shelton’s blog, Nonexistent Light. Wedged in between some of the most detestable and vile racism littered throughout Shelton’s blog, Mark Xu defends Hendirch’s semi-Arianism proclaiming:
…the unity of Godhead is God the Father, as the fountain and source of deity, the only true God, the supreme governor of the universe and the ultimate object of our worship. To him be glory for ever and ever Amen.
Think about for a moment. According to Xu the Father is the proper and ultimate object of all our praise and worship and not the Son and Spirit as co-equal Persons of the Godhead. The unity of the Godhead is not the attributes or essence the Three share together, rather two Persons are united in one supreme Person. God the Father is exclusively “the one true God,” which clearly eliminates God the Son and God the Spirit from ontologically sharing in that title “the one true God.” When I asked Hedrich if he agrees with this little piece of blasphemy offered in his defense he said; “I agree with Mark.” Consequently, and if we’re to believe Hedrich, Christians are either sinfully wrong or simply deceived when they sing:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessèd Trinity!
Silly Christians. Yet, in Scripture we see many examples where Jesus is the direct object of worship without objection, qualification, or reservation. For example:
(Mat 2:2) “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.”
(Mat 2:11) And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
(Mat 14:33) And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
(John 9:38) And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
(Luke 24:51, 52) And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
(Heb 1:6) And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.”
These verses can be multiplied many times over, but the interesting thing is that in every instance where we see men and women bowing down before Jesus and worshiping Him as their Lord and their God never once does He stop to correct them or tell them to worship the Father instead. He never once tells them that their worship is misdirected and he never points them to the Father alone as the proper or ultimate object of worship. Instead Jesus says “I and the Father are one.” In doing so he claims to be the Father’s equal in every way even commanding that all men should honor him “even as they honor the Father” and adds; “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).
Sadly, Hedrich’s failure to honor the Son while thinking he is honoring the Father stems from a complete misreading of the Nicene fathers and Athanasius in particular. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this is the fact that all of church history, including the entirety of the Reformed tradition, stand in direct opposition to Hedrich. Yet, this observation hardly gives this proud young man even the slightest pause. But unlike “Athanasius contra mundum,” Hendich remains “contra Athanasius.” At the heart of Henrich’s departure from the faith lies the misplaced belief that the eternal generation of the Son necessitates the ontological and authoritative subordination of the Son to the Father, but that is precisely the opposite of what Athanasius taught and what the Nicene creed affirmed. For Hedrich, just as we derive out existence from our human parents, the Son as the only begotten of the Father derives his existence and divinity in a similar fashion, but that kind of one to one comparison is what the Nicene fathers wanted to avoid. The irony is if Hedrich is correct then Athanasius would be advocating the very subordinationism he was opposing in his fight against the Arians and semi-Arians.
In his De Synodis, Athanasius explains:
Accordingly, as in saying ‘offspring,’ we have no human thoughts, and, though we know God to be a Father, we entertain no material ideas concerning Him, but while we listen to these illustrations and terms, we think suitably of God, for He is not as man, so in like manner, when we hear of ‘coessential,’ we ought to transcend all sense, and, according to the Proverb, ‘understand by the understanding what is set before us’ (Proverbs 23:1); so as to know, that not by will, but in truth, is He genuine from the Father, as Life from Fountain, and Radiance from Light. Else why should we understand ‘offspring’ and ‘son,’ in no corporeal way, while we conceive of ‘coessential’ as after the manner of bodies? Especially since these terms are not here used about different subjects, but of whom ‘offspring’ is predicated, of Him is ‘coessential’ also. And it is but consistent to attach the same sense to both expressions as applied to the Saviour, and not to interpret ‘offspring’ in a good sense, and ‘coessential’ otherwise; since to be consistent, you who are thus minded and who say that the Son is Word and Wisdom of the Father, should entertain a different view of these terms also, and understand Word in another sense, and Wisdom in yet another. But, as this would be absurd (for the Son is the Father’s Word and Wisdom, and the Offspring from the Father is one and proper to His essence), so the sense of ‘Offspring’ and ‘Coessential’ is one, and whoso considers the Son an offspring, rightly considers Him also as ‘coessential.’
For Athanasius the idea of the Second Person being called the “Son” or even “Offspring” is not to be understood literally or an any “corporeal” or “material” sense, or more simply after the manner of men. That’s because while names like “Son” and “Offspring” individuate the Son from the Father and thereby avoid any hint of modalism, the Son is coessential and is of the same being (homoousios) as the Father without any equivocation or parsing of the word “God.” To argue otherwise would be to violate Athanasius’ own rule and that “the same things are said of the Son which are said of the Father except for calling him Father.” To put it another way, the idea that the Son is the Father’s “offspring” is not meant to be understood as dividing the essence as Hedrich and Shelton have done, rather it is a means of differentiating the Persons within the Godhead. This also goes to the idea of the so-called “Monarchy of the Father,” another distorted and ancient error being advanced by Hedrich and Shelton.
According to Athanasius, while the eternal generation of the Son is intended to individuate the Persons of the Godhead, it is the Godhead considered as “the eternal triad” that is the “monarche” or source of the essential divinity of the Persons and not the Father exclusively. Athanasius argues there is “a Holy Trinity but one Godhead and one beginning [arche], and that the Son is co-essential with the Father … while the Holy Spirit [is] proper to and inseparable from the essence of the Father and the Son.” He also says elsewhere:
…but we must believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Christ Jesus His Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and hold that to the God of the universe the Word is united. For ‘I,’ says He, ‘and the Father are one’; and, ‘I in the Father and the Father in Me.’ For thus both the Divine Triad, and the holy preaching of the Monarchy, will be preserved – Defense of the Nicene Definition.
This is why T. F. Torrance said that for Athanasius the monarche “is identical with the Trinity.” Whereas Hedrich and Shelton maintain that the monarche is the Father alone. This is why all of Hedrich’s prattle about the Father and Son sharing the same divine attributes or essence is a load of deceptive claptrap simply because he maintains that the Son lacks the divine attribute of self-existence and is eternally subordinate in authority to the Father.
Interestingly, and in response to another group of schismatic trouble-making subordinationists lead by some pathetic papist loon who goes by the name, “Phantaz Sunlyk,” Kevin Giles writes:
The one thing that upsets Sunlyk more than anything else is that I do not endorse the monarchy (sole rule) of the Father, or that the Father is the monarche (sole source) of the being of the Son and the Spirit. He comes back to this matter time and time again . . . All subordinationists want to give some priority to the Father so that the Son then stands under him. This involves separating and dividing the Father and the Son and invariably when this is done their relationship is described as “asymmetrical” … The Cappadocians make the Father the monarche (sole source) of the being of the Son and the Spirit but they do everything they can to eliminate subordinationism. The divine three are one in being, one in operations/works/functions, one in authority and they interpenetrate one another. They insist that there is no hierarchical ordering in the Trinity although they teach that the divine three work in an orderly manner. However many of the most scholarly studies by Western theologians point out that conceptually this view of the Father can lead to subordinationism … Sunlyk claims that if any Western theologian questions the monarchy of the Father he must be a contemporary Protestant [if only that were the case - SG]. This is simply not true. Edmund Fortman, a learned orthodox Roman Catholic commenting on just this issue says, “This approach is entirely orthodox and has many advantages, but if ineptly handled it can easily involve subordinationism” (The Triune God, 282). He expresses my views entirely. The Catholic theologian L Boff (Trinity and Society, p 83) makes exactly the same point and with a little work I could find other Catholics questioning the theological merit of the idea that the Father is the monarche of the being of the Son and Spirit. [For Gile's complete response to Sunlyk see here. Pay particular attention to Gile's description of Sunlyk as this guy could be Shelton's identical twin] .
Also interesting, and as mentioned in a previous piece, this subordination of the Son to the Father creates a distorted lens by which all Scripture is read, or, more precisely, twisted. One example of this is found right in the creation account in Genesis 1:26 where we read; “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” I don’t think it is a stretch to say that Christians have universally and throughout church history viewed this verse as the earliest expression of the plurality of the Persons of the Godhead found in Scripture. Yet, and I suppose not surprisingly, Hedrich rejects completely the traditional Christian understanding of this verse and joins himself with assorted Arians and other Christ denying Unitarians by responding to this verse by saying:
Do you know what a majestic plural is? Read Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7, and Isaiah 6:8, and tell me if those passages each exclusively refer to the divine persons. If not, then tell me how you can infer that the action taking place is by a God who is multiple persons rather than a God who is a numerically singular person addressing His court in the royal “we.”
I for one would maintain that all of the verses Hedirch attributes to “a numerically singular person addressing His court in the royal ‘we’” are to be understood as Old Testament Trinitarian expressions of the plurality of the Godhead.
Concerning Genesis 1:26, and Hedrich’s so-called “royal we,” Calvin writes:
Although the tense here used is the future, all must acknowledge that this is the language of one apparently deliberating. Hitherto God has been introduced simply as commanding; now, when he approaches the most excellent of all his works, he enters into consultation. God certainly might here command by his bare word what he wished to be done: but he chose to give this tribute to the excellency of man, that he would, in a manner, enter into consultation concerning his creation . . . But since the Lord needs no other counsellor, there can be no doubt that he consulted with himself. The Jews make themselves altogether ridiculous, in pretending that God held communication with the earth or with angels . . . Others who deem themselves more acute, but are doubly infatuated, say that God spoke of himself in the plural number, according to the custom of princes. As if, in truth, that barbarous style of speaking, which has grown into use within a few past centuries, had, even then, prevailed in the world. But it is well that their canine wickedness has been joined with a stupidity so great, that they betray their folly to children. Christians, therefore, properly contend, from this testimony, that there exists a plurality of Persons in the Godhead. God summons no foreign counsellor; hence we infer that he finds within himself something distinct; as, in truth, his eternal wisdom and power reside within him.
Seems that Hedrich has some company even if they’re all in the wolf family. Also, commenting on this verse Athanasius says:
We, on the contrary, regard Him not as simply God’s pronounced word or mental, but as Living God and Word, existing in Himself, and Son of God and Christ; being and abiding with His Father before ages, and that not in foreknowledge only , and ministering to Him for the whole framing whether of things visible or invisible. For He it is, to whom the Father said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness ‘ Genesis 1:26, who also was seen in His own Person by the patriarchs, gave the law, spoke by the prophets, and at last, became man, and manifested His own Father to all men, and reigns to never-ending ages. For Christ has taken no recent dignity, but we have believed Him to be perfect from the first, and like in all things to the Father.
In addition to seeing the Son clearly in Genesis 1:26, notice too that for Athanasius the Son is “existing in Himself.” Sounds like aseity to me. Christ is “like in all things to the Father” which includes self-existence. Or, going back to Athanasius’ rule, a rule Hedrich rejects along with sound exegesis of critical OT Trinitarian passages, “the same things are said of the Son which are said of the Father except for calling him Father.”
Interesting, I asked Ryan if he affirms the Athanasian creed which reads in part:
Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit: And yet there are not three eternal beings, but one who is eternal; as there are not three uncreated and unlimited beings, but one who is uncreated and unlimited.
Almighty is the Father; almighty is the Son; almighty is the Spirit: And yet there are not three almighty beings, but one who is almighty.
Thus the Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God: And yet there are not three gods, but one God.
Thus the Father is Lord; the Son is Lord; the Holy Spirit is Lord: And yet there are not three lords, but one Lord.
As Christian truth compels us to acknowledge each distinct person as God and Lord, so catholic religion forbids us to say that there are three gods or lords.
The Father was neither made nor created nor begotten; the Son was neither made nor created, but was alone begotten of the Father; the Spirit was neither made nor created, but is proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Thus there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.
And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons.
Whoever wants to be saved should think thus about the Trinity.
While I would encourage people to read the creed in its entirety, here is what R.C. Sproul says of the creed:
The content of the Athanasian Creed stresses the affirmation of the Trinity in which all members of the Godhead are considered uncreated and co-eternal and of the same substance. In the affirmation of the Trinity the dual nature of Christ is given central importance. As the Athanasian Creed in one sense reaffirms the doctrines of the Trinity set forth in the fourth century at Nicea, in like manner the strong affirmations of the fifth-century council at Chalcedon in 451 are also recapitulated therein… Though the Athanasian Creed does not get as much publicity in Protestant churches, the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation are affirmed by virtually every historic Protestant church.
So, what was Hedrich’s answer to the question whether or not he could affirm this creed, a creed “affirmed by virtually every historic Protestant church”? His answer, not surprisingly, was an emphatic “no” and he writes:
There is indeed not one eternal but three, not one omniscience but three. Have you accepted numeric unity after all? Is there but one Trinitarian mind and will?
Now, whether or not I have “accepted numeric unity” or not (although I’m not sure why it would be a sin if I had), or whether Hedrich even has any understanding of numeric as opposed to generic unity as it relates to the Trinity (he doesn’t), the more important question is why does he continue to pretend that he is a Trinitarian? The reason is simple and that’s because if labels like Unitarian or even semi-Arian were to fit, and they do, not even the most witless Christian, much less anyone who considers themselves a Scripturalist, would ever join Hedrich and his fellow canines in their wickedness and stupidity.Explore posts in the same categories: Heresies