At a glance guide to some of the most common heresies of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Last night I’m at dinner with three good friends.
Friend One pipes up and mentions his wife gave him William P. Young’s The Shack for Christmas.
He says he read it in two days. Says it was deep.
Friend Two says, “Really? Tell me why you thought it was deep.”
Naturally–having written a not-so-nice review of The Shack–I was interested, too.
I nod, urging Friend One on.
Long story short, Friend One feels that for the first time he understands the Trinity.
Makes sense. We all nod in agreement. He’s a new Christian.
But there’s a problem.
Modalism: Woefully Inadequate View No. 1
The Trinity is a thorny, painfully controversial doctrine. So, it’s hardly surprising that a variety of creative ideas on the Trinity should develop over time. Including William P. Young’s version.
What is modalism? Modalism says that God is one person who works in three different modes.
Tertullian labeled this movement Patripassianism and blasted its founder Sabellius by saying, “he drove away prophecy, and he brought in heresy; he put to flight the Paraclete, and he crucified the Father.”
Tertullian’s point: Stacked next to Bible, modalism is a seriously inadequate view of the Trinity.
9 More Woefully Inadequate Views of the Trinity
But modalism is just one unorthodox view of the Trinity you should be aware of. Here’s an at-a-glance guide of 9 more.
1. Tritheism says that the three beings presented by the Bible–the Father, Son and Spirit–are three separate gods. Few people–if any–hold this belief out right. Most people slip into this error by their careless language of the Godhead.
2. Arianism–condemned at the Council of Nicea in 325 A. D.–affirms Jesus’ humanity but denies His deity. Arius, a 4th Century Christian priest in Alexandria, Egypt, said Jesus was almost, though not fully, divine, so not equal to the Father.
3. Docetism affirms Jesus’ deity but diminishes his humanity. Docetists believed that Jesus’ body was an illusion. Thus, his crucifixion was an illusion. Largely died out in the first millennium, although the Qur’an teaches that Jesus’ crucifixion was an illusion, too.
4. Nestorianism affirmed two natures of Christ, which is orthodox. But it also affirms two people are Christ, which is not. The heretical thought here is that the human Christ–not the divine Christ–died on the Cross. The Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned this heresy.
5. Monophysitism mingles the two natures of Christ–divine and human–saying he has only one nature. This makes Him the uncreated created and the infinite finite being. A ridiculous contradiction. Rejected at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
6. Subordinationism–held by notable early church fathers like Justin Martyr and Origen–was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381 A. D. It asserted that Jesus’ nature was subordinate to God’s. The truth is, Jesus’ function is subordinate. But not his nature.
7. Monarchianism neglects Christ’s deity by saying that Jesus was only a power or influence sent from God. Modalists are one of the main groups of monarchiasts. Adoptionsits are the other.
8. Adoptionism said that Jesus was only a man who was adopted by God because of His divine powers. Adoptionist say this occurred when God declared from heaven “This is my son” in Matthew 3:17.
9. Binitarianism claims that there are only two persons in the Godhead. Some people will fall into this category by denying the deity of Christ. Others deny the personality of the Holy Spirit. Both the embraced this view.
Why is This the Least Bit Important?
Listen: The correct understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is central to the preaching of the salvation gospel of Christ.
What Do You Think?
Is William P. Young guilty of modalism? Does a correct understanding of the Trinity even matter? Do you even care?
**Part of the Thoroughly Painless Guide to the Doctrine of God’s Trinity series.**