Part 3: The dangers and heretical dangers of a tripartite understanding of human nature.
Part 3A: Modalism
I will not mask my excitement at finally getting to this point. As I said in the first post in this series, it was very tempting to launch into a full-on polemic. But I felt it would be a wiser approach to deal with the subject by starting with what the Scriptures actually say and teach. After all, this is what matters, not opinions or theories.
We have probably all heard someone wax eloquent on the doctrine of the Trinity and use man’s tri-partite nature as an illustration. There are many flaws in this analogy. First of all, it does not come from Scripture. Nowhere does Scripture present man as a three-part being mirroring God’s Triune nature. And there is good reason why Scripture doesn’t use this analogy: it is false. Let’s just pretend for the moment that I am composed of three parts. How does this mirror the Trinity? I am not three persons! This is a horrible analogy. And if more people were familiar with Church history, they would know that that very analogy was proposed by heretics in the first few centuries of the Church and condemned as heretical.
Instead of being an analogy for the Trinity, this convoluted illustration actually denies the Trinity. If I am body, soul and spirit, I am still me. I am not three persons. The Trinity is not one person with three parts. This is a heresy known as Modalism. It asserts that the Father, Son and Spirit are all really just one Person who reveals Himself in three different modes. The “body, soul and spirit” illustration of the Trinity is blatantly heretical. If a person believes this about God, he cannot possibly be a Christian. He is an idolater who has substituted for the Triune God of the Bible a fiction of his own weak imagination.
I have encountered another variation of this modalistic version of the Trinity. It goes like this: I am a father; I am a son; and I am also a husband. Again, this is a horrendously false illustration because I am NOT three persons – just one. Moreover, I am also a cousin, grandson, uncle, nephew, brother and a second cousin twice removed. Does this therefore mean that Benny Hinn’s idiotic 9 person trinity is correct?
A couple of years ago, I was engaged in something of a debate on a Facebook group page on this subject. I noted that Charles Hodge vociferously handled Trichotomy as a heresy. The person with whom I was engaged in this discussion responded that none of the heretical views which Hodge tied to Trichotomy were held by anyone today. The insinuation was that maybe in Hodge’s day Trichotomy led to heresy, but no one today held those particular heretical views. I think this misses the point, not to mention the fact that all of these heretical views are widely espoused today, just under different names and forms. It misses the point however by failing to realize that Hodge’s inferences were valid even if his examples were straw men (which they weren’t).
Modalism is not some bizarre teaching from the early days of the Church. It is alive and kicking in the form of T.D. Jakes' theology and that of his fellow Oneness Pentecostals.