3F Various Other Errors
As if the last 5 posts weren't enough to expose Trichotomy for the false doctrine that it most definitely is, we will conclude this series today by looking at a few other assorted erroneous theological consequences of Trichotomy.
1. Let us consider first what Trichotomy means for the doctrine of regeneration. On the Trichotomist scheme, regeneration is the miracle which occurs when God gives us a new spirit, since we are spiritually dead. Christians are said to have a new life which unbelievers do not possess. God has given us a new spirit, or as some prefer to put it, God has created in us a new spirit. B.B. Warfield clearly saw the inherent theological flaw in the Trichotomist scheme. He writes, "Thus the man is not saved after all; a different newly created man is substituted for him. When the old man is got rid of - and that the old man has to be ultimately got rid of [we do] not doubt - the saved man that is left is not at all the old man that was to be saved, but a new man that has never needed saving." (B.B. Warfield, Review of "He That Is Spiritual," by Lewis Sperry Chafer.) Warfield's point, while apparently philosophically obtuse, is actually a very valid objection. If regeneration means that the "old man" who was me is no more and has been replaced by a "new man" by God's miraculous act of creating a new spirit, then I am no longer me. If I replace an apple tree with a cherry tree, I no longer have the same tree. In other words: I was not saved; I was made into a man that didn't even need to be saved.
2. Trichotomy also allows for the false doctrine of free-will. The body, since it is flesh, we are told tends toward evil - and we are said to be spiritually dead. But the soul remains magically unaffected by the Fall into sin, therefore it is able, when properly induced, to make a decision to accept Christ and savingly believe on Him. Trichotomist anthropology lets its adherents appear to take seriously the passages of Scripture which speak of men as dead in their fallen sinful condition, while at the same time, making full allowances for this Baal of free-will. In the final analysis, this makes man's will, and not God's grace, to be the final arbiter and determining factor of each man's eternal destiny. If we reject Trichotomy, we are left with a man who is composed of two elements, a body and a soul, both of which are ruined by sin. Thus any hope of salvation must reside in God's good pleasure and not in man's pretended abilities to do that which is diametrically opposed to his nature. Fish can't fly; neither can dead sinners resurrect themselves.
3. Trichotomy is responsible also for many of the more flagrant errors of Pentecostalism and Charismaticism. Let's consider the issue of Tongues again for a moment. If I edify myself by speaking in a language which my mind does not understand, why is an interpreter required by Paul when I do this in church? If I can edify myself by hearing my babbling of unintelligible syllables, why can't the rest of the church be edified by hearing the same uninterpreted things which edify me? This alone is sufficient to demolish the whole modern tongues-speaking movement. It is obvious from the text that the speaker understood what he was saying in a language he knew but with which the rest of his hearers were unlearned. This is why his understanding was unfruitful. He knew what he was saying, but no one else did. I speak Tagalog fluently. If I were to stand up in a small country church in rural America and speak in Tagalog, I may edify myself by the wondrous truths I was proclaiming, but my understanding would be unfruitful because no one else in the room would benefit from my understanding without an interpreter.
4. Another potential danger of Trichotomy is dualism. By elevating the "realm of the spirit" over the body, i.e., by understanding the spirit to be higher than the body and soul, one creates an unscriptural dichotomy between the material and immaterial. This is plain old Greek speculative philosophy. It pits spirit against soul and body in a way that is unjustifiable. Matter is not evil. God proved this by (1) creating it in the first place, (2) by the Incarnation, and (3) by the promise of resurrection. If matter is inherently evil, how can we maintain that a good God created it? This is exactly what the ancient dualistic heretics did. If the body, as matter, is inherently bad, how can we maintain that Christ took on human flesh? If Christ did not take on human flesh, we are still in our sins, because a hologram cannot die. If our bodies, as matter, are inherently bad, how can we hope for their resurrection? Killing a flawed inferior thing is a good thing. It does not gain dignity simply by being brought back to life. Let me anticipate a question here, too. Why, you might ask, is the soul considered with the body as part of the lower nature of man and not up with the spirit in the higher nature? It is for this reason. "The most familiar, but also the crudest form of Trichotomy is that which takes the body for the material part of man's nature, the soul as the principle of animal life, and the spirit as the God-related rational and immortal element in man" (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology).
You might object that no professing Christian holds to such false views of the body. I beg to differ. Even if Trichotomists denied belief in such propositions, this would not make them invalid consequences of their system, mind you. Once you divide man into superior and inferior parts - and you put soul and body down into the inferior category, you have nowhere to go logically but to dualism. If you pit the spirit against the soul as the animal life of the body, soul and body must be viewed, and accordingly treated, as inherently bad. This has been proven repeatedly by Church history. Monasticism is a case in point. Why did men and women deprive themselves of sleep and food? Why did Simon sit on the top of a pole for decades? Why did countless monks sleep on the ground and not in beds? Why did they wear hair shirts? Because they saw their bodies as part of a lower nature with the soul, that was necessary to keep under wraps if one was to nourish and nurture his higher, i.e., spiritual nature. Animals eat, drink, bathe, breed, sleep, etc. If we are higher than animals, and the soul is the animal life of the body, then these impulses must be subdued if one wishes to be spiritual. Why was poverty considered such a noble state? To read some of the medieval mystics, or John Wesley for that matter, you'd think that being poor was already a deeply spiritual accomplishment on its own. If one had to choose between poverty and even sufficient provisions, there was no doubt in these people's minds that poverty was the more spiritual option. This foolishness is also what was behind the whole celibacy movement as well. How could a person who enjoys the bodily pleasures associated with the marriage bed be as spiritual as one who has deprived himself of such? Again, nothing in Scripture even remotely suggests that we should ask this question.
5. There is another potential Trinitarian error inherent in Trichotomy. If you recall when we dealt with the false teaching of the 'carnal Christian,' we quoted Chuck Smith, an advocate of such teaching, as saying, "We meet God in the realm of our spirit." Many people have misunderstood John's phrase "in the Spirit" (Revelation 1:10) to be describing a different realm or dimension of reality. This is an extremely dangerous idea. It depersonalizes the Holy Spirit into a 'force' or a 'dimension.' Think of Frank Peretti's novels. There is the realm of the physical and a spiritual realm in which is mirrored all the events of the physical realm. This spawned all the strange idea current in our days regarding 'spiritual warfare.' Christians, through mind-denigrating spiritual exercises can somehow influence unseen things in this spiritual realm, which in turn, impact events in the physical realm. There is nothing new under the sun. The Manicheans of old held the same view of reality. By referring to the Spirit as a realm, the Trinity is denied. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God is one, and that He exists in one divine Essence, yet subsists in three Persons. 'Person' is the operative word. A realm is not a person. This seems to me to be latently pantheistic. Pantheism is the belief that God is the sum total of all existence. In other words, everything is God and God is everything. If my spirit and your spirit and God's Spirit are a realm, then they are all by definition one common realm of common experience for us all - which means that my spirit and God's are essentially the same thing. How can I distinguish my own spirit from God's? This is pantheism. If my spirit is a dimension or realm for experiencing the divine and your spirit is an entirely different realm, then there could be no talk of a "realm of the spirit." We would have to allow for an innumerable multitude of these "realms." But no one speaks this way. Trichotomists constantly and consistently speak of one "realm of the spirit." This has at least a tinge of pantheism in it. Therefore it is no surprise when the spiritual exercises proposed to nurture the spirit are identical, whether they be "Christian" or Pantheist. It also explains why their form of the spiritual gift of a "words of knowledge" looks suspiciously like mind-reading or a Vulcan mind-meld. We reiterate: the Holy Spirit is not a realm, a force, or a dimension of experience. Speaking this way is an implicit denial of the Trinity. Incautiousness in speech begets wrong ideas; wrong ideas beget false doctrine; false doctrine begets more false doctrine; and false doctrine damns, especially when it spawns idolatrous notions about the Godhead. Other doctrines may be negotiable; doctrines about God and His nature are not.