Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Trichotomy is Wrong 3 D, The Errors It Spawns

3D. Anti-intellectualism

This is a very difficult subject to handle for two reasons. First, it is very hard to talk about the anti-intellectualism that Trichotomy is responsible for without sounding uncharitable. I have a natural sarcastic streak in me anyway, and much of what passes for Evangelical teaching literally begs to be made fun of. So I admit that it is very hard to demonstrate how this anti-intellectualism works without sounding unnecessarily harsh. Secondly, much of this same teaching is clearly Gnostic in origin. I plan to treat Gnosticism as a separate offspring of Trichotomy.

I have argued already that Scripture teaches that cognitive understanding is in one's spirit, thus further demonstrating the proposition we already made that the Bible uses soul and spirit interchangeably. It is important to remember this while we proceed.

How does Trichotomy breed anti-intellectualism? And even if it does, is this wrong? First of all, we must answer that, yes, it is wrong because Christ explicitly commands us to love God with all of our mind. A love for God which neglects the mind is disobedient at best. But how does Trichotomy cause this to happen? Popular Pentecostal teaching provides the best example of how this happens.

When I was a Pentecostal I was taught that by praying in 'tongues' I could nurture my spirit and grow. I remember explicitly an occasion when a woman I knew testified to me how she had experienced a period of prodigious spiritual growth when she made it a point to pray in tongues daily for an extended period of time. Never mind how she knew that she had grown spiritually, let's just ask how this is supposed to have worked. According to this theory, while one is praying in tongues, one's spirit is saying things and asking God for things of which the mind is unaware. Thus God, answering these prayers, grants phenomenal spiritual growth to someone who hasn't the foggiest clue of what he/she has asked God for in prayer. A weird idea indeed. Where does such a strange notion come from, you ask? It comes from a Trichotomist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:14, which reads, "my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful." The Trichotomist reads this to mean that the man is uttering things which his mind does not understand. So the Trichotomist claims that his spirit speaks in a heavenly language which completely bypasses the mental understanding of his soul. Furthermore, he assumes that back in verse 2 of chapter 14, when Paul speaks of mysteries, he is referring to these deep secrets that are in his unintelligible utterances in tongues.

To call this heretical is understatement. First of all, "mystery" is used in Scripture in a way that is completely different from contemporary Trichotomist usage. Throughout the New Testament, the word musterion, (mystery) is consistently used in reference to the Gospel of Christ which was hidden in ages past, but which is now clearly revealed to the Church. See Matthew 13:10, Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10; Romans 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:51; Ephesians 3:2-6; and Colossians 1:25-27. Jesus and Paul invariably use the term in reference to revelational truth which, though hidden in the past, is now revealed and understood. This is diametrically opposite to the way Trichotomists use the word.

Tie these strands all together and here's what you get: The mind is denigrated. Our spirit gets fed and strengthened by circumventing the mind. Therefore to be truly spiritual one must be anti-intellect and anti-doctrine. It is not uncommon for Pentecostals to be told that they need to spend less time reading and studying and more time learning to "operate in the spirit." Anti-intellectualism runs rampant through the Pentecostal and Charismatic world as a direct result of their Trichotomist anthropology. Authors like Andrew Murray and Watchman Nee, who are popular among Pentecostals and Charismatics, have promulgated Trichotomy to the Evangelical world and have corrupted Christian piety by juxtaposing "soul" to "spirit," thus affirming that the intellect hinders true spirituality. Thus the only way to grow spiritually is to 'crucify' the flesh and the soul life.

How has this been borne out in the Church's experience? The Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms for which our forefathers labored so vigorously and for which they gave their lives are virtually unknown in both name and content. Doctrinal teaching, intended to educate Christians on the content of their faith has been ousted in favor of practical teaching. I regularly receive Christian book catalogues and I am constantly amazed at how many books come with a DVD and curriculum intended to help the readers learn how to 'put into practice' the things they have learned from the book. This is substituting Law for Grace. B.B. Warfield rightly criticized the 'coterie' of Keswick teachers for this very reason. Though many of these men were ostensible Calvinists, their Trichotomist anthropology led them straight into the Arminian form of the doctrine of sanctification. I cannot count how many times I have heard the validity of doctrinal study questioned because the student might not put it into practice. Being unsure of how to put the doctrine of the Trinity into practice, they assume that is a mere piece of speculation that is not practically important for Christian living. Countless other biblical doctrines are treated with the same disdain.

I don't want to poison myself. Lysol is poisonous. I know this. Therefore, I don't drink Lysol. That's just how it works. Life is affected by what we believe. Hence it is important that we believe aright. Idolatry is a damnable sin. Idolaters will be cast into the lake of fire. Entertaining false ideas about God is idolatry. Therefore it is important to engage one's mind when reading Scripture so that Scripture correctly informs our minds about God.

Further, think of some of the strange things to have come out of the Charismatic movement. Benny Hinn claims that Adam could fly and that he actually flew in outer space and even went to the moon. Morris Cerrulo and others of his ilk, claim to be gods. Kenneth Copeland claims that Christians have the same creative power as God does to speak things into existence. This is why 'confession' is such a big deal among the Word of Faith types. We all remember Benny Hinn claiming that the Trinity was actually composed of 9 Persons. John Hagee teaches that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. Recently some goof of a preacher prayed at a Nascar event and thanked God for his "smokin' hot wife." I could go on and on and on and on and on. I am not exaggerating what these people teach. This stuff is sheer and utter stupidity! But this is exactly what happens when we check our brains at the church door. I heard a preacher once point out a man in the audience and tell him that God had spoken that he was to give the preacher $50. The man complied without hesitation. I saw Tammy Faye talk a diamond ring off a lady's finger. Anyone who falls for that nonsense deserves to be deceived! And these people pride themselves on their discernment!

I recently saw a video wherein Mark Driscoll was describing his "gift of discernment." He described having a screen in his head (figuratively speaking) on which he 'saw' things. Where in Scripture is discernment described this way? Again, stupidity! The Greek word for discern is diakrino. It derives from dia, which means 'through' and krino, which primarily means 'distinguish,' or 'decide,' but also has, by implication, the meanings 'think, judge, and question'  - all of which are mental activities. Here we see more ridiculous consequences of Trichotomy: Discernment is placed in the 'spirit,' completely divorced from any action of the mind. But the mind is precisely where Scripture places discernment. I mean, think about it. How can you think about something, ponder its ramifications, weigh its evidence, question its reasonableness, distinguish among its aspects and decide in favor of it or against it  WITHOUT YOUR MIND? Sheesh!

Try to correct one of these people's doctrine and you'll get a crash course on anti-intellectualism. They'll tell you, "I hear what you're saying. I'm gonna go home and pray about this and see what the Holy Spirit tells me about these verses." Oh, it sounds humble, but in fact it is rank pride. Trichotomy gives men an excuse to reject the time-honored stance of the Church on doctrinal issues as affirmed in the creeds and confessions. It breeds individualism (just me and the Bible) and ignores the covenantal and corporate aspects of the Spirit's work. It substitutes some indefinable 'impression' in one's spirit for the authoritative statements of Scripture. We are to form our beliefs based on what saith the Scripture, not on what the Spirit impresses upon us. Trichotomy puts us in the driver's seat.


  1. Amen to this post, Andy. You've hit the issue spot on.

  2. Thanks, Charlie. I am still going to treat the mysticism/gnosticism that trichotomy breeds on Friday. Then on Monday I'm winding this series up by looking at all of the other various errors this stuff leads to.


Visitor Counter

Flag Counter