Part 1 of this trilogy traced the history of the peculiar form of Christian monotheism — namely the concept of a triune God as three-in-one.The overall conclusion is that the Nicene Trinitarian formulation of three-in-one, consubstantial with the Father may have served as good politics and as orthodox theology (since 325 AD), but can not be explicitly scripturally grounded.
With Part 2, we stepped back yet further in time to the preserved writings of the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian New Testament. However, the New Testament gospels appear conflicted when it comes to the nature of the Godhead. Matthew gets us closest (but not all the way) to a Trinitarian formulation of the Nicene Creed; Mark gets us not very far at all; Luke and John take us perhaps half-way. John makes perhaps the most explicit statements of Jesus’ oneness with the Father, but complicates the issue by acknowledging we all are children of God.
The earlier Hebrew Scriptures (of the Old Testament) further blur the lines, especially with regard to the Spirit of God and even a fourth possible member of the Godhead – personified, for example, in the writings of King Solomon as the female sage of Wisdom. None of this is very satisfying to bolster a creed at the center of Christian belief and doctrine.
So, we are left with two questions posed at the outset of this trilogy:
- Is Christianity monotheistic or polytheistic?
- And, what does the answer to this question mean to the application of Christian faith and practice – day in and out?
Monotheistic or Polytheistic?
The answer appears to be: both and neither.
Even putting aside the contortions of Nicaea, the Godhead of Christianity is multiple – consisting of multiple divine entities likely including Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And possibly even a fourth in the form of Wisdom. Maybe others of whom we do not know?
However, if divinity with Christianity involves multiple entites, the supreme God nonetheless remains singular – in the being of Yahweh (of the Hebrew Scriptures) or God the Father (of the New Testament). All other entities of the Godhead are subordinate to the Father.
So, what does this mean for Christianity? Are we to believe and behave any different than if the Godhead were three-in-one?
Four thoughts come to mind:
1) For starters, we as “Christians” need to re-think the theological foundations of our faith and creed. Not the biblical foundations, but the theological foundations arising after the time of Jesus’ sojourn on earth and the subsequent generation of the apostolic era. And we should anticipate that the re-exploration of this old path may find us again discoverying some off-shoot trails long forgotten – including the items noted below.
2) Christians should find more common ground with their Jewish and Muslim cousins. Religious beliefs should not be expected to prove fully coterminous, but there will be much greater overlap – more common ground.
3) The result can be a more friendly interaction involving both marketplace competition and collaboration between the three great faiths of monotheism. No more crusader mentality of winner take all, everyone else be damned. We have much to learn from each other.
4) Christians can press toward reconciliation not only across faiths but even within the multi-stranded cacaphony of those followers of the Way. Across denominations including those too often dismissed as cults. There is all too much we all have yet to learn of the ineffable mysteries of the G-d, Allah (blessed be his name), our Father.
At this season of remembering the birth of one Jesus of Nazareth, re-claim the words of his mother, a Jewish girl revered by both Christian and Muslim traditions as she declares:
… And holy is His name.
And his mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
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