Sunday, 10 January 2016

Confronting modalism in contemporary church - terms of engagement

I have interacted with Christian philosopher Dale Tuggy over here regarding a post he made around the Christmas period (scroll down to comments)

Tuggy uses a so-called evangelical prayer as a foundation to a post about the incoherency of such a prayer; but I challenge the foundation of the post. One of my personal shifts over the last few months is a deep desire not to fight mainstream church doctrine, such as the two wills of Christ (which is probably a waste of time), but to focus on something I know that in principle the church should agree on, and this is because I love the Bible, I believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as foundational to Christian faith and somehow I want to serve, not just ponder. That "something" is modalism, and as far as I can tell, it is not something that the church views as very problematic. In fact it may not be - a lot of churches do take seriously the distinctions between Father, Son and Spirit and make concerted efforts to maintain those distinctions. Traditional churches are often stronger in that area than more modern ones, especially those that don't place the Word of God at their core. So I confess that I am an "antimodalist". I hate the confusion. I feel saddened and dismay that the entire prayer life of Christ with his Father, its depth, sincerity, profoundness, should be reduced to a mere stage-show. I am perplexed as to how the Father in particular, the one who is most clearly synonymous with G-O-D has slipped out of focus as a person, along with unspeakable pain of sending his son to die, Abraham-style. I am baffled that even learned people I respect can offhand state publicly that "God is a person", when Trinitarian Christian teaching emphasises that there is not one person but three at the heart of Christian faith.

So where is the disagreement between me and Tuggy? Read the comments and you will see, but if we are to seriously confront an issue, re-fabricated prayers won't cut it. He seems to claim that evangelical modalists would understand the Father as dying for them after making sensible initial distinctions about the Father sending his Son. Not only do I think that would feel quite unnatural to an evangelical, even one whose eyes are closed to the distinctions running throughout the New Testament, but from my own experience and also study of modern worship lyrics, it is simply rarely the case to speak of more than one Member of the Trinity, because it does not fit at all well in modalist boxes. So for me, while I see Tuggy's point as of huge importance to the evangelical church, his example was weird and therefore not compelling, so I called him up on it.

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