[UPDATE THURS JAN 9, 2014 – 8:06PM: In light of new developments in this story, I have chosen to keep this posted but also point you to my new post — A cause for careful celebration?: On Phillips, Craig and Dean and Trinitarian Christianity. Please read it.]
Is the doctrine of the Trinity something worth standing resolute on anymore in the Southern Baptist Convention? The question, seemingly obvious among the people who turned back the liberal tide and fought for the inerrancy of Scripture 35 years ago, must be asked in the early days of 2014 when one looks at the schedule for the 2014 Empower Conference, an evangelism conference put on by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC).
Go ahead. Take a minute to look and then come back.
Let me just touch on a few of those names.
Alvin Reid got his M.Div. and Ph.D. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and now teaches at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS).
Ed Stetzer is President of Lifeway Research, a Visiting Professor at SEBTS, and Pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, TN.
Johnny Hunt is a former President of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Pastor of First Baptist Woodstock in Woodstock, GA.
Russell Moore is the former Dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) and is now President of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
Fred Luter is Pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, LA, and is currently serving his second term as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Phillips, Craig and Dean is a musical trio comprised of Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean which has won two Dove Awards and been nominated for nine. And they are modalists who deny the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
The fact Phillips, Craig and Dean deny the orthodox Christian doctrine is not news. Their modalist doctrines are well known and well established. For those who have never heard the word modalist before, it is essentially a teaching that states that the one true God manifests Himself in three different Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When God is the Father He is not manifesting Himself as the Son. When God is the Son He is not manifesting Himself as the Spirit. He is one God who uses different modes to manifest Himself.
Now that is a crude and unnuanced way to describe the doctrine, but it’s the correct way to understand it, and it falls well short of true Christian doctrine.
Historic Christian doctrine on the Trinity is that there is one God who eternally exists in three distinct Persons – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are co-equal and co-substantial — one in essence, substance, and nature.
Christians have for centuries recognized that an orthodox understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is a first-tier essential doctrine (i.e., necessary as to salvation), because an abandonment of this teaching denies what the Bible reveals about God Himself. Thus, to not hold to the Trinity as it has been defined here is not truly worship Yahweh, the God of the Bible.
Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria in the early fourth century, was the chief defender of Trinitarian church when the false teaching of modalism seriously infected the church due to the teachings of a man named Arius. Eventually, the Council of Nicea was convened in 325 over the Arian Controversy and the doctrine of the Trinity was codified, so to speak, in the Nicene Creed (although the controversy did not completely go away by any means).
In fact, modalism is alive and well today in Christendom, in spheres like “oneness Pentecostalism,” to which Phillips, Craig and Dean subscribe, and it was perhaps seen most clearly in early 2013 when pastors and evangelical leaders such as James MacDonald and Mark Driscoll welcomed modalist proponent and prosperity gospel teacher T.D. Jakes into MacDonald’s “Elephant Room 2.” Jakes was questioned very lightly on his beliefs regarding the Trinity. He never disavowed modalist teachings, and in the end MacDonald, Driscoll, and everyone else who participated in that event abdicated their God-given responsibility in Titus 1:9 to “Hold fast to sound doctrine” and “Refute those who contradict.”
But now the harsh reality that this modalistic elephant is alive and kicking in the Southern Baptist Convention is staring us in the face, as the President of our Convention, the President of another of our Convention’s entities, a former President of the Convention, two other employees of Convention entities (one of whom, Stetzer, is extremely influential at Lifeway), and numerous other pastors are locking arms with Phillips, Craig and Dean for the purpose of “evangelism.” Yes, Athanasius is no longer rebuking Arius [or Sabellius even — see the addendum below], refuting his false teaching. He’s shaking his hand and calling him, “Brother.”
I hope the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention rescinds their invitation to Phillips, Craig and Dean immediately and publicly admits to this horrible mistake. Either that or I hope every single Southern Baptist leader on that schedule, many of whom are paid by Cooperative Program dollars, cancels their part in the engagement and admits their mistake. Skeptically, I will not hold my breath.
One must wonder how deep the theological downgrade in the SBC is when our leaders, who all affirm the inerrancy of Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message, are willing to look the other way ON THE TRINITY!!! In a conference purporting to promote the proclamation of the gospel, one must wonder how that can really happen when the singers at this conference do not even affirm the doctrine of God.
It can’t. We cannot enlarge Christendom by diminishing the Christ.
AUTHOR’S ADDENDUM [MON JAN 6, 2014 – 11:55 AM]: This post was originally subtitled “Athanasius shakes hands with Arius in the Southern Baptist Convention.” I posted this very late last night (or very early this morning depending on your perspective). That’s no excuse for me misthinking, mistyping, misspeaking — however you want to put it. The Arian Controversy had to do with Arius’s teaching that the Son was subordinate to the Father in essence, not merely in the sense that Jesus submitted to the Father on earth. Modalism, otherwise known as Sabellianism, gets the latter name from the third century heretic Sabellius, who taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are merely the three ways God manifests Himself. I apologize for the error and regret any distraction it might pose from what I believe to be an important post for a very important issue.