Archive for August, 2009

Biblical Unitarianism Is Not Theological Rationalism

 

by Geert ter Horst

In the mind of Trinitarians Unitarianism is sometimes identified with theological rationalism, and there are Christian scholars who ascribe an Enlightenment mentality to those who reject trinitarian doctrine.[1] I think I can understand why this association is sometimes made. The motive for it seems to be twofold. The first motive why the association with rationalism is made is because a large section of those who hold unitarian beliefs are indeed rationalists who have departed from the biblical path of truth. They have left the biblical faith in the living G-d of Israel for a philosophical, often a deistic conception of the Deity.[2] The second motive, however, may be the following: When Christians begin to grasp the idea of a unitarian reading of Scripture, they are suddenly caught by a sense of simplicity and lucidity. They begin to discover that, in a certain measure, they can grasp what Scripture says, and the thick mist of traditional doctrine in this central domain of who or what is G-d starts to clear up for them.

However, after having perceived this clarity, they feel uneasy at first, because the unitarian hypothesis destroys the great dogmas of Church tradition, who were always presented to them to be accepted as “sacred mysteries of the faith”. Now these mysteries are exposed as human constructions and as not sacred at all. For true believers the recognition of this will always cause a sort of crisis accompanied by heavy emotions, because of their religious attachment to the person of Yeshua, who from childhood was venerated by them as divine, as being G-d Himself. The discovery that Yeshua is not G-d may result in a period of some bewilderment. If one is not determined to find out the truth, and has not a strong intellectual drive, one will probably give up when involved in this spiritual struggle. Religious ties to traditional doctrine are always very strong and, paradoxically, those who reject Unitarianism may often be not the more sincere believers. They reject it out of sincere, albeit mistaken, devotion.

This last mentioned state affairs may also contain one of the reasons why Unitarianism historically has at times indeed developed into rationalistic deviations, such as Deism and Universalism. It has attracted apostates and enemies of traditional Christianity, who were seduced to the conviction that, once the Trinity and the Incarnation were exposed as later Catholic additions and distortions of the Christian faith, the Virgin Conception of Messiah, the Atonement on the Cross — and, last but not least the Divine Inspiration of Scripture — had to be given up too.

In a biblical and messianic context it is essential, therefore, to emphasize that we are forced by Scripture, and by nothing else, to deny the doctrines of Yeshua’s Deity, the Incarnation (i.e. the doctrine that Yeshua is a G’d-man), and the Trinity. At some instances the authors of the One G’d one Lord book also show a certain tendency to glorify reason and science in an unbiblical manner, and to associate the Unitarian idea with the great discoveries of the Age of Enlightenment.[3] I think that one should be cautious here. Modern science has many aspects that are not biblical at all. I’m even inclined to the thought that science and technology as they exist now will not have a place in the Kingdom Age. Although this statement requires further study, it may be taken here for at least an indication that modern rationalism might not too quickly be equated with reason itself.

This leads me to a final thought on the theme of mystery. We as finite human beings will never be able to comprehend G’d. G’d will always remain a mystery for us, and escape our reason, even in the World to Come. As Unitarians we are not rationalists who, after having denied the illogical doctrine of the Trinity, can pretend to be able to comprehend G’d. This would be both illusionary and arrogant. The whole point, as I view it, is that a humble and unbiased reading and studying of Scripture leads to the rejection of the Trinity doctrine, in the same way as it leads to the rejection of for instance the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul. Of course a better understanding of Scripture implies a better understanding of G’d. But it does not imply a comprehension of the Infinite by limited human reason. In discussions with Trinitarians this should be kept in mind. Biblical Unitarians don’t want to diminish the greatness and glory of G’d, the unseizable mystery of his Being as the Origin of us and of all things. They only want to remove the absurdity and tastelessness of human doctrine, that dishonours Him.


[1] View for instance: “Distortian in Terms” In: Vern Sheridan Poythress, God-Centered Biblical Interpretation, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company — Phillipsburg, New Yersey 1999, at: http://www.frame-poythress.org/Poythress_books/GCBI/BG15DisT.htm ; Robert M. Prize, “Postmodern Unitarian Universalism” In: Religious Humanism XXXI, # 1&2, winter/spring 1997; at: RMP Theological Publications: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_unitar.htm

[2] Cf. “Retreat From Reason: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Influence on the Unitarian Church”, at: http://www.biblicalunitarian.com/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=49

[3] Cf. “The Rejection of both Scripture and Logic” (ch. 18, pp. 381-400) of: Mark H. Graeser, John A. Lynn, John W. Schoenheit, One God & One Lord: Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith, Christian Educational Services — indianapolis, Indiana 2003. Available at: http://www.christianeducational.org/bookpromo.html