No Burning at the Stake in Moscow's Friendship Square
Nick Gier printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 03:41:21 PM EST
This is Part Two in a series on Douglas Wilson's religious empire. Part One was posted along with an introduction to Wilson & Co. on December 28, 2007


Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus, University of Idaho

In my study of the Christian religion over 40 years, there is one principle that has tested true time and time again: those who claim to be the true Christians are definitely not.  Christians who follow our local pastor Douglas Wilson have inspired me to add a corollary to this principle: those Christians who talk the most about the Trinity are the ones who have the poorest conception of it.

I studied theology with Trinitarians in graduate school and I've taught with many of them as well. My Lutheran colleagues in the theological faculties at Heidelberg, Aarhus, and Copenhagen were fervent Trinitarians.  

None of these fine Christians used the Trinity as a club to hit me over the head and to tell me that I, as a Unitarian, could be nothing but a conformist or a power hungry, humorless rapist.  Incredibly enough, that's what Douglas Jones, Senior Fellow (sans Ph.D.) at Wilson's New St. Andrews College, claims in an article in Wilson's journal Credenda Agenda vol. 14:2.

Of course Jones provides no empirical evidence that non-Trinitarian thinking actually leads to the dastardly deeds that he claims it does. Indeed, violent record of Dutch, Portuguese, British, and Spanish Trinitarians colonialists appears to prove the just the opposite.

Jews and Christians in India prospered on the Malabar Coast for nearly a thousand years until the Trinitarian Dutch wiped out the Jews and Trinitarian Portuguese coerced Indian Christians and Hindus to become Roman Catholics or killed them if they refused.  In Sri Lanka the Dutch Calvinists were perceived as dishonorable and treacherous and having a "gluttonous rapacity, generated by the rapid acquisition of riches."

In 2003 Jones invited Unitarian minister Forrest Church, son of Idaho great Senator Frank Church, to a debate in Moscow.  The agreed topic of the debate was the nature of the good life.  Even before the debate on September 30, 2003, I smelled a rat and I was proved right when the evening turned into a carefully laid trap.

As a fanatical Calvinist, Jones perhaps felt betrayed that Michael Servetus failed to show up for his debate on Christian doctrine with John Calvin in Paris in 1534.  Calvin never forgave Servetus for this slight, and his anger about this, in addition to his horror about Servetus' Unitarianism, led him to arrest and try him for heresy in Geneva. Although Calvin relented and acceded to Servetus' wish to be capitated, the city fathers insisted that Servetus be burned alive on October 26, 1553.  

Jones got what he really wanted--a debate on the Trinity--and, although he did declare that Church would go to Hell, he fortunately he had no power to burn him as a heretic in Moscow's Friendship square. On the south side of this plaza stands New St. Andrews College, which proudly claims "Trinitarian accreditation" from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which has about 50 thoroughbred Bible colleges in its stable.

At the debate Jones declared that "the Trinity gives us genuine difference," implying that somehow all non-Trinitarians are all monists.  (As we shall see, Jones focus on difference leads him to fall into the heresy of Tritheism.) Jones claimed that "the Trinity encourages all the best parts of life, and sexuality delights in the joy of otherness. . . . Unitarians, Muslims, secularists, and all those who reject Trinitarian life, they love power and conformity."  

The Good Reverend Church had an easy time refuting Jones' silly argument: "To say that there is no beauty outside of Trinitarianism is absurd. All you have to do is take a look at 19th century Japanese wood cuts."  He also pointed out that the triad of truth, goodness, and beauty that Jones' Christ Church preaches has its basis in Greek pagan thought.

I suspect that the reason most Christians are not uppity about the Trinity is that it is the Christian doctrine that has the least biblical evidence for it.  Jones' pastor Doug Wilson once told me that he would not "disfellowship" any Christian for not believing in the Trinity. He has obviously changed his mind about this now.

Conservative Presbyterian theologian Donald G. Bloesch concedes that the New Testament "cannot affirm the creedal formulation" of the Trinity because while "definitely suggested," it is "not clearly enunciated."  Divine plurality in the Hebrew Scriptures is better interpreted as the residue of polytheism (see this link), and Professor Bloesch can cite only five New Testament passages as indications of divine threeness. He wisely avoids 1 John 5:7, which was doctored by early scribes as extra proof of the Trinity.

It is ironic that the religion whose scripture has the least evidence for a trinity (they abound in Hinduism, Daoism, and Buddhism) became the one that has speculated endlessly about its proper formulation, and, sadly, in some instances executed Christians who rejected the doctrine.  

It is even more ironic that the qualities that Jones claims to follow from the Christian Trinity "dancing, playfulness, humor, and relationality" are all better expressed in these Asian religions. For over nineteen centuries dancing of any kind was banned in Catholic and Protestant Churches.  Too bad that those who performed the Gnostic "Round Dance of the Cross" were condemned and their scriptures destroyed.

After the debate with Church, I engaged Jones in a long debate about the Trinity, all the details of which one can read as "Wondrous Trinities Everywhere."

Before I close, I would like to focus on one issue: because of their sloppy theological thinking, the leaders of Christ Church have actually instructed their congregants in Tritheism, the most heretical formulation of the Trinity.

In a column in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News (8-7-07), Wilson's Tritheism is readily evident when he states the "Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love of each for the other."  The church fathers would turn over in their graves at such a theological hatchet job.

St. Augustine set the grounds for the orthodox Trinity by saying that it has but one will, but here we have two wills, because Wilson demotes the Holy Spirit from a "person" to simply the love that passes between two deities.

The great Swiss Calvinist theologian Karl Barth warned Christians that if they made the persons of the Trinity into personalities, as Jones and Wilson have in fact done, they would not be able to avoid the heresy of Tritheism. Jones' dramatic images of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit frolicking together as children make for great religious literature but bad orthodox theology.

Stayed tuned for next week.  Wilson's notorious slavery booklet is discovered and his relations with the neo-Confederacy cause great consternation in Moscow, Idaho.  A full-blown culture war, exacerbated by an unrepentant Wilson, then ensues.

when he claimed that non-Trinitarians are power-hungry conformists. Being uncomplimentary to the "Chosen, but not really, since if they don't convert, they go into the lake of fire" People is a no-no in conservative Christian circles due to the strong strain of Christian Zionism at the moment.

I prefer the Orthodox (Eastern) view on the theology of the Trinity - you aren't supposed to understand the Trinity, you are supposed to contemplate It. But I guess that isn't sufficiently conformist for Jones.   ;)

by NancyP on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 08:43:36 PM EST

See my Tom Hess piece. I'm not convinced Tom Hess was aware of how extreme those anti-Jewish themes that wound up in his book actually were.

I've written much more on that book too - there's much more I didn't address in that piece of mine.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 09:56:17 PM EST

Nick, this mad me laugh :

In my study of the Christian religion over 40 years, there is one principle that has tested true time and time again: those who claim to be the true Christians are definitely not...

I studied theology with Trinitarians in graduate school and I've taught with many of them as well...

None of these fine Christians used the Trinity as a club to hit me over the head and to tell me that I, as a Unitarian, could be nothing but a conformist or a power hungry, humorless rapist.

Sometimes raw truth, delivered with a light, dry touch, works very well as comedy. When I read your writing, above, it seemed to me like a routine that could have been given at a stand up comedy club for, and by, theologians... if one of those existed. The tone reminds me a bit of Voltaire, in Candide.

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Jan 04, 2008 at 10:01:56 PM EST

(discussions at the local bar) might qualify. Who says Christians have to be humorless?

by NancyP on Sun Jan 06, 2008 at 08:16:14 PM EST

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