The Problem with Goddess Spirituality
The issue of the Trinity is going to be a church battleground for the next ten years. It has been for the last three or four, but the World Council of Churches conference in Canberra upped the ante somewhat.
A recent New Times editorial written by one of the conference leaders, spoke of the Holy Spirit as a feminine figure.
We are on the verge of an era known as ‘goddess spirituality.’ It represents a fusion of feminist influence and philosophical reflection, and is pervasive on every level of the church.
Even some of the most influential theologians of our age have moved towards a reshaped Trinitarian theology reflecting other than the historic teaching of the church.
Even an outstanding theologian like Wolfgang Pannenberg can say that Spirit is simply a deep way of describing Jesus as the Word. Paul Tillich calls the Trinity, not a symbol of God in himself, but a description of the intricacies of the divine human relationship.
Karl Rahner, the influential Catholic theologian says the Son and the Spirit are simply personified extensions of God the Father, and only He is God himself.
For the feminist theologian Rosemary Radford-Reuther, God is that ‘great collective personhood… in which our achievements and failures are gathered up, assimilated into the fabric of being, and carried into new possibilities’.
Whatever this means, it doesn’t mean that we can speak of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In many ways we are moving towards a new age version of the Trinity, where no-one is discriminated against, because there is no longer any conviction that might create divergence.
There is a lack of positive dogmatism, or certainty, of conviction that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather there is emerging an empty Unitarianism, which along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christadelphians and other sects, rejects the Trinity as making clear how the Father, Son and Spirit relate.
Let’s talk for a moment about the 16th Century. The definitive doctrine of the Trinity came about as Christians wrestled with what it means to follow a risen Lord who was both man and God. He was someone who hungered, laughed, wept and needed others like any of us. He could be tempted too.
Yet at the same time, He was God.
He could forgive sins and he could raise people from the dead, spiritually and corporeally. He could revise the law of God given through Moses, and say, ‘you have that it was said that you should love your neighbour and hate your enemy, but I say unto you… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’
The church then, like us, tried to understand how He could be a man without eclipsing His divinity, and how He could be divine without eclipsing His humanity.
It was in the 4th Century, as the church centre moved into the gentile world, away from Jerusalem, and the Jewish world, that the philosophical tools and language became available for formulating what we know as the Trinity, on the basis of Scripture.
The Nicene Creed was the outcome of that discussion. It asserted that God is three persons in one nature or substance, and that was faithful to the Biblical witness.
God exists within Himself as a fellowship of three agencies, or foci of consciousness within the overarching unity of one absolute subject.
And that is to say that the Trinity is not a symbol as anachronistic as black and white television, but that describes a reality for which symbols are used to express and explain it.
God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit describes the nature of God as revealed. It is not an outdated symbol we can simply pass through, a kind of intellectual food blender and simply merge it in with whatever conceptual stews are on our 20th Century menus.
It us a distinctive Christian truth that helps us understand how Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit all fit together.
I can remember being in a mosque one day listening to an Imam teaching. He told the congregation how Muslims believed in one God, whereas Christians were polytheists who believed in three Gods.
I wanted to shout out in protest, for he was denying the divinity of Christ, and reducing him to the level of a prophet like Mohammed.
The Trinity preserves Christian truth about God.
But you say, what has all this to do with me? How will all this talk help me rear by children, cope with my illness, give me power to love those who don’t love me? How ill all this talk about Trinity help me forgive and be forgiving? Isn’t this the kind of talk that gives theology its bad name? Give me a practical faith I can go on with.
Yet what is the value of faith, if you are not clear about the kind of God you believe in?
If you can’t be certain about the God you believe in, then you may as well join the new agers and gaze at the rising sun through a crystal.
If you have no certainty about the divinity of Christ, then we have no certainty about his atoning death, or our own assurance of eternal life.
If we do not believe in the divinity of the Holy Spirit, then we will not know His divine power in our lives, nor will we address Him through prayer.
To abandon the God of the Trinity is to say simply that Jesus was just a good man, or a prophet. We have shared together previously many times why that view is totally inadequate. Either Jesus was who He said He was, human and divine, or He was wrong, deluded and insane. They are the only choices.
Either He was a master deceiver, or the Master. The doctrine of the Trinity say He was the Son of God, man and God, and your Lord.
So let us remember that the issues of the Trinity are not about trying to establish some tidy mathematical formula, or some scientific analogy. Sure we have all used the image of water as liquid, ice and steam about one substance in three forms, but the Trinity is a statement about relationships, not mathematics.
It represents the perfect model of equality where each person is distinctive but one with the other. It is a perfect model for unity in marriage and equality between sexes and races.
So today we reaffirm that the Trinity describes the truth about God in Christian terms. We affirm that the members of the Trinity have created a unity of being which precedes any function they have, whether as Creator, Redeemer or Sustainer. And we say that the Trinitarian truth protects us against goddess spirituality and every other contemporary distortion of Biblical truth.
This is the God you can have confidence in, who says I will never leave you or forsake you. Who says when you walk through the dark valley you can count on me. This is the God who so loved us that he sent his one and only son to live amongst us and die for us that he might have us with him forever.
Only by affirming the truth of the Trinity can we be certain that God is God.
By George Robert Iles