Distinction and Separation, Being and Person:  Examining Terminology


----- Original Message -----
From: Name Withheld
To: Paul Stringini
Sent: Saturday, May 04, 2013 7:10 AM
Subject: Hi! Thank you!

All I can say is WOW - thank you for doing the work on Shepherd's Chapel...! (No , I am not a follower of theirs/him!)
but have an avid follower just join our good friends' immediate family). Needless to say, dinners over there are a lot of "prime roots" and the European tracking/roots weirdness.

I have researched other sites, but they were superficial dismissals of A. Murray's teachings.

You are correct - yours rings true and exhibits depth only because I know true doctrine already.

Anyway, again, thank you for doing the work (exposing contradictions, and errors or super-stretches in the "Greek." !)

You seem to flounder a bit on the Trinity.  (Oddly it is the least preached about subject of all! Don't feel alone.  I was at one time starving for an explanation that I couldn't turn around and dash with a "but how can that be if this is passage is true?

I needed to write you to share these 3 points/ sources.
  • Stand to Reason  (www.str.org) they have a lecture/CD /download:
(This link is obsolete)

I listened to this about 20 years ago and it is still the hands down the best resource on the subject ever! (and I have read Athanasius - not easy - who is the one of  earliest expositors of Trinitarian teaching. (Besides the scriptures themselves!). Greg Koukl makes a very difficult subject accessible. Actually, it is taking from a very common premise: The bible teaches something about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit -but reading all the passages creates a lot of problems and/or confusion. So, we have to ask ourselves: IS there a doctrine that makes sense of ALL the passages? Yes. The two remaining points below.
  • One Being, 3 persons. Don't let anyone rewrite that - it is the most accurate way to describe the Trinity. Period. Let others make their illustrations up.
  • The phrase: Distinction without Separation ... this is the "common denominator," if you will, in every scripture that involves the Trinity in some way. In other words  if one follows that in speaking of the Trinity, one will never get lost or bogged down, or follow falsely into all the rabbit holes available out there. Modalism, Manifestationism... ice-cube-water-steam illustrations, father-son-brother illustrations ....
And maybe you are clearer on the Trinity than I have read on your pages ... but nonetheless, these 3 bullet points will get you so much deeper into the Trinity and resting nicely about a very tough doctrine. I hope to help in some way.
By the way - I love that you get the absolute Sovereignty of God!  It is mind-boggling that he chose us ... mind-altering!!!  It is simply error-filled human pride that tells us we can have anything to do with our salvation.... anything... but people will keep inventing their own works!
God bless you and your beautiful family!

Name Withheld

My First Response:

----- Original Message -----
From: Paul Stringini
To: Name Withheld
Sent: Wednesday, May 08, 2013 2:44 PM
Subject: Re: Hi! Thank you!
Hi, and thank you so much for taking the time to write and for your many kind words and for your goodwill towards me.  One of my motivations for the Shepherd's Chapel page was to create a page which gave a much more intimate view of the Chapel from the perspective of one who had been an enthusiastic supporter,  I'm happy that you appreciated the original content on my page, as opposed to the cut-and-paste summaries prevalent on many websites.  I have always thought those efforts were insufficient.  When I was a student, I remember another student giving me a sheet of paper with the exact same critique cut and pasted on many websites today, and remarking to my friend that they did not really understand Pastor Murray's teachings.  An accurate assault on heresy is the best way to attack the problem.  Blows have to hit the real target, not a straw man.
Regarding the Trinity, I have written to my satisfaction on that subject, and the results are on my doctrine page.  I do understand the doctrine of the trinity, but I do not come from that tradition and have a different perspective. This will be brief so do not be misled, I'm not really opposed to the ideas behind the trinity teaching.  I do not describe God exactly as the Trinitarians do.  I try to describe God in a strictly scriptural manner.  What I mean is that instead of coining new words and using nearly synonymous terminology in contradictory statements, I try to keep it simple, even though I have come to believe that God is not a simple subject.  Nevertheless the basic and most important facts about God are easily discerned from the scriptures. 

I think people are confused an turned off by Trinitarian teaching for a number of reasons. 
"God is one being and three persons."
That is using two nearly synonymous words "being" and "person" to describe this relationship.  The average English speaker is confused when we use two practically synonymous words to describe God in this way. I'm certain that we could clarify what is meant by "being" and "person."  I have heard these explanations as you no doubt have also.  But, to me, they seem like specially crafted definitions assigning a special Trinitarian meaning to "being" and a special Trinitarian meaning to "person." So I am skeptical of this sort of ad hoc explanation. Scripturally, it can be argued that the Son of God is a distinct being. And that the Father and Spirit are also distinct beings, and also argue that they are yet all one being.   The special Trinitarian distinction between "being" and "person" does not specifically exist in the scripture. It is a superficial semantic convenience. So I see it as another made up illustration.
Distinction and separation are also nearly synonymous terms which are set in opposition to one another as a way of "clarifying".  And while it may cause the inconsiderate to say "Aha!"  I find it unenlightening.   This is all running away from the truth, which is that the nature of God is an apparent contradiction.  Distinct yet without distinction.  All we know about God is from what we read in the scriptures, it is all "distinction" or lack thereof, we are shown things, we see things as they are shown and described to us, but we never see him as he TRULY is.  Distinction or indistinction are related by words, and these words are descriptions of what is seen or what it real.  For my own sake, I have resisted attempts to intrude beyond what is described in the bible. 
I can twist the words around and get the same results.   One being without distinction in three separate persons. OR  One being without separation in three distinct persons. Is there really any difference between those two statements?  I don't see how any of that is very enlightening or that it matters what way I shift the words around so long as I conform to the basic idea. I prefer to use words that are descriptive and easy to understand and stay as close to the scriptural evidence as possible.
Why do we have to defend the Trinity?  I prefer to defend the ideas communicated in the scriptures and if they are in agreement with the Trinitarian doctrine I am glad to have one less enemy.  So while I have had Trinitarians try to tell me that we are essentially in agreement.  (and I acknowledge this)  I oppose Trinitarianism on the principle that such condensation of the truth results in distortion and confusion.  And history has proven this out.  I see more lack of understanding as the result of Trinitarian teachings than increased harmony between believers.  Relying on external explanations and coined terms the Trinitarians have not secured the peoples understanding of God.  Most people, while denominationally Trinitarian, don't even really know what the Trinity is, or how to defend the truth that lies behind it. 
So I'm not interested in Trinitarian explanations or in having Trinitarians pat me on the back for independently reaching a position very similar to theirs.  I am not a Trinitarian in that I do not come from that tradition, but I do not consider the substance of what they believe about God to be incorrect, or heretical, I merely object to the way these descriptions are made and to the oppressive way in which conformity to this extra biblical term is pressed on me.  I think the establishment of that word, exalting itself above the obtainment of a sound understanding of the biblical text is an insidious error. They substitute knee-jerk allegiance to a brand name in place of true biblical instruction. 
Paul Stringini

Emailer's First Reply:

----- Original Message -----
From: name Withheld
To: Paul Stringini
Sent: Thursday, May 09, 2013 8:58 AM
Subject: Re: Hi! Thank you!
Hi Paul!
Thanks for the time taken. 
I am wary of the Trinity taken too casually ... and I am wary of it superceding the Gospel itself. (Nothing ought to do that!)

But having said that, the Scriptures clearly teach of three something.  Understanding and articulating properly what the three are (roles offices, persons, status, manifestations ...????) is important... (and double important if one teaches.)

"Trinity" means three - it's not overly sophisticated a word, but sufficiently more complex than saying, for instance, "the Christian God." 

There are many words we use for purposes of Theological discussions, that are clear references to what is in the scriptures. Cult is one, Infralapsarianism is one ... you won't find it in the scriptures....  but the order of God's decrees are in the scriptures. (ie your beef is not with me but with every theologian who came before both of us!) I don't think "theology" itself is in the scriptures, but we use it to serve a purpose while discussing them. (yikes, pre-mil, a-mil, and post-mil ...not in the scriptures... etc etc
You don't have to defend anything. But I will have to continue given the vast number of early Church Fathers that thought it was necessary even unto death. In fact all of our theology has been tried and tested by argument and refutation, and yes, sometimes death. We need to take doctrine as a necessary vessel to protect.  Ok, I'm done pontificating  :) ... but please do have the last word .. and it was refreshing again, to read your work.
It was nice discussing things with you!
Name Withheld

My Second Response:

----- Original Message -----
From: Paul Stringini
To: Name Withheld
Sent: Thursday, May 09, 2013 11:13 AM
Subject: Re: Hi! Thank you!
Here are some final remarks I felt compelled to write you...
I want to emphasize.  At one point, on my Shepherd's Chapel pages, I made a few negative remarks about the trinity, but I did clarify and amend those remarks in two documents. 
Most Trinitarians who have read these documents agree that my beliefs are essentially similar to the Trinitarian beliefs differing more in terminology than in substance.  And I have made corrections, when I found I was shown to be in error in any point.
Something to think about....One of the biggest problems I find with the trinity is that it causes some people to presume that they know what God is, i.e. God is a trinity. But I believe that at least some Trinitarian writings I have read use the following terminology:  "God has revealed himself in three persons" 

If you have not seen it yet, the problem, as I see it, is that there is no reason to presume that what God has revealed to us is all that there is to know about the nature of God.  Indeed, all we need to know about God are these three, but God could reserve for himself knowledge about fourth or fifth persons.  I am not suggesting that is the case.  Not at all.  What would I know about such things?  But to say that God is limited to three persons is actually presumptive.  He has revealed himself as three persons, that is how we ought to understand Him, but that does not make it right to presume that what has been revealed to us is all there is to Him.
It's not that I seek to persuade you away from your beliefs.  But as I bible teacher I feel obligated to keep in mind always that I should take care not to intrude into things I have not seen, by reason of my vainly puffed up mind.  I was burned once and I learned to think critically, and God gave me His Spirit, or so it seemed, but the changes wrought in my mind by that Spirit, for good or ill, I must follow.  I am concerned with what has been revealed, things such as these: The Son of God is eternal, he is God, uncreated, yet firstborn, the beginning, yet without beginning of days,  son of the father, yet without father or mother,  distinct from the Father and the Spirit, yes, they are all distinct from each other in variously described combinations, and yet at times these are spoken of in scripture variously as though they were one and the same.  That is the basic substance of my understanding of the essence of what has been revealed and the uncondensed form is in that article linked above. 
I did not write  "On Jesus Christ"  to make Trinitarians walk away questioning their beliefs.  They usually tell me they quite enjoy the read.  I do not consider people who believe in the historical doctrine of the trinity to be heretical.  I wrote "On Jesus Christ"  to demonstrate that I believe what the bible says.
The blessings of Christ abound towards you and yours,
Paul Stringini

Emailer's Second Reply:

----- Original Message -----
From: Name Withheld
To: Paul Stringini
Sent: Friday, May 10, 2013 11:02 AM
Subject: Re: Hi! Thank you!
Gotcha, Paul - thanks,
I did not read it and will as soon as I have time!
because of  His awesome grace,
Name Withheld