How much of a Practical Modalist are you?

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C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
I'm finishing up a fine book by Robert Letham called "The Holy Trinity." He says:

"The Trinity has in practice been regulated to such an extent that most Christians are little more than practical modalists." (page 407)

"The problem with this, of course, is that if it were so, we would have no genuine knowledge of God, for he would be something gin himself other than what he has revealed himself to be." (page 409)

Modalism itself is heretical. Letham says that most Christians are practical modalists. He's right in his definition. Is he as right as it practically applies?

In other words, do you know people who are practical modalists, and how do you think that affects their Christianity?

(This could be a good conversation so lets make this count - the doctrine of the Trinity does not get as much attention as it ought here on the board. Here we have a practical question that could be very useful.)

[Edited on 4-2-2006 by C. Matthew McMahon]
 

jrminter

Inactive User
OK, I'll bite ... I know what a modalist is. How does the author contend that most are now "practical modalists?" How much of this is focusing on the speck in my brothers' eye and ignoring the plank in my own...
 

Casey

Puritan Board Junior
In our prayers and worship do we address the Trinity? Or do we only consider the Father, or the Son, or the Spirit worthy of such? In hearing Carl Trueman lecture on John Owen's treatment of the Trinity a few months back, my eyes were opened to the importance of this subject.
 

biblelighthouse

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by StaunchPresbyterian
In our prayers and worship do we address the Trinity? Or do we only consider the Father, or the Son, or the Spirit worthy of such? In hearing Carl Trueman lecture on John Owen's treatment of the Trinity a few months back, my eyes were opened to the importance of this subject.

Good point.

In my daily worship with my family, I find it helpful to thank God (the Father) for His Sovereignty and His Gift, and thank Jesus for His loving propitiatory sacrifice. Then I thank the Holy Spirit for conforming us more and more to the image of Christ, and I pray for Him to continue doing so.

Of course it is perfectly Scriptural to just pray to God as to One, as Jesus did in the Lord's Prayer. But I also love praying to God as to Three, with Trinitarian prayers such as I outlined above. I love concentrating on the various beauties of the various members of the Trinity.

As Dr. Sinclair Ferguson pointed out in class a few weeks ago, I can't thank the Father for dying for me, I can't thank Jesus for sending His Son to die for me, and I can't thank the Spirit for taking my sin upon Himself. Each member of the Trinity has specific uniquenesses which we can praise particularly. Awesome!

[Edited on 4-2-2006 by biblelighthouse]
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
How often do we assume practical modalism?

How about a list?

Could we say, as Christians, that we "pray to God" or should we say "Our FATHER..." In other words, most monothesitic religions could sing "Immortal Invisible", "Great is Thy Faithfulness" etc. How should our private and public worship become distinctively Trinitarian?
 

jrminter

Inactive User
From your own chart, I quote the definition of modalism:
God´s names (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) change with his roles or "œmodes of being" (like a series of masks used at different operation). When God is the Son, he is not the Father. There is no permanent distinction between the three "œpersons" of the Trinity. A
splinter group called monarchianists believed Jesus was special, but at baptism God "œadopted" the human Jesus as his special son and gave him an extra measure of divine power. They emphasized God´s monarchia, or "œunity"; not the three persons.
I repeat the question: How does one who professes to be a Trinitarian practically assert this??? Is what you and the author are calling "practical modalism" not in reality 'imprecise' or 'sloppy' language?

[Edited on 4-3-2006 by jrminter]
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
Originally posted by C. Matthew McMahon
How often do we assume practical modalism?

How about a list?

Could we say, as Christians, that we "pray to God" or should we say "Our FATHER..." In other words, most monothesitic religions could sing "Immortal Invisible", "Great is Thy Faithfulness" etc. How should our private and public worship become distinctively Trinitarian?

I'm not sure that our prayer life is indicative of practical modalism. If we pray to the Father (but understand the role of the Son and the Spirit in prayer), does that automatically make us practical modalists?

I think the term has more merit with believers who have a limited view of one, two or all three members of the godhead. Most of us have met people who say, "I just want to know Jesus!" Their theology (and specifically their knowledge of the trinity) is shallow. In this instance they may act like practical modalists in that they are only interested in "knowing Jesus."

The more I think about it, practical modalism seems more like compartmentalism. Instead of classic modalism we often times focus on one member of the godhead. While we may not believe in modalism, we may pigeon-hole one member of the godhead in our theological box. Does this differ from practical modalism?
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I would have to read how Letham works out the "practical" implications that people are practical modalists.

Honestly, I think I'm better studied on the Trinity than 99% of the Christian population and must admit that there is so much mystery that I am content to submit myself to the fences around the doctrine that wiser men than I have erected to protect the Saints in ages past. I tend to address the Father at the beginning of a prayer and close in Jesus name. I am always thinking of a one God (at least I think I am) but I also address the Three Persons.

Let's face it - most Christians are likely not sophisticated enough to be full-orbed heretics. Do you suppose that Christ covers our occasional misapprehension of the nature of the Godhead any less than the fact that our hearts sinfully wander in the middle of prayer? I thank God that Christ intercedes for me and even perfects my imperfect prayers.

I imagine the Church could stand to teach the Trinity more thoroughly to improve our understanding and how we practically "approach" the Trinity. Ought we use the Athanasian Creed? If so, even after reading it a few times, with a pretty decent reading comprehension, I'm not sure I'd get an A from God on how I practically approach Him.

Does Letham just put this idea of "practical" modalism out there or does he prescribe a more practical way to approach God?

[Edited on 4-3-2006 by SemperFideles]
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Originally posted by jrminter
From your own chart, I quote the definition of modalism:
God´s names (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) change with his roles or "œmodes of being" (like a series of masks used at different operation). When God is the Son, he is not the Father. There is no permanent distinction between the three "œpersons" of the Trinity. A
splinter group called monarchianists believed Jesus was special, but at baptism God "œadopted" the human Jesus as his special son and gave him an extra measure of divine power. They emphasized God´s monarchia, or "œunity"; not the three persons.
I repeat the question: How does one who professes to be a Trinitarian practically assert this??? Is what you and the author are calling "practical modalism" not in reality 'imprecise' or 'sloppy' language?

[Edited on 4-3-2006 by jrminter]

I don't think a Christian could assert this, except that he deny the Trinity.

I think that practical modalism ensues if we simply "pray to God" and leave it at that. Muslims pray to God. So do JWs, Mormons, etc. I think our Christian worship has to be more than "we worship God."
 

Jon

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by C. Matthew McMahon
I'm finishing up a fine book by Robert Letham called "The Holy Trinity." He says:

"The Trinity has in practice been regulated to such an extent that most Christians are little more than practical modalists." (page 407)

"The problem with this, of course, is that if it were so, we would have no genuine knowledge of God, for he would be something gin himself other than what he has revealed himself to be." (page 409)

Modalism itself is heretical. Letham says that most Christians are practical modalists. He's right in his definition. Is he as right as it practically applies?

In other words, do you know people who are practical modalists, and how do you think that affects their Christianity?

(This could be a good conversation so lets make this count - the doctrine of the Trinity does not get as much attention as it ought here on the board. Here we have a practical question that could be very useful.)

[Edited on 4-2-2006 by C. Matthew McMahon]
Some people also tend to be "practical Docetists," thinking that Jesus "was" (usually spoken in the past-tense), "God in a body." Given this christological principle, and given that most people tend to fail to understand the personality of the Holy Spirit, I can see how Letham arrived at that conclusion. I am not entirely too sure how accurate that is. My general experience (which is not worth much) has been that those who hold to such deplorable theological views are not too much for talking about theology. It could be the case that more people think this than actually let on.

One thing is definitely for sure, though: Christology and the Trinity do not get near the amount of attention that they should.

Soli Deo Gloria

Jon
 
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