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January 29, 2009


I read through what Dr. Alan Gomes stated in his letter and I couldn't help but think of something I just read in a book by Bruce L. Shelley:

“As the decades passed between 325 and 381, when the second general council of the church met, leaders in the Arian debate slowly clarified their use of "person." Three so-called Cappadocian Fathers -- Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil the Great -- led in this achievement. The Cappadocians used the social analogy, but they saw that the distinctions between the three divine "persons" were solely in their inner divine relations. There are not three gods. God is one divine Being with three carriers: one Godhead in three "persons."

The word “person,” however, did not mean to the early Christians what it means today. To us, a person means someone like Tom, Dick, or Harry. But the Latin word persona originally meant a mask worn by an actor on the stage. In Trinitarian thought the “mask” is not worn by God to hide but to reveal His true character. It is clear that when we think of the Trinity, we should not try to think of three persons in our sense of the term, but three personal disclosures of God that correspond to what He is really like.”
-Bruce L. Shelley,
Church History in Plain Language

Now, my question is this, does persona as Shelley explains it cause the trinity to fall under a modalistic view?

Melissa raises a good point. The problem with Shelley's assessment of the debate is that it is not merely about the meaning of a word, but the content of that word as it communicates the philosophical assumptions behind it. The fact is that Nicea and Chalcedon can not be understood without the infrastructure of a substance view of persons.

This is why I don't agree with Beisner. It merely cannot be an affirmation of what someone believes. It must be an affirmation of what one believes is true, not only about God qua God, but the philosophical infrastructure that makes this truth understandable.

Oops. I just noticed that I misread Beisner. My apologies to my friend, Cal, who may be lurking about.

Well, how 'bout that? Here I am, Frank, "lurking about"! No, actually, someone sent me links to several recent LC-related posts, and this was among them. Grace and peace to you, friend!

Shelley's assessment is pretty shallow--which might be not because he lacked ability but because, in his very short survey of church history, he simply didn't have the time to go into detail. But while "persona" in Latin had indeed meant "mask," and taken in that sense would have modalistic implications, as Melissa suggests, by the time it became widely used in Trinitarian theology it had taken on a significantly different and much fuller sense. It had come to denote a conscious thinker, someone with intellect, affections, and volition, who could have I-thou relations with others with intellect, affections, and volition. I discuss the matter at length in my GOD IN THREE PERSONS (in reprint from Wipf & Stock), as part of an extensive discussion of the vocabulary of the Trinitarian controversy.

By the way, at one can read a revised version of my early booklet on the Witness Lee's & the Local Churches' teaching. Having several times (in the 1990s and in this decade) done extensive new reading in LC publications, including many of their apologetic works, I stand by my characterization of Lee's teaching there as accurate. Although I have read many attempts to provide an orthodox interpretation of Lee's published teachings, I have found none of them persuasive. So I also stand by my insistence that if the Local Churches want evangelicals to accept them as orthodox, they need to explicitly repudiate many of Lee's statements.

Ooops. Sorry. I wrote "as Melissa suggests" but should have written "as Melinda suggests."

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