Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Non-Trinitarian Views of Eric Chang (Q&A)

Q:  I have just finished studying your book 'The Jewish Roots of Christianity', which I found very readable, and being a Bible student of some 40+ years I found some of the content (surprisingly) most enlightening--things I have wondered about for a long time regarding Paul's writing.

As I was reading your book I did wonder if you have ever come across and read the books of Eric Chang, 'The One True God' and 'The Only Perfect Man.'  If you haven't I think you will find them extremely interesting, they are freely available as downloadable pdf's at this link:


As a serious student of the truth I would very much appreciate your views of the content covered in this material, considering your extensive and knowledgeable background and area of expertise.  If you have a little time to examine it, you may find it interesting yourself. (They are also available on Amazon books if you prefer physical books, as I do.  I have nothing to do with their church by the way).

I hope you have time to respond, looking forward to hearing from you.

With kind regards  --Phil

A:  Thanks for the positive feedback about our Jewish Roots of Christianity book.  I’ve glanced briefly through Eric Chang’s  The Only True God at your request.  It’s nice to see him struggling honestly with the challenges of Christian monotheism in a way that the original sources invite.  However, to strengthen his credibility, he needs to wrestle more with early Christian sources from the pre-Augustinian era.  The views of Trinitarians have not always been monolithic, and many of these early voices have important insights to add to the conversation.  To put it another way:  not everyone who claims to be a Trinitarian agrees about what that means. 

I completely agree with his criticism of the Trinitarian views that turn Jesus into a second God, and suppress the Father behind the glory of his ascendant Son.  This is not what Jesus himself had in mind at all.  There is only one God, and whatever was going on in Jesus was a manifestation of that one true God.

But the issue for me comes down to the center of consciousness of Jesus.  Was he just a “perfect man” who had some kind of special awareness of God’s power and presence in his life?  Or does he speak as God, fully conscious of his divinity?  Is he a human in-filled by God, or is he God wrapped in humanity? 

When I read the gospels, and read them with attention to their Jewish cultural setting, I see Jesus constantly declaring that he is self-consciously God:  not a man filled with God, but God who had taken flesh upon himself, God become man.  But this then raises the question as to how that can be, for it is impossible to imagine that all there is to God was somehow limited and restrained within the physical, human form of Jesus (as Chang also recognizes). 

The solution provided by the Bible is that the Word of God, that is, some fully divine subset of the totality of God, sent out by God, is what became flesh in Jesus.  This sent Word of God, being divine, was able to appear to the patriarchs, speak through the prophets, and speak back to God himself, as Jesus did in prayer.  This certainly gives him the appearance of an independent personhood, as the traditional creeds and formulas rightly recognize.  Yet God in his divinity is beyond all the earthly limits of personhood that we experience as humans and has the ability to manifest himself in as many persons as he likes without at all lessening the unity of his identity as the one true God.  I like to compare this to the neurons in our hearts and guts communicating with the neurons in our brains.  This communication takes places between different physical locations—messages are sent back and forth—but they are all still part of a single individual.  In the case of God the communication between Father, Son, and Spirit does not in any way lessen their identity together as one and only one true God.  The Trinity, that is to say, rightly understood is a revelation of the inner workings within the one true God himself, and reveals him to be an actual being with meaningful inner complexity rather than a mere intellectual concept. 

Chang refers often to the rabbinical concept of the Memra, but he does not seem to have wrestled with its meaning among the rabbis, as has Itzhak Shapira in his book The Kosher Pig.  Even the rabbis recognized the individuality or individual identity of what Christians often call the pre-incarnate appearances of the Son of God, and that this was more complex than simply saying that Yahweh himself was appearing on earth (as Chang does).  There was a distinct identity being revealed here, that the rabbis recognized and tried to explain in various ways, while at the same time defending themselves from Christian claims about Jesus.  There is, in fact, a genuine distinction to be made between God and his Word, the Father and the Son.  But this is not a distinction between separate beings:  rather it is a revelation of the inner workings of the one and only true and living God.  

(For more on this topic, see our teaching Did Jesus Claim to be God?  and the index category Trinity.)

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