How do you recommend approaching a Unitarian?

Hi Alex: Advice on how to approach a Uniterian (former Catholic growing up)

Thanks Walt from Texas…God Bless

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Hi Walt, great to hear from you.

I’m assuming that your mention of

(former Catholic growing up)

refers to your friend, not yourself. Either way, my response below is appropriate for the mere Christian, who has found a home in the house of Christianity, regardless of what denominational room they have rest their head. I think it comes down to a question of theology, and therefore God’s revelation and guidance in history. I think we could also say something pastoral. So, I’ll address those three things below.

  1. The Historical

It’s important to recognise that Unitarianism is an evolved Arianism. It came out of the Reformation movement in the 16th century, advocated by those who thought Protestants sacrificed the oneness of God on the alter of his threeness. Like Arius before them, Unitarians reject the divinity of Jesus and therefore the trinitarian nature of God. Historically, their view was rejected by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD when they rejected Arianism. Much more can be said about this, but it should at least be acknowledged that the Trinitarian nature of God was developed into creedal form quite early in the history of the church. The Council of Nicaea was the first ecumenical council!

  1. The Theological

Ultimately, the response to your friend would be theological. All theology is just language about God (theo, logos). Well, not just language, but you know what I mean. One theologian (Hugh Ross Mackintosh) said it like this: “To know anything of God is to know that which God has revealed of himself. To pretend to understand God otherwise would be to presume upon the incredible position that man can know God without His willing to be known.” So, the question becomes not so much “What makes sense of our intuitions?” but rather, “What makes sense of God’s revelation?”

When the Council of Nicaea discussed Arius’s views, they realised that they couldn’t describe God’s self-revelation any other way: he is one, but he has revealed himself as more than one. Nicaea emphasised the relationship between the Father and the Son using the word homoousios - one substance.

Fast-forward to the Council of Constantinople (381), and that same language was applied to the Holy Spirit: “the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets…”

The technical expression becomes this: God exists as three persons in one being.

Two things stand out to me in the Scriptures:

i. Jesus’ talk of the Father and Holy Spirit (John 14-17; Matthew 28:16-20). Not much really needs to be said here, but feel free to respond to ask for more references of Jesus talking about the other persons of the Trinity.

ii. The way early Jewish Christians reckoned their monotheism with their worship of Jesus. This actually get’s really interesting! Jews referred to God with two titles: (1) Elohim (Gen 1:1), and Yahweh (Gen 2:4). Elohim means “deity,” and so is translated “God.” Yahweh was a special term which is roughly translated “He is,” or, in the first person “I am,” and it’s a term only the Jews used and was only used about the God of their story.

In a prayer recorded in Deuteronomy, the Jews would express their monotheism. They would pray this for over three-thousand years three times a day, morning, noon and night. And it went like this:

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Or, to give you the Hebrew:

“Yahweh our Elohim; Yahweh is one. Love Yahweh with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4).

Now, fast-forward a few thousand years and a Jewish teacher begins acting as if he is Yahweh. He claims to bring the kingdom of God; he heals the sick; has authority over the spiritual realm; claims to forgive sins and ultimately claims to be Lord over the sabbath – a Jewish institution created by God.

And then something profound happens. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, expresses the same thing the Council of Nicaea did, but with his distinctly Jewish worldview. He writes,

“yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.”

Or, let me put it this way:

“There is but one Elohim (the father, from whom all things came and for whom we live); and there is but one Yahweh, Jesus Christ (through whom all things came and through whom we live).”

Boom. Mic-drop moment. Paul, who knew the Shema and would have cited it three times per day, takes it, explodes it open, and slips Jesus right into it.

So, here’s what’s going on: the early Jewish Christians who believed in one God had experiences so profound that when they began declaring Jesus is Lord, and began experiencing God’s presence with them by the Holy Spirit, they had to wrestle with how this could be the case. Not only does unitarianism (and Arianism) go against the early church councils; it also goes against the Scriptures and the internal wrestlings of Jewish Christians who had encountered the risen Messiah

  1. The Pastoral

Finally, I think that the Trinity is too existentially profound to not want to be true. It gives us good reason to think that God, who is eternally three-in-one, has always been self-sufficient in himself and has always existed in self-giving loving relationship. If true, it means that conversion isn’t simply an ascent to a new idea but an invitation into the eternal loving relationship between three consubstantial persons. This means that God doesn’t need us, but wants us. For your friend, who is a Unitarian, the question for him is this: “Does he know a God who wants him?

I hope this helps a bit, Walt.

With blessings,
Alex

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