Book Review: “God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits”

God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits

by

Malcolm B. Yarnell III

(B & H Academic)

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The Christian doctrine of the Trinity – that God is three distinct personalities with one divine identity – caused some disputes in the early church, and it continues to be the topic of controversy today. Muslims and skeptics often criticize the doctrine of the Trinity, and groups that break off from traditional, biblical Christianity, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, universally jettison the Trinity. There also appears to be a growing number of “oneness Pentecostals” who deny the Trinity. As biblical illiteracy grows, even among church-goers, and emotion is emphasized over proper study and understanding of God’s Word, many professing Christians have a weak understanding of the Trinity or simply ignore it.

I recently had an online interaction with a young woman who studied the Bible quite seriously but denied the Trinity. Her view was that God the Father and God the Son were the same person but at different times in history – an old, refuted heresy known as modalism. When Jesus, God the Son, is praying to God the Father in Scripture, she claimed, he was just modeling for us how believers should act, and the Holy Spirit was not God, but God’s power, similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ view.

Malcolm B. Yarnell III, the author of God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits, explains in the introduction that he set out to answer two questions in his book: Is the Trinity a biblical doctrine? Is it necessary to believe?

Yarnell doesn’t approach these questions as if he’s an apologist in a public debate. A relatively short academic book (240 pages) on a doctrine that requires looking at the Bible closely to comprehend it, Yarnell’s approach is creative and enjoyable. He speaks of the insight different books of the Bible give us into the Trinity as different portraits. His tone is not argumentative, but inviting and warm, like a friend sharing something he deeply loves. No, this isn’t a straight forward, dry apologetics book. I’m not sure I’d consider it an apologetics book at all.

In fact, though this book will certainly teach Trinitarian skeptics about why a proper understanding of the God of the Bible is Trinitarian, I would say this book is more for believers than nonbelievers. One of the primary strengths of this book and gifts to the reader is the communication of a sense of awe and wonder in the Trinitarian God of the Bible, something that moves one to worship.

The book is certainly academic and detailed, but readable. Again, Yarnell’s approach is far from making God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits a dry, academic read. But, admittedly, my seminary training did assist me in grasping a lot of what Yarnell covers. My classes in church history, systematic theology, ancient Greek, and even philosophy certainly helped. Yarnell spends time discussing various theologians and their understanding of the Trinity, presuppositions behind interpretations, as well as a lot of (insightful) talk about the “economic” and “immanent” Trinity.

But even if someone without seminary training reads God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits, even if they get a bit lost in the sections about, say, hermeneutics, the gold nuggets throughout will make this short read worth it. Even without the insight given into specific Trinitarian passages, the insight into the books of the Bible they appear in are worth the read alone, especially the Gospel of John and Revelation.

My only complaint is that I would’ve liked to see the question Is belief in the Trinity necessary? explored more directly. Specifically, must one accept the doctrine of the Trinity to be saved? Is the young woman I mentioned above saved by her faith in Christ despite her flawed understanding of who the God of the Bible is? Though one can draw conclusions to answer this question based on the examination of the biblical evidence in this book, I would have liked to hear Yarnell’s explicit insight into such questions.

Finally – and this may be superficial, but I am a bit of a bibliophile – the look of the book is extremely pleasing. The simple design and contrast of colors on all three sides (as well as there being something pleasing about thinner hardcovers books) makes it a beautiful book to sit on a book shelf.

That being said, God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits is both apologetic but not apologetic and academic but not academic.

(If this book interests you, I’d also recommend James White’s The Forgotten Trinity.)

CHECK OUT GFTM’s NEW BOOK HERE

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The Trinity Mashup & the Schizophrenic God! “Mother God,” “Christ” Ahnsahnghong, & World Mission Society Church of God – The One True Church or Cult?

**Is “Christ” Ahnsahnghong the Trinitarian God? Does the WMSCOG have a correct understanding of the Trinity?  Do they promote a schizophrenic God?  Where does “Mother God” fit in?**

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(God From the Machine has published a book titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.)

This article continues to look at the World Mission Society Church of God (also simply called the Church of God), but commonly called by those not in the church “the Mother God Cult.”  The Church of God believes the Bible teaches about God the Mother, who is currently alive on earth in South Korea, and the church’s founder, Ahnsahnghong, is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Last article, I gave an overview of their history and beliefs, and I used the Bible to analyze their belief in Ahnsahnghong as the Second Coming of Christ.  (Read that article, titled “World Mission Society Church of God, Mother God & Christ Ahnsahnghong – The One True Church or Cult?” here.)

Also, I do not intend to debate here if the World Mission Society Church of God is a “cult” or not, and I prefer my readers to decide.  (Please feel free to comment, discuss, & debate below!)  Earlier articles I wrote will hopefully be helpful:

Finally, before we begin, let me be clear: I’ve exposed myself to no negative writings, videos, or websites concerning the World Mission Society Church of God at the time of the writing of this article.  I’m responding strictly to their beliefs as explained on their website.  Further, since they use the Bible extensively to attempt to legitimatize their beliefs, I’ll use the Bible to respond to them.

This article will be looking at their beliefs about the Trinity and their founder, Ahnsahnghong, as God in three forms.  Before we look at the Church of God’s teachings, let’s look at the  traditional Christian understanding of the Trinity…

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Ahnsahnghong – Is this man Father, Son & Holy Spirit?

A BIBLICAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE TRINITY

Traditional Christianity believes in the Trinity: one God, three persons – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This belief is unique to Christianity, and it’s certainly a difficult doctrine to wrap our finite heads around, and, thus, it’s a favorite target of those critical of Christianity (often accusing Christians of polytheism), but it’s biblical. In order to understand it correctly, we need to understand that the three persons are distinct persons, yet of the same nature.

I find thinking about it like a 1st Century Jew helps. Jews in Jesus’ day, unlike the pagan Romans, understood that there was only one God, and everything else is not God. Thus, when Jesus says he’s the Son of God, the Jews don’t understand it as a Roman and think, “Ok, this guy thinks he’s part God,” they understand it correctly as Jesus saying, “I am God.” That’s why they accuse him of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. Something can’t be part God. Something is either fully God or fully something else.

The Trinitarian nature of God has several implications. In Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey writes of one of them:

“The human race was created in the image of God, who is three Persons so intimately related as to constitute one Godhead… both oneness and threeness are equally real, equally ultimate, equally basic and integral to God’s nature…

“The balance of unity and diversity in the Trinity gives a model for human social life, because it implies that both individuality and relationship exist within the Godhead itself. God is being-in-communion. Humans are made in the image of a God who is a tri-unity—whose very nature consists in reciprocal love and communication among the Persons of the Trinity… the Trinity implies the dignity and uniqueness of individual persons. Over against radical individualism, the Trinity implies that relationships are not created by sheer choice but are built into the very essence of human nature. We are not atomistic individuals but are created for relationships.”

To understand the Trinity, it’s best to state the doctrine in three sentences: (1) God is three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (2) Each person is fully God. (3) There is only one God. Denying or changing any of these three statements wouldn’t accurately illustrate the Christian belief (as supported by the Bible) of the Trinity. All three statements must be accepted as truth for correct understanding of the Trinity. Moreover, I’ve found trying to explain the Trinity in any other manner tends to lead to misrepresentations of the Trinity and basically (to use an out-of-fashion word) heresy. Likewise, any analogy to explain the Trinity often proves misleading or inaccurate.

(Recommended reading: The Forgotten Trinity by James White or see Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.)

Though no diagram or analogy can properly illustrate the Trinity, this may be helpful.

Though no diagram or analogy can properly illustrate the Trinity, this may be helpful.

 

AN OLD HERESY

Now, let’s look at how the World Mission Society Church of God/Church of God (“COG” from here on out) explains the Trinity on their own website:

“The concept of “Trinity” means that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not different entities, but are one God. The Trinity—God the Father [Jehovah], God the Son [Jesus], and God the Holy Spirit [Ahnsahnghong]—are one…

“To better understand the Trinity, let’s first consider the transformation of water. Water is a liquid, but when its temperature falls below 0° C, the water will turn into ice, a solid. When the water is boiled, it turns into vapor, a gas. Water, ice, and vapor have different names and different forms, but their substance is the same: H2O.

“It is similar to when an actor in a monodrama plays three different characters—a father, a son, and a grandson—all having different voices. Although there are three different voices and three different roles, there is only one actor.

What the COG states here and elsewhere on their website teaches that Ahnsahnghong is God appearing throughout history in three different forms. (See an overview of their core beliefs here.)  What the COG is teaching is an old heresy called Modalism.

The website carm.org summarizes Modalism succinctly:

“Modalism is probably the most common theological error concerning the nature of God. It is a denial of the Trinity. Modalism states that God is a single person who, throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes or forms. Thus, God is a single person who first manifested himself in the mode of the Father in Old Testament times. At the incarnation, the mode was the Son; and after Jesus’ ascension, the mode is the Holy Spirit. These modes are consecutive and never simultaneous. In other words, this view states that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time–only one after another. Modalism denies the distinctiveness of the three persons in the Trinity even though it retains the divinity of Christ.”

So, according to the COG, Ahnsahnghong is God the Father (Jehovah), God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit (Ahnsahnghong). All of these titles belong to him, and throughout the website he’s called “Christ Ahnsahnghong” and even “God Ahnsahnghong.”

From the COG website:

“God’s name was “Jehovah” when He played the role of the Father, and it was “Jesus” when He worked as the Son. Then, how should we call upon God when He is working as the Holy Spirit? The name of the Holy Spirit is Ahnsahnghong.”

It appears the COG believes the Bible is the Word of God since it uses the Bible extensively to justify their beliefs in “Christ” Ahnsahnghong and “Mother God.” But adopting a Modalist view that the Trinity is the same divine person appearing in 3 different forms at 3 different times, as the COG does, becomes a huge problem if we accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Why? Quite frankly, it makes God look schizophrenic.

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THE SCHIZOPHRENIC GOD

Schizophrenia literally means “split mind.”  If Ahnsahnghong is both God the Father and God the Son/Jesus at different times, then who is Jesus praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will”? (Mark 14:36)

In the Garden of Gethsemane, if Ahnsahnghong is Jesus/The Son, how is he praying to The Father? According to the COG’s own theology, when Ahnsahnghong is The Son, then he’s no longer The Father. The Father and The Son did not exist at the same time. When Ahnsahnghong was Jesus 2,000 years ago, he was no longer in the form of God the Father, so who is Jesus praying to throughout the Gospels?

Take, for example, Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

“Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life…

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me…

“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them…”

So, who is Ahnsahnghong talking to? Himself? Let’s do an experiment: Let’s replace all of the references to God the Son/Jesus, God the Father, and all pronouns for both of them and see how that works out…

“Ahnsahnghong spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Ahnsahnghong, the hour has come; glorify Ahnsahnghong, that Ahnsahnghong may glorify Ahnsahnghong, even as Ahnsahnghong gave Ahnsahnghong authority over all flesh, that to all whom Ahnsahnghong have given Ahnsahnghong, Ahnsahnghong may give eternal life…

“I, Ahnsahnghong, do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Ahnsahnghong through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Ahnsahnghong, are in Ahnsahnghong, and Ahnsahnghong in Ahnsahnghong that they also may be in Us (Ahnsahnghong and Ahnsahnghong), so that the world may believe that Ahnsahnghong sent Ahnsahnghong

“O righteous Ahnsahnghong, although the world has not known Ahnsahnghong, yet Ahnsahnghong has known Ahnsahnghong; and these have known that Ahnsahnghong sent Ahnsahnghong; and Ahnsahnghong has made Ahnsahnghong’s name known to them…”

See what I mean by schizophrenic?

Finally, what does the COG make of Matthew 3:16-17, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist?

“After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’”

Here, we clearly see the complete Trinity all acting at the same moment in time: Jesus (God the Son) is being baptized. God the Holy Spirit descends to him. And God the Father speaks from heaven.

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CONCLUSION

If the COG’s explanation of the Trinity (the Modalist view) is correct, then the COG has to give up on the Bible as the inerrant Word of God or accept a schizophrenic view of God.

The Church of God clearly gets it wrong when it comes to the Trinity and all things concerning Ahnsahnghong as divine.

Finally, if God had a plan, according to the COG, to divide history into 3 eras and to appear as a different form of a savior in each era, where does Mother God fit into this picture?  I’d be interested in learning when the COG began teaching that belief in Mother God was needed for salvation.  Was this a “Plan B” to preserve their church after Ahnsahnghong, Christ’s supposed Second Coming, died?  This is all speculation on my part, but I’m interested in learning when the teachings of “Mother God” emerged in the COG, since nothing is even said about her in their history as presented on their website.

Please understand that my effort to expose and discredit the World Mission Society Church of God is not out of malice, spite, or because I have nothing else better to do. I am concerned for those led astray by Ahnsahnghong and “Mother God.” The good news is Jesus Christ, the true Savior, gives new starts and new lives. No one is beyond Jesus Christ’s salvation, even sinners like you and me, who are made in God’s image and have eternal worth to him.

NEXT: Mother God – a closer look.

**God From the Machine has published a book for evangelizing, educating, and refuting the World Mission Society Church of God titled Searching the Bible for Mother God: Examining the Teachings of the World Mission Society Church of God, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon.  Click here to learn more.

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