The Trinity, the Devil, and Other Theological Questions

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Why is that in our day and age it is still possible to believe in God but much more difficult to believe in angels or demons? For instance, people are much more likely to admit the possibility of spiritual contact with God but most people remain extremely skeptical about the validity of exorcisms.

Why is the term God used in Christian theology? Shouldn’t we only use the word God in conjunction with the modifier triune? Barth continues to refer to the three different modes of God as Father, Son, and Spirit or Revealer, Revelation, and Revealedness, or Creator, Reconciler, and Redeemer (CD I/1, 426). Furthermore, by keeping the signifier God, we run the risk of only associating this name with the Father. While theologians like Moltmann argues that the Trinity disrupts any possibility of monarchy or hierarchy, isn’t it obvious that very way in which we list Father, Son, and Spirit already suggests an ordering principle? Although, I understand the unity of God is central to an understanding of the Trinity, why are most Christians functionally monotheists (as Moltmann rightly observes in the Trinity and the Kingdom of God)? For instance, Christians often refer to the Spirit, but it seems that the different Persons of the Trinity are used interchangeably to such an extent that most Christians arbitrarily assign names, likely suggesting a lack of understanding of the differences that separate the three Persons of the Trinity. While I’ve yet to read Pannenberg’s Systematics, I’ve always respected the fact that he begins with the three persons of the Trinity as separate and then proceeds to argue for their unity. Most Christian theologians would assume a belief in a single God, and then attempts to argue for a Triune God. By adopting such a methodology, it’s obvious that the Christian theologian has yielded too much ground to natural theology.

Christianity’s removal of the Devil has created some significant deficits in our understanding of the Triune God. A typical approach is to demythologize the Devil to be immanent to the powers and principalities that functions as the oppressor in society. Girard understands that Devil has no being, but is rather immanent to the contagion of mimetic (imitative) desires that are responsible for violence that pervades society. There’s much to be commended of such an approach, but I remain unconvinced. Understanding demonic forces is integral to an understanding of Jesus as presented in the synoptics. One problem that comes about by excising the Devil from Christian theology is that once Satan is negated God the Father absorbs all of his evil attributes. For instance, Anselm removed the Devil from his theory of the atonement, and now God appears to be in opposition to humanity. He’s the overlord that sits above humanity in judgment. There’s no Father God and humanity against Satan and the forces of evil, rather God’s enemy is man or more specifically man’s sin. Ultimately Jesus pays the price on the cross for Satan’s absence. He has to die to uphold God’s righteousness, as opposed to liberate man from the forces of Satan, evil, and sin. God’s solidarity with man is disrupted by the fact that there’s no mutual enemy that God and man to oppose.

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6 Responses to “The Trinity, the Devil, and Other Theological Questions”

  1. Halden Says:

    I think you’re quite right. Honestly, I’m much more inclined to believe in the Devil and the demonic than to disbelieve in it. I mean, seriously, check out the shit going down all over the world! And I don’t think its irrelevant that all Christians outside the Western hemisphere (including well-educated, theologically sophisticated ones) don’t have a fig’s worth of trouble believing in the demonic.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    I just think the common explanation given to Americans, that Satan doesn’t have to send his demons because we already have MTV doesn’t make sense. I mean sure there’s so much wrong with our culture, but that doesn’t mean demonic forces are completely gone. I mean seriously exorcisms play such a central role in Jesus’ ministry, that it seems to unwise to remove them completely from Christian theology.

  3. Dave Mesing Says:

    This is a good post. I’ve tended to shy away from an idea of the Devil as a being because of the problem of setting up an evil Being/Power that is equal to God (ie, Manicheanism), but I’m not sure it’s got to be one way or the other. We certainly need a better account of the demonic in the West.

    This is nicely related to the elective syllabus that Adam posted over at AUFS last week. I’ve been reading Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and although the devil-figure in the book certainly isn’t what we’re talking about here, it would probably be beneficial for theologians to explore more fictional accounts of the devil.

  4. A.J. Smith Says:

    I like Barth’s demonology myself. Although Barth “believed” in the devil, Barth remarked that the devil is not worthy of belief. If one is going to believe in something, after all, it is much better to believe in God.

    “[The devil] can be mentioned and taken seriously only in such a way that he who is myth in person is demythologised and delivered up to ridicule.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/3. (Google Books: http://tinyurl.com/yfs2dxj )

  5. garreth ashe Says:

    I think your interpretation of Girard is incorrect because he doesnt deny the existence of the devil. What Girard is doing is giving an phenomenological interpretation of satan, considering phenomenology is a philosophy of experience which bracketed the question of existence, so this bracketing should not be misunderstood as a denial regarding the actual existence of satan.

  6. Jeremy Says:

    I understand the difference between phenomenology and ontology, but he’s quite explicit that, “To affirm that Satan has no actual being, as Christian theology has done, means that Christianity does not oblige us to see him as someone who really exists. The interpretation that assimilates Satan to rivialistic contagion and its consequences enable us for the first time to acknowledge the importance of the prince of this world without also endowing him with personal being” (I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, 45). Also, check out page 42. Girard, like others, demythologizes the devil by denying the devil independent ontological status.

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