Perhaps you’ve heard the popular parable about the four blind men and the elephant. The story is told from the vantage point of a king who watches as these men grapple with the reality of the massive creature. It goes like this:
One man holds the tail, another its tusks; one grasps the elephant’s ears, another touches its massive body. When they report back on what it is they’ve encountered, the report matches their personal experience with the creature: it’s hard or floppy, long or smooth.
The meaning of this modern parable? Like the blind men, every religion has a limited understanding of the “elephant.” Each religion believes it understands g/God based on its practitioners own personal, limited experience. While we all assume the Divine matches our own religious description, it’s perspective all the way down.
This sounds nice, doesn’t it? I mean, we’re modern, sophisticated, enlightened people. How could we claim that one truth is the only truth? That one god is the only one true God?
At the risk of alienating the interwebs, Vintage Christians gently — but honestly — voice that there is no God but God the Father, Son, and Spirit — equal in power, majesty, and glory, revealed in three persons and possessing one essence. And we believe this God is both the Author of our Story and an Actor within it.
Which has massive implications for how we conceive of God.
The opening lines to our central creeds remind us what Christians believe about God: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit . . . ” (Apostles’ Creed) and “I believe in one God . . . ” (Nicene Creed).
We believe there is one God, the Father-Son-Spirit God. This belief in only one true God is actually deeply Jewish. Reciting the Shema, the children of Israel declared, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).
YHWH is our God. And YHWH is the one God. Not the Egyptian gods Isis or Thoth. Not Baal of the Canaanites or Artemis of the Greeks. YHWH.
This belief in only one true God continued with Jesus, who equated himself with God the Father when he equated himself with the great “I AM,” YHWH (John 8:48–58).
And of course Jesus’ followers recognized he was God — the only God — and worshipped him as such. As Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 8:
“We know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one.’ 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.”
Citing the Shema, Paul equates Jesus Christ with the only one true God of Israel, which N. T. Wright calls Christological Monotheism — the belief that the one God of the universe is Jesus. This God is both the Author of our Story and an Actor within it.
As Author he alone is King. He alone is high and lifted up. He alone is holy. He is also distinct and separate from all other things. He is outside and above creation. Not some sort of energy spark or force that’s part of the universe — Star Wars style. God is not part of creation. He is distinct and separate from it.
Yet he is also an Actor within it. Christians don’t worship a distant, impersonal God. He isn’t removed from what happens in life on earth. No, the Christian God is the God-with-us-God!
And here’s why continued belief in the one Father-Son-Spirit God is important in our modern multi-faith world:
The Gospel of John declares that one day, God chose to step into our story by becoming one of us — that God made the conscious decision to become flesh and blood, and move into the neighborhood, as one translation puts it.
God walked around on this earth. God experienced everything that life has to offer. He experienced our pain, our fears. Our hardship, our struggle. He understands this life because he lived this life.
What kind of god does that?
What kind of god chooses to become an Actor in the Story he authored?
This God. The only one true God — Father, Son, and Spirit.
I’m sure glad he did. How else could God rescue us if he didn’t become one of us? How could he do something with our sin if he had not fully identified with us?
The one true God is the Father-Son-Spirit God who is also the God-with-us God.
That’s why it matters that the Church continues to proclaim the oneness of God, and that Jesus is that one God. The salvation of the world depends on it.
This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the “vintage” Christian faith. I invite you to rediscover in the coming months what it means to be a vintage Christian.