Quick Challenge Answer: What is Modalism?

One of the hardest subjects to talk about in Christianity is the Triune nature of God. We’ve been trying for a few thousand years and have come up with a lot of bad ways to explain it. We like to use analogies like God is like water, in that he can be a solid, liquid, and gas, but all are still water. Or similarly, a man could be a husband, father, and a son, while still being one man. The problem is these get us into an ancient heresy called Modalism. But if you told that to your average Christian parent trying to explain the trinity to their kids, you might be met with some blank stares. What is Modalism? Why does it matter?

Quick History of Modalism

Modalism, sometimes called Sabellianism, was first discussed and declared a heresy back in the 3rd Century. The view rejects the trinity, and instead holds that the 3 persons of God are different modes that the one God can go into. This would mean that Jesus, the son, was not a distinct person from the Father or Spirit but was instead God going into temporary Human mode.

What’s Wrong with That?

Okay, yeah, that denies the trinity. But why couldn’t this be true instead of the trinity? It simply doesn’t follow from the Bible. For one, it does not make sense of examples where multiple persons of the trinity are active at the same time. At Jesus’ baptism, we see the Son being baptized, the Spirit descending like a dove, and the Father speaking about his beloved son. This, and the many other examples where we see interactions between the godhead, would not make sense if God is only one role at a time. As difficult as it can be to wrap our head around, the trinity answers more problems than it raises.

While these analogies are easier to understand, they ultimately to a disservice to God. It is important that we understand the nature of the God we worship. If we are going to teach about his nature, we at the very least need to also teach the limitations and pitfalls of those analogies.

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