Getting Sidetracked on God’s Triunity–Part 1: The Ghost in Jewish Midrash

Fractal-tree-300x232I have a good excuse for why blogging was light this past week. It was because . . . wait for it . . . I was planning a lesson for a congregational chavurah group on the triunity of God in a Messianic Jewish context.  Even with the abundance of good scholarship out there, it was a complicated subject that took me much time and mental effort to fully absorb, let alone get myself to a place where I could be confident enough to dare teach others.  This would be the case even with the most Type-A, hyperfocused, super smarty go-getter out there. But this is me we’re talking about, and my research methods can be, let’s just say, a little serendipitous.  And by serendipitous, I mean “about to crash my four year old Toshiba computer because I have over 50 browser windows open, including several 100+ page PDFs, five YouTube videos on pause and my kids’ Dora the Explorer flashgame running in the background” serendipitous.

The good thing about this method is that it fuels content inspiration, even if it tends to throttle content production.  So on one hand, I’m neglecting my blog to construct a chavurah class, which I’m in turn neglecting by being sidetracked by content that probably won’t help in making the class.  One the other hand, this sidetrack content leads to quite a few “this would make a good blogpost!” moments, if only I had the time to sit down and write about it.  

That time is now. This post, and this series of posts, is dedicated to the interesting loose ends I stumbled across while recently researching the triunity of God.  But as you will see, these are “sidetracks” in more ways than one since they represent the ways we can get sidetracked when discussing such a profound and unfathomable subject.  

THE SIDETRACK CONTENT I FOUND and want to share in this blogpost is two instructional videos on understanding–or rather not understanding–the doctrine of “Trinity” or triunity of the Godhead.  The latter term is more accurate and preferable than the former.  “Trinity” is not best thought of as a noun, but an adjective that describes the ultimately ineffable Noun, the theiotés or “Godhead” as the King James renders the word.  Any attempt to describe this Noun with precision is an intellectually questionable and possible dangerous venture.  Case in point  . . .

It’s a funny video with a serious point.  The people we see day in and day out, our friends, coworkers or even our spouses, children or mothers and fathers . . . their true personally, mental processes and who they are can be a mystery to us.  How much more God? No man may see him and live, yet he mysteriously makes himself known through the person of Yeshua and dwells in and among us through the Ruach Ha’ Kodesh . . . so intimate yet so aloof.

And speaking of someone I don’t understand, here’s Dr. Michael Brown’s take on the triunity of the Godhead.

I greatly admire Michael Brown’s life work of evangelism and scholarship, but admittedly, I am troubled by certain positions Dr. Brown has taken over the years.  When PMMJ came out, he wrote an unfortunate hit piece on Kinzer’s book that, rather than genuinely address the conclusions or concerns of kinzer’s work, knocked down strawman arguments with knee-jerk talking points and unreflective hyperbole. (And I’m not the only one who thought so.)  Then, seven years later, he’s all smiles and laughs with Benny Hinn.  Michael Brown’s two-hour interview with Benny Hinn was certainly different than what my interview with Benny Hinn would look like, which would be me yelling and screaming at Benny Hinn that he needs to repent to Yeshua for his life of false teaching, false prophecy, fraud and lies, money swindling and likely homicide of the people he “miraculously healed” and then died because they didn’t receive genuine medical care.   Brown is previously someone who had been zealous in denouncing aberrant hyper-charismatic mishegoss of the TBN variety like the prosperity gospel, so its troubling that he chooses to “ride in Ahab’s chariot” by this tacit endorsement of Benny Hinn’s “ministry”.  I dare say that any disciple of Yeshua who insists on so treating Mark Kinzer like he’s the bad guy, and Benny Hinn like he’s the good guy, badly needs to revisit his core premises.  

Nonetheless, this particular video was recommended to me as a resource on an MJ view of God’s triunity, and I’m inclined to agree for the most part–Brown in this video does provide a good synopsis of the subject.  Granted he makes the same imprecise analogy as “Patrick” above by making a sun/heat/light analogy, but this can be forgiven especially since we don’t really perceive the Sun or any other sort of matter without having some interaction with its electromagnetic energy. As far as bad analogies go, this is a good one you can make.

The bigger issue here is what he gets right about the Godhead, or more specifically, what resources he uses to get it right. He cites rabbinic sources in defense of God’s triunity, in particular

  • An aggadic story of Jacob thinking his sons idolatrous;
  • Citing rabbinic discussion of the shekinah, including it going into exile with Israel and not being whole again until the Jews are regathering in Israel and the Temple rebuilt;
  • Quoting Rabbi Akiva, to say that by redeeming his people he redeemed himself because the shekinah went into exile among his people;
  • Discussing Kabbalah mysticism in discussing the sefirot, that performing mitzvot reunify the shekinah reunite; and finally
  • Citing Dr. Benjamin Sommer and the Lubavitcher Rebbe for the premise of echad meaning a unity of diverse elements, and for there being nothing un-Jewish about trinitarian thinking.

I see nothing wrong with Brown citing these sources.  But why does Dr. Brown think it’s okay, since he’s on record as basically denying that there is anything divinely inspired about rabbinic midrash?

Herein we see a problematic practice in MJ outreach: Citing rabbinic sources to Jews in apologetic efforts to explain the divinity of Yeshua, yet denying the legitimacy of those same rabbinic sources in other contexts.  In other words, we arguably say something false to convince Jews to join our camp, then repudiate the premises on which they’ve based their repentance once they are firmly in our camp.  Our critics could construe such methods as hypocritical and deceptive.  Or to be more merciful, we can just say that there a deep level of confusion out there on a fundamental theological question: The proper way for Messianic Jews to treat rabbinic writings and tradition.  Is Oral Torah as found in Mishnah and Talmud the law of Moses as handed down on Mount Sinai?  Or are their writings of the rabbis flawed ab initio because they reject Messiah and alienate themselves from true worship of Hashem, his salvation and the influence of the Ruach Ha-kodesh?  Or is there a middle road? Can we argue that the writings of rabbinic scholars are the divinely inspired, or at the least divinely influenced product of God’s priestly people, who even in the state of being blinded to the true identity of their Messiah during this age of grace to the Gentiles still possess the oracles of God?  

By no means am I saying this later premise to be wholly or partially correct.  I don’t know what to think about the great body of rabbinic writing–even modern rabbinic writing far removed from Second-Temple common sources with Christianity–that has uncanny application to the nature of Messiah and discipleship in Yeshua.  Flannery O’Connor once wrote of a “Christ-Haunted South”.  Could it be said that Judaism is a “Messiah-Haunted faith”, or perhaps better rendered, a “Messiah-Haunted people”?  And if the same Ghost, that “third person of the Trinity”, which haunts the Church catholic also haunts the Jewish people in their diaspora, what does that entail about what Jewish leaders taught and wrote?  We Messianic Jews need some coherent theory on Midrash and Oral Torah, especially when discussing it with other Jews, and especially in an apologetic setting.  That’s something we can all agree on.

Part 2 of this series will be forthcoming shortly.


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