How Many Christians Are Functional Unitarians?


ImageMy friend Tim Fary told me once, “We Calvinists really love God the Father a lot; we like Jesus the Son; but the Holy Spirit is a total stranger.”

It’s only funny because it rings so true.

Fix your attention on some other group of American Christianity, and I’ll wager you’ll find a similar engrossment with one person of the Trinity.  Pentecostals cry for Holy Ghost fire.  Evangelicals strut across their platforms shouting, “Jesus!”  Moderate, mainline protestants invoke “God” with all the polish of a three-term Senator addressing the chamber.  

How many Christians, I wonder, are functional Unitarians?  

Do we not like the idea of the Trinity?

Here’s the real corker, then.  Jesus, on the night that he was betrayed, had a long chat with his followers.  He told them he was going away, going back to be with the Father.  And then he said that this leave-taking, this separation, this seeming abandonment is a good thing:  “I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away…” (John 16:7a).  

To our advantage that Jesus go away?  Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.  Jesus, the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among men.  

And what possible reason could Jesus give his disciples?  “…For if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7b).  

“The Helper.”  That is the Holy Spirit.  And it’s good for Jesus the Son to go away to God the Father so we can receive the Holy Spirit.  So much for functional Unitarianism, then. 

This is a totally different experience: not just God with us, but God within us.   Jeremiah, writing long ago with the singular clarity which the Spirit once granted to prophets, declared on behalf of God, “…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest…” (Jeremiah 31:33b-34a)

The law is written on our hearts, not like words etched on a stone monument.  Rather the Holy Spirit is there continually reciting the words of the law that we need to hear for the moment we’re in.  When we are downtrodden, the Spirit whispers of grace and comfort; when we are cocky and sure, the Spirit barks about sin, depravity, and the need to repent.  

And all this happens because Jesus goes to be with the Father.  And the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit continue to enjoy community with one another.  And the Holy Spirit teaches us how to participate in the community too.  

So, yes, I love the Trinity.  And I love the Holy Spirit. 


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4 thoughts on “How Many Christians Are Functional Unitarians?

  1. This is so true Russell, funny we were both writing about the Holy Spirit today…..I was a follower of Jesus for many years before I began to notice, pray to and focus on the Spirit. You are right- the Trinitarian nature of God provides His people with so many beautiful ways of knowing Him but often we focus on only one of the three Persons…..Love this post.

    • Thanks – I’m doing a 4 week series on the Holy Spirit at our Wednesday worship service. I just went back and looked at your other posts. I’ve always loved that Wesley/Moravian story. My wife went to Salem College (a Moravian school), so I’ve always been a big fan of the Moravians and their missions movement. Bless you!

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