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God of the Philosophers:
Brief Comments on the Godhead

by Lynn Ridenhour

We had just stepped off the bus.

My wife and I were standing near the edge with the rest of the tour group, mesmerized by the moment. The Niagara Falls was unbelievably stunning. I saw beauty, power, majesty and grace all wrapped into one.

Then a guide walked by.

"…Sir, you’ve got to look at this…"

He seemed disinterested. "…O, we see it all the time…" and walked away.

I couldn’t believe it. Then turned my attention back to one of God’s Seven Wonders.

* * * * * *

The above scene describes my feelings toward our subject matter.

"…Sir, you’ve got to look at this…"

The first time I saw what I’m writing about, I saw beauty, power, majesty and grace all wrapped into one. Of course, I’m talking about discovering the God(s) of the Restoration. For you see, unknowingly I had preached the God of the Philosophers for years to my congregation.

(You must forgive me, but this restoration business is still new to me. It’s like I’m looking at the Niagara Falls for the first time. By the way, I want to keep this lighthearted while sharing a bit of history. History, if you don’t watch it, can get awfully heavy handed.)

I remember preaching on the Trinity, covering the normal topics:

"…We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things, visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…"

Of course, I’m quoting the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D.

As said, for years I preached the God "…of one substance…," the transcendent God, the God of "Ex Nihilo." On more than a few occasions I preached on the mystery of the Trinity, and thought I was on top of things. Ironically, now that I look back, I was requiring of my people to believe in a doctrine that none of us pastors could quite understand, let alone articulate. Yet, this very doctrine was at the bedrock of our faith. Mainstream Christianity had adopted a paradox to push its faith forward. A seemingly contradiction. Interesting.

God of the Philosophers:

"…But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King…"  –Jer.10:10

"…And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent…" –Jn. 17:3

Prophets of the old and new testaments both proclaimed "the one true God" of Israel. The God of Israel is the one true God. That’s different from "The One."

And that’s the first substitution…substituting The One for the One True God. That subtle switch in emphasis turned Jesus Christ, the Logos, into a Greek abstraction.

At first, early framers of the Christian faith saw no need to substantiate their faith by appealing to Greek philosophers. Unfortunately, thoughts soon changed. Greek concepts of God began creeping into mainstream Christian thinking as early as the middle of the second century. One day the platonic god slipped into our pews unnoticed. The god without a body has been with us for a long time in Christian circles. And sadly, the majority of Christendom is unaware, and/or doesn’t care.

In most Protestant & Catholic colleges and seminaries, second and third century religious history more times than not is skimmed over. We Protestants, for example, begin getting excited when studying sixteenth century religious history—the time of the reformation. While studying for the ministry, none of my professors emphasized what crucial changes occurred during the first four centuries of the Church. That’s sad. It’s sad because the first few centuries are extremely relevant.

Hear, for example, our church fathers:

"…Whatever attributes therefore you require as worthy of God, must be found in the Father, who is invisible and unapproachable, and placid, and (so to speak) the God of the Philosophers; whereas those qualities which you censure as unworthy must be supposed to be in the Son…" --Tertullian

Tertullian, around the turn of the third century, already refers to the Christian God as "the God of the Philosophers."

Listen to Clement of Alexandria:

"…No one can rightly express Him wholly. For on account of His greatness He is ranked as the All, and is the Father of the universe. Nor are any parts to be predicated of Him. For the One is indivisible…"

And Clement refers to the Christian God as "…the One…"

As early as the second and third centuries, God’s transcendence had outmaneuvered His immanence; thus, the abandonment of anthropomorphism. How different from the God of Israel. Somehow the God of Moses always had time to visit with the prophet face to face. The God of Israel was never far from His offspring. Hellenistic intellectualism was quickly squeezing those simple conceptions from the early saints; i.e., God walks among us and Moses saw his hinder parts. Ignored are those early Jewish Christian documents based upon anthropomorphic belief:

"…And Simon said: ‘I should like to know, Peter, if you really believe that the shape of man has been moulded after the shape of God.’ And Peter said: ‘I am really quite certain, Simon, that this is the case…It is the shape of the just God."  --Clementine Homilies 16:19

Who knows how much influence Greek philosophy has had on our Christian theology? Even today. Just how infiltrated are we? And, more importantly—does it matter?

I think it does.

I see great differences in the God of Israel and the God of Plato.

The God of Israel is that God, a material being, whose physical form is that of a man. Plato’s God is incorporeal and invisible—asomaton.

The God of Israel is knowable. The unknowability of God crept in through the Gnostics.

The God of Israel spoke creation from chaos. The God of Plato favors creatio ex nihilo—creation from nothing.

The God of Israel is the God of subordination. Elohim is the God of gods. Jesus Christ, in his pre-existent state was named "Yahweh." The God of the Trinity wallows in modalism, stumbling to give its advice to new converts. Listen to Cyril of Jerusalem:

"…For there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost; the Comforter. And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance: for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost."  --Catechetical Lectures 16:24


What kind of Being is God?

Let Joseph answer. The Prophet preached that "…if you were to see [God] today, you would see him like a man in form," and that "the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit" (D&C 130:22).

As I said in the beginning, this may be old hat to most, and not unlike the tour guide, some may be tempted to say "…O, we see it all the time…" and walk away, but for me—it’s like seeing the Niagara Falls for the very first time.

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All truth passes through three stages:
   First, it is ridiculed;
   Second, it is violently opposed; and
   Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

-- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

"Would God that ALL the Lord's People Were PROPHETS"

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