Semi-modalism: A Study in the Bizarre

A person who is three persons. A single mind controlling three individuals. A plurality of persons with a single united consciousness. An intelligence speaking and acting through three manifestations. An intelligent ‘thing’ that exists as a three rational persons.

What am I talking about? Science fiction, or semi-modalism?

Hard to tell, isn’t it?

In fact, I would be so bold as to say that without further description, it would be downright impossible to tell. I could be referring to something similar to the alien monster from John Carpenter’s science fiction masterpiece The Thing, or I could be talking about the intelligent “thing” that semi-modalists say is the three real persons of the Trinity (and yes, I have actually had it articulated to me by them in those terms).

What I am trying to point out here is how bizarre semi-modalism is. Now an idea seeming bizarre, of course, does not mean that it isn’t true, and I will grant that there is a good bit of subjectivity that goes into deciding what is bizarre and what isn’t. But in the case of semi-modalism, we are dealing with doctrinal error, serving to obscure the glory of God and to harm the church. Semi-modalism isn’t false because its bizarre, but in the vast and varied sea of doctrinal errors that Christianity has encountered throughout history, I would argue semi-modalism ranks among the most bizarre (although anyone who has studied ancient pseudo-gnosticism like that of Basilides and Valentinius knows semi-modalism still doesn’t take first place).

Along this line of thinking, I would suggest that if we did not live in a world where semi-modalism had gained longterm ascendency throughout much of the church, such that people became used to and familiar with its underlying ideas and terminology, semi-modalism would actually sound very strange to most Christians. The idea that there is a personal “triune God” who is Father, Son, and Spirit might sound perfectly normal if you’ve been indoctrinated with the ideas and have grown used to the lingo, but really, its a very weird idea being put forward.

To demonstrate this, step back from the doctrine of the Trinity for a moment and consider metaphysical personhood in general. Consider human persons for example. The idea that one human person can be multiple other human persons would break most classical philosophical definitions of personhood entirely. Imagine three men who shared one mind, one consciousness, who were three and yet at the same time, all just different parts of a single intelligent person who controlled them all. That is bizarre. And because we would never even consider such an idea in respect to humans outside of science fiction, its easy to recognize its oddity, and, if we really consider what personhood is, its impossibility.

Yet when we come to the Trinity we are fed the exact same sorts of ideas by semi-modalism. Yet they are accepted.

This too, is bizarre.

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