I. Revelation and apophaticism
The reason I focus on exegetical theology is not due to a totemic adoration of Scripture, or reflexive appeal to Scripture for Scripture’s sake. Rather, it’s entirely practical.
Only God knows what God is like. As such, only God can make known to others what God is like. Hence, propositional revelation must lay the foundation for our doctrine of God. Philosophy can refine or extend our conception, but we can’t begin with philosophy, or use that as the benchmark.
Apophaticism is the default setting. God is not inherently unknowable. However, God is practically unknowable except for when, where, and to whom he makes himself known.
And Israel’s aniconic piety is emblematic of this default apophaticism. God is invisible. He must manifest himself to us–in word and deed.
II. Monotheism and apophaticism
The classic monotheistic passages enunciate the unicity of God, not the unity of God. They’re less concerned with what God is like than what God is unlike. The true God is unlike the false gods of paganism.
As such, the monotheistic passages are misapplied when unitarians cite them to disprove the Trinity. They don’t say what God can or can’t be like in himself, but rather, accentuate how unlike God is to false gods. In that respect, the monotheistic passages are basically apophatic. They tell us what God is not. The true God is not like the pagan deities. But to find out what God is like, for a positive exposition, you must turn to different passages.
III. Theological method
Unitarianism takes the monotheistic passages as its starting point, using that as a benchmark to reinterpret whatever else the Bible has to say about God.
However, the Bible itself isn’t like a shopping mall map that says You are here, or Start here–radiating out from that indexical. There can be more than one place to start. Logically, you’d begin with whatever passages directly deal with the topic.
You could begin with the monotheistic passages, or you could begin with what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, or you could begin with what the Bible says about the Angel of the Lord–and so forth. What if you made that your benchmark?
On the one hand, there’s a sense in which the NT can only be true if it fulfills the OT. The NT must be true to the OT.
On the other hand, there’s a complementary sense in the OT can only be true if it is fulfilled. To the extent that the OT is a forward-looking document, to the extent that the vision of the OT looks beyond the horizon-line of OT history, it can’t function as an independent benchmark.
In ascertaining what the Bible says about God, you can always begin with the OT. That’s legitimate. But there’s a certain logic in beginning with the NT. For the view is better from the summit than the valley.
IV. Narrative theology
Unitarians seize on passages that depict Jesus as subordinate to the Father. And they infer his metaphysical status from these depictions.
However, that’s one-sided. Take the major theological motif in which the relation between the Father and the Son is depicted in terms of royal succession. On the one hand, there’s a sense in which that depicts the son as initially the social inferior. He is elevated to the throne by his father.
On the other hand, if that’s a metaphysical statement, then it cuts both ways. Does this mean God is in his dotage? Over-the-hill? It’s the picture of a superannuated monarch who retires when the heir apparent comes of age. An image of senescence and mortality, where sons take their fathers’ place. Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!
Perhaps the unitarian will assure is that this is merely anthropomorphic. Or perhaps he’ll say that’s a narrative convention, in which a father-figure plays the type-character of the elderly, senile king while his firstborn son plays the type-character of the youthful prince.
And there’s a lot of truth to that, but once again, that cuts both ways. If we’re going to make allowance for one of them, then we must make allowance for the other.
V. One God in three persons
In what sense is God one God? It’s important to clarify whether we’re asking an exegetical question or a philosophical question? From an exegetical standpoint, there is one God in whatever sense accommodates whatever else the Bible has to say about God.
We don’t begin with some preconceived notion of what it must mean for God to be one God, then pare down the witness of the Bible to fit inside our narrow preconception. If there’s a tension between God’s self-revelation and our preconception, then we must expand our preconception to make room for what God tells us about himself.