For many the word “evangelical” is a fighting word. Depending on your personal beliefs “evangelical” means standing for the truth or standing for narrow-mindedness and bigotry. It really means neither.
Evangelical is an adjective used to describe someone who propagates the Good News of Jesus Christ. In and of itself the term is somewhat neutral, though over the past decades it has been associated with the right wing of the Republican Party. An evangelical Christian, which is really an oxymoron given that all Christians are charged with spreading the Gospel, may or may not be in favor of abortion, capital punishment, evolution, deregulated capitalism, the Rapture, or dancing. Yet the word continues to be used as if it told us something.
To help correct matters some, the Evangelical Theological Society has issued an evangelical manifesto that requires those who label themselves evangelical to adhere to two principles: the inerrancy of Scripture, and belief in the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as “separate but equal in attributes and glory” and essential for salvation. Now evangelicals can vote Democratic and dance at the inauguration balls. Good for them!
But I am now more troubled than before. I know that most evangelicals accepted the idea that the Bible was without error. Most of my Bible students at Middle Tennessee State come into my class with this belief, and, much to my dismay, leave with it intact as well. But I didn’t know that the Trinity required a belief in a separate but equal clause; the key word being “separate.” If Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate then they are distinct, they are three not one, and hence evangelicals are polytheists. That surprised me.
To look deeper, I checked the Catholic Encyclopedia and learned that according to the Athanasian Creed: "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God." Obviously someone can’t count. Each of the three Persons of the Trinity is co-eternal and co-equal: all alike are uncreated and omnipotent. Which means, despite creedal assurances otherwise, that there are three Gods. You can’t be co-anything if you are the same thing. So I stand corrected. I thought the charge of Christian polytheism was a slur, but now I don't think so. I think they do believe in three gods, but have found it politically inexpedient to just come out and say so.
Now I have no problem with people believing what they like. I stand with Tom Jefferson on this, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. (Notes on Virginia, 1782). Believe what you like, but be honest about it. If you believe in three Gods, say so, but don’t pretend that you really believe in one God.
The Hindus have their trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva but say they these gods are attributes of the One God Brahman and not three co-equal deities. And the Hindu Rig Veda, the oldest scripture in the world says, “Truth is One, different people call it by different names.” This is my understanding as well, but it isn't the evangelical or Catholic position. I just find it fascinating that in the 21st Century people still believe in multiple gods. But then I am still amazed that you get two scoops of raisins in every box of Post Raisin Bran. Every box!