Alexander Campbell on Trinity and Christology

Nancy Koester’s The History of Christianity in the United States (Fortress, 2007) is my current supplementary text in my undergraudate Stone-Campbell Movement course at Lipscomb University. I use it to provide the American context for Stone-Campbell history.

I was surprised to read this sentence in the book (p. 61):  “[Alexander Campbell] also rejected the doctrine of Trinity because he did not find it in the Bible.”  She would have been more accurate if she had written that he rejected the term “Trinity,” but Campbell did not reject the theological idea of the tri-unity of the Christian God.

For example, in a series entitled “Elementary Views,” Campbell summarizes what he thinks is the heart of the Christian faith (Millennial Harbinger [July 1854] 367):

One Jehovah in three personalities, and one Mediator in three offices constitute the true faith and the true religion of the Christian Church, or the Reign of Heaven. And these are the centres [sic] of the Jewish and Christian dispensations of the doctrine of human redemption, in its typical and anti-typical manifestations. This is·the Alpha and the Omega of the Bible. On this broad, and strong, and enduring basis, the new heavens and the new earth, and all their tenantry will rest forever.

Campbell’s Protestant “orthodoxy” on Trinity and Christology is also obvious in this selection from “Millennium” (MH [December 1856] 700-701):

Our creed as christians is drawn up by a council of thirteen apostles presided over by the Lord Jesus Christ, and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  It is in contrast with the Theocracy, properly set forth as the Christocracy.  The central idea of the Jewish Religion is one Jehovah—absolute in all his perfections, self-existent, eternal and immutable—of whom are all things.  The central idea of christianity is “one Lord Jesus the Christ; by and for whom are all things.”  He is infinitely Divine and perfectly human, possessing all Divinity and all humanity in one personality.  A perfect God man, “the only begotten of the father full of grace and Truth.”  His sacrifice “expiated” and took out of God’s way and out man’s way “the sin of the world.”  “By offering up of himself” on the cross on Mount Calvery [sic], “he made an end of all sin offerings,” introduced “an everlasting justification” or righteousness for fallen humanity; and “perfected forever all them that are sanctified through the faith” in his person, offices, and work.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God in another personality, equally Divine, and equally co-operant with the Father and the word incarnate, who illuminates, sanctifies, and perfects every sinner in whose heart he becomes the Holy Guest; sometimes improperly called, in our common vernacular, “Holy Ghost.”

It is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that any sinner, can be pardoned, justified, sanctified, and perfected in holiness and in happiness—for his blood alone can justify God in justifying any penitent, believing sinner.

In these views, the whole Revelation of God centres [sic].   Jesus the Christ being the centre of that circle, which is itself the centre of all the spiritual systems of the universe.  His blood, alone, which is his human life, on the altar of Jehovah, becomes the justifying cause of the justifying grace vouchsafed to fallen man, through the gospel of the reign of heaven.

Alexander Campbell considered himself in the mainline of Protestant “Orthodoxy” on the traditional questions of Trinity and Christology. His problems with Protestantism were significant, but these were not among them except the use of scholastic and creedal terminology as tests of communion and modes of understanding.

7 Responses to “Alexander Campbell on Trinity and Christology”

  1.   Randall Says:

    I appreciate your continued blogs on the S-C movement. Your research, and sharing it with all of us is educational and edifying.

  2.   Charles Stelding Says:

    Perhaps you should contact Nancy Koester about her mistake and point her to Campbell’s writing on this subject.

  3.   Ed Dodds Says:

    “the Holy Guest” helps me see why he was as effective a communicator as he was…

  4.   Mac Says:

    Stone on the other hand….

  5.   Donald Crane Says:

    Totally Agreed…thank you for sharing.

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