Tri-theism is a word that some critics have used toward Dake’s understanding of the trinity. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In its most simple sense, tri-theism is the belief in polytheism or the belief that there is more than one God. This is something Dake did not believe and never taught.
“Henry C. Thiessen” gives an excellent discourse on Tri-theism in which he defines Tri-theism as well as its opposite extreme, Modalism.
“The doctrine of the trinity must be distinguished from both Tri-theism and Sabellianism. Tri-theism denies the unity of the essence of God and holds to three distinct Gods. The only unity that it recognizes is the unity of purpose and endeavor. God is a unity of essence as well as of purpose and endeavor. The three persons are consubstantial. Sabellianism held to a trinity of revelation, but not of nature. It taught that God, as Father, is the creator and lawgiver; as Son, is the same God incarnate who fulfills the office of redeemer; and as Holy Spirit, is the same God in the work of regeneration and sanctification. In other words, Sabellianism taught a modal trinity as distinguished from an ontological trinity. Modalism speaks of a threefold nature of God, in the same sense in which a man may be an artist, a teacher, and a friend, or as one may be a father, a son, and a brother. But this is in reality a denial of the doctrine of the trinity for these are not three distinctions in the essence, but three qualities or relationships in one and the same person.”
Notice Tri-theism denies the unity of the essence of God and holds to three distinct Gods. It recognizes a unity of purpose and endeavor, but not a unity of essence. As we have seen, Dake recognizes a unity of essence which Tri-theism denies.
“TRINITY. This means the union of three persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in one (unified) Godhead or divinity - so that all three persons are one in unity and eternal substance, but three separate and distinct persons as to individuality (1 John 5:7-8; Daniel 7:9-14; Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; Acts 7:56-59).”
Dake Does Not Teach Tri-theism
Tri-theism has to do with three separate gods, who are unrelated. Dake does not teach this. Dake teaches three separate “persons” in the one “substance” of the Godhead. This is completely orthodox. Nowhere in the Dake’s writings will we find him saying that there are “three gods.” It is simply not there.
Theologian Milliard Erickson tells us: “Monotheism is deeply implanted in the Hebrew Christian tradition. God is one, not several. The unity of God may be compared to the unity of husband and wife, but we must keep in mind that we are dealing with one God, not a joining of separate entities. God is three persons at every moment of time.” We find Dake in complete agreement with this quote.
Dake’s definition of the trinity speaks both to the threeness and the oneness of God. In fact since Dake declares that the Godhead is one in “unity and eternal substance,” no claim of tri-theism could possibly be made, or as Ryrie puts it: ““the phrase the same in substance (or perhaps better, essence) protects against tri-theism.”
Combating The Jesus Only Movement
Early in Dake’s life and in his movement there was a strong teaching going around concerning the “Jesus Only” teaching or what later became known as the “Oneness” movement. In his writings, Dake stressed the threeness of God in an effort to combat the fallacies of the “Oneness” movement. Some have taken this emphasis on the threeness of God to mean that Dake leaned over on the side of Sabellianism or Tri-theism. As we have seen above this is not the case. Another citation from God’s Plan for Man makes this even clearer. In regard to the plural name of God, Elohim, Dake writes: “The one Elohim then is not one person, or one in number, but one in unity. Elohim is not a divided Deity, but three persons in one God, or one Deity.” Take note, Dake says that Elohim is not a divided Deity, but three persons in one God, or one Deity.
After examining the facts, we see that Dake was not a Tri-theist nor did he believe in separating the Divine essence or substance. For Dake the choice was a Biblical one: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:” Deuteronomy 6:4.
Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949) page 90.
Ibid. God’s Plan for Man, page 51.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1983), page 337.
Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, (Wheaton, Illinois: Chariot Victor Books, 1986), page 54.