9.08.2010

Dr. James R. White and The False Charge of Nestorianism


I listen to the podcast of Dr. James R. White, from AOMIN.org often. Dr. White is an excellent Reformed apologist and has done a great job in defending the deity of Christ, the Existence of God, and other religious topics. He has done a great job debating Islam as well. During the Septermber 7th podcast edition of The Dividing Line Dr. White answers a question from a caller concerning Oneness Pentecostals, John 14:9 and the claim that “Jesus is The Father”. The answer for the caller, in part, was that John 14 distinguishes between the Father and Son over, and over and over again. Dr. White also suggests that Oneness Pentecostals have a presupposition that if Jesus is in any way shape or form connected with the Father then they somehow are together. He also notes, “If you can talk to someone using personal pronouns….you are clearly not the other person.”  He eventually crashes the argument by suggesting that Oneness Pentecostal’s believe that one half of Jesus was praying to the other half and that they also turn Jesus “into two persons.”

This is the old fashioned charge of Nestorianism. I had listened to his remarks at the Bunyan Conference (click here for video) at which he spoke in 2008 and he had made similar arguments based upon John 1:1, John 17:5, and Phillippians 2:5. He even repeated his offer to debate Dr. David K. Bernard who is currently the General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International. Given his duties as the Superintendent, Pastor and President of Urshan Graduate School of Theology I see Dr. White waiting a very long time. He should move on.

This podcast seemed to be even more radical. Sadly, Dr. White then refers the questioner to his debate with Dr. Robert Sabin in 1999 in Patchoque, NY. In my opinion Sabin could have done much better than he did but chose to rely upon the emotive argument of Michael Servetus. In other debates however with Robert Bowman, Walter Martin, John Ankerberg and Cal Beisener his approach was different.

The point is though that by doing this Dr. White demonstrates his misunderstanding of Oneness Pentecostalism and by referring to the Sabin debate he shows us that his arguments haven’t changed. They are the same old arguments much like those we see of Dr. Robert Morey in The Trinity: Evidence and Issues. These are mostly vacuous claims that are really tangential to the argument that the Oneness Pentecostal is actually making.

Dr. White has probably not even read the final report from the Society of Pentecostal Studies 2008 Oneness and Trinitarian Dialogue which was presented at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. I should give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he has. Those interested in what Oneness Pentecostals actually believe can read these writings in a theological journal which is the outcome of over seven years of scholarly dialogue. Oneness Pentecostal contributors include but are not limited to UPC scholars like Dr. David K. Bernard, Dr. Daniel L. Segraves, Dr. David Norris, and PAW scholar and bishop James A. Johnson.

I have posted Dr. Segraves remarks concerning vol. 30, number 2 of the Pneuma journal for the Society of Pentecostal studies. Here is the post from January of 2009. What do Oneness Pentecostals believe though about the deity and humanity of Christ? In the journal Oneness Pentecostals affirm:

41. We affirm the genuine and complete humanity of Jesus. Christ’s humanity means that everything we humans can say of ourselves, we can say of Jesus in his earthly life, except for sin. Moreover, in every way that we relate to God, Jesus related to God, except that he did not need to repent or be born again. Thus, when Jesus prayed, when he submitted his will to the Father, and when he spoke about and to God, he simply acted in accordance with his authentic, genuine humanity.
42. We regard the terms “Father” and “Son” in the New Testament as serving to emphasize the true humanity of Jesus, not to make distinctions within God’s being. The title of Father reminds us of God’s transcendence, while the title of Son focuses on the incarnation. Any attempt to identify two divine persons tends toward ditheism or subordinationism. Moreover, in our view, defining the Son as a second divine person results in two Sons—an eternal, divine Son who could not die and a temporal, human Son who did die.
43. Although we recognize both deity and humanity in Christ, it is impossible to separate the two in him. Humanity and deity were inseparably joined in him. While there was a distinction between the divine will and his human will, he always submitted the latter to the former. Jesus was, and remains, the one God manifested in flesh.

The charge of Nestorianism is false on its face. This is not the teachings of Oneness Pentecostals. In fact Nestorius may have been more orthodox than Nestorius; however, Oneness believers do not affirm that Christ has a human side that is a person and a divine side that is another person. Are there issues in how they express it? Of course. Dr. White can accuse us of Nestorianism for ages if he would like but it is probably about as effective as me accusing him of being Tritheistic.

If I say the humanity of Jesus wept or hungered I am recognizing His humanity in such a way that does not say He is a human person ONLY that is also another yet divine person. It is like referring to a red ball. It is a ball but is also the color of red. If the Spirit that was resident in Christ were to leave, hypothetically, prior to His death, then what would have happened to His body? Jason Dulle, M.A. say those who hold to a Nestorian Christology will say that Christ would continue to live but those who reject such a view would say that the body would not continue to live and function.

Not all Oneness Pentecostals say “Jesus is the Father” as well. It is more accurate to say Jesus is the Father manifest in the flesh or the Father Incarnate. "Jesus is the Father" can be a logical contradiction given the different nature of existence that the Son of God had versus the nature of existence that God the Father has. There is a distinction as a result of the Incarnation between the Father and the Son. Yet a distinction does not prove a person. I do not say Jesus is the Father because “is” refers to state of being and the state of the Father’s being was not identical to that of the Son since one is transcendant and the other existed in time/existentially. The Son of God is not identical to the Father and this claim is not necessary in order to posit Oneness Theology. The Father is Incarnate in the Son of God. As the above affirmation declares, “Jesus was, and remains, the one God manifested in flesh.” (# 43)

Click here for debate between Dr. David K. Bernard and Dr. James R. White

Click here for comments on John 17:5 by Dr. Daniel L. Segraves

Is God a Person? Click here for comments by Jason Dulle, M.A.

John 1:1 “with God” and pros theos. Click here for comments by James Anderson

Debate between Dr. James White and Dr. Robert Sabin

2 comments:

Book Talk said...

Today Dr. White kicked me out of his live chat channel. I went there to dialog with him on this issue.

We dialogged for a few minutes but sadly he eventually would not answer me directly on at least two occasions when I asked for a simple "yes or no" answer.

The result was typical of those who's mind has become hard against Truth. Other Oneness believers that are my friends have also dialogged with him and can attest that Dr. White cannot handle criticism's against the Trinity with Oneness Pentecostals.

Before it was over he was calling me a liar and ignoring other solid questions and replies to his Trinitarian doctrine. Dr. James White does not have an answer to the message of the Mighty God in Christ.

Thank God for Truth!

Anonymous said...

Hello, middle party here. I believe Trinity and Modalism to both be wrong. Grace!

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)