Last month I noted an interview
I heard on Way of the Master Radio.
A Master's College
alumnus named Dan Mages
was telling about his departure from orthodox, biblical Christianity to the embracing of Unitarian heresy.
One of the more interesting exchanges during this staggering interview was Dan expressing his displeasure with how Ray Comfort and the WOTM
ministry staff utilize the 10 commandments during their street witnessing. Dan was particularly annoyed with how Ray or Kirk will get a person to admit he has stolen something or lied to someone and then tell the person, "By your own admission that makes you a thieving liar." Dan was insistent with the host, Todd Friel, that this tactic, which accuses a person of having such a terrible character, is a dishonest abuse of scripture because lying once or twice does not make a person a liar. A liar, exclaimed Dan, is a person who continually practices lying. Of course, my immediate thought was if Dan's reasoning is right and a man sexually fondles a child only once or twice, then I guess that doesn't make him a molester because it is not a continual practice of his life.
At any rate, I posted a lengthier blog article pointing out how the Unitarian god is a weak, wormy, impotent god, because he (or she) is powerless to preserve his (or her) truth in the hearts of the devoted. So any time during the course of Church history when someone like the Gnostic Arius or the pantheist new-ager Servetus preached what is really the correct view of Christ's person and denied the Trinity, that person received a water canon blast to the face by the theo-political elite and his teaching, which again is the correct view according to Unitarians, is renounced as heresy. But what can be said about a deity who can't prevent his (or her) self-revelation from becoming distorted by institutional theocrats? What compels me to worship and serve an impotent god?
Well, Dan discovered my post
and he was none too happy with what I wrote, so he left a comment testifying to his spiraling descent into apostasy and rebuking me for calling him what he is, an apostate. The words saddens me
and sneering remarks
I don't plan to answer him point-by-point, but I thought I would offer some of my own observations and general comments in return. His entire comment can be read here
One thing common with apostates is how they feel obliged to tell their detractors how they too once clung to traditional Christian doctrine. But now, after an honest re-evaluation of their traditions, they had to go where the truth led them and their spiritual eyes are opened to wider, theological horizons. The word tradition
, however, is a dirty word with apostates because they have redefined it to mean "narrow-minded," "bigoted," and "lacking critical thinking." Hence, anyone who holds to traditional
Christian doctrine is a narrow minded bigot who refuses to critically evaluate his beliefs. I do find it amusing how those Christians who are critical thinkers and do re-evaluate their traditions, but only solidify the traditional, historic Christian doctrines in their hearts, are still dismissed as narrow-minded by the apostate. I reckon that is because those Christians didn't renounce those traditions like the apostate?2)
Vocal apostates like Dan believe it is virtuous to question every tradition and always embrace the opposite (though he would probably deny this). I believe questioning one's traditions is healthy for a Christian because it trains a believer to discern. Questioning traditions, however, must be accomplished according to a standard. For the Christian that is the Word of God correctly interpreted. I realize Dan would whole-heartedly agree and claim that is what he is doing even though he holds to the Bart Ehrman view of the Bible and doesn't believe we have an infallible, inerrant Word to use as a standard. I believe he is woefully mistaken, because questioning one's tradition does not equate to abandoning orthodox doctrine. Dan believes such questioning will and that it is alright because it is all a part of his spiritual journey and we who disagree with him should be understanding and gracious because we all are on similar theological journeys but coming to wildly different points of view.3)
That of course makes me wonder if Dan has genuinely thought through the implications of his comments. Does he really believe two people can come to the exact same biblical text, and using the exact same tools of exegesis that I am sure Dan was certainly taught at Master's, come to two entirely different conclusions about what the text is saying about God and the person of Jesus Christ? Why would such a phenomenon happen? Does the problem lie with the text, or the person interpreting the text?4)
Dan appeals to a personal anecdote of listening to gobs of John MacArthur
sermons:I especially enjoyed the Q & A tapes where members of Grace Community would ask John questions from a standing microphone. This allowed John to be more candid. It was during these sessions when he would openly admit that he was something like a 2.5/3 point Calvinist. He would openly share the paradoxical statements in Scripture and talk about how he gladly accepted them both. As you know, he has now evolved in his understanding and interpretation, just as I have.
The use of the word evolution to picture John's present theological convictions as opposed to those he may have held 25-30 years ago is entirely dishonest and self-serving to Dan's position. I too recall listening to gobs of Mac tapes and would wager a Costco ice cream bar dipped in chocolate and rolled in almonds that I have probably listened to more than Dan could ever imagine. I have listened to every one of John's Q&As at least 4 times over including the ones that were not released to general circulation. No where can I remember John ever saying he was a 2.5/3 point Calvinist.
Be that as it may, it is self-serving for Dan to compare his freefall into theological error as the same as John's refinement of his theology being one and the same:
"John has evolved from being a 3.5 Calvinist to being a full five-point Calvinist, just like I have evolved from being a Christian who had the right view of God's nature and Christ's person to becoming a pagan worshipping a finite god."
Does Dan truly believe there is a comparison between a person tightening up his understanding of a particular doctrine with a person who abandons wholesale the entire revelation of God's nature as it has been taught historically by both Judaism and Christianity to become an idol worshipper?
Dan also asserts that Christian disagreement over other biblical subjects like infant baptism, spiritual gifts, and eternal security serves as a similar illustration to his current position. But a person will note once again that those believers who disagree among themselves over these issues all confirm the historic, theological understanding of God's nature and Christ's full deity and humanity. Now, there may be an issue of submitting to the authority of God's Word and the clinging to some traditions or personal biases like those who believe in women pastors or deny eternal security, but the nature of God is not up for debate in these disagreements. Perhaps he thinks it is good evolution, but I think he has inherited some fatal mutations.5)
Apostates who do abandon biblical truth will make concerted efforts to justify their heresy with appeals to scripture. In the case of Dan, the Trinity was just too ambiguous for his tastes:The general tenor of Scripture led me to think that YWHW, the God of Israel, was the God of Jesus. Texts like, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” caused me to re-think my Trinitarian instruction. If the Trinity was to be found, it was not clear, for it seemed to rest on ambiguous Jewish poetic wisdom texts like John’s prologue and possible allusions to Isaiah or Exodus in John 8. I noticed that neither of these were Trinitarian in nature, but only Binitarian at best.
Dan, like many of the historical apostates who deny the biblical doctrine of the Trinity and the Deity of Christ tend to have a myopic perspective of scripture and the historic apologetics surrounding these doctrine. Does Dan really believe the only passages in scripture where Christians have established the doctrine of the Trinity is only John's prologue and John chapter 8? Surely he is familiar with all of the historic apologetic literature written by Christians over the centuries defending the Trinity against apostates, who like Dan, re-thought their theological convictions? I mean honestly, if a person was preparing to make a radical shift in his understanding of God, at least he would make the effort to read the tons of literature on the subject. Robert Morey, for example, has a 600 page book on the subject. And what do you do with the classic Patristic apologists who wrote before the Council of Nicea
defending the doctrines of Christ's deity and the Trinity against such apostates as Praxeas and Noetus? Were they enslaved to their traditions?6)
Apostates seem to leave out the illumination of the Holy Spirit in these matters. I guess for anti-Trinitarians like Dan, I can see how that is possible. He writes:We are not able to pull John, or Paul aside and ask, what did you mean by that? This leaves us to put the pieces together the best we can. Biblical, or any other interpretation is not a perfect science. Therefore, I am only asking for grace as I am doing the best I can. I acknowledge that my interpretation is just that, an interpretation. Should we not all acknowledge this? I am always open to good arguments, that is what changes my mind, not name calling or personal attacks.
First, it is not naming calling to call someone what he is, an apostate. The biblical writers did this regularly. Believe me, when I call Dan an apostate, I do it with the utmost respect.
Second of all, where is the Holy Spirit leading us into truth? The unique thing about the Christian experience is that we are not left to ourselves to flounder about in our flesh. We have been given the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and help us put sin in our flesh under our subjection. Moreover, we are not left to ourselves to figure out the Bible, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to illuminate our minds so we can understand the truth. This is why I can trust my fore fathers in Church history. As they studied the Word and presented their teaching in their writings it reveals hearts set on fire with the Holy Spirit. Does that mean I agree with every thing these men wrote? No, but that goes back to what I outlined in point 4.
Dan treats the Bible as if it is just another ancient book that is ambiguous and no one should be certain about it. But that conclusion is the result of a person who denies God preserved His Word in a manner that can convey truth to a generation 2,000 years removed from its publication. It also denies the continual work of the Holy Spirit to illumine the minds of God's people to protect scripture, read scripture, interpret scripture, and apply it in their cultures and personal lives.7)
Dan was not happy with my comment about his Oliver Wendell Holmes quote:Fred, in other matters, it saddens me that you seem to be unable to separate a quote from a person’s understanding of the world’s origins. I did not quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes for his evolutionary views, but because he said, “The mark of a civilized man is his willingness to re-examine his most cherished beliefs.” It is possible to agree with him on this point, without accepting everything he believes. You should know this. Furthermore, putting a Supreme Court justice in the class of a “crackpot philosopher” is an ad hominum attack hardly worth commenting on and completely misses the point of his quotation.
It may do Dan well to review the life of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Even though he was a Supreme Court justice, he was a crackpot, because he held to a crackpot world view. The quotation is meant as a challenge to traditional Christian Americans who were resisting the encroaching evolutionary philosophy that was creeping through out our society at the time. Justice Holmes was a champion of Darwinian humanism and favored the eugenics policies being molded by Dr. Harry Laughlin who believed we could purify the human race and improve upon the evolution of man by forcing sterilizations upon those people deemed unfavorable. Holmes helped manufacture a test case
with a young lady as the patsy. This gal was chosen to be sterilized for being feeble-minded. Her lawyer, who was also involved with the set up, got her case tried before the Supreme Court where Holmes presided. He declared the eugenics' law constitutional thus initiating one of the darkest moments in American history where thousands of innocent Americans, mostly mentally retarded individuals and blacks with learning disabilities, were forcibly sterilized against their will solely for the purpose of evolving the human race. So Dan may think I am throwing around ad hominems because I am missing the point of Holmes' comment, but I am willing to consider the context of the source of such quotations and this one I find truly disturbing.8)
Dan is also bothered by my resistance to environmentalism:It never ceases to astonish me that Christians scoff at the idea of preserving and protecting the environment or exploring ways towards a healthier diet. It seems that you are assuming that there is some kind of anti-God agenda behind this, but in reality it is just the opposite. It is the idea that we are to imitate God and be good stewards of the earth and our bodies. Once again, I don’t have to support everything a particular organization is about to support their basic message. This is true for those that attend churches. Many agree on fundamentals and disagree on other matters.
The environmentalism in this case is the radical, new-age pantheistic variety often held up by the likes of Al Gore and other fanatical alarmists who are soundly ignorant of the science behind the environment. Though I am all for the conservation of the environment, I do not have to buy into the pseudo-science of modern day environmentalism and their global warming nonsense. The same goes for eating healthy. Why must I become a vegan, which has roots in eastern mysticism and is a religious practice all to itself, in order to eat right and take care of my body? Dan's sense of the extreme never ceases to amaze me.9)
Apostates never believe anyone has ever offered a meaningful critique of their new found convictions. Dan writes: I think there are more problems with the classical Calvinistic approach, which I once shared with you, than the Open model. I don’t think God is insecure and therefore feels the need to control every atom. I think God is bigger, wiser, and exhaustively resourceful. Just as history is filled with sovereign kings over kingdoms who did not manipulate every action and reaction in their kingdom, God too can be sovereign without this puppeteer-like control.
Is he kidding? Does he think his position is unassailable? I can name at least 10 books now in print where the authors devastate the openist position. Robert Reymond's chapter 10 in his New Systematic Theology
is by itself enough to show the utter failure of open theology to deal with the biblical text and the so-called problems of God's foreknowledge. RK McGregor Wright pointed out in his book critiquing open theism with the difficulty of a god limited in knowing the future and the predictive prophecy of Christ's birth. All of the so-called free-will decisions necessary to get Joseph and Mary into Bethlehem at the designated time is just incomprehensible.10)
A few last remarks from Dan; let me respond bullet style:Is everyone in church history that disagreed with the majority a “theological crank?”
(Fred) Pretty much. Especially in matters of orthodoxy like those individuals who denied the Deity of Christ and God's exhaustive knowledge.I continually find it ironic that it is the reformers, should I say it again, the Protestant reformers who bully and push around the significant minorities the most.
(Fred) Protestant Reformers had their foibles then as they do now, but on the issue of Christ's Deity and the nature of God's knowledge they are spot on. Are you suggesting that Unitarians should not have an honest hearing?
(Fred) Unitarians have had an honest hearing and they have been renounced as heretics. Again, do Unitarians like Dan think no one has answered their anti-Trinitarian objections?If Unitarianism was the more biblical perspective, how would you know?
(Fred) The Holy Spirit would have confirmed their doctrines in the hearts of the people and protected the truth.I suppose church history settles it for you.
(Fred) Pretty much. Especially when it comes to affirming the Deity of Christ and God's exhaustive knowledge as taught in scripture.It’s impossible for the church to be wrong, correct?
(Fred) I'll grant that the Church has been wrong on matters in the past. The historic Protestant Reformation is the classic example. But, however wide the schism between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation with regards to salvation and the authority of scripture, they all agreed on the Deity of Christ and the exhaustive knowledge of God.We are safest by just joining whatever group has the largest following, right?
(Fred) No, we are safest by joining that group that upholds God's Word as a final authority in matters of doctrine, faith, and practice. Part of upholding God's Word as a final authority is recognizing its purity and infallibility. By his own admission, Dan denies these things based upon the research of such anti-supernaturalist apostates like Bart Ehrman. That makes his group extremely suspicious. I understand that you think everything is as God planned, the child molestations, rapes, car accidents, plane crashes, genocides, starving children, holocausts, wars, and murders. Even after God allowed all of these things, you can’t conceive of pastors and people in church being confused about doctrine?
(Fred) Yes, pastors and people in churches can be confused about these things, but that confusion is born from a variety of factors like misunderstanding the Bible, not being taught well by leadership, or out right refusing to submit to what the Bible teaches concerning the problem of evil. That confusion, though, does not mean there is a problem with scripture or that we need to re-read the Bible according to Unitarian-Socinian constructs which have been historically rejected by the true Church of God.Why are there 34,000 Christian denominations then?
(Fred) There aren't 34,000 denominations. Maybe 34,000 churches affiliated with various denominations. I believe Dan pulled that number out of his belly button. There may be tops a few hundred, and the good portion of them that are orthodox and hold to a high view of scripture as outlined in their doctrinal statements, affirm the Deity of Christ and the exhaustive knowledge of God. Perhaps the leadership may be lacking in explaining those doctrines fully, but they at least affirm them.
Dan seems like a good guy. He appears to be nice and charming; certainly inquisitive, bright and energetic. Those virtues, though, do not make him right when it comes to rejecting the doctrines of Christ's Deity and the nature of God. My hope is that Dan will repent of these heresies, abandon Unitarianism for being the lying, useless religion it is and return to the only savior who can give eternal life, Jesus Christ the Lord; fully God and fully man.