Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Answering the Socinian (Pt. 1)

The frequent reader of my blog more than likely missed it, but Dan Mages, apostate unitarian and curator of the Hunger Truth website, left a lengthy comment under one of my posts directed toward him and some of his cronies addressing their heretical beliefs. When I say "lengthy," I mean his comment is five full pages when printed out.

He left the comment back toward the beginning of February and much of it is statements of complaint against what he believes to be my mis-characterization of his person and beliefs, and his attempt to defend his departure from biblical Christianity. A lot of the rhetoric he uses comes straight from the current emergent church play book where it is suggested that I, as a detractor and critic of Dan's heresy am, a) judging him from a position of theological hypocrisy because my own reformed fundamentalist theology has many problems I ignore, and b) due to my traditional blinders, I have misunderstood his sincerity in his honest pursuit of God.

Now, when I initially read his comment, I wasn't planning to respond. I felt as though my posts addressing Dan and his unitarian pals were a sufficient reply. Plus, other blogging interests occupied my mind at the time. Later, as I mulled over Dan's comment, I thought I would turn out one post as a brief response, however, as I thought about it, Dan's objections to biblical Christianity he outlines and the arguments he employs to defend them I figured could be encountered by other Christians who may be unprepared to answer.

So, I thought that over the next few weeks I would post an answer to a handful of his points I believe deserve a thoughtful response. I will begin with the first one,

Does John MacArthur's change in his understanding of Christ's eternal sonship justify Dan's departure from orthodox Christianity and his denial of the Deity of Christ?

In his comment, Dan mentions John MacArthur changing his once held view concerning Christ's eternal sonship. He writes,

Even John MacArthur changed his view regarding whether or not Jesus was God's eternal son. If he can change his view concerning the Godhead, so can you, so can I, and so can any of us.

You say John MacArthur has merely refined his theology, implying that there is not real change here, as if he just made less sophisticated perspectives fine-tuned. Please, what he once believed was true, he now believes is false. The eternal sonship issue is big, as you know, he almost lost his credentialing because of it.

Dropping John's name is Dan's way of finding solidarity with a well known Christian pastor who has changed his understanding on a key aspect of Christ's divine title, just as Dan, too, has changed his position on the Deity of Christ. Thus, any one of us could change our beliefs if someone like the well-known, popular radio Bible-teacher, John MacArthur, can change his.

Let me provide a bit of background so that everyone reading this knows what I am talking about. And, by the way, I have verified the facts with Phil Johnson for the sake of accuracy.

Back when John was preaching through the book of Hebrews, he was attempting to understand and explain the passage in Hebrews 1:5 which says, You are my son, today I have begotten you.

His conclusion about the title son as applied to Jesus Christ was that it is a divine title given to the second Person of the Trinity when God became flesh in space and time and took on the role as the Messiah. John writes in his commentary on Hebrews,

This passage presents to its Jewish readers the awesome truth of Christ as God's incarnate Son. As was noted, Son is an incarnational title of Christ. Though His sonship was anticipated in the Old Testament (Prov. 30:4), He did not receive the title of Son until He was begotten into time. Prior to time and His incarnation He was eternal God with God. The term Son has only to do with Jesus Christ in His incarnation. It is only an analogy to say that God is Father and Jesus is Son - God's way of helping us understand the essential relationship between the first and second Persons of the Trinity.

The Bible nowhere speaks of the eternal sonship of Christ. When His eternity is spoken of in Hebrews 1:8, God says to the Son, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever." When talking about Christ's eternity, the title "God" is used; only when talking about His incarnation is He called "Son." (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, Moody Press, 1983, pg 27)

It is important to take note that John is not denying the Deity of Christ. His argument is simply that when the second Person of the Godhead became the man, Jesus Christ, God the Father granted Him the unique and special title of "Son of God." John explains further in his printed statement describing his change,

My earlier position arose out of my study of Hebrews 1:5, which appears to speak of the Father's begetting the Son as an event that takes place at a point in time: "This day have I begotten thee"; "I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son" (emphasis added).

That verse presents some very difficult concepts. "Begetting" normally speaks of a person's origin. Moreover, sons are generally subordinate to their fathers. I therefore found it difficult to see how an eternal Father-Son relationship could be compatible with perfect equality and eternality among the Persons of the Trinity. "Sonship," I concluded, bespeaks the place of voluntary submission to which Christ condescended at His incarnation (cf. Phil. 2:5-8; John 5:19).

My aim was to defend, not in any way to undermine, Christ's absolute deity and eternality. And I endeavored from the beginning to make that as clear as possible.

After John's commentary on Hebrews was published, he received severe criticism from a variety of individuals. Though some of the criticism was genuine, in my opinion, I personally believe much of it was nit-picking from other independent fundamental Baptist already critical of John's teaching ministry who were looking for a means to discredit him as a pastor. They made the unfounded charge that John was denying the Deity of Christ in spite of his clear statements in his printed commentary.

As a result of his view on Incarnational Sonship, as well as some other positions John held, the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the organization that ordain John, invited him to explain his views publicly in 1989. The transcript of the session can be read here (Part 1) and here (Part 2), all though the portion where John defended his view of Incarnational Sonship has been removed since his reversal.

This must be what Dan means in his comment when he writes that John was in danger of loosing his credentials, but this was hardly the case. Additionally, it is important to recognize that the IFCA affirmed John's teaching on the subject and cleared him of the fallacious charge of denying the Deity of Christ.

So, the comparison Dan attempts to draw between John's change in his view of Christ's Eternal Sonship and his descent into Arian heresy of denying Christ's full Deity, is a convenient dodge, but a false one. John has always maintained a firm belief in Christ's full Deity. The issue with sonship had to do with the semantics of how we understand biblical descriptions of Christ's person and work and nothing to do with His essential nature and attributes as the second Person of the Trinity. So, where as John MacArthur moved toward a clearer, more concise understanding of Jesus Christ's role as the Son of God, Dan Mages moved to a complete denial of the biblical revelation concerning Jesus Christ as the Son of God.



Blogger HungerTruth said...


This is a fair summary, mostly because it is John's own words :-) I find it funny that you say it was hardly the case John was in danger of losing his credentialing. Was this just a fireside talk? Give me some credit here, I am not attempting to misrepresent John in any way.

I have learned a lot from him, a love for truth, exposition, accuracy, and a good interpretation of many texts in the NT. I never suggested that John taught against the Deity of Christ (which of course is the Father :-).

Furthermore, IFCA did not affirm John's teaching, but merely understood where he was coming from. They recognized his case rested on the text, though they ultimately disagreed with his interpretation of things. They realized that he did not teach against the Deity of Christ, which some alleged.

Lastly, the comparison as I made it is valid. We both changed our views regarding the Godhead. That was my claim. You may think one is more significant than the other and I would agree with you :-) John kept all his friends and I didn't! I was never in this to gain acceptance by a large group of people anyhow. I don't think Jesus was either.

John's issue was more than semantics because he saw no submission of the second person of the Trinity to the first person before the incarnation. It was not just word games where everyone agreed. Why would he change his commentaries if it was just semantics?

Please get the facts straight, I do see Jesus Christ as the Son of God, just not God the Son, because there is no biblical revelation concerning that idea.

I look forward to part 2,3,4,5,and 6 :-)


5:34 PM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I find it funny that you say it was hardly the case John was in danger of losing his credentialing. Was this just a fireside talk? Give me some credit here, I am not attempting to misrepresent John in any way.

(Fred) I have spoken with numerous individuals, including John, who were actual eye-witnesses in the late 80s to all the events surrounding the IFCA. All of them say you are exaggerating the severity of what you claim and all of them say he was never in danger of loosing in credentials. I take their word for it seeing that they have first hand knowledge of the events. You were in what then? The 6th or 7th grade?

We both changed our views regarding the Godhead. That was my claim. You may think one is more significant than the other and I would agree with you :-) John kept all his friends and I didn't! I was never in this to gain acceptance by a large group of people anyhow. I don't think Jesus was either.

(Fred) No. It may be YOUR interpretation of John's position that he changed his views concerning the Godhead, but it most certainly is semantics. He still believed in three distinct persons in one divine being as the Bible teaches, only that the biblical titles of "son" or "messiah" were given at the incarnation. You deny the Godhead out right, claiming now no such entity exists, only absolute, unitarian monotheism. Jesus is just a created being.

Again I will remind the reader: John tightened his doctrine and honed it to being more biblical, hence the reason he often updates his commentaries to reflect more mature convictions. You, on the other hand, have totally derailed and have denied the faith. There certainly is a stark difference.


5:58 PM, July 07, 2007  

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