Will the Real "One Person of God" Please Stand Up?|
(The Confusion of Nature and Person
In Oneness Theology)
A Review of Robert Spearman's Book The God-Man
Published December, 2006
Reviewed March 17, 2007
«The Structure of the Book»
«The Argument of the Book and its Problems »
«One Thing I Liked»
Before reading this book, but after reading a few excerpts available at Amazon.com, I thought it was a fairly straight-forward presentation of what Community Chapel taught about "the Godhead" in its "Unfolding Revelation of God" (UROG) version of Oneness theology. Its author, Robert Spearman, and I were both members of this "Oneness" church in the 80's. Now, after reading his book, I see that it is not the same as UROG at all. It seems to have a much greater similarity to the Oneness theology of the United Pentecostal Church, in which the Chapel's UROG theology had its roots, but which Robert is now presenting in such a way as to guard against the evolution of Oneness theology into "Jesus is not God" (JING) theology as happened with UROG in the minds of some former Chapelites, including its former pastor, Don Barnett. Ex-Chapelites who have taken that path still claim continuity with UROG theology but have rejected the "dual nature" doctrine and are willing to say openly they do not believe Jesus is God. This book by contrast seeks to establish the "dual nature" doctrine and the "absolute deity" of Jesus as indispensable articles of Oneness doctrine. Printed on the cover of this book, as either a short description of the book or as the world's longest subtitle, are these words:
A Guide to Understanding the Godhead
A Look at the Two Natures of Jesus the Christ
Exploring His Absolute Deity & His
God & Man Working together to Save Mankind
Modern Oneness theology - the kind of which this book, the Chapel, and the UPC are all direct descendants (not the liberal Unitarian kind, which predates it and is of a different character and lineage) - originated within Pentecostalism around the start of the first World War when Pentecostalism itself was still a fairly new movement. The new Oneness theology did not initially include a "dual nature" doctrine, nor was it systematically worked out from the Bible. Instead, it was based on a few verses and a single "revelation" that were tied together by a misunderstanding of baptism "in Jesus' name" in Acts as compared to the instruction of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 to "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The "revelation" was that the phrase "in the name of" in Matthew 28:19 meant not "by the authority of" but instead referred to a literal name, the name "Jesus."
It was claimed Jesus' name, a name that comes down to us in English through transliterating the word used in the New Testament Greek (Iesous) to translate a Hebrew name meaning "Yahweh is salvation" (Yahshua), was the single name belonging alike to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From there it was an easy step to the conclusion that these three in Matthew 28:19 didn't refer to three distinct persons but were merely three different "titles" for the one person it named. The earliest form of this teaching was therefore labeled the "Jesus Only" doctrine - Jesus was seen simply as the one God, the only person in the Godhead. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were but three successive modes in which he has manifested himself to mankind.
That is the view that has been often caricatured with the "God in a Bod" label, for it grants the man Jesus Christ no true personhood of his own, instead relegating him to a role as the human body God lived in for thirty-three years. Objective inquirers could see that it didn't give a satisfactory answer to the question, "If Jesus was simply the one person of God, to whom was Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane?" It was also probably the question that led Don Barnett to refine the UPC theology he learned in his youth into the UROG theology he taught at the Chapel. His answer was that Jesus, a person of humanity, was praying to the Father, the one God, the person of deity who not only dwelled inside of Jesus in perfect union with him but who remained omnipresent as well.
This teaching, UROG theology, was also of course meant to be a corrective to historical, Trinitarian theology, which maintains that the Bible clearly teaches a distinction between three inseparable, coexistent, and coeternal persons in the Godhead. In Trinitarian teaching, Jesus is one of these persons, the Son, who assumed human nature through union with a man from the moment of conception. Jesus is therefore one person with two natures; not a person who sometimes speaks and acts "as God" and other times "as man," but as one person who always speaks and acts from a truly united nature as both man and God. In his state of humiliation on earth he prayed to his Father, not only as a real human being in whom the Father dwelt but also as a true Son of his Father, that is, fully sharing the Father's essential nature of deity.
Historically speaking, this is the person whom Christians have seen in the Bible when they use the term "the God-Man," and likewise when teachers of Trinitarian doctrine use it, but that's not the person seen by the author of this book as he "explores" the term. The book is therefore misleading, in my opinion, when it titles itself "The God-Man." It doesn't present the usual, Trinitarian view that Jesus is "one person with two natures," a phrase the author assiduously avoids in favor of saying two natures were "embodied" in one person (e.g., pp. 19, 40, 63, 70, 206), a very confused statement of Jesus' identity because, as we shall see, it becomes increasingly difficult as one progresses through the book to tell who or what this one person is.
The Structure of the Book
The book actually seems to have two Introductions - there's the short chapter titled "Introduction" and then right after it an equally short chapter titled "A Preliminary Word."
The "Introduction" is a short overview of "the suffering servant" of Isaiah 53, who is revealed by the New Testament scriptures to be the Messiah. Here, the author's view of the dual nature is first stated: "Imagine all the fulness of Deity (Spirit) dwelling in Him, enveloped by all the fulness of flesh (body, soul, spirit)." (p. 2)
"A Preliminary Word" turns out to be that "two important truths emerge from the New Testament. One is the reality that a virgin gave birth to a Manchild (Luke 1:35). Hence, God was the Father. Two is the fact that God is Spirit (John 4:24). God is not a man. ...Why are these two biblical truths important? Because they help us to properly understand the God-Man's dual nature." (p. 5)
The chapter then goes on to characterize the relationship of these two natures repeatedly: "Humanity enveloped Deity. And there was no overlapping of the two natures. Each nature was distinct and separate from the other." (p. 6) "God continues to be undivided, dwelling in the Man Christ Jesus." (p. 7) "By the virgin birth all the fulness of Deity dwelt in humanity. Two separate natures resided in one person - for a time. Deity had to leave humanity at the Christ's death, however, for Deity cannot die." (p. 7)
The main part of the book has three sections: Part 1, Part 2, and a Conclusion. Parts 1 and 2 consist of ten chapters each; the chapters in Part 1 are titled "HUMANITY 1" through "HUMANITY 10" (though, oddly, a couple of them are in lower case type, except for the initial letter, instead of in all upper case like the rest) and those in Part 2 are titled "DEITY 1" through "DEITY 10" (uniformly in upper case type). As the titles lead one to expect, each part's chapters focus upon how some group of related Biblical descriptions pertain to particular aspects of the humanity and to the deity of Jesus.
The conclusion is a short chapter titled "Worship of Both Natures," which refers to the situation that is, in the author's mind, presented to us in Jesus: "Both natures of the God-Man demand worship because both natures were involved in our redemption and our salvation." (p. 210)
The Book's Argument and its Problems
The sentence just quoted above illustrates the central problem of this book: the author's denial of the Biblically revealed distinction of persons within the Godhead leads him into confusion about Jesus' person and nature. The Jesus described in the Bible is not described as God because he is "indwelt" by the Father - he's described as God because he existed as a person of God from the beginning with the Father. In spite of the author's claims, Jesus' deity as depicted in the Bible is not due to somebody else with that nature living inside him; nor does the Bible support a picture of two natures in Jesus thinking or behaving separately. His two natures aren't making separate demands to be worshipped, each of which the believer must be careful to satisfy without forgetting to worship the other also.
(The Chapel confused people in this same way. Don began teaching in the early 80's that the church had been neglecting Jesus' humanity to its hurt, and that what Jesus really wanted was to be worshipped as the "glorified Son of Man," in addition to being worshipped as God.
That false understanding opened the door to seeing Jesus, "the glorified Son of Man," manifest himself through others in "spiritual connections," and that eventually led to the collapse of the Chapel in scandal as people found out that the advertised phenomenon of "connecting" was a mirage with no true basis in Biblical doctrine or practice, but with plenty of sensual traps.)
Until this kind of Oneness theology came along to tell them otherwise, believers never thought of Jesus' two natures as "separate," and so never worried about whether they were worshipping one or both of them. They simply worshipped the person of Jesus, whom they knew to be both man and God. They knew his two natures weren't "distinct and separate from one another," as if they could act just like separate persons (as the author frequently describes them doing in his book), but are united inseparably and forever in one person. The potential for uncertainty introduced by Oneness theology on this point is an indicator that something less than pure Biblical doctrine is at work wherever it is taught.
In other words, there is a very obvious confusion between terms like "nature," "being," and "person" in this book that obscures rather than clarifies who the Biblical Jesus is. Although the term "nature" is heavily used in this book, it is never defined. That's a very great shortcoming in a work that purports to be a "guide to the Godhead" and a "look at the two natures of Jesus Christ," for of course, as the author knows very well, "nature" and "person" have a prominent place in the history of Christian thought about the Biblical teaching concerning Jesus and his relation to the Father, and he couches his claims in words that are meant to sound, initially, exactly like what "all Christians agree" upon - that Jesus was "fully God and fully man." (p. 6) But his attempt soon leads to hopeless contradiction with itself and to what is much worse - confusion for the book's readers about who the Jesus of the Bible really is after all. "Oneness" theology, in denying the Biblical descriptions of the pre-existence of Christ as a person of God distinct from the Father, is always, inevitably, left with a false Jesus. Their Christ is a savior who cannot be portrayed from the Bible without a great deal of questionable fun with words. Here are some of many examples that contribute to that conclusion:
- The author does use the word "person," and explicitly applies it to Jesus, so his issue is clearly not an objection to the word "person" as a term for discussing Jesus' identity: "There is only one person of God and that is the person of Jesus Christ." (p. 110)
- However, we have earlier read this: "The difference is basic: Father and Son are not two persons of God." (p. 71) This is ambiguous. The grammar could mean either that not both are persons or that not both are God, but since he also says in several different ways (e.g. in the quotation given in the item immediately below this one) that "Father" and "Son" both refer to Jesus Christ, it seems somehow we are talking about only one somebody anyway, whatever or whoever he is.
- That kind of reasoning is shown here: "Both Father and Son are titles that refer to Jesus Christ. One title (Father) expresses Jesus' Deity and the other title (Son) expresses the Christ's humanity. The two titles do not relate to the same Being. Father never alludes to humanity and Son never alludes to Deity." (p. 124 - italics mine) In this remarkable and unbelievable passage, the author actually says both "Father" and "Son" refer to Jesus Christ (who remember is one person) - but they don't refer to the same Being! It's hard to know what to make of this, but he does plainly say the Father and the Son are two different Beings - one who is God and another who is not. The Father is clearly the Being who is God, so that means the Son is the Being who is not - meaning Jesus is not God but only man, unless he here uses "Beings" either as a simple synonym for "natures" or as merely referring to the different and temporary states or modes of existence that one person can be in. Is either of these his definition? Or does he use the word "Beings" as conventional, historical theology would use it, more as a synonym for "persons" - beings that have a personal existence of their own distinct from others? We don't know. He never defines his terms. That's probably not what he means, but if he doesn't, then he can't explain how one person can be two "Beings" - one of God and then (at a later time) one of humanity - because he's already laid it down as an unbreakable rule (in his "Preliminary Word," page 5, and in several other places) that "God can't change into a man."
So we have to note that if the author means "being" in one of the former, non-personal senses, he is back to simple modal monarchianism, in which the one person of God, Jesus, is both Father and Son (as well as Holy Spirit) - not only being a changeable God, but also leaving Jesus without anybody to pray to except himself, making his behavior in the Garden of Gethsemane into a very strange charade.
- These modalistic tendencies are further revealed by the unBiblical way he frequently explicitly speaks of God assuming or taking on merely "a human body" instead of "human nature," apparently in an attempt to avoid the charge of having a changeable God. Examples: "He [God] took upon Himself a human body as a man puts on a coat. God's Holy Spirit dwelt in a body." (p. 65) "...God himself came to earth and clothed Himself in a body, the body of His Son, to manifest His love and to fulfill His plan to save the world from sin." (p. 124)
- 'Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). "I" refers to humanity and "Father" refers to Deity. The Father is seen in the Son (John 14:9).' This quotation shows that, in the author's view at this moment at least, the self to which Jesus refers when he says "I" (that is, Jesus' own person) is in fact a person only of humanity, not also of Deity. So Jesus, who is elsewhere said to the "one person in the Godhead," is here revealed in Oneness theology to be a person who is not really God at all.
- The book frequently equates "the human nature" and "the divine nature" with, respectively, the person of Jesus and the person of God the Father without any qualification or explanation. The term "nature" is not defined, but seems to be used as a synonym for "person," a being who exists distinct from other beings and is capable of acting from his own volition. One very clear instance of this is on page 58: "Both natures - divine and human - were active and functioning in the Son in the land of Israel 2000 years ago - not independently but separately. That is to say, each nature performed that activity or function which was proper to it. For example, The Father (Deity) devised the plan of redemption/reconciliation and the Son's (humanity's) job was to carry it out." The author's problem is that if he acknowledges that "nature" is a "synonym for "person," then it makes it obvious he has two persons he is talking about: God, and the person Jesus who is not God, making a shambles of his claim that in his Oneness theology Jesus is God.
It is all extremely confusing. Here in this passage from the book, "God" is obviously a person (the Father) who does things separately from his Son, who is a completely different person, a man. But then we later have to adjust our thinking somehow to see that "God" is merely the nature of deity in Jesus, who is himself the "one person in the Godhead."
This is completely exhausting. Will the real "one person of God" in Oneness theology please stand up and save us from all this confusion?
- Speaking of different persons, is the Son of Man the same person as Jesus Christ? Compare this: "The Son of Man is not God, but God dwelt in Him" (page 71) with this: "...the consumption of bread and wine is a tender appeal to the senses to celebrate the Christ as a human being even though he was also God" (p. 77). It is very confusing to read "Christ was also God" just six pages after reading "The Son of Man is not God." (Also note here there's been a subtle switch of emphasis made in the Lord's Supper from its Biblical meaning of partaking of "the new testament in Christ's blood" (Luke 22:20) which is "shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28) to being a "celebration" of Christ as a human being.)
- The author states Jesus was God only "for a time" - until God left him at his death. (p. 7) But later he says, "God will not lay aside the human nature he assumed. The union of the human and divine natures in Jesus Christ remains in perpetual unity." (p. 78) Very contradictory and therefore every confusing. Did God leave Jesus or not? Also, see the list of "Clarifications" that begin on page 81. They give us this time sequence beginning with Jesus' death: God left the humanity of Jesus, God raised the humanity, the humanity sits down at the right hand of God, and now the humanity is "in Deity" instead of Deity being in it, but the humanity is NOT omnipresent ("Though a glorified man, He is not omnipresent" - p. 82).
Pardon? How not, if the deity in which it dwells is omnipresent?
This also stands in direct contradiction to page 214: "...because the right hand of God, where the Christ is seated, is everywhere present, the resurrected Christ is everywhere present since, in reality, God has no right side. Presently the Christ is not limited to a body in one particular place."
- "There can be no other person of God to diminish the power and authority and integrity and reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ." (p. 184) No other person of God? But yet on page 20 the author wrote, "Those that belong to Jesus will be resurrected when He comes the second time... Then He will hand over the kingdom He established - life eternal, the final defeat of death - to God the Father." Who is he?
Other Difficulties and Random Weirdness
In addition to the striking confusion regarding the person of Jesus, this book has a number of other problems and oddities:
- Concealed anti-Trinitarianism. By pointing out this problem, I'm not saying I think the author harbors personal hostility to ordinary Trinitarian believers; I am saying, however, he clearly does believe that those who preach the Trinitarian view of Christ - in other words, nearly all the pastors, teachers, priests, and theologians in the 2000-year history of the New Testament church - are anti-Christs. He says on page 53 that preaching "God the Son" is "limiting the Son to be God only" and therefore "denying Christ's full humanity." He quotes 2 John 7 as applying in this context, making those who preach that doctrine "deceivers and enemies of Christ." (p. 53) Yet he has introduced his own view of Jesus' nature by saying, "All Christians agree that Jesus Christ, when he walked the earth, was fully God and fully Man." This statement makes it appear the particular view of Christ agreed upon by all Christians in which Christ is fully God and fully man - Jesus as the incarnate Son who existed as a person of God before his human conception and birth - is the one the author is writing in agreement with, when in reality he knows it is precisely this view he rejects and writes against. In my opinion, that's dishonest and deceptive - but it is not too unusual for those who preach Oneness doctrine. They are frequently evasive about the kind of doctrine they preach, using words that would make it appear they don't believe any differently from Trinitarians while in reality holding those who teach the Trinity to be hostile to the true Christ.
- Mischaracterization of the Trinitarian position. Similarly, the author either doesn't know the Trinitarian position he thinks he is writing against or he has set up a straw man to knock down. He writes, "When the Christ, speaking as a Man, says that He is sent from God, it has nothing to do with pre-existence, for humanity does not exist in heaven." (p. 94) And again, "What the Messiah did not mean is that He pre-existed as a Man in heaven before He was born." (p. 99) The problem here is, that's not the Trinitarian position. Our position is not that Jesus existed in the form of humanity before his earthly existence, but that he existed in the form of God, as Philippians 2 says. We don't say Jesus' pre-existence means he was a man in heaven, we say it means he was a person in heaven. There's a difference - one which the author has neglected to notice or "explore" in his look at Jesus' two natures. Personhood does not necessarily mean humanity, as the examples of angels proves - they are persons that are not humans with flesh and blood.
(This doesn't mean, of course, that Trinitarians think Jesus is an angel; it means instead there is no scriptural basis for saying that "person" must be used to mean "person of flesh and blood.")
- Logical fallacies. Spearman writes on page 122:
God is God the Father.But the only reason it does is because it contains a logical fallacy, the fallacy of equivocation, in which different senses of the same word are exploited in order to come to a false or misleading conclusion. In this case, the author uses the word "God" in a different sense in his minor premise than the way he used it in his major premise, and therefore his conclusion doesn't necessarily follow. It again shows his confusion between "nature" and "person." He hasn't defined his own terms accurately enough to realize that in the way he states the major premise, the word "God" is used to refer to a person; but in the way he states the minor premise, it is being used in a different way, to refer to Jesus' nature of deity (as well as being applied to another person, a distinction the author cannot admit because of his theology).
Jesus is God.
Therefore, Jesus is God the Father.
The above syllogism determines that Jesus is the Father.
And, by the way, here's another syllogism using the same kind of logic:
Mary is the mother of Jesus.I would be interested in hearing Spearman discuss this one. For myself, the way he stumbles around with words and with logic brings me back to the nature of Biblical theology, and to why one must pay attention to the way words are used in different parts of Scripture, always being careful to define and to specify how one is using words to represent the doctrine taught by Scripture. Scripture - its overall teaching - must always remain the foundation, not logical deductions made from definitions based only on how a word is used in some parts, but not all parts, of scripture.
Jesus is God.
Therefore, Mary is the mother of God.
- Who is Jesus now? It is very unclear from this book whether Jesus is man or God or both now, in heaven: "The Son of Man was no longer a human being with vital functions and an animated human nature after His death and resurrection. Now He is restored a vivifying Spirit in heaven with the power of imparting life to sick and dying human beings." (p. 210) But remember that elsewhere we have been told that "Spirit" is Deity, not humanity, and the two can never change into each other. Again, the author states something that flatly contradicts what he says elsewhere, but never offers a satisfactory explanation.
- Confusion about the Spirit. Having mentioned what the author says about "Spirit," I will also say that there is some other strange, inconsistent, and confusing stuff surrounding it or Him or whatever exactly "the Spirit" is in Oneness theology. Since the Holy Spirit isn't the main focus of either the book or this review, I will not pursue the topic in detail, but will say I think the oddness of the views expressed about it stems from the same source as the book's other errors: refusing to recognize that the Bible teaches a distinction between eternal persons in the Godhead. The author doesn't know, or doesn't want to admit, that the Spirit is not a "nature" of the Father or of Jesus - he's a person distinct from them both. Here's an example of what I mean: the author says that "God" and "Spirit" are simply synonymous, but he also writes that the Spirit left the world at the time of man's fall (p. 148) only to come back at Pentecost (p. 171). This would have left us without God, or at least without God's spiritual work on earth, for almost the entire Old Testament period, but that's certainly not the way the Bible pictures things.
- A preference for paraphrased Bible versions. Though he also quotes from the NASB and KJV translations, the author shows a marked preference for quotations from paraphrased Bibles such as the Amplified Version and The Message, especially the latter, which is extremely free in its treatment of the Biblical text and turns it into a horrible modern American patois. That is exactly what one should avoid like the plague if one is presenting oneself as a credible guide to the Bible's theology - because that requires precision about what the Bible actually says on the topic at hand - but the author is oblivious.
An example of how his use of paraphrased Bible versions is linked to confusion in his doctrine is on page 177. Spearman is writing about "the Spirit of Jesus" and, after quoting Acts 1:11 says this, "It was not Jesus' body that would come back, His Spirit would come back ten days later at Pentecost." (p. 177). The quotation used of Acts 1:11 is from The Message version, which reads, "You Galileans! - why do you just stand here looking up at an empty sky? This very Jesus who was taken up from among you to heaven will come as certainly - and mysteriously - as he left."
The KJV reads, "...Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." - that is, personally and bodily, not by his Spirit; but the language in The Message's version of the passage makes that very ambiguous, and only with that ambiguity can Spearman make it refer to the Spirit coming down at Pentecost, which is another strange and unexplained departure from more traditional interpretations of the verse.
- "Torture stake" instead of "cross?" Once, in referring to Philippians 2:8 that says Jesus "became obedient to death on a cross," Spearman uses the term "torture stake" to replace "cross." (p. 29) It is well known in theological circles that this is a hobby-horse of the Jehovah Witnesses, who insist that Jesus was not hung on a cross to die but on a straight pole, and that the word "cross" should not be used because of its supposedly pagan origins and connotations. Spearman does not explain his reasoning for following their practice here, and elsewhere he does use the word "cross," but the single appearance of this JW convention in his book is very jarring. In a book that purports to be a guide to "what all Christians have agreed upon" in regard to Jesus' identity as both man and God, why would he go within a hundred miles of a term, however incidental to his main theme, that is associated with a cultic agenda?
The most obvious similarity of this book's theology to the Chapel's UROG theology is in the place held by their common, unique version of the "dual nature" doctrine - "unique," because it is not the same doctrine of Christ's two natures that most of the rest of the church world holds. The historical doctrine is that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, the eternal person of the Logos (who the Bible says was with God in the beginning, and who was God) made flesh. The Chapel/Spearman version is not clear or consistent on whether Jesus Christ is one person or two persons, but firmly insists that whoever Jesus is, God could have in no way become man.
As I've mentioned, the ironic thing about Spearman's continued defense of the "dual nature" doctrine he learned at Community Chapel is that the pastor who taught it to him, as well as many of its ex-members who learned it there with the author, now say the principles contained in UROG led them to see that Jesus is not God but is only a man with God dwelling in him. I agree with them about that effect of UROG theology. As we see from this book, a "dual nature" doctrine that denies the pre-existence of Christ is impossible to sustain without contradicting both the Bible and itself in numerous ways. Any close look at a "Son of God" whose deity is due only to his conception in the womb of Mary by God, and to his union with God who dwells within him, reveals that such a one is himself not God but is only a man.
Outside of that, it seems to me that Spearman has discarded or forgotten a lot of UROG. The differences between it and his theology are more obvious to me than the similarities. What similarities continue to exist are of course in the denial or twisting of the same prominent Biblical passages about Jesus' identity and nature, obfuscations made necessary by the stubborn and misguided insistence that the Bible cannot be showing us either a distinction of persons within the Godhead or a Christ who existed in heaven as a person distinct from the Father before his human birth.
To make that case, both UROG and Spearman's theology have a tendency to set up the meaning of some Bible verses as foundational principles by which the meaning of other verses that speak to the same subject are explained away, instead of seeking an interpretation that preserves the meaning of all Bible verses as equally true.
An example is in this book's "Preliminary Word" chapter where the author quotes John 4:24, "God is Spirit," and tells us this is one of "two important truths" that emerge from the New Testament: It means God is not a man. Of course no mention is made of the context of John 4:24 - is it really speaking to whether or not something like the incarnation is possible? - and no other verses have yet been mentioned, much less discussed with any depth, that speak directly to the New Testament's meaning when it says "the Word was made flesh," but the author is satisfied that the stage has been properly set: we can now discard with confidence the Jesus preached from the Bible by most Christian pastors and teachers for the last 2000 years.
This was also the method used by the Chapel. A favored teaching method in the UROG classes was to take a statement out of its original Biblical context and establish it as an "attribute of God" that must not be violated by other scriptures. Just like the Chapel did, this book takes the Biblical statement that "God is not a man" and makes it stand alone as if it has some kind of meaning in itself as a hermeneutical principle. But it is really only part of the statement that is actually found in the Bible, which is "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent." (Numbers 23:19) In other words, the subject is not the form of God. It is not talking about the inability of God to take on human nature if he should so choose. Neither is it teaching about the coming of the Messiah, his nature, or who he would be in relationship to God. The subject is God's essential truthfulness and reliability in contrast to man's lack of it.
So the absurd self-confidence in what amounts to a shallow, out of context, and rationalistic proof-texting, and the refusal to admit that such a method can be no substitute for a careful and consistent accounting of everything the Scriptures say about God and Jesus and the relationship between them, is, for me, the book's most striking similarity to UROG.
Another similarity, although in Spearman's book it is not made explicit until the very end, is in the bizarre and simplistic treatment of church history in which Pentecostalism is seen as restoring lost truths hidden almost since the close of the New Testament because of the church's bondage to a Roman Catholicism which was always dark and fully evil in its every part. In a one-page end note titled "About Pentecostal Publishers," which is really not a part of the book's argument per se, Spearman writes,
Christianity has experienced a number of organizational changes since its beginnings. Starting with the original disciples it began to develop into an institutional body. First came the papacy, Roman Catholicism, and religious councils in the middle ages. Second came Martin Luther, Protestantism, and the revelation of God's grace. Then in the twentieth century, Pentecostalism was born again after two thousand years.A discussion of the errors contained in these few short sentences would take up a paper of at least the length of this one again, so I will not elaborate further on it here except to say that this false historical backdrop is very similar to, although even more simplistic than, the one that the Chapel constructed for the stage on which it saw itself carrying out its mission.
Pentecostalism celebrates the descent of Jesus Christ's Holy Spirit into the world. Pentecostalism reveals new truths about the Man Christ Jesus...
This book's arguments on behalf of its theology contains several noticeable differences from the way UROG argued for its theology; unfortunately, few if any of the differences are for the better.
- One which may be for the better, depending upon how you look at it, is that, as I've already mentioned, its confrontation of Trinitarian theology is much less direct. I don't think the term "Trinity" is once mentioned. At the Chapel, at least in the UROG classes themselves (if not generally in the way the pastor and the members of the Chapel liked to talk to the Christian public), the "errors of Trinitarianism" were explicitly named and dwelt upon at length. Here, the confrontation with historical Christian theology is rarely made explicit and is not dwelt upon when it is mentioned - it's confined mainly to reminders that "God the Son" is not a term found in the Bible.
- The statement "The only person in the Godhead is Jesus" was never made at the Chapel and would have never been made. Instead I remember it being explicitly referred to as erroneous. It was held up as an example of how the older UPC "Jesus Only" theology was deficient - it demonstrated a slip into a clearly indefensible modalism.
- Likewise, the Chapel's teachers would have never made the statement that the Father "assumed a human body" in coming to dwell in Jesus - that again would be a recognizable modalistic error that the Chapel identified as a way of thinking to avoid. But this book, as I've previously noted, often states, sometimes with qualification, sometimes without, that what happened in the incarnation was that God assumed a human body.
- Two bad word studies stand out as blatant errors the Chapel's Bible college rightly did not allow its students to make:
- "YHWH is pronounced Jehovah." (p. 113) The Chapel at least taught a correct, detailed, and historically informative account of the relationship between the Hebrew word "Yahweh" and the English word "Jehovah." Spearman, for some reason, reverts back to a simplistic and misleading account.
- "Sent" means "begotten." In every place in the book where Spearman has to quote a Bible verse in which Jesus describes himself as "sent" from heaven by the Father, he places the word "begot" in square brackets immediately after the word "sent." He defends this practice on page 124 by saying, "When the New Testament speaks of the Father 'sending' the Son into the world it is an allegorical statement meaning that it has a hidden spiritual meaning that transcends the literal sense of the text." In reality, this is an indefensible manipulation of the Biblical text to get around a meaning that flatly contradicts the author's own theological idea about what the verse should say. By contrast, the Chapel never taught that "sending" meant "begetting," or that any verse had hidden, spiritual meanings that "transcend" the literal text; and it never would have resorted to inserting a word into a quoted Bible verse that gives the true "hidden spiritual meaning" of a word that appears on the face of it to have a much different connotation.
- The Chapel wouldn't have used paraphrased versions in a theological work, or in any of its teaching or literature for that matter. It designated the KJV as the version to be used in its teaching, not because it was of the "KJV-Only" school, but because the KJV is a fairly good translation of the Greek and Hebrew, and because it was the version most conservative, Pentecostal Christians were most comfortable with at that time. The Chapel, to its credit, valued accuracy in translation very highly and wouldn't have tolerated the free, jargon-like rendering of The Message, especially not in a study presented as Biblical doctrine.
One Thing I Liked
I did find one thing in the book that I liked. Spearman devotes a chapter ("Humanity 8") to the importance of observing the Lord's Supper, and he attributes a Christological significance to the Supper. Although that significance is, in my opinion, far different from the actual Biblical significance, I do appreciate the author's emphasis on its observance and his acknowledgment that it has a central place in Christian faith and practice. Some years after the Chapel collapsed, but while I was still in Pentecostalism, I realized that was something I had missed during my Chapel years, for the Chapel very rarely observed the Lord's Supper. In a couple of discussions about it in which I participated on the CCG Web site, memories varied as to whether or not there was any stated policy regarding the frequency of the Chapel's observance of the Lord's Supper, but most agreed they could remember it being celebrated twice a year at most. Some said they could remember it being celebrated only once or twice in the entire time they had been members. I myself could remember it being observed only two or three times in the ten years I was a member. Perhaps this was because there was hardly any real teaching at the Chapel (at least none that I can remember) on the importance of the Lord's Supper; its place in the faith and life of the believer was definitely neglected there.
By contrast, since that time the author has apparently arrived at an understanding of the Lord's Supper that gives it a high place in his Christian life, and has come to value it as a definite enhancement of his faith. So have I - and even that one small agreement with him in our post-Chapel lives makes me glad.
This book was a very great disappointment to me, and very difficult for me, as an ex-member of the Chapel myself, to finish reading. It seems like the author has discarded the best features of Chapel theology and kept the worst, with the net result that he's fallen back into a form of Oneness theology that even the Chapel recognized as Biblically inadequate.
He has discarded the use of accurate translations, careful attention to the actual Biblical text, and the identification the Chapel made of modalistic errors in Oneness thought, but he holds on to the central, most blatant error: the systematic misinterpretation, according to a consistent anti-Trinitarian agenda, of the Biblical passages that show Christ's personal pre-existence as God distinct from the Father.
However, even in this he has still made a contribution to Biblical theology, although unwittingly and in a very different direction than he intended. He has shown (as, ironically, the Chapel also showed in the end) what a muddle one gets into by rejecting plain Biblical statements about Christ's nature and trying instead to construct one's own doctrine according to a subjective and biased idea of what the Bible must be saying.