Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Jesus is Not the Father Redux: A Response to Clayton Killion

I linked to an article entitled A Look at Three Passages Oneness Pentecostals Use to DemonstrateJesus is the Father in the “Worldwide Godhead Symposium” debate group. Clayton Killion, a Oneness Pentecostal, took the time to respond at his Lectionary blog. While I appreciate his willingness to write a cordial response, his effort divulges significant logical, exegetical, and theological problems.

The purpose of my article was, as the title states, to address the main texts Oneness Pentecostals appeal to in order to justify their claim that Jesus is the Father in human flesh. While other aspects of Oneness theology and Christology depend on other texts (I address dozens in my book, Against Oneness Pentecostalism: An Exegetical-Theological Critique, 2nd Edition), these three texts are the main passages marshaled specifically to prove Jesus is the Father. Not recognizing this, Killion began his article with a mischaracterization: “According to Burgos, we Oneness Pentecostals appeal to only a handful of texts—no more than six—in order to build our Christology.” This statement is a straw-man as I clearly do not believe (nor have I ever written or said) that Oneness Pentecostals build their entire Christology on a handful of texts. Rather, my contention in the article was that the three texts in question are those predominantly utilized in order to demonstrate that Jesus is the Father. Killion went on to write,
Anyone who has read David Bernard, Nathaniel Wilson, David Norris, Daniel Segraves, Jerry Lynn Hayes, or Jason Weatherly can attest to this fact. I find Burgos’ above statement astounding—given that he has written multiple books in response to our doctrine, engaging all of the aforementioned authors.
The only thing astounding here is the mischaracterization he put forth from the outset. Moreover, unless Killion believes that the statement “Jesus is the Father” is a comprehensive summary of Oneness Christology en toto, there is absolutely no basis for his mischaracterization of my article.

Killion wrote, “Every Biblical passage that you have studied with respect to trinitarianism, we have studied vis-à-vis Oneness dogma. We build our teaching on the whole of scripture—just as you claim to do.” Really? Exactly where is the Oneness Pentecostal systematic theology? You can find a systematics text that reflects what I believe in virtually every Christian bookstore. Precisely where is this comprehensive Oneness Pentecostal theology found? Even those Oneness works which attempt to address more than the doctrine of God don’t even come close to attempting a systematic treatment of biblical doctrine. I assert the reason why there is no Oneness systematics text, is because Oneness Pentecostalism is incapable of theological consistency as it is built upon the misguided use of prooftexts.1

Killion then addressed what he characterized as my “exegesis of Isaiah 9:6.” This is confusing since I didn’t provide an exegesis of this text in the relevant article. Rather, I appealed to pp. 98-101 in my book which does provide an exegesis. What I did provide was a few sentences which explain why I don’t believe the phrase “father of eternity” to mean that Jesus is God the Father. If Killion does desire to interact with my exegesis, it has been in print for three years. He responded to my summary by asserting that I have adopted the “EXACTLY [sic] the same logic that Jehovah’s Witnesses use in order to prove Jesus is not God at all.” Essentially, Killion has argued that in the same way that the Watchtower explains away Immanuel on sematic grounds, I too have explained away the phrase “father of eternity.” He concluded, “If Jesus’ name Abiad/”Everlasting Father” does not literally mean he is the Father, then Jesus’ name Immanuel/”God with us” does not literally mean that he was God.” This statement, however, divulges a logical fallacy that is at the root of Killion’s quant claim. First, the claim that I am engaging in the same hermeneutic as a suborndinationist cult is mildly amusing and totally unfounded.2 His argument erroneously presupposes the univocality of the words "God" and "father." Second, it is a bald assumption to suppose that “father of eternity” necessarily identifies Jesus as God the Father. Without any justification or rationale whatsoever, Killion equates the phrase “father of eternity” with God the Father. Third, I do believe with abject consistency that both “father of eternity” and “Immanuel” are titles of deity. However, my contention is that within the context of a title, the “father of…” construction is a Semitic linguistic convention that is designed to characterize a subject and not identify a subject. Thus, to call the Son of God “father of eternity” is to attribute eternality to him, and not to characterize him as God the Father.

Killion went on to write,

Your own logic defeats you, sir. Just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you are using the names of mere humans (Abigail, Abijam, Elihu) to exegete a prophetic statement about the incarnate God! If you are logically consistent, you must conclude not only that Jesus is not God the Father, but also that Jesus is not God at all!

The irony here is thick. First, the prophet says that these titles (“Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace”) are characterizations of his name, and not his name specifically. Isaiah wrote, “And his name shall be called…” and therefore these titles are designed to be a commentary on the Messiah's name. Second, it is special pleading to divorce "father of eternity" from the many other "father of..." constructions in the OT. Third, recognizing the manner in which the Tanakh utilizes language in order to understand the Bible in a consistent manner is a standard means of exegesis. I understand “Mighty God” to refer to the Messiah’s absolute deity because of the way that term and its derivatives are used elsewhere in Scripture.3 To do so is standard exegetical practice. Killion, it appears, either doesn’t understand that or must use faux outrage as a stand-in for an argument. Fourth, my argument is that “father of eternity” is a title for deity, namely, the divine attribute of eternality. Hence, Killion’s argument at this point is absurd.

Killion wrote,
I don’t know why it is so heinous to say that the divinity of Jesus is God the Father. If Jesus is God, he must be the Father. John 17:1-3 tells us that the “Father” is “the only true God;” 1 Corinthians 8:6 says that “there is but one God, the Father;” Malachi 2:10 says that the “one God who created us” is the “one Father.” Even the Nicene Creed says that the divinity of the Son is “of one substance with the Father,” and forbids us from saying that his divinity is “of another ousia or hypostasis” from the Father. If Jesus is God, his divinity must be the Father; conversely, if his divine nature is anything other than the Father, he is not completely God.
The above comments divulge a considerable lack of clarity regarding historic Christianity and biblical exegesis. Trinitarians have never rejected the notion that the Father and Son share the same deity (i.e., consubstantiality). For instance, the Nicene Creed eloquently states, the Son is "God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God." So too, I have addressed the texts Killion mentions in my books (esp. 1st Cor. 8:6), and therefore I won’t bother to rehash that here. Suffice it to write, Killion assumes unitarian monotheism from the outset when he wrote “If Jesus is God, his divinity must be the Father.” At issue between Oneness adherents and Christians is the question of unitarianism, and therefore it is ultimately unhelpful and unproductive to merely reaffirm a unitarian presupposition and wonder why the historic Christian faith comprehensively rejects it.

Killion wrote,
Lastly with respect to this verse, Burgos claims that Oneness Pentecostals deny the eternal existence of the Son. This is an oversimplification of our doctrine, and not quite right. Oneness Pentecostals teach that the genuine human being Jesus Christ was literally begotten by the virgin Mary (Galatians 4:4, Luke 1:35, John 1:1-14); prior to his birth by Mary, this genuine human being did not exist. Just like Burgos, we believe that the incarnation literally took place in history; unless he is suggesting that the human flesh of Jesus preexisted his birth, and that his human body was in heaven prior to being begotten by Mary.
That Oneness adherents deny the eternality of the Son of God is not an “oversimplification,” but an obvious and central aspect of Oneness Christology. If one believes that “Jesus is the one Father incarnate,”4 and if one believes the Son of God began to exist at Bethlehem, then clearly the Son of God, on that view, didn’t have an actual personal preexistence. Surely Killion knows there are numerous quotes available from the aforementioned authors which all unambiguously state that the Son began to exist at Bethlehem. Killion and other Oneness adherents believe that the Son of God is the incarnation of a unitarian God and subsequent to that incarnation, the human existence of that unitarian God prayed to, obeyed, honored, and worshiped his transcendent self. The Son, on that view, began to exist, and according to some Oneness adherents, will eventually cease to exist.5 Does Killion disagree with Bernard, when he claims that “The Son of God is not a distinct person in the Godhead but the physical expression of the one God”?6 If the Son is merely the physical expression of a unitarian God, then he certainly did not have eternality of preexistence. Instead, the best Oneness Pentecostals can affirm is that the Son had an idealized existence and that the deity that dwelt in him had an actual preexistence.

In response to my comments regarding John 14 in the aforementioned article, Killion claims that I haven’t taken the time to learn what Oneness Pentecostals teach. My library and bibliographies tell another story. Rather Killion, in attempting to utilize a personal distinction between the Father and Son that is predicated upon the incarnation, has given away the farm. The problems with this view are so extensive, a volume could be produced on that subject alone. For example, if the relationship between the Father and Son is one that is predicated upon the difference between God and his incarnate self as Killion has claimed, then the relational dynamic between the Father and Son is rooted in the ontological superiority of the Father and the inferiority of the Son. However, because we are told, “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,”7 Killion’s theology would, therefore, demand the ontological superiority of husbands and the inferiority of wives. Much more could be said (and has been written) about turning the personal distinction between the Father and Son into a convention of the incarnation. However, I won’t bother to repeat the other theological and exegetical problems with this viewpoint here.

In conclusion, I like Clayton Killion. I’m sure we’d agree on much if we sat down over a turmeric latte.

1 See my evaluation of the history and origin of Oneness Pentecostalism in Counterfeit Religion: A Biblical Analysis of Cults, Sects, & False Religious Movements (Torrington: Church Militant Pub., 2019), 73-91.
2 I have responded to the claims of subordinationists in two texts: Michael R. Burgos ed., Our God is Triune: Essays in Biblical Theology (Torrington: Church Militant Pub., 2018) and Counterfeit Religion: A Biblical Analysis of Cults, Sects, and False Religious Movements (Torrington: Church Militant Pub., 2019).
3e.g., Isa. 10:21.
4D. K. Bernard, Pentecostal Theology Volume 1: The Oneness of God (Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 2007), Kindle, loc. 1170.
5Bernard wrote, “When the reasons for the Sonship cease to exist, God will cease acting in His role as Son, and the Sonship will be submerged back into the greatness of God, who will return to His original role as Father, Creator, and Ruler of all.” ibid., loc. 975.
6ibid., loc. 894.
71 Cor. 11:3.