Recently, Dr. Michael Brown debated Unitarian Dale Tuggy on the question, Is the God of the Bible the Father alone? The debate boiled down to a discussion of the deity of Jesus. I had the pleasure of moderating this debate and although I was not permitted to take sides while in that role, I can do so now. I will keep this as brief as I can. For a longer, more detailed critique of Tuggy in this debate, go here. Here are some problems I had with Tuggy’s views.
Denial of pre-existence of Jesus
Unitarians are often compared with Arians for their denial of the deity of Jesus. But Arius believed in the pre-existence of Jesus, and while many Unitarians also do, Tuggy does not. Despite John 1:14, Tuggy believes Jesus did not exist until he was born of a virgin. He says the Logos of John 1:1 is not the same as Jesus. the Incarnation is not the pre-existing Son of God becoming flesh, which the wording of John 1:14 indicates. It is subtler than that. Likening it to the Wisdom of God, he says the Logos, whatever that is, was revealed in Jesus. God made Jesus a special, exalted man, but he is not divine.
The problem is, John does not say that. He says, “The Word became flesh.” To say Jesus was being infused with the Logos, or had something added to him while he was a fetus in the womb, does not do justice to the word, “became.” To become flesh means he had a separate existence prior to what he became. If John did not believe in the pre-existence of Jesus, he would have used different terminology in his prologue.
Discomfort with consciousness after death
Repeatedly, during the debate and the Q and A session that followed, Dr. Brown was challenged with the contradiction that God died on a cross. God cannot die, so if Jesus died, he could not be God. That sounds logical, but Jesus is both God and man. The man died, but God did not. Similarly, when our bodies die, our spirits do not. This is not a difficult concept, but none of the Unitarians present seemed unable, or perhaps unwilling, to grasp it. Patripassionism is a Trinity-denying, 3rd century Monarchian heresy that says the Father suffered on the cross. It is not what Trinitarians believe. What is ironic is that Unitarians criticize Trinitarians for merging Jesus and the Father into one, yet as soon as we distinguish between the two at the cross, they cry foul.
One issue that forces Unitarians into a corner has to do with the concept of Jesus having an eternal spirit that did not die with his body. Tuggy and other Unitarians present were uncomfortable with the idea that this is true of Jesus and of believers. It is clear that Jesus was alive in spirit after his death because he told the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). How can a dead man resurrect himself? If Jesus were merely an exalted man, this would be impossible, but Jesus is divine, and he raised himself by his divine Spirit. That is why Jesus can say he raised himself from the dead, while in other places it says God raised him (e.g., Rom 8:11). The only way both can be true is if Jesus is God.
Distortion of the Trinitarian Jesus
Tuggy wants to deny that the Trinitarian Jesus is even human, claiming a divine spirit inhabiting a human body does not make the spirit a man any more than a demon inhabiting a body makes it a man. To be a man, by Tuggy’s definition, one must either be a “first human or he exists because of at least one prior human.” (https://trinities.org/blog/podcast-235-the-case-against-preexistence/). Never mind that this definition is completely the creation of Dale Tuggy. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that he is right. Jesus was born of a virgin and existed because of her, making him human. All Trinitarians believe this, so Tuggy is off base in denying that the Trinitarian Jesus is human. His problem is a failure to understand that God’s divine Spirit is the spirit of the man Jesus. All humans have a spirit (this, by the way gets closer to an accurate definition of what it means to be human than Tuggy’s self-manufactured definition), and if a man’s spirit is God’s Spirit, why is it impossible to believe that the outcome would be a person who is both God and man?
To avoid this logical consistency, Unitarians try to deny or at least question the idea of humans having a spirit and a soul. That, at least, is what happened when I tried to discuss this with a couple of Unitarians after the debate. Interestingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses (and Seventh Day Adventists) also have a problem with this. Referring to it as soul sleep, they deny that a person is conscious between death and resurrection. JW’s also deny the deity of Jesus. This is not a coincidence. The implications of denying Jesus’ deity include a denial of the existence of an eternal spirit of Jesus, because that is where his deity would be found. But if humans have an eternal spirit, how can we deny that Jesus does? If Jesus has a Spirit, which he does (Rom 8:9; 1 Pet 1:11; Gal 4:6), then how can we deny that he can be divine while also being human. In Rom 8:9 the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of God are interchangeable terms:
“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.
But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.”
So Jesus has a divine Spirit, which proves he is divine, while also being human. Tuggy has a beef with the many Catholic creeds about Jesus, but it is not necessary to hold to the letter of those in order to prove Tuggy’s exalted man theory wrong.
Disproportionate reliance upon human wisdom
In talking with some Unitarians after the debate, I found, to my surprise, that some deny that God created time. Even most atheistic scientists, who know that such a belief runs counter to their view of a godless universe, have yielded on this point on the face of the overwhelming evidence that both time and the Universe had a beginning, just as Genesis 1:1 states. So why would a professing Christian want to deny this?
The answer reveals what is at the heart of Tuggy’s doctrines. A timeless God would be more mysterious, and therefore, more difficult to understand and explain. Tuggy wants a God who is like us, that we can explain fully. A Jesus who is complex and mysterious is a stench in Tuggy’s nostrils. On his web site, Tuggy emphasizes logic and common sense. He does not prefer to be called a philosopher, but an analytic theologian. Yet he thinks and speaks like a philosopher in many ways, including the desire to be able to explain everything without allowing for gaps in our knowledge. Perhaps that is as much a trait of theologians as philosophers, but a mysterious God or a mysterious Jesus requires gaps. God is unknowable unless he chooses to reveal himself (Mat 11:27). Among the things about God that we can never fully know are his greatness (Psa 145:3), his understanding (Psa 147:5), his knowledge (Psa 139:6), his power (Job 26:14), and his ways and his thoughts (Isa 55:9). That is why we worship him. Why Tuggy and his followers worship him I do not know. Why they worship a Jesus who is not God I do not know. But I find it odd that Tuggy admits Jesus should be called “god” and is worthy of worship, but he denies that Jesus is God. He denies the deity of Jesus and also denies that the Trinitarian Jesus is human. He simply cannot accept that a man can also be God. That would not be acceptable to logic and human wisdom.
Disturbing exegesis of Scripture
I classify the viability of any doctrine on the strength of the exegesis of Scripture used to support it. I was sorely disappointed at the weakness of exegesis of the full preterist position represented only weeks ago at another debate I moderated, but I was confident the exegesis of Universalist teachings would be better. I was wrong.
Tuggy’s exegetical blunders are many. Here are a few examples:
*Philippians 2:6-7, which says Jesus was “in very nature God” and that he took “the very nature of a servant. Tuggy claims this neither affirms the deity of Jesus, nor his preexistence.
*John 17:5 says: Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” According to Tuggy, this verse does not say Jesus had glory with the Father before the world began.
*Colossians 1:15-17 says that in Jesus all things were created. But Tuggy claims this is talking about the new creation, not the original one. When Paul says “all things,” Tuggy reads “new things.” There is absolutely nothing in the context of this passage to suggest a new creation is in Paul mind when he writes.
*Hebrews 1:8, says: “About the Son, he says: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever.” But Tuggy claims neither the author of Hebrews nor the psalmist believes the Son is God.
*John 13:3 says Jesus knew that “he had come from God.” Tuggy believes this does not mean Jesus descended to earth from heaven, despite that the rest of the sentence says, “and was returning to God,” which obviously refers to Jesus ascending to heaven from earth.
The list could go on, but I will spare you. Though Unitarians raise legitimate questions that all Christians should take seriously, the exegesis of Scriptures, such as the ones above, make it impossible for me to take these interpretations seriously. Exegesis must be context-driven, not theology-driven. I know of no one who interprets any of these verses the way Tuggy does, except those who share his doctrines, which require such an interpretation. This is a major red flag for any doctrine. It is far easier for me to accept a Jesus who is both God and man than to accept these far-fetched interpretations. In the end, Tuggy presents a Jesus who is entirely human, and he does so with arguments that also are entirely human, based on the wisdom of this world, not on the wisdom that comes from God.