History Addict's Apologetics Series

Thinking Like A Christian - Defending Your Faith

Session 4a: What About Other Christian Views of God?

Text: When Skeptics Ask, Norman Geisler

Adjunct: Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences, H. Wayne House

Other Source Material: Institute for Biblical Apologetics, Inc.; Dr. Bill Gordon, NAMB; Dr. Peter Kendrick, NOBTS


  1. There are whole subsets of the Christian faith, most of which are relatively minor variations on doctrinal views and church governing issues. However, there are some Biblical interpretatants and separate sects who do claim the name of Jesus, in one fashion or another, who have some serious problems within their viewpoints.

  2. For a benchmark comparison, review the Baptist Faith & Message: http://www.sbc.net/bfm/default.asp
    1. It is also available here as a PDF file: http://www.sbc.net/filedownload.asp?file=/bfm/pdf/The%20Baptist%20Faith%20and%20Message.pdf

  3. There are a number of heretical sects and views which cropped up mostly in the early church era (roughly 70 AD through 300 AD), but which are rarely, if ever, encountered today in their original form:

a.       Adoptianism: Jesus, merely human, and was made divine, hence he was adopted as God's Son.

b.       Apollinarianism: Christ's human will was replaced by the divine will of the Second Person of the Trinity.

c.       Arianism: Christ was God's first and greatest creature, divine, but not God Almighty.

d.       Docetism: Christ, a divine being less than God, could not touch the material world which was inherently evil, seemed to be human.

e.       Ebionism: Jesus was the Messiah, but not God. He did not pre-exist at all.

f.        Eutychianism: The human nature of Christ was absorbed by the Logos.

g.       Gnosticism: Christ was a divine being who came to bring us the secret knowledge (gnosis) of how to be freed from the evil world of matter. This viewpoint does crop up in modified forms in many current heretical viewpoints.

h.       Kenoticism: Christ's self-emptying (kenosis) was, in part or in full, a temporary ceasing of his Deity.

i.         Modalism: The Father became the Son, who later became the Spirit.

j.         Monarchianism: Christ was God the Father incarnate (also called Patripassianism)

k.       Monophysitism: Christ had one nature, not two; the divine absorbed the human.

l.         Nestorianism: The son of Mary the human nature of Jesus only; the two natures are separated.

m.    Orthodoxy: Formulated explicitly in the 4th and 5th centuries, viewing Christ as the Second Person of the Triune God; fully God and fully man in the Incarnation; one person having two distinct natures.

  1. There are a number of current sects and groups that hold very different theological interpretations of the Bible than our Baptist, fundamentalist, conservative viewpoint, but which are still usually considered to be Christian groups:

a.       Deism: An older viewpoint that is not often encountered in it’s original once widely-held form anymore, it is an anti-supernaturalistic philosophy which denied that God was in any unique or real sense in Jesus Christ. Today, it primarily appears in a form known as “Modern Practical Deism,” or sometimes “Neo-Deism,” where those who identify themselves as Christians and profess to believe in God reject the possibility that God will act in their own lives as He acted in the lives of Biblical figures. http://www.theologicalstudies.org/what_is_deism.html

b.       Liberalism: Christ was an ideal, an example, a personification of God's love, but not God, not unique. A liberal interpretation of scripture rejects any concept of inerrancy or divine inspiration, instead, scripture is to be viewed as completely man-centered and is to be accepted or rejected as the individual reader “feels led to.” http://www.theopedia.com/Liberalism

                                                                                i.       The Jesus Seminar (Robert Funk, John Dominic Crossan): A group of 150 “scholars” who have met twice a year since 1985, to decide what quotes in the Gospels Jesus actually said, and which were completely made up by the Gospels writers. To date, they have decided that only about 20% of His quotes are in fact accurate. They are also heavily involved in the “search for the historical Jesus” movement, which serves primarily to deny that Jesus, if He really did exist., definitely did not teach an apocalyptic viewpoint. Crossan, an Irish ex-Roman Catholic priest, is a fixture on the History Channel’s religious programs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Seminar

c.       Liberation theology (Gustavo Gutiérrez): emphasizes a new social and economic order. A group of essential similar emerging theologies, which may be divided into black, feminist and Third World variants. The underlying common emphasis is the assumption that society is inevitably (and invariably) divided into distinct and disparate classes, usually assumed to be racial in scope, and that the powerful class oppresses and subjugates the less powerful classes, in inverse proportion to their relative access to power. Salvation is seen as not a metaphysical concept at all, but as a “deliverance” from poverty and oppression. It is also seen as being tied very closely towards a very secular version of justice, where “anyone but white males” are out of power and therefore in the favor of God. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_theology

                                                                                i.       James Cone wrote of the Black L.T. variant, “This theology maintains that African Americans must be liberated from multiple forms of bondage — social, political, economic and religious. In this new formulation, Christian theology is a theology of liberation -- "a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the gospel, which is Jesus Christ,"” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_liberation_theology

                                                                                  ii.       This is the viewpoint of the recently-notable Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ.

d.       “Local Church” (Witness Lee): The incarnation is a "mingling" of God and man, and is repeatable in every Christian; the Son was the Father, and now is the Spirit. http://www.lcinfo.org/

e.       Modernism: Christ is interpreted to conform to "modern" anti-supernatural, historicist presuppositions. http://www.theopedia.com/Modernism

f.        Neo-Orthodoxy (Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr): A type of liberal theology, it denies the God-inspired, inerrant nature of the scripture, and holds both that the scriptural writers used their own intuition and interpretations to explain the way and nature of God, and that it was up to each individual believer to seek to understand God through mystical experiences. http://www.theopedia.com/Neo-Orthodoxy

g.       “Pop Christianity” (Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels): Sometimes called “Christianity-Lite” or the “seeker-sensitive” movement, it is a market-driven phenomenon that attempts to merge contemporary secular society values with a very watered-down Christian message. Exhortation and teachings of selfless sacrifice, death to self, and completely devoted service to Christ, all absolutely central to the Gospel message, are nearly completely absent in this movement. Instead, there is a concentrated focus on building large church congregations (the “mega-church” phenomenon), providing passive entertainment in a movie-theater type setting instead of corporate worship, and offering a whole range of “extras,” from coffee-shops and bookstores, to sports leagues and similar organized youth activities, to stage productions and music concerts, to classes on improving your golf game and learning flower arranging, all within the confines of the physical church campus.

                                                                                i.       John MacArthur’s take on it: “First, there is in vogue today a tendency to make the basis of faith something other than God's Word. Experience, emotion, fashion, and popular opinion are often in reality more authoritative than the Bible in determining what many Christians believe. “ (http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/popularchristianity.htm)

                                                                                  ii.       Ironically, one of the very journals that helps promote this viewpoint had a very good, reflective article about it: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/may/28.66.html One excerpt: George Barna's research consistently exposes Christianity-Lite's conformity to culture's beliefs: "Only four percent of Americans hold to a biblical worldview," defined simply as "believing that absolute moral truths exist; that such truth is defined by the Bible; and firm belief in six specific religious views. Those views were that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; God is the all-powerful and all knowing Creator of the universe and He still rules it today; salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned; Satan is real; a Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people; and the Bible is accurate in all of its teachings."

                                                                                     iii.       Closely associated with this are evangelical youth activities that do address gospel issues, but take on the emotionalism and self-indulgent nature of wider popular culture. One good example of this is the “Jesus Culture” youth ministry, operated by the Bethel Church of Redding, California: http://www.jesusculture.org/ . It offers, aside from the heavy “Christian rock” music focus, troubling attempts at serious evangelism, such as “treasure hunting”: http://iseeitdifferently.wordpress.com/2007/05/19/lets-go-treasure-hunting/

                                                                                  iv.       As I mentioned in class, Pastor Bill Hybels of the Willow Creek Community Church, one of the prime "movers and shakers" of this movement, has recently had a change of heart about its effectiveness, going so far as to state "we made a mistake" about this church model. This was revealed in a multi-year study of Willow Creek and some 30 other mega-churches, and the results published in the August, 2007 book, Reveal: Where Are You?, by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson. There is further discussion of the "Willow Creek Confession" here, here, and here.

h.       “Word of Faith” (E.W. Kenyon, Jerry Savelle, Bill Winston, Charles Nieman, Hobart Freeman, Dr. Chris Mentillo,): Jesus took on Satan's nature; was born-again in the pit of hell. They teach that Christians must claim the grace God has promised them, and this “grace” manifests itself on earth as material goods, health, social position, or roles within the church. http://www.theopedia.com/Word_of_Faith

                                                                                i.       Prosperity Gospel (Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes): A very rapidly growing viewpoint, also called the “name it and claim it” movement, it is very closely associated with the Word of Faith movement, sometimes overlapping so much that the two are nearly indistinguishable. Adherents "believe that faith works as a mighty power or force. That it is through their faith that they can obtain anything they want such as health, wealth, or any form of personal success. However, this force is only released through their faith." (http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/main_miracles.html) Most conservative evangelicals consider this both a heretical movement and one of the most dangerous threats to the proper understanding of the Gospel in American today.

1.       More information about the Prosperity Gospel here: http://www.trinityfi.org/ (lots of information, but the Trinity Foundation is quite opinionated and more subjective than soberly objective on this movement)

2.       Pastor John Piper on the Prosperity Gospel heresy:

i.       “Speaking in Tongues” (Many Charismatic and Pentacostal denominations): The practice of speaking in languages not previously studied, and taken as a physical manifestation of true salvation, a spiritual gift given by the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, most passages make it clear that this is meant as a reference to speaking in other human languages, though there are some passages that talk about xenoglossia, the ability to speak in "angelic" languages, which no human can understand without the "gift" of tongues. There is a great deal of controversy about this practice, mostly concerning whether it exists in reality at all, but some sects take this to the next level, claiming that one does not truly have salvation unless one has this "gift." An excllent overview of this phenomenon is here: Speaking in Tongues: The Truth About Glossolalia

  1. Just for the record, there are some other religions that do incorporate one or more significant Christian concepts:

a.       Jehovah's Witnesses: Jesus is a god, mighty, but not the Almighty God.

b.       Christian Science: Christ is God's Son as we all are; As with the material world, Christ's humanity was unreal, an illusion.

c.       Baha'ism: Jesus was one of a line of prophets, ending with Baha'u'allah.

d.       Islam: Jesus was a prophet, not God's Son, and not as great as Mohammed.

e.       Judaism: Jesus was a false Messiah, is now the Gentile God.

                                                                                i.       Messianic Judaism: Recognizes Christ as the promised Messiah, but not usually considered fully Christian or fully Jewish in nature.

f.        Mormonism: Christ was one of God the Father's innumerable spirit sons who like his Father, became a God.

g.       Unification Church ("Rev. Moon"): claims to be Christ returned.

h.       Unitarianism: Christ was a great man, not God. He is God's son only as other men are God's sons also.

i.         The Way International (Victor Paul Wierwille): Teaches a form of Adoptianism; Jesus Christ is the son of God, but not God Himself (non-Trinatarinism). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_International and http://www.abouttheway.org/

j.         New Age: Jesus is a god-realized man; a Christ-conscious master. Christ is a cosmic principle. Through discovering our own, innate “god-ness” already present in ourselves, we can achieve our own state of god-realization. E.g., we can all become God if we just try hard enough.




References & Resources


Text: When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Norman Geisler & Ron Brooks


The Apologetics Study Bible, Holman CSB


Charts of Apologetics and Christian Evidences, H. Wayne House


Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Norman Geisler


Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson


Philosophical Foundation for a Christian Worldview, J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig


Love God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason In the Life of the Soul, J.P. Moreland


The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires


I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek

Unshakable Foundations, Norman Geisler

Who Made God?, Ravi Zacharias

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