Sean Finnegan is an intelligent and well spoken “Biblical Unitarian” Christian. He recently earned an M.A. in Church History from Boston University. He runs the christianmonotheism website, which aggregates work by contemporary Christian unitarians. I was pleased to meet him at a recent conference, at which he gave a fascinating presentation on how many (but not all) “church fathers” rejected the everlasting earthly Kingdom in favor of “going to heaven,” i.e. a non-bodily afterlife.
Here’s a blog post by Sean on the debate I’ll be reviewing below.
Brent Bosserman was at the time of the debate an adjunct professor at Northwest University in Washington state. I believe he’s still there, but can’t find out much about him online. But here’s a long 2007 talk of his, called “Christianity and Trinitarian Worldview.” He talks at the start about his background.
This debate suffers by not having a precisely defined debate question. While Finnegan mostly sticks to the biblical case for his view and against Bosserman’s, Bosserman pulls out a broad brush and tries to compare all-encompassing “worldviews.” This is not a good idea; a debate is finite in time!
The intros are over-long and intrusive here; I’ve skipped you to the actual start. My summaries and commentary follow.
- start - 32:06 Finnegan opening statement. Starts with his central claims, and with emphasizing that he intends to base his views on the Bible. Makes the point that it can be true that “Jesus is God” even though Jesus is not God himself. Effectively bats down arguments for “the deity of Christ” from his forgiving sins, doing miracles. This a fallacy: Jesus pre-existent, therefore Jesus is God. Must prefer revelation to tradition. Will try to show (1) NT teaches God = Father, (2) Trinity against reason, (3) Trinity vs. Bible. Wants to know who, in Bosserman’s view, was the first trinitarian. Proof-texting vs. actually showing that the Bible teaches or implies Trinity. Defines trinitarianism. Bible is unitarian; argument from singular pronouns and verbs. Jesus agreed with the Shema, which presents Yahweh as the only God. Various NT texts identify the Father as this one God. Each “person” is supposed to be a god (“fully God”); ergo 3 gods. But it says there’s only 1. “Trinity,” “God-man,” “fully God,” “God the Son” not in Bible, which is suspicious. Jesus died, not omniscient, was really tempted – each of these shows that he is not God, given what the NT says about God. Holy Spirit not clearly a person, lacks personal name, and it was controversial even in 380 to say the Holy Spirit was a divine person.
- 32:07-52:22 Bosserman opening statement: Warns us, correctly, that he’ll be “racing through a mass of material.” Rehearses orthodox formula, adds that each person “may be identified with” 3 particular persons, “each of whom exhausts the divine nature.” This really “a conflict of worldviews.” His view does, and unitarianism doesn’t “cohere with the broad themes of scripture.” Three issues (1) person and work of Christ, (2) theologies, (3) anthropologies. Only God the Son could atone for our sin. Unitarian thinks, absurdly, that a fallen human, an object of wrath [he means, Jesus] saves us, which means God makes us righteous “by fiat.” Unitarian can’t do justice to Jesus’ eternal pre-existence (usual proof texts). Not pre-existence in God’s mind, because of what Jesus says in John 3. “Logos” needn’t be impersonal, i.e. a divine attribute. Trinity “is the fruition of Jewish monotheism” preserving and protecting monotheism. Unitarianism makes God dependent on creation; God eternally loving, but can’t be so unless there’s someone else to love, but if unitarianism this can only be a creature. Exegetical difficulties: “Jesus is God” and “is identified with God. Has divine attributes like omnipresence, OT Yahweh texts applied to him. Unitarians argue that beings other than God can be called “God.” But when judges etc. called elohim this needn’t be a god, so not “a strict divine title.” Psalm 45:6 is controversial among Jews; many want to translate “God is your throne” not “your throne, O God.” So what Thomas says (John 20) this must be ascribing “perfect deity” to Jesus. Also “I am first and last”, “I am” – in such places Jesus is identifying himself as God. 47:00 Unitarian argument from pronouns goes wrong. Singular pronouns can refer to groups of people. Unitarians foolishly anthropomorphic or humanistic about God. God is a person “in a radically different way” than we are. Rebuts straw man argument vs. pre-existence of Jesus (we didn’t, so he didn’t). Jesus says Father is “in him” which shows that Jesus has the divine nature. Misc. patristic riffing. The “hinge” of the gospel is Jesus’ two natures.
Bosserman needs to say a lot more to make most of his arguments effectively. He at least once criticizes a straw man, noted above. The points about anthopology are a not getting anywhere. His emphasis on pre-existence of Jesus is a mistake; as Finnegan explained, nothing hinges on that. He’s not short of confidence, and speaks well, but is shooting wildly and too rapidly. To his credit, he is interacting with unitarian arguments, e.g. re: pronouns. But the import and strength of his rebuttals are unclear. The point that a unitarian God must be dependent on creation would devastating – if he made it stick. But he does not. Same with his points about atonement. Too quick!