I’m (1) a conservative, Reformed, evangelical Christ-follower; (2) a husband of twenty years to my amazing wife, and father to four awesome sons ranging in age from nearly nineteen down to six years old; (3) the public face of the ministry Rethinking Hell
, if not also of the larger evangelical conditionalist movement of which we’re a part; (4) a professional software engineer with dreams of teaching Bible and theology at the seminary or university level one day; and therefore (5) a Master’s student at Fuller Seminary, after which I hope to pursue a doctorate in Old Testament at Cambridge or a similarly prestigious UK school.
I was an atheist until shortly after the birth of my wife’s and my first son. I was not raised in an overtly Christian home, and I don’t remember ever attending church or discussing religion with my family. As a young boy, I was briefly interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses when my aunt became one for a short time, and in elementary school I was briefly interested in Mormonism because my best friend was a Latter-day Saint. I embraced neither of these religions, nor the Wicca I experimented with in high school in the hopes of impressing girls with magic. When my wife and I got married when we were twenty, we insisted upon a justice of the peace marrying us (which proved to be something of a mistake, as he conducted the ceremony drunk and forgot to have us read the vows we’d prepared and kiss one another). So, into early adulthood, I was hostile and antagonistic toward Christianity and its practitioners
This included my father, who I learned was a Christian by my teen years. He and my mother divorced when I was young, so his and my time together consisted primarily of regular trips we took around the country. We especially enjoyed caves; we visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Jewel Cave in South Dakota, Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana, and several others. On the last of these trips before I became a Christian, I asked my dad about his faith—but not out of sincere interest. My questions were meant to reveal how foolish I thought he and his beliefs were.
The summer my oldest son turned one year old, my dad and I took one of our trips, and for the first half thereof, my questions remained insincere. But overnight, my heart was changed. I went to sleep in my tent, still hostile toward my dad’s faith, and I awoke sincerely interested in it. I continued asking questions, but they were of a different character. I was genuinely curious, and though my dad was no apologist and did not offer a compelling case for Christianity or anything like that, I nevertheless found myself believing, for the first time, in what little I knew about Christianity.
Upon returning home from that trip, I began studying this newfound faith of mine. One of the resources I leaned upon was Christian radio, on which I discovered Hank Hanegraaff, the so-called “Bible answer man.” Hank introduced me to apologetics, and it quickly became a passion of mine, in part because I desperately wanted to lead my wife to Christ. (Praise God, she was saved within a few years, too.) I’ve been interested in apologetics ever since, though my focus for the past several years has been more on biblical exegesis and theology.TB: You recently authored a book with Dr. Dale Tuggy titled Is Jesus Human and Not Divine: A Debate. How did this book come about and what should readers expect to encounter when they pick it up?Date:
Through my work with Rethinking Hell
, I became friends with someone whose world was somewhat rocked by his discovery of conditional immortality. He feared that if the church had largely misunderstood what the Bible says about hell, it might have largely misunderstood other things. I grieved when I learned that he no longer believed in the Trinity and the deity of Christ, and he told me it was owing to the work of unitarian Dale Tuggy.
In my contribution to the 2015 book I co-edited, A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell
and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge
(Pickwick), I had written, “we [conditionalists] must visibly stand side-by-side with our fellow evangelicals in defense of the essentials, showing ourselves to be every bit as much the stalwart defenders of evangelical Christianity as our traditionalist peers.” When my friend told me he had become convinced of unitarianism by Tuggy, I had participated in many debates, but only in defense of non-essentials (conditionalism and Calvinism). I thought this might be an opportunity to defend a Christian essential in debate.
In late 2017, I reached out to Tuggy, asking if he’d be interested. He was open to it, but somehow it fell off our radar until late 2018, shortly before his debate with Michael Brown. I had recently published my two-views debate book, Does God Predetermine the Eternal Destiny of Every Individual Human Being? A Debate
(Areopagus), and so I contacted him again, this time asking if he’d be interested in co-authoring a similar debate book for my publisher. He was open but very busy, so we put the idea on the back burner for the time being.
In February of 2019, Tuggy asked to talk with me on the phone. I agreed, and he told me that he and a prominent trinitarian (and friend of mine, it turns out) had plans to debate that fell through. He asked if I would be interested in filling the now vacant role of trinitarian debate opponent. We would debate in person, and then expand in print upon our in-person debate. Our debate
took place in June of 2019, after which we began the writing process for our publisher, the fruit of which is our 2020 book, Is Jesus Human and Not Divine? A Debate
In our debate, Tuggy argues that, yes, Jesus is human and not divine
; I argue that, no, Jesus is human and divine. For his part, Tuggy insists that his unitarianism is biblically motivated, but I think readers will find, like I did, that his conclusions are owing almost exclusively to fatally flawed logic. As for my contribution, I suppose readers should expect two things above all others: depth and precision. I argue primarily from just three biblical texts, exegeting them carefully and not simply quoting a shotgun-blast of trinitarian proof-texts, hoping Tuggy would therefore have to address them all, and with more than a wave of the hand. And I unpack with some precision just what I mean when I say I believe in one God who exists eternally in three Persons, thereby demonstrating the belief’s logical coherence. It’s no light read, but it’s accessible.TB: One of the major contentions in your debate with Dr. Tuggy centered around the beliefs of the Early Church Fathers. Dr. Tuggy contended that the Early Fathers were of a Unitarian persuasion whereas you argued that they were largely Trinitarian in nature. Why are you persuaded that the Early Church Fathers believed that Jesus was divine from the very beginning?Date:
I don’t argue that the earliest church fathers were trinitarian. The formulation of trinitarian doctrine resulted, I argue, from the earliest church fathers’ agreement that Jesus is both human and divine. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, is one of the earliest such fathers, writing around the turn of the first century C.E. He writes that Jesus is “both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible,” and that he is “Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet became passible on our account.”
Ignatius is not alone. Justin Martyr (c. 160 C.E.) thinks the preincarnate Christ is Yahweh in Psalms 24:10 and 99:4–5. Melito of Sardis (c. 170 C.E.) says of Christ, “He that hung up the earth in space was Himself hanged up; He that fixed the heavens was fixed with nails… God put to death!” The writer to Diognetus (c. 150–200 C.E.) says God “has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word,” who is “the very Creator and Fashioner of all things.”
Meanwhile, as I document in the book, Tuggy reads his unitarian assumptions into the writings of other early church fathers, like Theophilus (c. 170 C.E.), Irenaeus (c. 180 C.E.), and Tertullian (c. 200 C.E.), in order to claim they did not think Jesus is incarnate deity. As just one example, Tuggy thinks that by saying God begat the Son, Theophilus means the Son came into existence, but this isn’t the case. The Greek words Theophilus uses refer to something preexisting coming forth, like a baby from the womb or frogs from the Nile.
So, the evidence indicates the early church agreed that Jesus Christ is incarnate Yahweh. They were also committed to biblical monotheism. Their formulation of the Trinity, then, and opposing views that nevertheless also affirmed the deity of Christ, were competing ways of trying to make sense of these biblical affirmations: Jesus is God, he is not his Father, and yet there is only one God. The doctrine of the Trinity won out because it was the explanation that was most consistent with all of Scripture.TB: Most of our readers are not going to be debating scholars such as Dr. Tuggy, but we very well could talk to someone who is a Unitarian or struggling to understand how Jesus can be divine. In your opinion, what is the most powerful argument from the Scriptures that Jesus is indeed divine?Date:
Without a doubt, I think it’s the argument from Philippians 2. But to present this argument, you’ll need to remember one critical thing and be prepared to articulate it. Most translations of Philippians 2:6 seem to portray Christ as though refusing to reach out and take something he didn’t already have. The ESV, for example, says he did not consider it “a thing to be grasped.” But this is mistaken. A few translations correctly reflect the real meaning of the Greek expression, which referred to something exploited or taken advantage of. Thus, the NIV renders it, “something to be used to his own advantage” (cf. H/CSB).
Armed with this knowledge, you can now explain that Paul here says Christ “did not count equality with God something to be used to his own advantage,” or something to be exploited. Thus, he already was equal to God, which is parallel in this verse to his being “in the form of God.” Both equality with God and the form of God were expressions reserved by contemporaneous Jews for identifying deity (e.g., John 5:18). Therefore, Jesus was truly deity.
Paul goes on to say in verse 7 that Jesus, refusing to exploit his deity, instead “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Emptying oneself is a metaphor, which here means setting aside one’s right to be served and to serve those from whom one deserves service. The message is clear and, frankly, indisputable: Jesus was truly God, but he became human to serve us humans, the ones who should be serving him.
Much more can be said about this text and is said in the book. You can make this argument even stronger and more airtight, depending on your familiarity with the contours of the debate. But explained as simply as above, Paul’s words about the humble Godman in Philippians 2 make for an easily remembered, yet very powerful argument for the genuine deity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.TB: In preparation for your debate and book with Dr. Tuggy, you undoubtedly studied numerous sources. For those who are interested in learning more about this topic, apart from your book, what other works would you recommend?
For biblical exegesis and theology, I’m particularly indebted to:
- James R. White’s The Forgotten Trinity
- Simon J. Gathercole’s The Preexistent Son
But I think it’s critical that we Christians become better equipped to defend the logical coherence of our belief that God is one Being and three Persons, and that Jesus is both God and man. For these, I’m particularly indebted to:
- Timothy Pawl’s In Defense of Conciliar Christology
- Thomas V. Morris’s The Logic of God Incarnate
I would like to publicly thank Chis Date for participating in this interview.