A Response to Dr. James Anderson on the Tuggy-Brown Debate

For some reason I couldn’t log in to WordPress to comment on Dr. James Anderson’s post, “An Observation About the Tuggy-Brown Debate.” So instead I’m going to post my disagreement with something he said. I hope Dr. Anderson might find the time to respond, as I enjoy reading whatever he blogs about. If I’m wrong about my assessment, he can swat it down like the tiger pictured above.

My objection isn’t about Dr. Anderson’s main claim, which is that Brown could have won the debate without offering a “theory of the Trinity,” or even by proving the full divinity of, say, the Holy Spirit. Rather, my objection rests with this claim:

Strange as it may sound, given the specific proposition being debated, Brown could have adopted a modalist position and still won the argument! (Interestingly, Tuggy suggested a few times that Brown was in fact expressing a form of modalism, albeit unwittingly. Even if Tuggy were right about that, it would have been beside the point in the context of the debate.) Brown’s task wasn’t to defend the specific claim that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons, still less to defend some metaphysical model for that claim.

The problem, as I see it, is with what Dr. Anderson means by “modalism.” The claim in bold above is only true on some modalist positions.

If Dr. Anderson means some sort of modalism that one might still consider a form of orthodox Trinitarianism (like Leftow’s “Modes without Modalism,” perhaps?), then sure, Dr. Brown could have adopted a modalist position and have still won the debate. That’s because he could have said that there are two eternal modes that relate to one another, and are truly distinct divine Persons. This might sound strange to some of Dr. Anderson’s readers, but I don’t really see why this point is worth making if this is the kind of modalism he has in mind.

However, the parenthetical remark immediately after the statement in bold above, coupled with the fact that his claim is supposed to come off as strange to readers, leads me to believe that Dr. Anderson has non-orthodox forms of modalism in mind. If so, it turns out that the statement in bold is false depending on which non-orthodox modalism one adopts.

Here’s one case where that statement could be true: classic “Sabellianism.” This modalistic view, at least as it’s often explained, is the view that at some time t1 God begins to be the Father, at some later time t2 stops being the Father and is now the Son, and at a later time t3 stops being the Son and is now the Holy Spirit. If that’s the modalism Dr. Anderson has in mind, then Dr. Brown’s proving the full divinity of the Son would have allowed him to win the debate. That’s because, subsequent to t1 and prior to t3, there just isn’t a “mode” or “manifestation” of God called “Father.” There’s only the Son, and the debate question is resolved.

Now, there’s a way that Dr. Anderson’s claim can be false. That’s if somebody is a Oneness Pentecostal modalist. (I’m not, by the way.) Oneness Pentecostals deny Sabellianism in the way I described in the prior paragraph, and rightfully so. Instead, they accept, as Dr. Tuggy does, that there is only one divine Person who just is the Father. But for the Oneness Pentecostal, the Father becomes incarnate “in” (or “as”) the Son. (I take it that “in” or “as” correspond to two views of compositional Christology that I discuss elsewhere. “As” also works on an abstract nature view of Christ’s human nature.) So, the Oneness Pentecostal can agree with Tuggy that “the God of the Bible is the Father alone,” and yet also claim that Jesus, the Son, is identified with the God of the Bible. It will just turn out that, for the Oneness Pentecostal, Jesus is the Father Incarnate. On this view, one accepts “a modalist position,” and yet cannot show that “the God of the Bible is identified with someone other than the Father.”

The Oneness Pentecostal variety of modalism is, in my experience, largely unknown to the rest of the Christ world. And in his quick response to the debate, Oneness Pentecostalism seems to have flown under Dr. Anderson’s radar.

2 thoughts on “A Response to Dr. James Anderson on the Tuggy-Brown Debate”

  1. Oneness Pentacontalism may have little or nothing to do with Sabellianism, at least the way you describe the latter, which we may call “sequential modalism”. On the other hand if, “for the Oneness Pentecostal, Jesus is the Father Incarnate”, there is a perfectly fitting name, already in use for this position: Patripassianism.

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    1. Hi again villanovanus,

      If you keep poking around here you’ll see that I agree with this. I don’t agree that Oneness Pentecostals (typically) espouse Sabellianism. See my posts on Jason Dulle’s Christology and section 2 of my published article on Oneness and Jesus’ prayers.

      David Bernard rejects the label “Patripassianism.” I’m currently doing work to show that this is misguided. If one wants to say that Jesus is the Father Incarnate, then this commits one to a form of Patripassianism, like it or not. And the problem for me is that it is the Son who suffers and dies, not the Father. I don’t know what could be clearer in the New Testament.

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