The Emergent Church

 By Norm Geisler 

Posted: 09/22 00:00:00/2008 


The Emergent Church: Emergence or Emergency?

Copyright by Norman L. Geisler 2008 

The Background of Emergence Stated 

There is one key influence on the Emergent Church movement-postmodernism.  While not all Emegents accept all premises of post-modernism, nonetheless, they all breathe the same air.  Post modernism embraces the following characteristics: 1) The "Death of God"-Atheism;  2) The death of objective truth-Relativism;  3) The death of exclusive truth-Pluralism;  4) Death of objective meaning-Conventionalism; 5) The death of thinking (logic)-Anti-Foundationalism;  6) The death of objective interpretation-Deconstructionism, and 7) the death of objective values-Subjectivism.

From post-modernism Emergents devise the following key ideas: They consider themselves: 1)Post-Protestant; 2)Post-Orthodox; 3)Post-Denominational; 4)Post-Doctrinal; 5) Post-Individual; 6) Post-Foundational; 7) Post-Creedal; 8)

Post-Rational, and 8)Post-Absolute.  It is noteworthy that "post" is a euphemism for "anti."  So, in reality they are against all these things and more.  

            Brian McClaren, one of the leaders of the emergent church stressed the importance of the postmodernism influence upon the movement when he wrote, "But for me…opposing it [Postmodernism] is as futile as opposing the English language.  It's here. It's reality. It's the future…. It's the way my generation processes every other fact on the event horizon" (McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, 70). 

            "Postmodernism is the intellectual boundary between the old world and the other side.  Why is it so important? Because when your view of truth is changed, when your confidence in the human ability to know truth in any objective way is revolutionized, then everything changes. That includes theology…" (McLaren, COS, 69).


Basic Works by Emergents Listed

There is an ever increasing flow of emergent literature.  To date, it includes the following:


Brian McLaren, The Church on the Other Side

                            A Generous Orthodoxy

                            A New Kind of Christian

                            Everything Must Change 

Stanley Grenz,  A Primer on Post-Modernism

                           Beyond Foundationalism 

                          Revising Evangelical Theology

Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith

Doug Pagitt & Tony Jones, An Emergent Manifesto of Hope 

Tony Jones, The New Christians: Dispatches from  the Emergent Frontier

Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

Steve Chalke and Allan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus

Dave Tomlinson, The Post-Evangelical.

Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor, A Heretics Guide to Eternity

 See also:


Basic Beliefs of Emergents Examined

Of course, not all Emergents believe all the doctrines listed below, but some do, and most hold to many of them.  And since they associate with others in the movement that do, it is proper to list all of them.


             McClaren insists that "Arguments that pit absolutism versus relativism, and objectivism versus subjectivism, prove meaningless or absurd to postmodern people" (McClaren, "The Broadened Gospel," in "Emergent Evangelism," Christianity Today 48 [Nov., 2004], 43).  This is a form of relativism.  Lets reduce the premise to its essence and analyze it by showing that it is self-refuting.

Relativism Stated: "We cannot know absolute truth."

Relativism Refuted: We know that we cannot know absolute truth.


 Anti-Exclusivism (Pluralism)

            Pluralism is another characteristic of the emergent movement.  McClaren claims that "Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and others condemned.  Jesus did not come to help some people be right while leaving everyone else to be wrong. Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion" (McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, 109).  In brief, ---

1.         The Claim of Pluralism: "No view is  exclusively true."

2.         The Self-Refutation: It claims that its view (that no view is exclusively true)   is exclusively true.



            Foundationalism in the philosophical sense may be defined as the position that here are self-evident principles at the basis of all thought such as: 

     1. The Law of Identity (A is A).

     2. The Law of Non-Contradiction (A is not non-A).

     3. The Law of Excluded Middle (Either A or non-A).

     4. The Laws of rational inference.


Inferences take several forms:

 The categorical form includes the following necessary inference:  a) All A is included in B; b) All B is included in C.  Hence, c) All A is included in C.

Hypothetical inferences include the following: a) If all human beings are sinners, then John is a sinner; b) All human beings are sinners. c) Therefore, John is a sinner.

Disjunctive inferences are like this: a) Either John is saved or he is lost. b) John is not saved. c) Therefore, John is lost.

One of the fore-fathers of the Emergent movement was Stanley Grenz who wrote a whole book against Foundationalism entitled:  Beyond Foundationalism.  McClaren contents that:  "For modern Western Christians, words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal are crucial…. Hardly anyone knows …Rene Descartes, the Enlightenment, David Hume, and Foundationalism-which provides the context in which these words are so important.  Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extra-biblical words and concepts to justify one's belief in the Bible's ultimate authority" (McLaren, GO, 164).

            So, the claim and refutation of anti-foundationalism can be states like this: 

1.         The Claim: "Opposites (e.g., A is non-A) can both be true." 

2.         The Self-Refutation: They hold that the opposite of this statement (that opposites can both be true) cannot be true.



            Another characteristic is the denial that our statements about God are objectively true.  Grenz declared: "We ought to commend the postmodern questioning of the Enlightenment assumption that knowledge is objective and hence dispassionate" (Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism, 166).

   1.      The Claim of Anti-Objectivism: "There are no objectively true statements."

   2.      The Self-Refutation: It is an objectively true statement that there are no    objectively true statements.


Anti-Rationalism (Fideism)

            Most emergents have a strong doze of fideism.  Grenz chided "Twentieth-century evangelicals [who] have devoted much energy to the task of demonstrating the credibility of the Christian faith…" (Grenz, Primer on Post-modernism, 160).

             "Following the intellect can sometimes lead us away from the truth" (Grenz, PPM, 166).  One might add, that not following basic rational thought will lead you there a lot faster!

            McClare adds, "Because knowledge is a luxury beyond our means, faith is the best we can hope for.  What an opportunity! Faith hasn't encountered openness like this in several hundred years" (McLaren, The Church on the Other Side, 173).

            "Drop any affair you may have with certainty, proof, argument-and replace it with dialogue, conversation, intrigue, and search" (McLaren, Adventures in Missing the Point, 78).

Donald Miller confessed that  "My belief in Jesus did not seem rational or scientific, and yet there was nothing I could do to separate myself from this belief" (54).  He said, "My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect…. I don't believe I will ever walk away from God for intellectual reasons. Who knows anything anyway?  If I walk away… I will walk away for social reasons, identity reasons, deep emotional reasons…" (103).

             "There are many ideas within Christian spirituality that contradict the facts of reality as I understand them.  A statement like this offends some Christians because they believe if aspects of their faith do not obey the facts of reality, they are not true" (201).So the basic claim of anti-rationalism goes as follows:   

1.         The Claim of Fideism: "There are no reasons for what we believe."

2.         The Self-Refutation: There are good reasons for believing there are no good reasons for what                     we believe.

 1.         The Claim of Fideism: "Knowledge is a luxury beyond our means."

2.         The Self-Refutation: We have the luxury of knowing that we can't have the luxury of knowing. 


Anti-Objectivism (of Meaning)

            Anti-Objectivism deals not only with truth (above) but with meaning (called conventionalism).  Emergent embrace both.  All meaning is culturally relative. There is no fixed meaning. Meaning is not objective.

1.         The Claim of Conventionalism: "There is no objective meaning."

2.         The Self-Refutation: It is objectively meaningful to assert that there is no objective meaning.



            Strangely, some emergents claim there is no objective world that can be known.  Rather, "the only ultimately valid 'objectivity of the world' is that of a future, eschatological world, and the 'actual' universe is the universe as it one day will be" (Grenz, Renewing the Center, 246).

1.         The Claim of Anti-Realism "There is no real world now that can be known."

2.         The Self-Refutation: We know it is really true now (i.e., true in the real world now) that there is no real world now that can be known.



            Not only can we not know absolute truth, but there is no certain knowledge of what we do claim to know, even of biblical truth.  McClaren insists:  "Well, I'm wondering, if you have an infallible text, but all your interpretations of it are admittedly fallible, then you at least have to always be open to being corrected about your interpretation, right?... So the authoritative text is never what I say about the text or even what I understand the text to say but rather what God means the text to say, right?" (McLaren, NKC, 50).

1.         The Claim of Anti-Infallibilism: "My understanding of the text is never the correct one."

2.         The Self-Refutation: My understanding of the text is correct in saying that my understanding of the text is never correct.



            Emergents, along with post-modern, opposed propositional truth, that is that true can be stated in propositions (declarative sentences) that are either true or false.  Grenz wrote: "Our understanding of the Christian faith must not remain fixated on the propositional approach that views Christian truth as nothing more than correct doctrine or doctrinal truth" (Grenz, PPM, 170)."Transformed in this manner into a book of doctrine, the Bible is easily robbed of its dynamic character" (Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology, 114-115).            

1.         The Claim of Anti-Propositionalism: "Our view of the Christian faith must not be fixed on propositional truth (doctrine)." 

2.         The Self-Refutation: We must be fixed on the propositional truth that we should not be fixed on propositional truth.


1.         Another Claim of Anti-Propositionalism: "Doctrinal truth is not dynamic."

2.         The Self-Refutation: It is a dynamic doctrinal truth (of the Emergent Church) that doctrinal truth is not dynamic. 


They fail to recognize that doctrine is dynamic! Ideas Have Consequences! For example, Einstein's idea that "energy equals mass times the speed of light squared"had consequences-the atomic bomb!  Likewise, Hitler's idea (Nazism) led to the holocaust and the loss of multimillions of lives. 



            The emergent movement is post-orthodox.  Dwight J. Friesen suggests it should be called "orthoparadoxy." He claims that "'A thing is alive only when it contains contradictions in itself ….' Just as he [Moltmann] highlights the necessity of contradictions for life, so I declare that embracing the complexities of contradictions, antinomies, and paradoxes of the human life is walking the way of Jesus" (in Pagitt ed., An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, 203).

             "Jesus did not announce ideas or call people to certain beliefs as much as he invited people to follow him into a way of being in the world…. The theological method of orthoparadoxy surrenders the right to be right for the sake of movement toward being reconciled one with another, while simultaneously seeking to bring the fullness of conviction and belief to the other…. Current theological methods that often stress… orthodoxy/heresy, and the like set people up for constant battles to convince and convert the other to their way of believing and being in the world" (Friesen, in EMH, 205).  

To summarize, --

1.         The Claim of Post-Orthodoxy: "We should not insist on being right about doctrine."

2.         The Self-refutation: We insist on being  right in our doctrine that we should not insist on being right in our doctrine.


Anti-Condemnationism (Universalism) 

Many emergents are not merely pluralist, but they are universalsts.  McClaren affirmed that:  "More important to me than the hell question, then, is the mission [in this world] question." (McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, 114).  Bell believes that Jesus reconciled "all things, everywhere" and that "Hell is full of forgiven people." So, "Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making" (Bell, Velvet Elvis, 146).  "So it is a giant thing that God is doing here and not just the forgiveness of individuals.  It is the reconciliation of all things" (Bell in "Find the Big Jesus: An Interview with Rob Bell" in's analyze the claim of universalism:

1.         The claim: "All persons (free agents) will be saved."  

2.         The Self-refutation: But this is self-defeating for it is claiming that: All persons (free agents) will be saved, even those who do not freely choose to be saved.


C. S. Lewis pinpointed the problem with universalism when he wrote: "When one says, 'All will be saved,' my reason retorts, 'Without their will, or with it?'  If I say, 'Without their will,' I at once perceive a contradiction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say, 'With their will,' my reason replies, 'How, if they will not give in?'" (The Problem of Pain, 106-107).



            Most emergent leaders are not inerrantist.  They believe that "Incompleteness and error are part of the reality of human beings" (McLaren, COS, 173).

"Our listening to God's voice [in Scripture] does not need to be threatened by scientific research into Holy Scripture" (Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology, 116).  "The Bible is revelation because it is the [errant] witness to and the [errant] record of the historical revelation of God" (Grenz, ibid., 133).

            McClaren rejects the traditional view that: "The Bible is the ultimate authority…. There are no contradictions in it, and it is absolutely true and without errors in all it says.  Give up these assertions, and you're on a slippery slope to losing your whole faith" (McLaren, GO, 133-134).  He adds, "Hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extra-biblical words and concepts to justify one's belief in the Bible's ultimate authority" (GO, 164).  In brief, the problem with the errantists view is this:

1.         The Claim of Errantists: "No extra-biblical words or ideas should be used to support the Bible."

2.         The Self-refutation: It is a truth (of Post-Modernism) that no extra-biblical words or ideas (like Post-Modernism) should be used to support the Bible.  

Yet this is self-defeating for If "No human writing is without error," then emergent human writing is not without error when it claims that no human writing is without error.

            Inerrancy is built on a solid foundation: 1) God cannot err.  2) The Bible is the Word of God.  3) Therefore, the Bible cannot error.  To deny this, one must deny either: a) "God cannot error," or- b) "The Bible is the Word of God," or-

c)  both a and b.  

However, God cannot err: Jesus declared: "Your Word is truth." (Jn. 17:17)

Paul said, "Let God be and every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4).  Indeed, "It is impossible for God to lie: (Heb. 6:18).  And he Bible is the Word of God "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken." (Jn.10:34-35)  "Laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men…, making the word of God of no effect through your traditions." (Mk. 7:8, 13)  "All scripture is given by inspiration of God…."(2 Tim. 3:16) "Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect."  (Rom. 9:6)  "'It is written'…by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." (Mt. 4:4)

St. Augustine's dictum is to the point: "If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either [1] the manuscript is faulty, or [2] the translation is wrong, or [3] you have not understood."  (Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5)

Emerging Problems with the Emergent Church/Other Errors of the Emergent Movement

            In addition to all the above self-defeating claims of emergence, there are some other crucial doctrinal and practical errors.  Here are some of them:



Steve Chalke speaks of the Cross as "a form of cosmic child abuse" which contradicts the Bible's claim that "God is love" and 'makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies" (Steve Chalke, The Lost Message of Jesus, 182-183).



"I asked him if he believed that the Trinity represented three separate persons who are also one" (Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz



Anti-depravity (Pelagianism)

Some (like Chalke and Tomlinson) reject depravity.  The former said, "Jesus believed in original goodness." (The Lost Message of Jesus, 67).  The latter said it is "biblically questionable, extreme, and profoundly unhelpful" (The Post-Evangelical, 126).


Anti-Futurism (Amillennialism)

It has an overemphasis on the present spiritual kingdom to the neglect of Jesus' future literal kingdom-an overrealized eschatology.


Anti-Vapitalism (Socialism)

It has a social Gospel, not a spiritual Gospel with social implications.  It adopts the agenda of the political left.  Tony Jones said on David Chadwicks show that he and most of the Emergents he knew were voting for Barack Obama (6/22/08).



The Emergent movement is a broad tent which includes numerous heresies (see above), embracing Catholicism, and even pantheism (by some).  Spencer Burke said, "I am not sure I believe in God exclusively as a person anymore either…. I now incorporate a pantheistic view, which basically means that God is 'in all,' alongside my creedal view of God as Father, Son, and Spirit." (A Heretics Guide to Eternity, 195).


Difficulties with the Emergent Movement

            There are many difficulties with the Emergent movement.  Here are some of the main ones: 

1. Its central claims are all self-defeating.

2. It stands on the pinnacle of its own absolute and relativizes everything else.

3. It is an unorthodox creedal attack on orthodox creeds.

4. It attacks modernism in the culture but is an example of postmodernism in the church.

5. In an attempt to reach the culture it capitulates to the culture.

6. In trying to be geared to the times, it is no longer anchored to the Rock. 

7. It is not an emerging church; it is really a submerging church.


Answering an Anticipated Objection

            Some emergents may wish to claim that:  No self-defeating truth claims are being made.  These are straw men set up by critics.  In response we would reply that: Either they are making such truth claims or they are not.   If they are, then they are self-defeating.  If they are not, then why are they writing books and attempting to convince people of the truth of these views, if not always by affirmation, at least by implication?  While directed to another view, C. S. Lewis made a insightful comment that applies here as well: 

You can argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome': but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, 'Rice is unwholesome, but I'm not saying this is true.'  I feel that this surrender of the claim to truth has all the air of an expedient adopted at the last moment.  If [they]…do not claim to know any truths, ought they not to have warned us rather earlier of the fact? For really from all the books they have written…one would have got the idea that they were claiming to give a true account of things.  The fact surely is that they nearly always are claiming to do so.  The claim is surrendered only when the question discussed…is pressed; and when the crisis is over the claim is tacitly resumed" (Lewis, Miracles, 24).


            To re-cast the Emergent Movement, using titles from its own books, it is not- 

"The Emergent Church" but "The Submergent Church."  It is not "A

Manifesto of Hope" but is "A Declaration of Disaster." It is not "Refocusing the Faith" but "Distorting the Faith."  It is not "Renewing the Center" but "Rejecting the Core."  It is not "Repainting the Faith" but "Repudiating the Faith." The Emergent movement is not "A Generous Orthodoxy" but "A Dangerous Unorthodoxy."  It is not the "Church on the Other Side," but it is on the "Other Side of the Church."  It is not "A Primer on Post-Modernism" but "A Primer on the New Modernism." It is not going to "Produce a New Kind of Christian" but a "New Kind of Non-Christian." 

            In short, the Emergent Church is the New Liberalism  As Mark Driscol wrote: "The emergent church is the latest version of liberalism.  The only difference is that the old liberalism accommodated modernity and the new liberalism accommodates postmodernity" (Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformation REV, 21).  To put it to poetry:

The Emergent Church is built on sand

and will not stand.

Christ's Church is build on Stone,

And it can not be overthrown.

(Matt. 16:16-18)


Works Evaluating The Emergents Movement

Several works are emerging on the Emergent Church.  The following is a select list containing valuable criticisms of the movment.

Adler, Mortimer. Truth in Religion.

Carson, D. A.  Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.

Carlson, Jason. "My Journey Into and Out Of the Emergent Church" ( 

*DeYoung, Kevin and Ted Kluck. Why We're Not Emergent. 

Driscoll, Mark. Confessions of a Reformation REV.

Howe, Thomas ed., Christian Apologetics Journal of Southern Evangelical Seminary (Spring, 2008,

Kimball, Dan. The Emerging Church.

Rofle, Kevin, Here We Stand.

Smith, R. Scott Truth and The New Kind of Christian.

Geisler, Norman.  "The Emergent Church" DVD (



Of course, not all emergent beliefs are bad.  De Young and Kluck summarize the situation well.  They "have many good deeds.  They want to be relevant.  They want to reach out.  They want to be authentic.  They want to include the marginalized.  They want to be kingdom disciples.  They want community and life transformation…."  However, "Emergent Christians need to catch Jesus' broader vision for the church-His vision for a church that is intolerant of error, maintains moral boundaries, promotes doctrinal integrity, stands strong in times of trial, remains vibrant in times of prosperity, believes in certain judgment and certain reward, even as it engages the culture, reaches out, loves, and serves.  We need a church that reflects the Master's vision-one that is deeply   theological, deeply ethical, deeply compassionate, and deeply doxological" (Why We're Not Emergent, 247-248).

What Is Oneness, Pentecostal Theology?

 What Is Oneness, Pentecostal


by Matt Slick

Oneness Pentecostal theology affirms that there exists only one God in all the universe. It affirms the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. However, Oneness theology denies the Trinity. The Trinity is the doctrine that there is one God who manifests Himself as three distinct, simultaneous persons. The Trinity does not assert that there are three gods, but only one. This is important because many groups who oppose orthodoxy, will accuse Trinitarians of believing in three gods. But this is not so. The doctrine of the Trinity is that there is one God in three persons.

Oneness theology denies the Trinity and teaches that God is a single person who was "manifested as Father in creation and as the Father of the Son, in the Son for our redemption, and as the Holy Spirit in our regeneration."1 Another way of looking at it is that God revealed himself as Father in the Old Testament, as the Son in Jesus during Christ’s ministry on earth, and now as the Holy Spirit after Christ’s ascension.

In addition, oneness theology also maintains that baptism is a necessary part of salvation; that is, in order to be saved, one must be baptized, by immersion. If you are not baptized you cannot be saved. However, not only must baptism be by immersion, it must also be administered with the formula "In Jesus’ name" rather than the formula "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" which is mentioned in Matt. 28:19. Finally, this baptism must be administered by a duly ordained minister of a church that maintains oneness theology: United Pentecostal, United Apostolic, etc.

Oneness churches also teach that speaking in tongues is a necessary manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Since a person cannot be saved without the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), it follows that only those who have spoken in tongues are really saved. There is, therefore, an emphasis that Oneness church members speak in tongues to "demonstrate" that they are saved and have the truth.

Oneness groups are decidedly Arminian in the doctrine of salvation. They deny predestination and maintain that it is completely up to the individual to decide whether or not he wants to be saved. They also teach that it is possible to lose one's salvation.

There is within the Oneness movement an attempt to represent themselves in a modest and holy manner. This is to be commended. However, sometimes it tends to become legalistic in that women are required to abstain from wearing makeup and pants. They also must have their heads covered. Likewise, men should be well-dressed, preferably in ties (this has been my experience with them). Such practices are not wrong in themselves, and are good examples of propriety. However, when they become requirements for acceptance in a church, it is legalistic. Legalism leads to bondage and the requirements of keeping the law to maintain salvation. It then becomes a means by which a person's spirituality is judged. Oneness churches strongly imply that if you go to movies, or have a TV, or wear makeup, etc., then you are not "really" a Christian.

I am not saying that the Oneness Theology necessarily leads to legalism, but it seems to be quite evident that it has taken over much of Oneness practice


What Does Oneness Pentecostalism Teach? 

Oneness Pentecostal people are many and varied. The two main groups that hold to Oneness theology are the United Pentecostal Church International (the largest) and the United Apostolic church. There are others like the Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Bible Way Churches of Our Lord Jesus Christ as well as a host of independent Oneness churches scattered throughout the United States.

The following points of doctrine are generally held to by the Oneness Pentecostal groups.

Within Orthodoxy

1. There is only one God in all existence. 

2. The Bible is God's inerrant word. 

3. Jesus was born of a virgin. 

4. Jesus had two natures. 

5. Justification by faith. 

6. Baptism must be by immersion.1 

7. The elements of communion are bread and wine and are only for believers. 

8. Foot-washing (John 13:4-5), is a divine institution to be practiced by church members.2 

9. Abstain from joining secret societies (James 5:12; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). 

10. There will be a future rapture of the Church where the Christians will be transformed (1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; Phil. 3:20-21). 

Outside of Orthodoxy

1. Denies the doctrine of the Trinity. 

2. Denies justification by faith alone by stating that baptism is also required for salvation. 

3. Jesus is God the Father. 

4. Jesus is the Holy Spirit. 

5. The name of God is "Jesus." 

6. Baptism is necessary for salvation. 

7. Denies pre-existence of the Word as the Son. Teaches that the He existed as the Father. 

8. Being born again means repentance, baptism, and speaking in tongues. 

9. Baptism must be administered by an ordained Oneness minister to be valid. 

10. Baptism must be administered with the phrase, "In the name of Jesus" instead of the phrase, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," (Matt. 28:19). 

11. Speaking in tongues is a necessary requirement to demonstrate that a person has been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and is, therefore, saved. It is claimed to be the initial sign of the infilling of the Holy Ghost. 

12. Restitution of all things, though the devil and the angels will not be restored. 

13. Women may be pastors.3 

14. Only Oneness people will go to heaven. 

15. Orthodoxy allows for sprinkling as well. 

16. Many Christian churches practice foot-washing. But it is not a required practice according to the Bible.

17. Many Oneness people deny that women can be pastors, but the UPCI (United Pentecostal Church International) does not. Also, there are many Trinitarian churches that practice women ordination and eldership. But generally speaking, women are not to hold these positions. If you are interested in more on this issue, please see Can women be pastors and elders?


Oneness and the Word "Person" 

Oneness theology denies the Trinity doctrine and claims that there is one person in the Godhead who has manifested himself in three different forms: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These "forms" are not three separate persons, but one person who occupied consecutive modes. The Trinity, on the other hand, is the teaching that there is one God who exists in three separate, simultaneous, persons. Please note, though, this is not saying there are three gods.

In defending the doctrine of the Trinity and in examining the Oneness doctrine regarding the Godhead, it is first necessary to define the terms that are used. Since the Trinity doctrine states there are three persons in one Godhead, and Oneness Pentecostal theology states there is only one person, we first need to know what a "person" is before we try to discover whether or not God is three persons or one. Therefore, we need to ask what qualifies someone as having "personhood"?

I offer the following analysis as an attempt to adequately define personhood. After the outline, I will try and show that the definition and/or characteristics of personhood can be applied to both the Father and the Son in a context that shows they both existed as persons at the same time, thereby proving Oneness theology is incorrect.

What are the qualities and attributes of being a person?

1. A person exists and has identity. 

2. A person is aware of his own existence and identity. 

3. This precludes the condition of being unconscious. 

4. A self aware person will use such a statement as "I am", "me", "mine", etc. 

5. A person can recognize the existence of other persons. 

6. This is true provided there were other persons around him or her. 

7. Such recognition would include the use of such statements as "you are", "you", "yours", etc. 

8. A person possesses a will. 

9. A will is the capability of conscious choice, decision, intention, desire, and or purpose. 

10. A single person cannot have two separate and distinct wills at the same time on the exact same subject. 

11. Regarding the exact same subject, a person can desire/will one thing at one moment and another at a different moment. 

12. Separate and simultaneous wills imply separate and simultaneous persons. 

13. A person has the ability to communicate -- under normal conditions. 

14. Persons do not need to have bodies. 

15. God the Father possesses personhood without a body, as do the angels. 

16. Biblically speaking, upon death we are "absent from the body and home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). 

God qualifies as having personhood in that He exists, is self aware, has identity, uses terms such as "Me", "I AM", "My", and possesses a will.

The question now becomes whether or not there is more than one "person" in the Godhead.

"Let this cup pass from Me."

"And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, 42Saying, 'Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done'" (Luke 22:41-42).

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt'" (Matt. 26:39).

In both Luke 22:42 and Matt. 26:39 (which are parallel passages), the context is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before His betrayal. He was praying to the Father about the ordeal He was about to undergo. Several points are worth bringing out here:

First, in this passage, Jesus addresses the Father. He says, "Oh my Father..." Note that Jesus says "my" and "Father." These two words designate a "me and you" relationship.

Second, "If it be possible" is Jesus expressing a desire, a hope. What is that hope or desire? It is that "this cup pass from me." The cup Jesus is speaking of is the imminent ordeal of betrayal, scourging, and crucifixion. Jesus did not want to go through this. He was expressing His desire. It was His will not to undergo the severe ordeal ahead of Him. If this was not so, He would not have expressed the desire to have the cup pass from Him.

Third, in Matt. 26:39, Jesus says, "Nevertheless., not my will, but thine, be done." In Luke 22:42 he says, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." With this, Jesus is expressing His will and contrasting it to the will of the Father. Yet, He is stating that even though He does not want to undergo what lay ahead, "Nevertheless," He would submit to the will of the Father -- and not his own will.

This shows that the person of Jesus had a separate and different will than the Father. Since we have two separate simultaneous wills, we have two separate and simultaneous persons and Oneness Pentecostal theology is incorrect.

Questions to ask the Oneness person

1. Is Jesus His own Father? 

2. If Jesus' will and the Father's will were identical (in an attempt to demonstrate that there is only one will), then why did Jesus express the desire to escape the cup but resigns Himself not to His own will, but the will of the Father? 

3. Was Jesus praying to Himself at this point? 

4. Was Jesus saying, "Not My will, but My will be done?" if there is only one person and one will involved? 

5. If it was the flesh side of Jesus speaking to the divine side of Jesus in heaven, then that denies the true incarnation of God in Christ and invalidates the atonement. 

Another Look at Jesus, the Father, and Two Wills 

Oneness theology teaches that there is only one person in the Godhead whose name is Jesus. Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Regarding His incarnation, oneness people say that Jesus was in heaven at the same time that He was on earth. Unfortunately, the oneness position presents a serious problem.

In the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42), Jesus prayed to the Father saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." See also, "And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, 'O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt'" (Matt. 26:39).

Notice that Jesus says that he has a will and that the Father has a will. That is two wills: one of the Son and the other of the Father. Furthermore, notice that the wills were in opposition. Jesus did not want to have to go to the cross and endure the suffering, but he submitted not to his own will, but the will of the Father. If this is so, then how can Jesus, who is the Father in flesh (and therefore, they are one person) have two separate and opposing wills on the same subject at the same time?

The response is generally that Jesus was fully a man and that in his humanity he was not the everlasting Father. But if this is so, then what was Jesus if not God incarnate? If He is not fully God incarnate, then the atonement is void since it isn't God making the sacrifice but a mere man. This is the danger of oneness theology. Ultimately, it denies the true incarnation of God.

Sometimes oneness people say that Jesus had another existence outside His existence as a man because he also was existing as the Father. But this implies that there are two beings since each has its own existence different than the other. Furthermore, the Oneness position would have a will of the Father and a will of the Son which are in opposition to each other -- yet they are supposed to be one person? This makes no sense. If the oneness people state that Jesus' flesh was at odds with His own presence as the Father in heaven, then again we have no true incarnation.

The problem with the oneness position is serious and the fact that Jesus' will was separate from the Father's demonstrates that the Father and the Son are different persons within the Godhead. The oneness people are very wrong.

Witnessing to Those Who Are in Oneness Churches 

The Oneness Pentecostal people, as a whole, absolutely believe they have the truth and that the Trinity doctrine is pagan in origin. With this in mind, when you speak to them, you'll encounter an attitude that they are absolutely right. It is very difficult to break through this and often takes a lot of time and effort. Think about it. If you are very convinced of your position in contradiction to theirs, how would you feel if they tried to convince you you were wrong? It'd be very difficult to do.

Nevertheless, it is important to keep a comfortable and humble dialogue going with them. Pride is not the answer to error. God's love must come through. So, when witnessing to them, or anyone, you need to show love and respect. They need to know the same love of Jesus in you that they claim they have from God. Jesus said that the world will know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another, (John 13:35). Of course, being loving means being truthful with them. If you don't know something, admit it. If you aren't sure about something, that's okay. Be truthful.

You also need to demonstrate to them the love of Jesus in your life. You need to emphasize that Jesus Christ is the center of your faith. Oneness Pentecostals believe that they are the only ones who have the true love of God. In that sense, they believe that they are a privileged group of people enjoying a special knowledge and special relationship with God. That is why they emphasize so much the need to follow their doctrines, be baptized in their churches, by their ministers, according to their understanding of the gospel. They honestly believe it. So, you need to be patient, kind, and truthful with them in your witness.

Also, and this is quite common, correct any misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. So often, opposing groups have a misguided concept of the Trinity and end up attacking a straw man argument. Of course, to correct any misunderstanding, you must first understand it yourself. So, if you're rusty, read up on the Trinity. Then, when you think you've got it down, you can share what you know with them. Show scriptures that demonstrate the Trinitarian nature of God.

You will need to demonstrate some of the problems with the Oneness Pentecostal position -- and they exist. In order to do that, you will need to read more about them and the issues here on this website as well as other websites and books on the subject. Unfortunately, witnessing to those in opposing theological beliefs often means that you have to study theology. It isn't that tough. It just takes some work and practice. But it is always worth it.

Do you know what they believe? You cannot refute error if you do not understand what you are talking about with them. Personally, I like dialoguing with them on the internet to learn what they believe. Reading Oneness material is helpful but it doesn't answer all the questions that I have. Bouncing things off of them gives me a feel for how they think as well as what they think. That helps me witness to them a lot.

Finally, pray. You must ask the Lord to bless your efforts and bring fruition to the seeds planted. It is God who bears the fruit of truth.

"So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth" (1 Cor. 3:7) 


Questions to Ask Oneness Pentecostal Believers

The following questions are not "stoppers." That is, they are not questions to ask Oneness people so you can "stump them for sure." Instead, they are questions to ask to generate conversation. It is during the conversation that real witnessing occurs.

Of course, I have found some of these questions to be more difficult than others for the Oneness person to adequately answer. In fact, two of them no Oneness Person has adequately answered at all. Which are they? Try them out.

1. Is Jesus His own Father?

2. If Jesus' will and the Father's will were identical, then why did Jesus express the desire to escape the cup but resigns Himself not to His own will, but the will of the Father? See my article on this.

3. Was Jesus praying to Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane?

4. If Jesus was praying to the divine side of Himself, then isn't He still praying to Himself?

5. Why was Jesus not saying, "Not My will, but MY will be done?" if there is only one person and one will involved when He was praying in Luke 22:42 & Matt. 26:39. 

6. If baptism is essential for salvation, then what happens to someone who repents of sin, accepts Jesus as Savior, walks across the street to get baptized but is killed by a car. Does he go to heaven or hell? 

7. If he goes to heaven, then baptism isn't a requirement is it?

8. If he goes to hell, then faith in Christ isn't sufficient to save him is it?

9. Since the Bible teaches us that Jesus is in bodily form now (Col. 2:9), then how does the Oneness Pentecostal person maintain that God is in the form of the Holy Spirit? Also, when Jesus returns, will He return in His body? Will God's form then revert to the form of the Son at a later date? 

10. If God is only one person, why did Jesus say in John 14:23, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." If God is only one person, why does Jesus say, "we"?

11. Oneness theology teaches that God was in the mode of the Father in the Old Testament. God was seen in the OT (not as a vision or a dream or an angel in the following verses: Exo. 6:2-3; Gen. 19:24; Num. 12:6-8). But, Jesus said no one has seen the Father (John 6:46). If they were seeing God Almighty (Exo. 6:2-3) but it wasn't the Father, then who was it?

Answers and Response to "Questions to Ask Oneness

 Pentecostal Believers." 

Via email, I received answers to the questions in the paper, Questions to ask Oneness Pentecostal believers. I have reproduced the answers given and responded to them accordingly. The original questions are in bold. His responses are underlined. My responses follow his:

1. Is Jesus His own Father? 

2. The response given was "Yes, Jesus is his own Father." Of course, this is an illogical position to hold. I am my Father's son, therefore, I cannot be my own Father. But, seeing the illogic of this position, the following comment was offered after several scriptures were quoted. 

3. "Therefore Jesus is the Father (in relation to His deity), and the Son of the deity (in relation to deity working through Humanity)." The problem with his statement is found in rightly understanding what the Bible teaches concerning the Son. Jesus as a single person has two natures. This is called the hypostatic union; that is, in the one person of Christ are two natures: divine and human. The oneness position effectively divides the one person of Christ into two persons, the Father and the Son, by splitting Jesus into two separate, not unified, parts. Jesus is either divine or He is not. He is either the God-man in one person, or He is not. We cannot have Jesus be his own Father in respect to his deity and the son in respect to his humanity. For a son to be his own father is illogical and the oneness position must backpeddle and erringly divide the natures of Christ into two persons, not one. 

4. If Jesus' will and the Father's will were identical, then why did Jesus express the desire to escape the cup but resigns Himself not to His own will, but the will of the Father? See my article on this. 

5. "If you are posing this argument to try to make two wills within the godhead (which in this case are contrary to one another) then you are promoting outright polythiesm." This statement reveals a lack of understanding not only of the Trinity, but also of logic. The Trinity is the doctrine that there is one God in three persons. Each person has a will. This does not necessitate the existence of three gods and this issue has been thoroughly discussed throughout Christian history. Nevertheless, we see in scripture that only one God is proclaimed and yet the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each have wills and are each called God. A will denotes identity and self awareness. The Father has a will and the Son has a will. Are the two wills really one will? Of course not. In addition, it is the mistake of the oneness to accuse the Trinitarians of being polytheists, an unfortunate and erring attack that only demonstrates the ignorance of the doctrine of the Trinity, the thing they are attacking. 

6. Was Jesus praying to Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane? 

7. "Since Jesus is God, is He the SAME God He was praying to or was He praying to a different God? The person said he had adequately answered this question in his previous comments to question number two. Of course, he hadn't answered it adequately at all. He then poses the above question. Again, this kind of question further demonstrates a lack of understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. The answer is simple. The person of the Son was praying to the person of the Father. It was not one god praying to another god. 

8. I would hope that if someone wished to attack the doctrine of the Trinity that he would at least accurately represent it in his attacks. To misrepresent it is to attack a straw man. 

9. If Jesus was praying to the divine side of Himself, then isn't He still praying to Himself? 

10. "As I have answered above, even if we say "Yes" that is not a Biblical problem." But this is precisely the problem. It would be like saying that the person of the human side of Jesus was praying to His divine side. If that were the case, then we have two beings in the person of Christ which would be ludicrous. 

11. Why was Jesus not saying, "Not My will, but My will be done?" if there is only one person and one will involved when He was praying in Luke 22:42 & Matt. 26:39. 

12. "Once again, Jesus was speaking in His humanity...In His deity His will was one and the same with God, because He is God. In His humanity He had a human will, that He submitted to God." This seems to be only a confusing answer at best and does not answer the question. Who is "God" in his answer if God, to the oneness people, is at that time Jesus? We either have Jesus praying to Himself or we have Jesus the Son, praying to the person of the Father. The oneness position makes no sense. 

13. If baptism is essential for salvation, then what happens to someone who repents of sin, accepts Jesus as Savior, walks across the street to get baptized but is killed by a car. Does he go to heaven or hell? 

14. There really wasn't much of an answer given. He simply tried to state that baptism is necessary in order to be saved. He also wrote about infants who die and verbal acknowledgement of God when becoming a Christian. But, he did get around to saying that baptism is not an option and then ended with saying that the hypothetical position I proposed would never happen. In other words, he didn't answer it. 

15. It seems quite obvious to me that he sees the problem that I posed in the original question: If he goes to heaven, then baptism isn't a requirement is it? If he goes to hell, then faith in Christ isn't sufficient to save him is it? To this, he did not respond and I believe it was because it demonstrates the error of his position and there is no way to answer it except to say that it wouldn't happen. 

16. Since the Bible teaches us that Jesus is in bodily form now (Col. 2:9), then how does the Oneness Pentecostal person maintain that God is in the form of the Holy Spirit? Also, when Jesus returns, will He return in His body? Will God's form then revert to the form of the Son at a later date? 

17. "This is a prime example of how you have not only a misunderstanding of the oneness position, but also your own theology of Trinitarianism." The individual did not really answer the question. Instead, he made statements like "God is still Spirit and He is operating through a human body. Scripture confirms that Jesus operates in more than just a human body form, and "Jesus making it explicitly clear that He is the Holy Spirit in the form of a human body (dwelling with them)." Nevertheless, this person went on to say that Jesus would return in His body. But, to be perfectly honest, I really did not understand what this person was getting at. When speaking with oneness people about this, I've often ended the conversation feeling rather confused. It could simply be my lack of ability to understand that particular position, but it could also be that their position just doesn't make sense.

18. If God is only one person, why did Jesus say in John 14:23, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." If God is only one person, why does Jesus say, "we"? 

19. "If you are trying to use Jesus' use of "We" to imply literally more than one, then you are promoting two Spirits (three counting the Holy Spirit). The Bible says there is only ONE Spirit (Ephesians 4:4,5) Not two not three. ONE." and "He was simply speaking in simple language easier for the listener to understand." Again, this person erringly inserts into the discussion something not held by Trinitarians; namely, that God is three spirits. This is something that repeatedly arises in discussions with oneness people. They continually misrepresent the doctrine of the Trinity. Furthermore, to say that Jesus was simply using language they could understand really ignores what Jesus was actually saying. 

20. Also, notice that this person did not answer the question. 

21. Oneness theology teaches that God was in the mode of the Father in the Old Testament. God was seen in the OT (not as a vision or a dream or an angel in the following verses: Exo. 6:2-3; Gen. 19:24; Num. 12:6-8). But, Jesus said no one has seen the Father (John 6:46). If they were seeing God Almighty (Exo. 6:2-3) but it wasn't the Father, then who was it? 

22. "Once again, you are demonstrating your lack of understanding of Oneness theology, and your own theology." I certainly may not be understanding oneness theology completely, but I do understand my own far better than this gentleman as I have asserted earlier in this paper. Typically, oneness people misrepresent the Trinity doctrine and when I correct them, they tell me I am wrong. This is because it is easier for them to attack a strawman argument rather than the real thing. 

He then states "In fact let me go ahead and turn the argument around on you. The Bible actually states that no one has seen GOD at any time...Your own theology teaches that Jesus is God. If Jesus is God, then why does the Bible say that no one has seen God?" Of course, I've already answered this objection in the Plurality Study which, ironically, supports the doctrine of the Trinity. 

23. Finally, the question I posed in no. 9 above is the result of attending a United Pentecostal Convention (A Oneness group) and speaking to five UPC pastors who acknowledged the modal view that the Father became the Son who became the Holy Spirit. Since then, I have heard differing views from Oneness people on the modes of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through biblical history. It is certainly possible that this gentleman retains a different view than the UPC or a similar one. Either way, I used the Plurality Study as a means of refuting their position to which all five UPC pastors admitted they had no answer. 



Oneness Pentecostalism: Heresy, Not



CRI Statement

This article first appeared in CRI’s newsletter Christian Research REPORT, volume 11, number 1 (1998). For further information or to subscribe to CRI’s current newsletter go to:

The June 1997 issue of Charisma features an article by executive editor J. Lee Grady entitled, “The Other Pentecostals,”1 reporting on the estimated 17 million Oneness Pentecostals worldwide with 2.1 million in the United States.2

Grady calls Pentecostalism a “house divided.”3 While Trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostals alike trace their roots back to the Azusa Street Revival of l906,4 Oneness Pentecostals have been “separated from their brethren by a nasty doctrinal feud that split families and churches.”5 Today younger leaders in the Oneness movement hope to end the feud and lead their movement into the mainstream church.6

It is disturbing enough to read that 17 million Oneness believers are following a theology that rejects the biblical doctrine of the trinity.7 Even more troubling is the article’s suggestion that among many evangelicals this Oneness error is not terribly significant!”

Papering over Differences

After discussing the Oneness rejection of Trinitarian language, Grady uses the phrase, “To split doctrinal hairs even further,...” to introduce Oneness’ insistence on baptism in Jesus’ name only.9 While Oneness Pentecostals may be “too sectarian to mix with other evangelicals,” he writes, “they are too orthodox to be compared with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Grady concludes, “No one really knows what to do with them.”10

He proceeds to juxtapose striking comments by two leaders, one from each camp. Trinitarian scholar and ex-Oneness follower Gregory Boyd is quoted as saying, “If you deny the eternality of the three personal ways God is God, you undermine the very essence of Christianity.”11

Oneness leader T. F. Tenney states, “We do not deny the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit.... We believe Jesus Christ is wholly, fully, absolutely, and completely God. But no one is going to put us in the position of saying that there are three Gods.”12

Grady then offers an observation on our times, seemingly without recognizing its devastating ramifications: “The argument over whether God is three-in-one or one-in-three is a moot point for the average layman, who tends to view the doctrine of the trinity as an unexplainable mystery.”13 Grady implies that the Church should be more concerned with other issues.

Concerning the baptismal view of the most rigid Oneness Pentecostals, he states, “It is on this issue, theologians say, that Oneness Pentecostals have drifted dangerously toward spiritual elitism and heresy.”14 Indeed, the Oneness view of baptism is lethally flawed.

Oneness View Seriously Flawed

Even to remotely imply, however, that corrections to the Oneness understanding of baptism would rescue Oneness theology is wholly misleading.

Grady expresses cavalier confidence that a prominent leader within the largest Oneness denomination, the United Pentecostal Church (UPC), has a right relationship with the Holy Spirit. Referring to Anthony Mangun, a friend of President Clinton, Grady writes: “A good friend who has the Holy Ghost. That might be the best friend any president could have.”15

The problem is that a group’s denial of an essential biblical teaching excludes that group from Christianity. While there may be some Christians in Oneness churches, the movement as a whole is non-Christian. As CRI president Hank Hanegraaff has said, “It would be inappropriate to argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses or various other groups are non-Christian because they deny the doctrine of the Trinity, but that the United Pentecostal Church can reject the Trinity and still be considered Christian.”16

1. J. Lee Grady, “The Other Pentecostals,” Charisma, June 1997, 62-68.

2. Ibid., 63.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid., 62.

6. Ibid., 62-63.

7. The Trinitarian view of God teaches that within the nature of the one true God there are three eternally distinct persons. Oneness theology denies the eternal distinctions among the three persons, insisting there is only one actual person in the Godhead (see CRI’s The Biblical Basis for the Doctrine of the Trinity (DT16O). The historic Christian church has always affirmed Trinitarian theology, while condemning Oneness models during the early centuries after Christ.

8. E.g., Paul Crouch, President of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, has asserted that the debate over the nature of God as Triune or Oneness is merely a semantic one, and has encouraged affirmations of the United Pentecostal Church International (Praise the Lord, TBN, September 5, 1991).

9. Charisma, 63.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid. A similar quote can be found in Gregory Boyd’s book Oneness Pentecostals and the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 196. CRI recommends Boyd’s book as an effective biblical refutation of the Oneness view and defense of the Trinitarian view of God.

12. Ibid., 63. Tenney’s criticism confuses tritheism, the belief in three separate gods, with Trinitarianism.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., “President Clinton’s Pentecostal Connection.” 63.

16. Hank Hanegraaff, “Is the United Pentecostal Church a Christian Church?” CRI Perspective (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA: CRI, 1994) (CP0603)

The Oneness denial of the true nature of God is heretical. Additional false teachings only compound their error. If you want to know more about the dangerous heresy known as Oneness Pentecostalism, please refer to our Resource Catalog Listing or call our Resource Center toll-free at (888)7000-CRI.

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