well meaning error

A recent series of articles deals with the problem of error creeping into the church. First, an overview of ancient heresies is offered. Second, a modern error by an other-wise well-respected Bible teacher, Henry Morris, is highlighted. And third, an error by M. R. DeHaan with respect to the nature of Christ’s blood is exposed, with this comment:

Sadly, DeHaan’s views have had wide circulation among fundamentalists for the past five decades. Whatever one may believe about the present location of the blood of Christ, there can be no biblical retreat from the fact that Jesus’ blood was human blood.

One might suspect that the series of articles was written so that this statement could be uttered, but that might be seen as too cynical.

In any case, it is true that it seems very easy to slip into error when it comes to the person of Christ. These errors seem to come when, in our zeal to defend one area of biblical truth, we overstate the case and make an error in another area of biblical truth. And sometimes such errors come when, in our zeal for rhetorical flourish, we indulge too much in the speculative nature of things about which the Bible is silent. It seems that we would be safest by simply affirming ONLY what the Bible affirms and leaving speculation entirely aside.

For example, consider the following statement from the articles pointing out errors. Do you see anything wrong with it? Do any aspects of it make you a little uncomfortable?

One of the great, fundamental truths of the virgin birth is that it guarantees the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. It was necessary for the Son of God to become human through a miraculous conception and birth. The normal process always produces a new person, so for God’s Son to come into the world due to natural procreation would have produced a being with two persons. Since He was a pre-existent person, the Son of God needed only to take to Himself an impersonal human nature, and because it was impersonal, it was also sinless (since persons sin, not bodies). Mankind desperately needed a sinless substitute and the God-man, Jesus Christ, perfectly met both requirements—He was fully man and completely sinless.

Does the idea of an ‘impersonal human nature’ strike you as somewhat odd? Does it mean that Jesus wasn’t a human person, only a divine person in a human body? If that were true, would it be possible to say that the Son fully identified himself with humanity? Does not having a human person mean no human personality? Is that exactly an orthodox description?

Please note that I don’t subscribe to Two Persons in the Incarnate Son of God. I believe that it is One Person, Two Natures. But to say that the incarnation is simply acquiring an ‘impersonal human nature’ seems to be a little odd. At the very least, it does seem that it could lead to an error concerning the nature of Christ’s identification with mankind.

Further, what about this idea that the human nature of Christ was sinless "because it was impersonal". The reason given is that "persons sin, not bodies". Is sin to be thought of only in terms of what persons do outside the will of God? Is that what makes sinners sinful? What about the imputed sin of Adam? What about the inherited sin nature passed on from generation to generation?

If not having a human person guarantees the sinlessness of Christ because persons sin, not bodies, does that mean humans only become sinful when they sin? Isn’t that awfully close to the dreaded "P"-word?1

The reason I am asking these questions is to illustrate how easy it is to make statements that seem to slip into error or have the potential of slipping into error if, once uttered, they become too vigorously defended. I don’t think the person who made the statement is in any danger of making these errors, but his statement isn’t airtight as it stands.

Furthermore, when people like Morris and DeHaan and "fundamentalists" make these kinds of errors – and even stoutly defend them – what should be done about them?

Should they be purged out of the church, like Arius of old was?

Do the errors of Henry Morris or M. R. DeHaan rise to that level? Would we propose that Christians should declare them heretics and condemn their ministries as unacceptable? Would we consider them so deviant that we would advocate complete separation, like we would with modernists?

I don’t think we would make those kinds of conclusions, though when you consider the teachings mentioned, we are exceedingly uncomfortable.

What distinguishes these men from Arius? Or, for that matter, what distinguishes these men and their teachings from modern Arians, the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Isn’t the distinction something like this: these errors are ‘side-teachings’, not the primary or defining thrust of the ministries of Morris or DeHaan. Their errors aren’t the foundational basis of their theology, rather they are tangential to an essentially orthodox view. The JWs or Arius, on the other hand, base everything on their heretical view of Christ.

Some might use the term ‘misguided’ with respect to these errors. Certainly they are misguided. They should be exposed and repudiated. But then, should we then mount a constant campaign to set them aside as useless and declare their fellowship completely unacceptable? Should we refrain from using their ministry in other ways where no such errors exist? I don’t think we would go that far. Not with Morris and DeHaan. Should we impugn fundamentalism because some fundamentalists have echoed similar errors? I don’t think so.

And may God keep us all from foolish errors in what we say. We are all certainly all too capable of such!

don_sig2

Notes:

  1. Pelagianism []

Comments

  1. T. Pennock says:

    Don,

    I’ve been reading the same articles you have and found them good. But a question occurred to me as I read Dave’s remarks on Morris’ view of the “transplanted embryo.” Would Morris’ view of a “transplanted embryo” make Jesus any less a physical decedent of Abraham and David than John the Baptist’s view that God could turn rocks into the children of Abraham (Mt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8)? Is Dave limiting the power of God and what He can actually do? Or is John the Baptist speaking with the same “subtle,” “frightening,” and “contradictory” language as Morris?

    • I think the point being made is reasonably well taken. We need to note such errors and something should be said about them. But of course, no proposal is made in the articles as to what should be done about Morris, DeHaan, and “fundamentalists”. It would be interesting to see what Dave thinks should be done.

      As to John the Baptist, I suppose it depends on how those stones could be raised up as sons of Abraham. I don’t want to speculate here, since the Scripture doesn’t give us much to go on. It is true that it is possible to be a son of Abraham in the ‘by faith’ way, as Paul teaches in Romans. But if John’s statement is taken strictly literally, it would appear that God would be making new humans out of literal rocks. These would be genetically unconnected with Abraham and with Adam, for that matter. Would they then have a sin nature? So… I think I’ll just let John the Baptist’s comment stand and not speculate.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. T. Pennock says:

    Don,

    I agree. Speculation isn’t helpful. But I couldn’t help but see that the very thing Dave flamed against–that Morris’ view undermines Christ’s humanity–wasn’t altogether different from John the Baptist’s view.

    I, too, am interested in what Dave thinks we should do about those who embrace the theories of Morris and DeHaan. But I would be even more interested to know what he would do about the BJ grads who embarce the early views of Stewart Custer on the blood.

    If I recall correctly, years ago Custer wrote a little booklet on the blood of Christ in which he espoused views Dave would now condemn as cultic. That little booklet reveals, at least to my mind, why many BJ men responded so negatively to J-Mac’s views.

    • I don’t remember the booklet. I don’t think that it is the MacArthur controversy that Dave is aiming at, though.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. T. Pennock says:

    Don,

    I only raise the issue of the blood because Dave did in his “Bad Chemistry, Worse Theology.” I realize he wasn’t discussing the J-Mac issue.

    Concerning the booklet, I’m not even sure of the name of it. I read it years ago. A friend of mine had a copy and asked me to read it. So I did. I remember being quite puzzled over some of his statements.

    Perhaps I can get a copy of it and post some passages on-line. I’m sure it’ll raise a few eyebrows. I’ve often wondered why it wasn’t cited during the controversy between BJ and J-Mac over the blood. Maybe the contents will reveal why.

  4. Any doctrine out of balance leads to error. Right? Any doctrine singled out in itself will led to error.

    When teaching verse by verse you deal with the text within the text and sometimes it will lead others to believe you are teaching error, when you are not.

    I was raised as a boy listening to M R DeHaan, and most of the preachers would agree with DeHaan, and today most of them still do. Just talk about the blood of Jesus being human and you will get a fight.

    So the topic needs to be set right, right?

    • Hi Charles,

      Yes, the topic needs to be set right. DeHaan was entirely wrong on this point. Those who have followed his teaching are also wrong.

      The question is, what to do about those who are in error here?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. How do you get people even to listen? How do you get people to at least take note of the error being presented? How can we present the truth in such as way that people will at least hear you? You know?

    It is a challenge isn’t it?

  6. Don,

    I’m not a defender of DeHaan, but we should remember that he made his remarks about the blood when we knew very little about it.

    I.M. Halderman also made some interesting remarks about the virgin birth and sin nature long before we knew much about human genetics and the biological and psychological contribution both parents make to their offspring.

    Interestingly, I once had a J-Mac supporter tell me how extreme DeHaan was in his remarks about the blood. I told him I agreed and reminded him that such remarks weren’t limited to men like DeHaan. I then gave him a half dozen quotes from G. Smeaton’s two volume work on the atonement. In those volumes, Smeaton refers to the blood of Christ as THE BLOOD OF GOD.

    Understandably, men who hold to a high view of the blood of Christ (high in the sense of worth and value) sometimes use language that overstates their case.

    Smeaton was a strong Calvinists, by the way.

    Have a good one!