Recently, a controversy has arisen regarding one Michael Brown, his statements concerning nature of the doctrine of the Trinity and its relationship to the gospel, and by implication, its relationship to Christianity in general. The issue, if I can pinpoint it for you is how Michael Brown answered a question put to him regarding the denial of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. So, here is the question that was put to Michael Brown: If you believe in oneness or the Trinity, will that determine if you have salvation or not? Michael Brown said they believe in the fundamentals of the gospel, they believe in the deity of Jesus. Brown says it is actually a debate within the body. Then Brown says, “I have met saved Oneness people.”
What is indisputable in this scenario?
- Michael Brown has said as clearly as anyone could say it: he has met Oneness people who are genuinely saved.
- Michael Brown has said as clearly as anyone could say it: Oneness people do not deny the fundamentals of the gospel.
- Michael Brown has said as clearly as anyone could say it: The Trinity-Oneness debate is an in-house debate.
- Michael Brown has said as clearly as anyone could say it: there are many who say that Oneness theology is outright heretical, and he believes it is something that needs to be debated.
- Michael Brown has said as clearly as anyone could say it: if they (Oneness theology people) affirm the fundamentals then he is not just going to damn them to hell on the spot for a particular difference in their understanding of God.
- Michael Brown has said as clearly as anyone could say it: some would say any denial of the Trinity in any form is a denial of the fundamentals, I think there is debate within that in terms of exactly what someone believes.
- Michael Brown has said as clear as anyone could say it: Oneness theology is not the same as Modalism.
Here is a follow-up question to Michael Brown regarding his having met Oneness Pentecostals who are saved: How did you know they were Oneness? How did you know they were saved? Finally, having come into the knowledge that this person or these people are Oneness, did you take them aside and explain the gospel more clearly to them?
What is Modalism? According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, In the early Church a form of unorthodox teaching on the Trinity which denied the permanence of the three Persons and maintained that the distinctions in the Godhead were only transitory.
What is Oneness Pentecostalism? “Oneness theology builds its alternative to the traditional Trinitarian doctrine of the nature of God on three theological principles. First, the nature of God is a simple dialectic of transcendence and immanence. The only distinction within the Godhead is otherness and expressibility. Second, the “personhood” of God is reserved for his immanent and incarnate presence in Jesus while Spirit designates God in his transcendence. Third, the threefold divine reality is defined as “three manifestations” of the one Spirit in the person of Jesus…As a form of modalism, it preserves the radical monarchy of God and affirms the triune revelation.”
There can be no question that the following statements have been made: Oneness people can be genuine Christians; Oneness people do not deny the fundamentals of the gospel; the Trinity-Oneness debate is an in-house debate; there are many who say that Oneness theology is outright heretical but he believes it is something that needs to be debated; if Oneness theology people affirm the fundamentals of the gospel, then he is not just going to damn them to hell on the sport for a particular difference of their understanding of God; some would say any denial of the Trinity in any form is a denial of the fundamentals, I think there is debate within that in terms of exactly what someone believes; Oneness theology is not the same as Modalism.
Every confession of the Christian church beginning at Nicea requires the confession and affirmation of the Trinity as a necessary condition for recognition by and inclusion in the church. The original Nicene Creed of 325 closes with the following anathema:
But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Michael Brown has answered a question on the doctrine of the Trinity is a clear and cogent manner. He has told us what he thinks. Dr. Brown is a first-rate scholar according to many. He has 40 years of Bible-teaching experience. It seems highly implausible that a man with Brown’s credentials would botch a question as significant as this one. I don’t think he did. I think he gave us his beliefs concerning the orthodoxy nature or not, of the doctrine of the Trinity. He clearly believes that one does not have to affirm it to be genuinely saved. He clearly believes it is not a fundamental of the Christian faith.
Now, Brown made a serious tactical error and I want to point it out. You need to walk through this last piece very carefully. Michael Brown is the kind of man who will denounce teachings like the prosperity gospel while at the same time teaching it. He does this all the time. It is a deliberate tactic. It is how the angel of darkness becomes an angel of light. He tells you this is not that. I hate that. But this is not that when in fact it is that. And he is doing it right here with Oneness Pentecostalism. He is affirming Oneness Pentecostalism while at the very same time condemning Modalism as heresy. Why? Well, we are all used to hearing that Modalism is heresy. If Michael Brown were to say, Modalism isn’t really heresy or some Modalists are genuinely saved, he knows it would be a PR nightmare. In short, it would be unsellable. So, like the good CPRW (Charismatic Public Relations Wizard) he is, attempts to pull off his magic once again. And for many of James White’s fans, based on the number of attacks I have received, they have bought it. James White has clearly bought it. But notice that the definition of Oneness Pentecostalism I gave you comes from the Pentecostal friendly “Dictionary of Pentecostal And Charismatic Movements.” Either Brown is completely ignorant of Oneness Pentecostalism and Modalism, in which case he is not such a skilled scholar after all, or he is being deliberately misleading in how he defines Oneness theology and Modalism. In either case, the picture this paints of him is not very flattering.
In summary, there can be no doubt, but that Michael Brown and James White have offered us a new alternative to Trinitarian Doctrine. The church should no longer pronounce those who deny the Trinity, heretics if they deny it out of ignorance. In those cases, such people should be recognized as genuine believers along with those who confess the biblical doctrine. Michael Brown even says that it is possible for genuine Christians to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. He has met a born-again Jehovah’s Witness. Now, he says that such a person would eventually have to leave that cult just as a saved Roman Catholic would have to leave Rome. But why? If the person continues to ignorantly affirm heretical doctrine, and ignorance gets you off the hook, why not agree with the Catholics and tell people not to read the Bible. Because if they do, they will have to leave eventually. How long do they have? But again, this isn’t really what’s going on with Drs. Brown and White.
All this leaves us with an unanswered problem. If the Trinity is not a fundamental of the gospel, why does it matter if people reject it out of ignorance? It isn’t fundamental to begin with, so getting it wrong is not a peril to the soul. That means it is a non-essential doctrine, one that is less clear in the Scriptures than other essential doctrines. So, why bother to excuse people from affirming the Trinity if the doctrine isn’t a fundamental of the faith anyway? And if it is a fundamental of the faith, how can ignorance ever be an excuse since we all believe it is God who opens the eyes to the fundamentals of the gospel, to begin with. Isn’t that how he saves us? Could a person be saved and be ignorant of their need for salvation? Some modern preachers claim that some people know Christ and don’t even know that they know him. They have never heard his name preached, but somehow, they still know him. The faith and confession of new believers are tested right from the start. This is why the early church was so adamant about confessions. Maybe this has more to do with the abhorrent way in which false churches receive converts than it does sound theology.
The problem here is that Michael Brown’s soteriology is unbiblical, to begin with, and James White knows that. On his DL program, James White gets to the segment where he is going to offer a defense for Michael Brown, but before doing so, he begins with an ad hominem and slander directed to P&P, something that is completely unnecessary and inappropriate. Then he turns his guns on me and immediately and begins with ad hominem and slander as well. Again, I wasn’t trolling anything. I have been a regular listener of the DL and have often commented on the chat channel for years now. I guess Dr. White thinks it helps one’s case if you begin by defaming anyone who disagrees with you before actually talking about the matter. I find such slanderous behavior reprehensible and inexcusable. What White said next was actually one of the most arrogant things I have heard him say: “My critics know they could not have done that program themselves. They can’t just sit down and do that. It is beyond their capacity and they know that, but they don’t care.” White is referring to the Psalm 22 DL with Michael Brown. White then says, “this is the utter abandonment of any Christian motivation on their part.” The criticism of White has been focused on his practice of providing cover and enablement to Michael Brown, a man whom many in the reformed camp consider dangerous. So why would we want to go out of our way to praise the Psalm 22 program? James White is sending out a red herring here. None of us are perfect. This is not about hating James White. The truth is that James White is doing to me what Homosexuals do to all Christians who think homosexuality is sinful behavior. They begin by calling us hateful bigots and the argument becomes one between a caring homosexual and cold, hateful bigot. White has employed the exact same strategy here. He begins by calling me a troll. He assumes I am an enemy out to get his ministry. He claims that I am just one more life-long critic. And he assumes that I am affiliated with Pulpit and Pen. And he is wrong on every single count. He couldn’t be more wrong. But what I am interested in is how White actually interacts with the facts I have outlined above. These are undisputable statements that came directly from Michael Brown’s own lips. White then says that I possessed something, not sure what, that would make me a bald-faced liar, worthy of charges before my elders. I honestly do not know what that means. I am in possession of the conversation Dr. White and I had on instant messenger. That conversation was copied and pasted and forwarded to JD Hall for one single purpose: this issue deserves to be raised higher and JD Hall can do that better than I. No one would notice my blog. But, they would notice JD Hall and hopefully go take a look at the issue for themselves. My strategy worked better than I had hoped. I did not expect to become the subject of two prominent ministries at the same time. It was never about me. It is not about me. To make it about me is to miss the point entirely. It is about the fundamentals of the gospel. It has always been about that and it will continue to be about that.
White says that I don’t understand plain language, or I am desperately dishonest. Folks, it shouldn’t matter that this is James White saying these things. This is slander. As I listen for Dr. White to address Brown’s clear answer on the Trinity, he just continues to go and on about Pulpit and Pen, and now, me. Dr. White seems to want to make this about people being able to articulate an orthodox position on the Trinity. White seems to think that most Christians would test out as having modalistic tendencies. I actually disagree completely with that conclusion. I think more often than not, the error would be toward polytheism, not modalism. Modalism is far more complicated than polytheism. Most Christians need to have a better understanding how the three persons are actually one God. Most evangelicals do not think of the Trinity as three manifestations of God. They would be more prone, if pushed, to have difficulty unifying the persons into One Being. That has been my experience.
White thinks that the statement, “if they deny the eternal existence of the Son, they are not saved,” ends the controversy. He is mistaken. Oneness Pentecostals would claim that the Son, being a manifestation of God is essentially eternal as God. They would claim that the God indwelling in the Son is eternal and therefore that person is the son. But this again misses the point above. Brown has already clearly said that the debate regarding the Trinity is an “in-house” debate not bound up in the fundamentals of the gospel. He is on record as clearly having said this. Add to this the fact that White and Brown have allowed ignorance as an excuse and White went pretty far to demonstrate that he thinks that it is, then does this not mean that you can deny the eternality of the Son out of ignorance and still be saved or not?
In conclusion, Michael Brown clearly states that the doctrine of the Trinity is an “in-house” debate and that it is not bound up in the “fundamentals of the gospel.” He has said that he is not going to damn people to hell who have a particularly different understanding of God than he does. He claims that Oneness theology is not Modalism. Michael Brown gives us two answers to these question, but they both essentially agree with each other. One answer is unscripted and un-coached. The other is not. The problem is that in both answers, Michael Brown is busy doing what Michael Brown has done for years now: opening the gates to heretical and blasphemous views in the Christian community. I understand that people think this language may be inflammatory and provocative. But it is not in and of itself unloving or unbiblical in tone nor is it overly harsh. We aren’t talking about an unclear complicated issue related to eschatology. We aren’t talking about theory or hypothesis when we talk about the doctrine of the Trinity. We are talking about Christianity. No Trinity = No Christianity. Michael Brown has a different criterion for discerning the true faith of people and apparently, it has nothing to do with whether or not they are walking in the truth. It is not only true that Brown has a troubling soteriology, but he also has a disturbing view of Scripture. He engages in the practical denial of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. He relies on a “spiritual” sense to discern things. For the Pentecostal, the Spirit bearing witness is very much a “mystical” sensation they get when the Spirit is confirming truth to them. They even use it to test other people’s faith on occasion.
Do yourself a favor, shun Michael Brown. He is misleading on numerous levels, and he represents a serious danger to the body of Christ. I am not saying anything about his salvation. I really don’t have to do that. Michael Brown should be confronted repeatedly and if he remains obstinate, he should be stigmatized, marginalized and rejected by the leaders of the true church as a divisive man who has no interest in submitting to the teachings of orthodox Christianity. This is how we should treat all those who are walking in a disorderly manner before the Lord.
Addendum: The James White/Ed Dingess Conversation from Facebook Instant Messenger. Note, James White, edited this conversation on Facebook. I am including the unedited version below with comments.
I have decided to pull back from my glowing endorsements of you, something I have done for YEARS. Michael Brown endorses heretics and leads people toward those who practice outrageous acts of blasphemy in worship practices that are extremely bizarre. Recently, he went on record to say that the denial of the Trinity is not heresy. He sends people to heretics. He sends them to blasphemers, people he calls his friends, his brothers in Christ. And he uses your name to enhance his own credibility. I am deeply saddened by your decisions regarding Michael Brown. Your decision as to who is dangerous and who is not seems arbitrary at this point. If you like me, I am not dangerous. If you don’t, then I am. With all due respect, you could use a dose of your own older medicine.
A few points in response. 1) I will try to muddle on without your “glowing endorsements,” since, to be honest, I’ve never seen them, nor are you known to me. 2) Your misrepresentation of MB is common, but nonetheless reprehensible. MB’s unwillingness to join the anti-charismatic polemics cabal is understandable, given he is a charismatic. But the unwillingness of others to honestly evaluate who MB actually endorses (there are few) and who he refuses to condemn (not the same thing as endorsing—though in the minds of many, they are in fact the same) is a sad testimony to the degradation of truthfulness in Christian discourse. 3) Your statement, “he went on record to say that the denial of the Trinity is not heresy” is a bald-faced absurdity, worthy only of the source you derived it from, Pulpit and Pen. It is a lie. Period. Anyone promoting it is a liar. Period. Unlike MB’s wild-eyed and dishonest critics (like P&P), I contacted MB and he read my words on his program and agreed with my statements. Let me guess—you didn’t actually listen to what MB said. You just believed whatever you were told by P&P. Not unusual, but reprehensible nonetheless. I can’t stop you from spreading falsehoods and misrepresentations—it is the common behavior of folks on the net these days. But I can hope you will become serious and start being careful about being truthful.
- Notice White’s first response is an insult. Right out of the gate.
- On (2) notice that White wants to make a distinction between endorsing and condemning heretics. He wants us to believe that refusing to condemn heretics is actually acceptable. Jesus said, you are with me OR against me. You love me or you hate me. You are a friend or you are an enemy. If White is going to accuse people of misrepresenting Brown, he will have to do better.
- Michael Brown said that the doctrine of the Trinity is an “in-house” debate. That he has met many Oneness theology people who are saved. How is this a bald-faced lie?
- My source was Michael Brown’s “Line of Fire” program.
- Note that James White contacted Michael Brown after his first answer on the Line of Fire. He admits it. And that was for the purpose of coaching Brown. Why would White contact him if that first answer wasn’t problematic? Who is really the conspirators here? It isn’t me. I have never had a conversation with JD Hall outside of a couple of interactions on FB messenger. In fact, I have interacted more with James White than JD Hall. White is making assumptions based on sheer conjecture and he couldn’t be more wrong.
- Finally, notice that in White’s response to me, there is no true argument, no defense. He basically wants to be able to say, “you’re a liar, shut up.” He thinks this ends the controversy. It doesn’t.
Actually, I am not a P&P fan. I find JDs tactics reprehensible. And you are WRONG sir. I listened to MB’s answer TWICE. TWICE Dr. White. I have appreciated your ministry for years. But MB has CLEARLY said you can hold to the fundamentals of the gospel AND be Oneness. This is a rejection of Nicea even though it isn’t a rejection of the Trinity. Just calling me a liar is not addressing the issue. You’re right, Dr. White. I am a nobody. I am NOT a celebrity. I am nothing. I am one of many who has been blessed by your ministry. And now, I am one of many who is extremely disappointed. You know PJ, TF, and JP and many other respectable men believe you are 100% wrong. That alone is enough for my position, which is identical to theirs, to at least deserve something more than a “your a nobody who is a liar and unworthy of consideration.” I have tried NOT to get into this issue. You insist on pushing the MB issue and I felt like I should say something.
For what it is worth, I not only came out of the Pentecostal world, I was very close to oneness people, having gone to their churches and conversed with them for a number of years.
1) Before I replied to you, I looked at your page….you linked to the P&P hit piece. Oversight? 2) Which answer? His answer to the caller or the one where he read MY comments and agreed with them? I await your answer.
- Notice that White refers to the page at P&P as a “hit” piece. This is irrelevant. And, as James very well knows, it is poisoning the well. Just because I have had articles picked up and published by P&P and just because I link to P&P, that does not make this a conspiracy theory. James White hates JD Hall. His anger toward JD Hall is now being directed at me. His anger is blinding him to the truth which is that this was not a conspiracy.
- In White’s answer on the video, he is said to hold that 20% of Oneness Pentecostals (or Oneness theology people?) are probably ignorant of their own doctrine of God. Therefore, we shouldn’t condemn them. If White wants to remove himself from the heresy that is threatening to impale him, there is a better way.
That is the only place I could find the video. I don’t like JD’s behavior over the last couple of years but I still think he makes a good point on occasion and I think this is one of those occasions. My point is that Brown spent over 5 minutes refusing to call the rejection and denial of the Trinity heresy. He was teaching this woman that called in and ALL his listeners that the Trinity is NOT fundamental to the gospel nor to orthodoxy. You can reject it and still be saved. Its an “in house” debate. We look for you to step up and refute your friend openly and distance yourself from such teaching. It is deadly. Instead, you bring him on your show and enhance his credibility. Why can’t you look him in the eye and say, Michael, your friends are heretics. Much of what you call “fire” is just blasphemous worship. And your downgrade of the Trinitarian doctrine is reprehensible. Do you not believe that it is. And when you attempt to spin it and interpret MB in the most positive light, we all shake our heads James. I love your ministry but you are losing us sir. We will not stand for another MB Toronto blessing movement that we all know is coming. He is not one of us.
I appreciate your ministry…I rely on you…but this MB is hurting all of us…at least all the guys I talk to
In other words, “Yes, I just listened to the one question, and no, I did not hear the rest of what MB said, and no, it doesn’t matter that he read your comments, clarified his statement.” Got it! That’s where we part company. I am sure some folks would take my statement that more than 50% of evangelicals I know are modalistic in their views of the Trinity and twist that into saying “James White denies the Trinity is definitional of the gospel!” Easy to do—so common—my standards won’t allow me to join in such internet hay-making. If you want to do it—you get to answer for it. Next, HURTING you? Oh goodness—now the “victim mentality” is invading Christianity, too? You can’t take the good and leave the bad, can’t go, “Wow, this is solid stuff on Psalm 22” without going “Oh and that means I have to adopt every attitude MB portrays toward Charismatic activities”? PLEASE! I just can’t believe this, “Oh, we are being HURT by Michael Brown” drivel. Man up!
- Michael Brown doubled-down. He spent all this time justifying his view that the doctrine of the Trinity is not a fundamental of the gospel, a few seconds saying that if they deny the eternality of the Son then that’s heresy, and the rest of the time trying to convince us that we should not damn people to hell because they have a different understanding of the nature of the Trinity than historic Christian orthodoxy.
- James White makes much of the “eternality of the Son” statement as if this settles the matter. The eternality of the Son is not the doctrine of the Trinity. Nicea is the place to look if we want to truly work with a biblical definition of the Trinity. Again, this is James White providing yet more cover for Michael Brown and I for one have had enough.
- Notice that White is extremely callous to my plea that he is hurting us, meaning, hurting the body. He could care less. This isn’t victim mentality. It’s the same concept Paul uses when the image of “ravenous wolves” coming in to tear the sheep from limb to limb.
- If James White knew me, he would never tell me to man up. That much I guarantee.
So, again, I listened to the 5+ minutes entirely, twice. I thought you would have been annoyed he dropped your name in an answer that bad. I respect you Dr. White. I will continue to use your materials and listen to your debates. The fact remains that you have done NOTHING to refute my points about MB. And you have done NOTHING to justify your endorsement of him other than to tell me I should be able to take the good and throw the bad away. I don’t need MB’s good, what little there is. I can get his good from good guys who don’t endorse heretics. We are all sad to see you run to this man’s defense. We can’t justify it in our minds. MB endorses heretics: yes. Michael Brown pushes worship practices that are blasphemous: yes. Michael Brown displaces the Trinity, making it a non-essential component of Christian belief: yes. And you seem immoveable. And we cannot understand why. I won’t trouble you any longer. I know you are busy. I love you. I appreciate your ministry. I respect you highly. But on this issue, you couldn’t be more wrong in my humble opinion.
OK, so, he AGREED with my position and answered my question and yet you go, “Nope, didn’t change a thing.” OK. We’re done. Have a nice life!
It didn’t change a thing because, well, it didn’t change a thing. There was nothing in Brown’s answer that corrected his previous answer. So, no, it didn’t change a thing. And don’t you love these guys running around in their debates, bragging about how much they have accomplished and how incredibly smart and talented they are, only to feel entirely within their right to say to the rest of us, the nobodys, the nothings, “Have a nice life.”
Why did I decide to send this to JD Hall? The last comment from White indicates that he has absolutely no reason to reconsider his current trajectory. This is alarming to me. I am, in fact, a nobody. No one knows me, and I haven’t given them any reason to know me. That is not God’s plan or design for my life. I am extremely ordinary if that. But, I still believe that James White can be corrected and that this Michael Brown relationship can be addressed biblically. So, I asked myself, “self, what can you do to get James White’s attention since you are a nobody?” And I figured that I could pass this important conversation off to JD Hall, someone that I am convinced would get White’s attention, and hopefully, the attention of others who would not let this issue just fade away but would maybe come alongside James and provide additional encouragement for him to change course. I will continue to pray for James White and his ministry. I hope nothing but the best for him. As Paul Harvey would say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1104.
 Stanley M. Burgess, Gary B. McGee, and Patrick H. Alexander, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Regency Reference Library, ©1988), 648-49.