Anti-trinitarianism: Oneness Pentecostals

Fred Sanders has an excellent essay on the modern-day anti-trinitarians: Oneness Pentecostals In the past anti-trinitarianism arose within and from Unitarianism. Because Unitarianism was so far outside orthodox teaching, there was not much need for Evangelicals to respond.

Today, however, the strongest anti-trinitarian movement known as the Oneness Pentecostals exists as self-proclaimed Evangelicals. This new anti-trinitarian belief needs to be understood and addressed, and it must be done so differently than Unitarianism of a by-gone day. This is an important reminder of the need to respond to contemporary challenges and denials to the faith with contemporary responses, not 100 year old responses. If we do, we will not address the present-day denial of the Trinity.

Here is the introduction to Sander’s helpful and insightful article in which he will “describe the movement,” “identify its theological core, and explain what is at stake in arguments over Oneness doctrine,” and “recommend the strategic direction that evangelical engagement with Oneness groups should follow.”

It is a disturbing fact that the most vigorous form of anti-trinitarianism currently on the market is to be found within the sphere of conservative evangelicalism. In the nineteenth century, the dominant variety of anti-trinitarianism was the old-world Unitarianism which found fertile soil in America. (See Earl Morse Wilbur, A History of Unitarianism: Socinianism and its Antecedents(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1945); for the stream of American theology I am here calling liberal, see Gary Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion 1805-1900 (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2001) and The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity 1900-1950 (Westminster/John Knox, 2003). For evangelical Christians of a conservative temperament, Unitarianism as a theological movement was as easy to ignore as any version of liberal theology. It offered a pervasively non-supernatural interpretation of Christianity, and thereby rendered itself irrelevant to churches which were committed to a range of traditional doctrines such as incarnation, atonement, miracle, revelation, the inspiration of scripture, and heaven and hell.

Today, however, there is an altogether different kind of anti-trinitarian teaching putting itself forward, one which bears no relation to the old liberal Unitarianism, and requires a completely different response from either Unitarianism or the more obviously non-Christian Jehovah’s Witnesses movement. In this brief analysis, I would like to describe the movement known as Oneness Pentecostalism, identify its theological core, and explain what is at stake in arguments over Oneness doctrine. I will not cite Oneness authors at length nor interact with their arguments directly. Instead, speaking as an evangelical trinitarian to other evangelical trinitarians, I would like to recommend the strategic direction that evangelical engagement with Oneness groups should follow.

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