The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part One)

Posted: February 24, 2014 in Born Again Mormon Movement, McCraneyism, Mormon Studies, Shawn McCraney, The Trinity

by Fred W. Anson
January 2013-March 2014
It’s been an interesting few weeks if you’re a Evangelical Christian in Mormon Studies! For those of you who don’t know well known Utah TV personality, and a former Latter-day Saint who is now a Born Again critic of Mormonism, Shawn McCraney has recently been denounced by many in the Evangelical Christian Mormon Studies community as a heretic and even a cult leader.

Here’s the short, cryptic version of what’s happened so far:

January 9, 2013
Shawn McCraney announces that his new emphasis will be the doctrine and culture of the American Evangelical church rather than Mormonism.
(HOTM #EVC 1: The Price of Truth; http://hotm.tv/episodes/evc/1-the-price-of-truth/ )

Throughout the year of 2013 Mr. McCraney critiques a number of non-essential doctrines such as worship styles, preaching styles, fund raising, etc. He also denounces the doctrines of eternal hell, and the Calvinistic theological system raising the hackles of mainstream orthodox Christians.

January 29, 2014
“Jed” a regular attendee (the group eschews “members” or “membership”) of Shawn McCraney CAMPUS ministry (see http://c-a-m-p-u-s.com/ ) calls into Jason Wallace’s Ancient Paths TV Show and presents a idyllic picture of their group of “Christian Anarchists”. In response Jason Wallace challenges Jed from the Bible and then critiques Shawn McCraney’s lack of accountability.
(The Ancient Paths – The Importance of the Visible Church; currently not internet posted)

February 4, 2014
Mr. McCraney responds to Jason Wallace’s public critique by renouncing all forms of ecclesiological accountability except in regard to finances. Shawn then proceeds to renounce the creedal basis of the doctrine of the Trinity calling it, among other things, “garbage” and derived by committee rather than God.
(HOTM Episode #380: God – Part 1; http://hotm.tv/episode-380-god-part-1/ )

A summation video of these two exchanges can be found here:
(“Wallace/McCraney TV Exchange on Accountability”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qYfBlQBUNw)

February 11, 2014
Mr. McCraney claims that the doctrine of the Trinity was developed from pagan sources. He then goes on to teach a form of non-sequential modalism and then denies that what he’s just taught is modalism.
(HOTM Episode #381: God – Part 2; http://hotm.tv/episode-381-god-part-2/ )

February 12, 2014
Presbyterian Pastor Jason Wallace gives an overview of Shawn McCraney’s unBiblical behavior and shift from historic Christianity orthodoxy since January 2013. Pastor Wallace explains that, per Shawn’s request, he won’t be addressing Shawn’s new view of God until Mr. McCraney gives the additional details and expands on his beliefs on the next HOTM show – as Shawn as has promised both on the air and in private communication.
(The Ancient Paths – Response to Shawn McCraney’s Teachings; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkFNlhYI8PM )

February 17, 2014
Christian Apologist Rob Sivulka of Courageous Christians United publishes a blog article entitled, “Shawn McCraney is a Heretic and Needs Adult Supervision” becoming the first to formally and publicly label Shawn McCraney a heretic.
(see http://www.courageouschristiansunited.org/blog/Shawn-McCraney-is-a-Heretic-and-Needs-Adult-Supervision-48993 )

The “Heart of the Matter with Shawn McCraney” Facebook page purges all critics of Mr. McCraney from the page.  The page owner Derrick Webster (a key figure in Mr. McCraney’s Alathea Ministries) also blocks those critics  from his personal Facebook profile making communication with him via Facebook impossible (Note: Mr. McCraney doesn’t have a Facebook account).
[In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that this author was one of those who was purged from the page and blocked by Mr. Webster]

February 18, 2014
Instead of delivering “God – Part 3”, as previously stated and promised, Mr. McCraney remains silent for the entire show. The only voices are those of John updating the viewers on the Monson United Kingdom lawsuit, a few critics, and far more supporters praising Shawn for his “bold stand” in the face of adversity.
(HOTM Episode #382: Silence; http://hotm.tv/episode-382-silence/ )

February 19, 2014
Jason Wallace addresses Shawn McCraney’s behavior and lack of accountability to the visible Church. He also addresses the division that Mr. McCraney is creating in the church through his teachings and behavior. At 25-minutes into this show CAMPUS attendee “Jed” calls in again and is unable to respond cogently and Biblically to Pastor Wallace’s questions regarding how CAMPUS is structured, organized, and run relative to Biblical injunctions and models on church structure and practices.
(The Ancient Paths – Response to Shawn McCraney Part 2; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38DNcJLUjbI#t=00h24m59s)

February 20, 2014
Mr. McCraney hosts a meeting that he and his producers dub “Inquisition 2014” which is video streamed over the internet. Mr. McCraney’s critics are dubbed “Accusers”. Local Utah Pastors attending the event include Jason Wallace, Dale Finley, Bryan Hurlbutt, Cory Anderson, Chip Thompson, and others. Also in attendance was Christian Apologist Rob Sivulka and several others with Utah-based ministries.
(INQUISITION 2014 – The term “trinity”; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XS4YzzBjMzk)

The invitation for the February 21, 2014

The invitation for the February 21, 2014 “Open Forum” event at CAMPUS

This event was posted on the internet as an “Open Forum”, but the actual format was a largely passive audience merely observing a highly controlled, staged setting. For example, those that wanted to confront Shawn were told to sign up and sit at the front of the room. These “accusers” were given a combined total of 30 minutes to state their “case”. Further, they were told specifically to only address issues about the the trinity, and were forbidden to bring up any other concerns over any of Shawn’s other controversial teachings and statements (such as accountability, Calvinism, hell, etc). This came as a shock to many in attendance as the “invitation” did not specify such a format, nor limit the topics allowed.

February 21, 2014
Derrick Webster posts the following on the Heart of the Matter With Shawn McCraney Facebook page:

“Message from Shawn McCraney

Dear friends,

As a Christian Ministry dedicated to reflecting the ideals of the King, we want to reiterate that our Facebook page is here to share information relative to the LDS/ Christian debate. We would appreciate it if all the ad hominem attacks were entirely eliminated. When or if any of the comments become venomous or personal our administrator will remove you from participating in this forum. Please remember that we are not “warring against flesh and blood,” but against dark principalities in high places. Speak the truth, but please try to do it in love.”

This story is still unfolding and is far from over. As new developments occur I will add updates to this article as comments.

TonightShawnIsConfronted

Pastor Jason Wallace opens the February 20th “Inquisition 2014” event with a summation of the critic’s case against Shawn McCraney. Please note the “interesting” choice of words in the on-screen captioning.

Coming next: In Part 2 of this series I will present an analysis of the body of evidence as well as the criticism being leveled at Mr. McCraney and explain why I am of the opinion that the criticism and heretic label is justified. I will also present my prayerful hope that Shawn will turn from the heresy of modalism, his unBiblical “Christian Anarchy”, and be restored to a place in the body of Christ where his and his gifts can find their ultimate fulfillment and unique place in God’s purposes and will for this generation.

UPDATES:
February 25, 2014

After having long private discussions with Shawn McCraney, well known and respected Theologian Rob Bowman of the Institute of Religious Research (see http://irr.org/who-we-are ; also see https://irr.org/author/robert-m-bowman-jr ) appears on Heart of the Matter, gives a brief overview of the doctrine of the Trinity and answers questions from Mr. McCraney and his viewers.  The tone and timbre of the show is markedly different than the previous week’s shows.
(Episode 383: Robert M. Bowman Jr. – Director of Research, IRR; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyvo1riNhZI )

February 26, 2014
Rob Bowman issues the following statement on his Facebook page regarding the week’s events:

As announced yesterday, last night I was a guest on Shawn McCraney’s TV program “Heart of the Matter” to discuss the doctrine of the Trinity. In this post I’m going to review what has happened and give my take on where things stand at the moment.

Shawn is a former Mormon who became “born again” while he was still in the LDS Church. He eventually came out, went to pastoral training school, and began a teaching and evangelistic ministry focused on reaching Mormons. That ministry evolved into an informal church that is rather out of the mainstream of evangelical church practice. He published a book entitled “Born Again Mormon” that was later retitled “I Was a Born Again Mormon.” By all accounts Shawn’s ministry has been unusually successful not merely in drawing people out of Mormonism but in leading them to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and to experience the new birth in Christ.

During the past year or so, Shawn has offered up his own views on various doctrinal issues and spoken very critically of various evangelical doctrines and movements. This development came to a head a few weeks ago when he did a couple of programs disparaging the doctrine of the Trinity. Shawn referred to the doctrine as “garbage,” as a man-made doctrine defined as a way of controlling people, and argued that the doctrine is more likely to have originated in paganism from the triads of gods in ancient religions than from the Bible. His alternative explanation at least sounded like a form of modalism, although he insisted it was not.

After discussing the matter with my co-workers at the Institute for Religious Research, I emailed Shawn privately and expressed the desire to meet with him in order to get to know him personally and to discuss doctrine with him. Shawn responded very positively, welcomed the interaction, and we made arrangements. In the meantime, there were some swift and in some cases rather sharp responses to Shawn’s statements online, and this was followed up by a program last Thursday night in which Shawn and some of the local Christian ministry leaders who had criticized Shawn had an unfortunately vitriolic confrontation.

I flew from Grand Rapids to Salt Lake City on Monday and met with Shawn for four hours. We made a very good personal connection, frankly recognizing that we are in temperament and experience radically different kinds of men, and had a good, constructive first discussion of the doctrinal issues. Shawn invited me to be a guest on his program Tuesday night, which I did. We met again today for a few hours and talked some more. I was blessed to have an opportunity to present a solid if brief explanation of the biblical basis of the Trinity and to answer a number of Shawn’s objections in front of his audience. Afterwards I spoke with people in attendance for over an hour, and it appears that the event was helpful.

What was said on last night’s program is of course public knowledge. One thing I said at the end, in response to a caller’s question, is that I consider Shawn a brother in Christ. I stand by that statement, but I also don’t want to be misunderstood. Whether Shawn is a believer, and whether he is a sound teacher, are two different questions. Some of the things Shawn has been teaching are in error, and it is important that he come to see that and make the necessary corrections. As a teacher, he is answerable to God and is held to a stricter standard with regard to what he says than other believers (James 3:1). Some of the things he said can even be fairly labeled as heretical, though he has also said things that contradicted those seemingly heretical statements. My assessment is that Shawn’s theology is confused and otherwise lacking largely because he has never studied Christian theology at a serious level and because, probably in overreaction to the programmed instruction and extrabiblical texts imposed in Mormonism, he has tried to develop his understanding by reading only the Bible. Reading the Bible without studying works on Christian theology has certainly brought Shawn a lot closer to orthodox Christianity than he was as a Mormon, and it’s certainly a far better extreme. It is, however, an extreme that has kept him from benefiting from the wealth of Christian reflection and teaching on God’s word by those who have studied the Bible for centuries before Shawn or I came along. The result is that some of Shawn’s views are at least heterodox (other than the classical, orthodox Christian doctrines). That having been said, I consider him a brother in Christ because I see evidence that God dramatically changed his life, brought him out of Mormonism, and gave him a genuine appreciation of the grace freely bestowed through the gospel. While I don’t know definitively the state of anyone else’s soul, I am inclined to give someone the benefit of the doubt and to accept him as a brother unless forced to conclude otherwise. And I really do think Shawn is a Christian, saved by God’s grace, even though some of his doctrine is seriously flawed.

Theologically, Shawn’s thinking on the Trinity appears muddled. It is probably in flux, perhaps even more so after our discussions, which may be a step in the right direction. He has agreed that he needs to retract publicly and specifically some egregious critical remarks he made in recent weeks on the subject. His explanations at times seemed modalistic, but as we talked he backed away from those explanations, in particular his description of the Logos (Word) as one of many manifestations of God. Shawn rejects the eternal Sonship of Christ, preferring the formulation of the eternal Word. In this regard he is similar to Walter Martin, but unlike Martin, Shawn is uncomfortable designating the Word as a person. For that matter, he is uncomfortable using the term “persons” at all in reference to God, because of its association in Mormonism with physical human beings. Again, his own background and his focus on reaching Mormons have in his case led to some difficulty in coming to terms with orthodox Christian doctrine. This is a problem that I hope can be overcome as our dialogue continues. Meanwhile, at some point I do plan to make available in written form some responses to specific issues raised by Shawn regarding the Trinity, not to attack him personally but to provide substantive responses for the benefit of Shawn and others. I should mention that I have already told Shawn that I expected to do this, and he was supportive of me doing so.

I would appreciate the prayers of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for what follows. Please pray that Shawn will have constructive meetings with local Christian leaders, including some that have been legitimately concerned about his teachings, and that they will develop respect and trust. Please pray that future discussions between Shawn and me will be fruitful. Please also pray that Shawn will be successful going forward in acknowledging past errors and in developing a sound understanding of the theology of Scripture. All of this will be a process; it will not happen overnight. Please pray with me that everyone involved will listen to one another, be gracious and patient with one another, and be willing to learn and to change and even to repent where needed. And if you have some concerns or grievances with regards to anything I have said, please feel free to come to me with them.
(source: https://www.facebook.com/ApolojediMaster/posts/10202633850543390 )

March 4, 2014
Theologian James White weighs in on recent events surrounding the Shawn McCraney situation in general and Inquisition 2014 in particular. He also addresses the email from him that Shawn presented as an example of how other pastors are trying to threaten and control him on the February 11th Heart of the Matter “God Part 2” broadcast (see http://hotm.tv/episode-381-god-part-2/) presenting a very different version of the back story and context surrounding what was said and why it was said the way it was. This analysis starts at 38:00 into the show. (“Ukraine, Hyper-Calvinism, David Allen, Shawn McCraney, and More!”)

Shawn McCraney continues his discourse on the nature of God focusing on Christ as “Light”. He also addresses his recent meetings with Rob Bowman as well as some of the criticism that he had been receiving from local Pastors and others.

In response to the broadcast Rob Bowman issues the following statement immediately afterwards:

“This post and thread is for my fellow evangelical Christians. If you are not an evangelical, while I value your friendship, this thread is not for you.

Tonight on his TV program “Heart of the Matter” Shawn McCraney quoted a Facebook post of mine as follows:

“My assessment is that Shawn’s theology is confused and otherwise lacking largely because he has never studied Christian theology at a serious level and because, probably in overreaction to the programmed instruction and extrabiblical texts imposed in Mormonism, he has tried to develop his understanding by reading only the Bible.”

Shawn’s quotation stopped at that point, and his subsequent comments gave the impression that I was criticizing Shawn for not being open to what he characterizes as “man-made” doctrines or theology. But here is what I said next:

“Reading the Bible without studying works on Christian theology has certainly brought Shawn a lot closer to orthodox Christianity than he was as a Mormon, and it’s certainly a far better extreme. It is, however, an extreme that has kept him from benefiting from the wealth of Christian reflection and teaching on God’s word by those who have studied the Bible for centuries before Shawn or I came along.”

You see, the issue is not “man-made” doctrines versus the Bible as the sole authority; the issue is whether it is wise to ignore what can be learned about the Bible from teachers who have devoted their lives to pursuing its truth and sharing what they have found with the rest of the body of Christ. Christians in the twenty-first century are not meant to study the Bible in isolation from other believers, as if they were living on an island and the Bible was the only book available. The Bible itself says that God has given teachers to the church as a needed, important part of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11). To ignore those teachers, and even to dismiss them as irrelevant in one’s study of the Bible, is to go against the Bible itself.

Of course, all of us who are teachers are fallible and our doctrinal understandings can be mistaken. But this is just as true of Shawn as it is of anyone else. In this regard the choice is not between man-made doctrine and the pure doctrine of the word of God. Rather, it is a choice between the doctrine of one man who thinks he can do it on his own and the doctrine of many men who listen to and learn from each other and from those who have gone before them in the pursuit of understanding the word of God.

In a way, Shawn’s position is even less tenable, because he inconsistently appeals to theologians and intellectuals when it suits his purpose. He justifies his refusal to read serious works of Christian theology while seeing nothing wrong with citing the opinions and interpretations of Walter Martin or John MacArthur or even the Emphatic Diaglott if they happen to agree with his own views. In his attack on the Trinity a few weeks ago, Shawn read a string of quotations that I was able to determine he got from an online article published by a Watchtower splinter group that denies that Jesus is God. I privately challenged him for using that article. Tonight he claimed that he thinks it is fine to read books that critique Mormonism but not to read books that teach Christian theology. But is it all right to read articles that attack Christian theology? I was hoping he would understand the inconsistency of his stance on this question, but he seems to be further entrenched in that position.

I will post something separately on Shawn’s lecture on John 8:12 (I don’t know if that will be tonight or tomorrow). Here I simply need to make it clear that I do not see tonight’s program as representing a step in the right direction.

Shawn, I assume this post will be brought to your attention. I still appreciate your graciousness toward me last week, but I must also remind you that I gave you fair and friendly warning that I would be responding publicly to your teaching when I found it to be unsound—and you said you understood and respected that. Well, here we go. A little knowledge about the biblical languages and doctrinal subjects, garnered haphazardly from questionable sources, used inconsistently to support what you have already think you know, is not a good thing. It is not “loving the Lord your God with all your mind.” As a teacher, you, like I, will be held to a stricter judgment (James 3:1). Let some of us help you. Set aside your planned series of lectures on the nature of God for now. Pursue a sound, well-informed understanding of what Scripture teaches through the God-given ministry of other teachers. Refocus your ministry on what you do so well: reaching out to lost, confused Mormons with the wonderful gift of the new birth through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”
(source = https://www.facebook.com/ApolojediMaster/posts/10202669824562718 )

Rob Bowman, Director of Research, Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman, Director of Research, Institute for Religious Research

March 5, 2014
As promised, Rob Bowman directly addresses the points in Mr. McCraney’s previous night’s lecture on God via the following Facebook post:

“On March 4, 2014, Shawn McCraney gave a lecture (I’m not sure what else to call it) on his TV show Heart of the Matter on the “ontology” of God, apparently a continuation of a series of lectures he is doing giving his own alternative to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. I’d like to share a few observations in response to some things he said. There is more that could be said, but this is all I have time to address for now.

First, let’s be clear that when the Bible speaks of God as “light” or “fire,” this is symbolic language. I think Shawn would agree; at one point he acknowledged that God is not fire in the sense of the combustion of oxygen. It’s important to be clear on this point because sometimes Shawn uses this language as if it is somehow directly denotative of the “ontology” (his term) of God, a description of God’s being or nature. It isn’t. It is figurative language, used to express specific truths about God in his relation to us and our world. So when John says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), this is not a statement of ontology or metaphysical description of God, but an affirmation that God is morally perfect—pure holiness, goodness, truthfulness, and love—totally devoid of sin or evil. Read the next few verses and this becomes obvious: to “walk in darkness” means to live in lies and sin (1 John 1:6-7). The statement that “our God is a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24, quoted in Heb. 12:29) was a warning that God, who had revealed himself in the wilderness and at Sinai in terrifying fire, would judge his people in righteous wrath if they chose to rebel against their covenant with him (see Deut. 5:24-26; Heb. 12:25-28).

Perhaps the closest the Bible comes to making a statement of the form “God is…” that describes his being per se is Jesus’ statement, “God is spirit” (John 4:24; “a spirit,” KJV). Although the derivation of _pneuma_ has to do with moving air (breath, wind, etc.), in the Bible it generally loses this physical sense and refers to nonphysical, incorporeal beings like angels (Heb. 1:7) and God. In context Jesus was saying that the time of God being known and worshiped through special, sacred places at specific locations was coming to an end: God would be worshiped “in spirit and truth.” (In this regard Mormonism, with its temples that are supposedly indispensable to fully experience God’s presence and blessing, are a step backwards spiritually and covenantally.)

Another “God is” statement that Shawn mentioned in passing, but set aside, was John’s affirmation that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). It’s too bad he didn’t spend some time on this statement. Unlike the descriptions of God as light and fire, to say that God is love is not figurative or metaphorical. It tells us that love is absolutely essential to God’s being. As Christians have reflected on this idea, they have realized that this idea makes perfect sense in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity. The three persons love one another eternally, so that indeed love is very much of the essence of God. The Bible supports this understanding. For example, Jesus said in his long prayer in John 17 that the Father loved him “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). This cannot be fairly or plausibly interpreted as proleptic, i.e., as meaning that God anticipated loving Jesus before Jesus came to exist. We know this is not what Jesus means, because at the beginning of the prayer that he had lived in glory alongside the Father before the world was, and he asked the Father to restore him to that glory (17:5). Thus, the Father and the Son (or the Word; it doesn’t matter) have existed distinct from one another since before creation, and the Father has loved the Son all along.

Shawn spent most of the lecture developing verbal connections between Jesus’ statement in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world,” and various other texts, notably Genesis 1:1-5, John 1:1-5, and 2 Peter 1:19. To be frank, I’m not sure how his treatment of these passages clarified his view of the preincarnate Logos. Some of what he said was fine, some of it was not; in some instances I was unclear as to the significance he was deriving from these various texts.

Shawn made an interesting comment regarding John 8:12. He pointed out that the Jewish leaders did not react to Jesus’ statement as if it were blasphemous. Their criticism was that Jesus was testifying to himself and therefore they considered his claim invalid (v. 13). That’s a good observation, but what Shawn thought was the significance of this observation was unclear to me. Looking at the passage historically, Jesus’ statement probably could have been interpreted by the Jews as something less than a claim to deity; they might have thought that Jesus was simply claiming to be the Messiah as the instrument of God’s “light” to the world. For example, they might have understood Jesus to be claiming that he exercised the function of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah; that Servant is described more than once as a “light to the nations” (Isa. 42:6; 49:6; cf. 51:4; 60:3). This is in fact correct; however, only upon reflection concerning all that Jesus said and did would it be understood that he was “the light” to the nations or the world because he was God incarnate.

To understand Jesus’ function as the light of the world to be an indication of his deity in no way resolves the question of whether God is triune. Jesus was not the divine light/fire corked in a bottle of flesh. He was the Son sent from the Father into the world to be the light of life and truth (John 5:23; 6:38-40; 8:12-18; 9:5; 12:46; 16:27-28; Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4; 1 John 4:14). Again, the language of light is figurative, indicating that Jesus’ mission was to bring the light of truth and life to the world. He could do this because he was himself God, perfect in truth, the source of all light and knowledge. The New Testament presents this truth in a consistent context of distinguishing Jesus Christ the Son of God from the one called God the Father.”
(source = https://www.facebook.com/ApolojediMaster/posts/10202675490424361?stream_ref=10 )

March 6, 2014
James White offers a lengthy deconstruction of Shawn McCraney’s teachings on the Trinity in general and the Athanasian Creed in particular.   Mr. White looking directly into the camera and addressing Shawn McCraney directly Mr. White states that Mr. McCraney is uninformed and ignorant on both.  This contents begins 5:24 into the broadcast. (“A Little About Brewton-Parker; the Athanasian Creed; the Flaming Toilet of Death”

March 11, 2014
On his Dividing Line broadcast (starting at 1:05:00) James White deconstructs, analyzes and exposes Shawn McCraney’s “God Part 3” lecture for what it is:  Modalism.  He also states that the reports that he’s getting from the pastors he’s contacted in Utah regarding the situation, “aren’t encouraging.”

On the Heart of the Matter broadcast Shawn McCraney suggests that the reason friction has arisen between he and his critics comes down to a difference of worldviews and personality. He suggests that the latter is manifested in his “Artistic” versus the critic’s “Linear” thinking and approach to the Bible. (Episode 385: Christian Artists)

March 12, 2014
Rob Bowman releases the following article in response to Shawn’s broadcast from the previous evening:

“Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who became a “born-again” Christian and eventually left Mormonism, received some ministry training through Calvary Chapel, and launched his own ministry in Salt Lake City to evangelize Mormons. In the past few weeks Shawn has gone public on his television show denouncing the term Trinity as “garbage” and explaining his own doctrine of God in ways that have been confused at best. I flew out to Utah to meet with Shawn, had very friendly and enjoyable conversations with him, and appeared on Shawn’s show Heart of the Matter. I also posted a few messages on Facebook regarding the controversy.

On March 11, 2014, Shawn McCraney’s lecture on his TV show was a critical response to his critics, whom he characterized as scholars, theologians, and apologists who impose their exclusively “linear thinking” on the church to rule, control, and dominate. There is a “teachable moment” here because the issues that Shawn’s argument raises have relevance beyond the specific controversy over his teaching.

Shawn professes to value knowledge and the contributions of scholars, but he describes himself as a “Christian artist” who views Christianity in an artistic way that the linear-thinking scholars simply cannot appreciate. But if an “artistic” thinking person can appreciate the “linear” thinking of scholars, why cannot scholars likewise appreciate the “artistic” thinking of people like Shawn? I think they can. But just as people who profess to be scholars can and sometimes do make egregious mistakes, self-described artists who profess to see the world in a fresh and unpredictable way might be fooling themselves. The “Christian artist” label does not excuse Shawn or anyone else from the responsibility of speaking faithfully to the truth. The charge that someone is teaching erroneous doctrine cannot be answered by merely asserting artistic license.

Early in his lecture Shawn asked, “Just how different can a believer be in personality and worldview and still be considered a Christian?” By “worldview” Shawn apparently means the way in which a person views the world, either logically or artistically, although I didn’t catch a definition of the term. The answer to his question, if I understood it correctly, is that believers can be quite different in many ways and still be considered Christians. However, that isn’t the real question here, is it? No one is suggesting that people who are artistic or storytelling or relational or physical in their personal makeup and orientation rather than logical or scholarly cannot be Christians. Most Christians are not intellectually oriented. Believe it or not, we intellectuals noticed that a long time ago. One of the first Christian intellectuals himself commented on that fact, in a passage that Shawn quoted (1 Cor. 1:18-23). Really, we do understand this. That’s not the problem. No, the problem is the content of Shawn’s doctrinal teaching, which at best is unsound and at worst, in the estimation of at least some observers, is heretical. This concern about his teaching is either justified or it is not. How do we tell? Like it or not, we must try to think clearly about the question.

Shawn himself engages in “linear thinking” when he feels comfortable doing so. His lectures are just that, lectures. He has a point he wishes to make, and he presents reasons to support the conclusion he hopes his listeners will accept. Shawn cites the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible, appeals to biblical scholars and theologians when he thinks they support his views, and formulates objections to statements made by his critics. He is actually much more capable of engaging in such logical, rational thinking than perhaps people realize and engages in such reasoning far more often than his self-description as a Christian artist would suggest. The appeal to his supposed artistic personality is itself presented as an argument: the logicians are wrong because they overgeneralize from their own experience and preference and don’t recognize that there are different yet equally valid ways of thinking. Which reminds me of the famous observation that there are two kinds of people in the world—those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t. (Sorry.) When Shawn argues, for example, that the Bible presents truth in a grand narrative rather than in a systematic theology, he is presenting an argument based on the very kind of logical, linear thinking he complains is being used against him. That argument is either a sound argument or it is not. The value of the argument can be judged only on the basis of its factual support and logical validity; its value is not aesthetic, creative, artistic, emotive, or relational.

It’s really a matter of the right tool for the job. If we want to stir people’s emotions, touch people’s feelings, or appeal to their intuitive sense, we use art – music, story, drama, soaring speech, visual displays, and so forth. If we want to inform people’s minds, then we present facts in a reasoned manner. If we want to explain a text of the Bible, then we use skills relevant to reading and interpreting texts. This doesn’t mean ignoring non-linear elements of biblical texts. It doesn’t mean running roughshod over symbolic language, emotive appeals by the biblical speakers and writers, or forcing the Bible into overly simplistic and rigid philosophical systems. Sound reading of the Bible appreciates the power of its narratives and the color of its poetry. But the Bible also presents didactic material that calls for careful, reasoned thinking about the subject matter. The epistle to the Romans is a theological treatise, not an Easter drama.

According to Shawn, logic and linear thinking came from the Greeks. I’ve heard this one before. Friends, logic came from God, not from the Greeks. Logic, order, rationality, reason, and coherence are all reflections of the nature of God, just as much as beauty, joy, creativity, and artistry. The Greeks did not invent logic; they came up with a formal system for recognizing and teaching logic.

Shawn emphasizes, fairly enough, that knowledge has value only in the context of love. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1b). Amen. Knowledge without love makes people prideful. A person who claims to know God but is devoid of love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:7-8). Shawn feels that some of his critics have been long on knowledge, or at least in claims to knowledge, but short on love. Perhaps he is right. Yet Shawn also seeks to refute his critics with arguments. Again, perhaps he is right. But there are two issues here: (1) Is Shawn’s doctrine biblically sound? (2) If it isn’t biblically sound, can this point be made in love? It would help if these two questions were kept distinct.

I wish Shawn would discuss whether the category of “heresy” is ever a valid category. If a teacher claims that Jesus did not rise from the dead, is it inappropriate to label this teaching as heresy? Are there any heretics? Shawn says, quite correctly, that Christians should tolerate different views on nonessentials. But what are the essentials and how does one know if something is an essential or not? This is a reasonable question and it requires a reasonable answer, grounded on the teaching of Scripture. Shawn insists that he believes the whole Bible, accepts everything it teaches, and that therefore he should be accepted as a Christian. I view Shawn as a Christian, albeit one whose doctrine is in serious question, but his reasoning here is quite flawed. Jehovah’s Witnesses also insist they believe the whole Bible, accept everything it teaches, and that they are Christians. Is that good enough? Shawn would say, I’m guessing, that they are not really Christians because they deny that Jesus Christ is God. If so, then Shawn is acknowledging the legitimacy of using doctrine to test the claims of those who present themselves as teachers of God’s word. And I assume that Shawn does not think he is being unloving for excluding Mormon teaching from his new television network. Why not? Obviously, he is “imposing” a doctrinal test here, and rightly so. Then is it necessarily unloving or wrong for Christians to express the opinion that Shawn’s denial of the doctrine of the Trinity might be heretical? The question is a valid one, however we answer it.”
(Bowman, Rob, “Shawn McCraney On The Linear Thinking of His Theological Critics”)

March 18, 2014
Drawing from the figure of the cross which somehow transforms into an “X”, which somehow transforms into 3 triangles, (the audio was off for a few minutes while he was developing this concept on the whiteboard) which then somehow comes to represents not just God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) but man (body, soul, spirit). He then uses these figures to develop a new model of two sets of intersecting triangles (one  set for, and one set for man) that he claims represents how God has engaged Himself in the creation, salvation, and sanctification of human kind.  He claims that this Spirit and Bible revealed “artistic” model is just as valid and should be taken just as seriously as any systematic theology from scholars. (Episode 386: It All Starts With “X”)

As Rob Bowman points out in his post-broadcast response to Shawn, what Mr. McCraney has just taught is clearly heresy.  Here is that response:

“Once again I watched Shawn McCraney on his show “Heart of the Matter” tonight. His doctrinal explanation of the nature of God was very disappointing. The audio was off for a few minutes, but apparently Shawn compared God’s eternal nature of being God, his Logos (Word), and his Pneuma (Spirit) to man’s being body, soul, and spirit. Such an analogy is clearly monarchian: it characterizes God as a single person with three aspects of his being. According to Shawn, before the Fall, those three aspects were really difficult to distinguish from one another (even for God?), and likewise man’s three aspects were so fully integrated as one that they could hardly be distinguished. Before the Fall, there was no Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When man fell, God, in order to save us, divided or splintered himself into three, becoming Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (apparently not right away, since on Shawn’s view there was no Son until the Incarnation). In this new, sharp threeness God acted to redeem us in order to restore us to full integration as body-soul-spirit beings in the new birth.

All of this sounds very much like monarchianism, but then Shawn threw in the comment that God, his Logos, and his Pneuma had relationships with each other before creation, though what those were Shawn said he doesn’t know. As he has done every time I have heard him, Shawn contradicted himself. God, the Logos, and the Pneuma cannot have relationships with one another if they are simply different aspects of the one God, like my body, soul, and spirit (or like they should be!).

In response to a caller, Shawn asserted that Jesus was not himself the “I am”; the “I am” was God fully indwelling him. Jesus is the flesh; God is the divine being dwelling in or housed in the flesh. Yet Shawn also wants to say that Jesus is God. This same incoherence is common in one wing of Oneness Pentecostal theology. Biblically and in orthodox Christian doctrine, Jesus is not simply the flesh; rather, Jesus is the *person* who is both God and man, the eternal Logos-Son who assumed full human nature. True, he was not called “Jesus” before the Incarnation, but that really misses the point: the person we call Jesus was in existence from eternity past, not as a separate entity or being (let alone one in a “spirit body” as Shawn described, perhaps conflating his criticisms of the Trinity and Mormon doctrine), but as a distinct person who was one God with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) (John 1:1-3; 13:1, 3; 16:28; 17:5, 24).

Shawn asserted that he doesn’t like the term Trinity and doesn’t like saying there were three persons before creation. Apparently saying there are three persons now is fine (at one point Shawn said this himself). If so, then the term “person” is not itself the problem; the problem is substantive, not merely semantic. But if God was once not three persons and now he is three persons, then the fundamental nature of God has changed. That implication creates all sorts of theological mischief. This is not comparable to God becoming a man, in which God’s nature remains the same but he assumes human nature (the union of two natures in the one person); Shawn’s idea amounts to God changing the divine nature.

I was hoping that Shawn would move closer to the position he continues to cite in his defense, the “eternal Word” form of Trinitarianism espoused by Walter Martin. That at least would still be orthodox. Instead, in my estimation he has if anything moved further away from it, though he continues to make statements that do not fit neatly into the monarchian or modalist system. Without making any judgment about Shawn as a believer or Christian, and with the hope that he may still change or correct what he has been teaching, I regretfully think that at present what he is articulating about the doctrine of God is heresy.

This isn’t the only problem. At the end, in response to another caller, Shawn affirmed universal reconciliation, a doctrine that is really a form of universalism under a different name. Although Shawn claimed this wasn’t universal salvation, he referred the caller to the website tentmaker.org, which clearly teaches universal salvation. “The Bible, correctly translated teaches Jesus Christ, the Chosen One of our heavenly Father will save the whole world.” The website also appears to endorse the idea that the devil and his fallen angels will also eventually be saved, but apparently not in this age. Shawn seemingly didn’t agree with that view, but he wasn’t completely clear on the issue. In any case, universal salvation is also heresy.”
(see https://www.facebook.com/ApolojediMaster/posts/10202754135350435?stream_ref=10)

March 25, 2014
Shawn begins what he promises will be a multi-part series on the Holy Spirit.  Without going into too much detail he claims that both the LdS Church and Trinitarian Churches are in error and not teaching what the Bible does regarding the Holy Spirit.  He promises to offer a truly Biblical perspective on the Holy Spirit in the coming weeks that the viewers may find completely new and different.

March  27, 2014
Theologian Rob Bowman issues two statements regarding the March 25th Heart of the Matter lecture. The first states:

“I was busy Tuesday night when Shawn McCraney did his weekly TV show “Heart of the Matter,” and this is my first opportunity to comment.

Shawn spent some time discussing Hebrews 13:8, arguing that it could not have been true about Christ until his resurrection. Before that, he was changing — becoming flesh, dying, and rising from the dead.  Makes sense, right?

Well. Hebrews 13:8 reads, “Jesus Christ is the same [hO AUTOS] yesterday and today and forever.” There is only *one* other verse in the New Testament in which someone is said to be hO AUTOS, “the same.” That’s Hebrews 1:12, part of a quotation in 1:10-12 from Psalm 102:25-27 (101:26-28 in the Greek Septuagint):

“And,
‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same [hO AUTOS],
and your years will have no end.'”
(Heb. 1:10-12 ESV)

In the context of Hebrews 1, this is one of a series of OT [Old Testament] quotations that the author says show the Son (Jesus Christ) to be superior to the angels (vv. 4-13). Thus, Hebrews 1:12 is referring to the “Son” (v. 2) as being the one who is “the same” (hO AUTOS). And it does not mean that he is the same only now that he has died and risen from the dead, but that he is the one who made the world and who remains unchanged even as the universe itself wears out (vv. 10-11).

These two affirmations about the Son, Jesus Christ, come near the beginning and the end of the book of Hebrews. They function like a set of bookends. Once this is understood, Hebrews 13:8 clearly must be taken as an affirmation that Jesus Christ is the unchanging Creator, the one absolutely dependable and reliable Reality in a world of constant change and uncertainty. Notice that this is affirmed of the Son (1:1-2, 10-12) and of Jesus Christ (13:8). The Son is eternal, the Maker of all things. That’s who Jesus Christ is.”
(source = https://www.facebook.com/ApolojediMaster/posts/10202807297279450 )

And the second statement explains:

“On Tuesday night’s “Heart of the Matter,” Shawn McCraney claimed that “one of our modern-day theologians” told him that in Trinitarian theology the Father and the Son have the same kind of relationship as an earthly father and son.

I’m pretty sure he was referring to me. (Shawn hasn’t talked to a lot of theologians.)

For the record, what I told Shawn was that Trinitarian theology regards the designations “Father” and “Son” for the first two persons of the Trinity, given to us in the New Testament, as meaning that the relationship between the First and Second Persons is *analogous* to the relationship between an earthly father and son. I was quite clear that it was *not* the “same” relationship. Of course, I was also clear that God the Father did not sire or procreate God the Son, as in Mormonism. Trinitarianism denies that the Son owes his existence to a procreative or generative act of the Father. The Son is eternal, absolute deity. He never came into existence at all. He did not “become” the Father’s “Son” in the same way, or even a similar way, as an earthly son becomes his father’s son, because God the Son never “became” the Son. He has always been God the Son.

I confess to being rather unhappy to hear Shawn make this statement. This isn’t the first time he has appealed to something I said out of context for his own purposes (though in this instance he did not mention me by name). It makes it seem that he was listening for things he could find objectionable or for things he could use to defend his view, rather than listening in order to learn something.”
(source = https://www.facebook.com/ApolojediMaster/posts/10202807394081870 )

March 28, 2014
Rob Bowman issues the following general statement regarding Shawn McCraney’s continuing anti-Trinitarianism:

“Shawn McCraney constantly argues against the Trinitarian view of Jesus by pointing out that Jesus wasn’t called Jesus until he became a human being. Before that, Shawn argues, he wasn’t Jesus, or the Christ, or the Son; he was just God, the Word. But the NT refers to the preincarnate person in question by all three of those designations. It is true that the Word received the name Jesus in history at his birth, but the person called “Jesus” existed and was active in creation and history prior to his incarnation.

1. Jesus: The preincarnate Word is called Jesus in the best reading of Jude 5: “Now I desire to remind you, though you are fully informed, that Jesus [most versions say, “the Lord”], who once for all saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Many of the earliest manuscripts actually say “Jesus” instead of “the Lord” in verse 5, and this is most likely the original reading. Ed Komoszewski and I give three reasons for this conclusion in our book  “Putting Jesus in His Place”, 98-99.

2. Christ: Paul referred to the preincarnate Word as “Christ” twice in 1 Corinthians 10: ““For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ…. We must not put Christ [many versions have “the Lord” here] to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents” (1 Cor. 10:4, 9). In the first reference to Christ, there is no textual difficulty. In the second, there is significant debate, but the reading “Christ” is probably correct. See endnote 6 on page 312 of  “Putting Jesus in His Place”. For comments on the whole passage in context, see page 95.

3. Son: The preincarnate Word is called the “Son” in several passages of the NT, including Colossians 1:12-20 and Hebrews 1:1-3, both of which speak of the Son as active in the creation of the world. On this point, see especially chapter 15 of  “Putting Jesus in His Place”.’
(source = https://www.facebook.com/ApolojediMaster/posts/10202812378726483 )

This timeline of events is continued here
(please click on the word “here” above) 

Comments
  1. Rob Sivulka’s first hand account of Inquisition 2014 is long but really, really enlightening – highly recommended reading for those of you who are interested.
    http://www.courageouschristiansunited.org/blog/the-inquisition-of-shawn-mccraneywhat-the-heck-was-that-50962

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  2. […] Fred W. Anson The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part One) The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Two) The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Three) The Trial(s) […]

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  3. […] Fred W. Anson The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part One) The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Two) The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Three) The Trial(s) […]

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  4. […] Parts one and  four of this series provide a timeline of Shawn McCraney’s descent from biblical orthodoxy into heresy. Parts  two  and three provide brief summaries of the issues in a Q&A format. Such summaries are necessary because the issues are complex and the vast amount of information contained in the timelines can be overwhelming. So with that brief introduction, let’s consider some of the more common questions that have arisen recently regarding Shawn McCraney, his teachings, and McCraneyism in general. […]

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