“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”
– Romans 16:17 (ESV)
by Lowell Johnson
Up to 2014 I had watched almost every episode of Heart of the Matter show. I had enjoyed host Shawn McCraney’s ability to reach Mormons through his boisterous and challenging personality. At times, he reminded me of the late Dr. Gene Scott (1929 – 2005) who was labeled “God’s Angry Man”. Dr. Scott was a cigar chomping profane television preacher who disdained modern Christianity and arrogantly would point out perceived flaws. He was a Stanford educated man who seemed to be theologically sound when he was a young pastor. However, when he began TV preaching and rerunning his shows 24/7 on several UHF stations, many heresies were taught. Those who are too young to have see Dr. Scott on broadcast television can still find him on YouTube and featured in Werner Herzog‘s 1981 documentary film “God’s Angry Man”.
Sadly, starting in early 2014 Shawn began showing signs of becoming the next Dr. Gene Scott. Like Dr. Scott, Shawn had cussed on the air and yelled at the callers while looking directly at the television camera. However, it was Shawn’s evolution into a heresy embracing TV preacher that reminded me more and more of Dr. Scott of whom the Christian Research Institute said in 1994:
During the last few years, Scott has become more and more outrageous and offensive. His appearance, increasingly unkempt and outlandish, deliberately offends societal standards of propriety (compare Paul’s lifestyle 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). His language is crude, abusive, and profane, clearly violating God’s standards for Christians (Ephesians 4:29-31; 5:4; Colossians 3:8)…
he also dabbles in pyramidology and seems to promote a variation of the erroneous Anglo-Israelism doctrine. (CRI has information on both of these aberrational teachings.) In any case, a Christian ministry must be evaluated on the basis of both doctrine and practice; in the area of practice, Scott’s ministry cannot, in our opinion, be considered acceptably Christian.
— CRI Statement on Gene Scott, 1994
I had always found Shawn to be a fairly intelligent and entertaining individual, so the last time I was in Utah in 2012 for the Manti Temple Pageant (two years before all this) I was able to spend a Sunday worshiping with and listening to his teaching at his teaching fellowship known as C.A.M.P.U.S. During that time I found Shawn’s teaching from the Bible to be orthodox. I left the gathering feeling refreshed and ready to share Jesus with the lost in Manti, Utah.
Much has changed since that Sunday in June of 2012. On the February 11th, 2014 episode 381 of Heart of The Matter, Shawn spent the majority of the show attacking the Trinity. He said his study of God’s Word brought him to this conclusion. However, he also used several outside sources to justify why he has had a change of heart – including some sources from heretical groups like Oneness Pentecostals. Several people immediately took to the phone, to email, and to the internet to express concerns (see the Beggar’s Bread Position and Policy Statement on McCraneyism for links).
I was one of them. Before any of this happened, and because of comments he made on the previous show on February 4th, 2014 (episode 380), I had sent an email to Shawn asking if he was rejecting the Trinity Shawn graciously sent me a reply telling me to keep watching the shows and offered to send me his notes with book references when he was done. He did not really answer my questions, but I thought that I could wait to see where he was heading. So I was deeply saddened when he spent the majority of the next show (the episode 381 that I mentioned before) attacking the Trinity using arguments that could have just as easily been made by a Jehovah’s Witness (see Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Trinity: A Christian Perspective by Patrick Zukeran).
He even suggested that one reason the Trinity wasn’t valid because the word “Trinity” could not be found in the Bible. This is true, but it doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t teach the Trinity. The word “Bible” isn’t in the Bible, but it doesn’t stop us from calling it the Bible (see The word Trinity is not found in the Bible by Matt Slick). Essentially Shawn was teaching the ancient heresy of modalism which teaches that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different modes or aspects of one person, God, who is perceived by as three different “personas” or “modes” to the believer, rather than being one being, God, consisting of three distinct persons within the Godhead. As Shawn put it (starting at 25:48) in that broadcast:
One God. Always only and forever only one God. A monotheist God. He has manifested Himself in all sorts of means and ways to man.
He has appeared as fire.
Spoken as a still small voice.
As clouds, and mist, and wind, and an assortment of other ways.
Were they all God? Yes. Manifestations of One God Were they manifestations of more than one God? No.
One monotheistic God.
Did this God manifest Himself in spirit?
Yes. The second verse in the first chapter of Genesis says:
“And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”
Hey, listen up – this single monotheistic God also manifested Himself in . . . flesh.
That’s all. Not a new second or third “person” of the singular God co equal with the other persons. Just another manifestation of the single God.
Jesus said it plainly to Philip:
“If you have seen me, you’ve seen the father.”
The Greek word for see in this passage is Horao and is better understood as Jesus saying:
“If you have discerned me, Philip, and not literally seen (which is the Greek word blepo).
That’s all I’m saying. The Spirit – God. One with God. From God, of God, and just God. Jesus – God. One with God. From God, of God – God. Holy Spirit God.
The only deal about God being “a or the Father” is in relation to Him having a Son in flesh.
He was not a Father until He manifested Himself as the Son.
It’s all really no more complicated than this:
“God is one who manifests Himself in a bunch of different ways. If the manifestation is from God, then the manifestation is God, and is sent by the One God to teach us of Him.”
So where did all this stuff about three persons, co-equal, co-eternal, comprising the one true God come from?
Stupid men who want formulae, who love control.”
(the above transcription is from the official Heart of the Matter website)
Simply put, that’s modalism. No matter how much you deny, spin, or try to talk your way around it, that’s just the way it is. Sure, it may be Openess Pentecostal style non-sequential modalism, but it’s still modalism all the same. As they say, “If it looks like a duck, has duck feathers, and walks like a duck, it’s a duck” – insisting that it’s not, no matter how many times you say it, doesn’t change that fact!
Now, in the past Shawn had played pranks on his show (see Shawn Becomes A Mormon Again). However, his teachings on the nature of God didn’t give any indication that he was cleverly pranking his audience in order to further strengthen their acceptance of the Trinity. Rather, he seemed, much like the late Dr. Gene Scott, to passionately believe everything that he was teaching. Still, maybe, just maybe, I thought at the time, it was all just a well really executed, poker faced, “gotcha!”
And I was persuaded that Shawn wasn’t the next Dr. Gene Scott, or that he had actually become a modalist, when on February 25th, 2014 (episode 383) he had Rob Bowman from the Institute for Religious Research on the show. Shawn was very humble on the show and admitted he could have been clearer on his points in the previous shows. I even apologized to Shawn via private email for doubting him and then publicly apologized for doing so on my blogsite. Shawn accepted my apology, I thought that my prayers had been answered, and I moved on – content that all was right with the world once again.
And I was wrong, dead wrong!
After Rob Bowman left town Shawn not only continued to teach the heresy of modalism (while all the time denying that he was) but went on to embrace and teach even more heretical doctrines. So on March 18th, 2014, just after episode 386 aired and just a few weeks after his appearance on Heart on the Matter, Rob Bowman had no choice but to finally publicly declare Shawn’s teachings heretical:
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.”
(click to read source)
Yet despite all attempts at private and public correction of his heretical teachings, Shawn continued this attack on the Trinity. Again, his initial attack started with the previously mentioned February 4th, 2014 episode 380 and continued in some form or fashion in subsequent broadcasts all the way up to episode 392 on April 29th 2014. Further, he regularly affirmed his rejection of the Trinity on other shows (particularly in the Q&A segments) and in his ministry newsletters.
And if his rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t enough, later in 2014 (see Heart of the Matter episodes 419-425) Shawn validated Rob Bowman’s March 18th, 2014 concerns that he was holding to a form of universal salvation when he taught that there is a possibility that Eternal Damnation and hell may not be as eternal as we think. Shawn claimed that he wasn’t teaching universalism because he doesn’t believe all roads lead to Heaven. However, he still seemed to be suggesting that everyone seems to get some kind of glory through Jesus, even those in hell. Ironically, this view is very similar in some ways to the Latter-day Saint “three degrees of glory” doctrine. But whether it is or not, it’s still heretical as Mr. Bowman stated clearly in his earlier public statement.
But all this was just the prequel to the bomb that dropped on the October 6th, 2015 Heart of the Matter broadcast (episode 466 starting at 28:46) in which Shawn McCraney publicly announced that he was a “committed modalist”. Here’s the video and official HOTM transcript of that announcement:
At this point I will publicly admit that I am a committed modalist but refuse the Trinitarians pejorative that claims I err by “confounding the persons.”
I would reply they err by creating “three persons deserving worship” rather than the one true and living God deserving it alone.
In Smith’s life modalism was a popular alternative to trinitarianism but the differences are not easily observed by most Christians then or even today.
I can’t tell you how many people who are devout followers of Christ who cannot articulate the fundamentals of creedal trinitarianism and who typically, when asked to define their beliefs on the subject describe modalist thinking instead.
Anyway, the main difference between modalists and Trinitarians is Trinitarians label Father, Son and Holy Spirit “persons” and modalists label them all expressions or manifestations of the One God.
In reality, modalists do not deny three in one – they simply do not see the three as individual entities entirely separate from each other.
Also, there are differences between sabellian modalism – which says that the Father became the son and the son became the Holy Spirit and plain modalism which asserts that God manifested Himself in and through the Son and in and through the Holy Spirit.
I am certainly of the later form.
But Love and I had the wit to win, and
We drew a circle that took him in.
(Episode 466: Ontology of God – Part 1, from the official HOTM transcription; bolding and redding added for emphasis)
So it’s now clear that Shawn McCraney has gone from being a church pastor to being a cult leader. Pray for Shawn and all the Shawnites in his fledgling McCraneyism movement because they are proudly (even militantly) turning from the biblical Jesus and embracing heresy. You see, I don’t believe that Shawn has to end up, like the late Dr. Gene Scott did – the butt of jokes and a precautionary tale of what could have been for the Kingdom of God. My God answers prayers.
About the Author
Lowell Johnson was an active Mormon for almost 12 years before realizing, while teaching a Mormon history class for the Oklahoma University LDS Institute, that Mormon history and doctrine was ever evolving. At this time he withdrew from his calling as the Elder’s Quorum President and returned his temple recommend. After investigating other religions, mainly SGI Buddhism, he gave his life to the Jesus of the Bible. He hasn’t regretted his decision ever since. He is a flawed Christian whose head gets in the way of his heart at times, but knows that Jesus is the only way to Eternal Salvation. Thus he is now a soundly saved Ex-Mormon.
This article was originally published on the “The Reflections & Ruminations Of A Soundly Saved Ex-Mormon” website on February 13th, 2014. This updated and expanded edition has been published here with the permission of the author.
As originally published, this article stated that “Like Dr. Scott, Shawn had… exhibited frustrations with the crew when technical difficulties would arise.” Shawn McCraney contacted the author and explained that he uses only technical difficulties for comedic fodder and only mock berates his staff when they arise. The author agrees with this explanation. Therefore, this claim has been deleted from the article. Our apologies to Mr. McCraney for any misunderstanding that it’s original inclusion may have caused. — Editor (2015-12-04)