No spiritual person enjoys taking issue with a brother in Christ. And far too often, such conflicts are unnecessary. Sometimes, however, they cannot be avoided — at least they ought not to be avoided.
This brief introduction expresses my dismay — in considerably subdued fashion — with a recently-published book by an elderly kinsmen in the Lord. The title of the ambitious volume is, Theology Simplified — God, His Son, and His Spirit. Likewise, on the cover is the assertion: Why the doctrine of the Trinity is neither reasonable nor biblical. All Trinitarian arguments refuted.
The author of this 308-page endeavor is Lonzo Pribble, a retired minister who has served churches of Christ in Vermont, Michigan, Texas, and Washington, and who now makes his home in Arvada, Colorado. The book was published by Star Bible Publications, Inc., Grapevine, Texas (2001).
This brief article is not intended as a comprehensive review of this volume, much less is it designed to be a refutation. We believe that Christians who are reasonably informed will be able to see clearly the egregious ideas advanced, without the need of a detailed rebuttal. As an illustration of the flaws in the book, however, I will call attention to two ideas advanced.
Error #1: Jesus Christ Is Not Eternal
The author goes to great lengths in an attempt to argue the case that the Second Person of the Godhead (identified in the New Testament as Christ) was not an eternal being. Rather, the divine Word (Jesus – see Jn. 1:1, 14) had “his origin ... back in the ages of eternity, when he became the divine offspring (Son) of God before anything or anyone else ever came into existence” (82).
Pribble contends that the pre-incarnate Word was “born” out of God. The God-substance (whatever that is) always existed, he insists; but Jesus, as a “person,” did not exist eternally. Here are his own words:
“That divine substance which became a distinct personal entity had no beginning; but the person which that substance became had to have a beginning” (83).
A goodly number of Bible passages are distorted beyond recognition in an effort to sustain this heretical idea — which, in reality, constitutes an attack upon the very nature of the Son of God. “Christ is ... not Jehovah God,” the author alleges, which proposition, in fact, contradicts both Testaments of the Bible.
For example, Isaiah prophesied concerning the work of John the Baptist, whose mission it was to prepare the way for the coming of Jehovah, our God (Isa. 40:3). Inspired New Testament writers declared that the prophecy was fulfilled by the arrival of Christ (Mt. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23). Jesus is as much “Jehovah” as the Father (cf. Isa. 44:6) (see also, “Is Jesus Jehovah?”).
But here is a most revealing statement.
“The ONE GOD is a singular being (or person), the Father (Jehovah); Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten divine Son; and the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit”
While Jesus ostensibly is afforded the quality of being “divine,” both he and the Spirit are excluded from the full status of union in the “one God” nature. And, as noted below, the Spirit is even divested of his individual personality.
Error #2: The Holy Spirit Is Not a Divine Person
A second shocking error that dominates this volume is the author’s vigorous contention that the Holy Spirit is not a person. Hear him:
“There is absolutely no spiritual, psychological, theological, nor just plain logical advantage in perceiving the Holy Spirit to be an individual personal entity separate from the Father and his Son” (198).
Mr. Pribble argues that just as he has a “spirit,” which is not a separate person from himself, even so, God has a “spirit” which is not a separate person from himself (199).
One must now suppose that God, who is spirit (Jn. 4:24), and who, according to the author, gave birth to the spirit-Son, himself also possesses another spirit, that is not a personal entity, but is only some sort of impersonal “God” substance. What a tangled discombobulation this is. And what does this say about the author’s concept of his own “spirit”?
A host of Bible passages, that speak of the Holy Spirit’s independent activity, e.g., speaking, teaching, guiding, etc., are manipulated so as to surrender to the author’s personal ideology with reference to what he calls “the doctrine of the Trinity.”
On can hardly conclude this brief notice without a couple of rhetorical inquiries.
(1) How does one, who entertains such views, occupy the pulpits of several churches throughout the country over a span of many years? Such ideas do not spring into existence overnight.
(2) How does one secure a Christian publishing company that will lend itself to the distribution of such anti-biblical concepts?
While the word “Trinity” is not employed specifically in the Bible, the concept of three separate Persons, each of whom possesses the full nature of deity, is there. And a denial of such — to any degree — constitutes a most serious error.