Gordon H. Clark once said, “Unless one knows the definition, he does not know what he is talking about” (see here).
I recently wrote a blog where I said that while GES believed that Jesus is God in a fully Trinitarian sense, we deny that you need to believe that to be born-again (to grow, yes, but not to be born again).
I also explained that our critics strongly disagree. They insist you must believe that Jesus is God to be saved. However, I also claimed they rarely define what, exactly, that means. They say that Jesus is God, but they do not give a definition of the deity of Christ.
That’s a huge problem, for a very simple reason.
There are (at least) three ways to evaluate an argument.
First, are the terms clear?
Second, are the premises true?
Third, is the logic sound?
For example, let’s say I made the following argument:
Premise 1: All cats are grue.
Premise 2: Mr. Bonkers is a cat.
Conclusion: Therefore, Mr. Bonkers is grue.
Is that argument true or false?
Obviously, you can’t know until you define what “grue” means, right?
When you know what “grue” means, then you can evaluate whether the premise is true or false. If, say, “grue” means “an aquatic plant” then Premise 1 is false, because cats are not aquatic plants. If “grue” means “a mammal” then Premise 1 is true because cats are mammals. Either way, in order to determine the meaning of a premise, the terms need to be defined.
So how does that apply to debates about Jesus deity?
Our critics often fail to define their terms.
So, they will say something like the following:
“You must believe that Jesus is God to be saved.”
“You must believe in the deity or divinity of Christ to be saved.”
Are those premises true or false? What do you need to know before you make that evaluation? Obviously, you need to know what the terms “God” or “deity” or “divinity” mean. You can’t assume a definition, especially since Christians have spent hundreds of years defining the correct and incorrect meanings of those terms.
So I am astonished, and not a little depressed, when our critics (both pastors and laypeople) seem incapable of giving a straightforward answer to the question, “How do you define the deity of Christ?”
They seem to find that question threatening.
I have had people reply and try to evade that responsibility by making it seem like I was asking them to write a book on the Trinity, “How can I fully define what it means for Jesus to be God? No one can do that!”
No one asked for a “full” definition. You just need to provide any definition— whatever you think is necessary to give meaning to your claim. If you think you need to offer a long definition, go ahead. If you think a short one will suffice, go ahead. Either way, I cannot evaluate your claim until you give me some definition of your terms.
I’ve had other people actually deny that they need to write any definition at all.
Did you learn to use a dictionary in elementary school? Why? To look up definitions, right? And why do you look up definitions? To know what a word means. And why is that important? Because if you read a sentence with one or more words you don’t understand, you can’t understand the sentence until you understand the words.
Some critics have offered definitions of what it means for Jesus to be God, deity, or divine. Sadly, those definitions are often heretical.
If someone asked me to define what it means for Jesus to be God, I would point them to the definitions of the councils of Nicaea (both of them) and the council of Chalcedon. Jesus is one substance (or ousia) with the Father and Spirit. He has all the attributes of deity.
Unfortunately, there is a high degree of theological illiteracy in the churches, both among pastors and congregations. Instead of being taught the Trinity from their youth, they honestly don’t know what it means for Jesus to be God. They know that’s what they should say, but they don’t really know what they mean when they say it.
Let me end with another Clark quote, “Theological terms need to be defined; they need to be understood; or else we do not know what we are talking about.”