Functional Polytheism: A response to Dale Tuggy by Vladimir Šušić

Recently I wrote and article titled: “Biblical” Unitarianism’s Functional Polytheism”, which I posted to Dr. Tuggy’s discussion group, trinities, on Facebook. It gathered a wide variety of responses, most of which did not even attempt to engage with the article at hand, which is to be partly expected given the nature of the group we are dealing with. Regardless, Dr. Tuggy decided to address my article in a blog post on trinities.org. [1]

 

He thus begins by quoting and “correcting” me:

 

Biblical Unitarianism can be broadly defined as belief in a Unitarian, Biblical God, who is a singular person, The Father, who is alone eternal. By its proponents, the belief is championed as bastion of Biblical Monotheism, in the light of “Polytheistic” Trinitarian beliefs of the Church.

 

Correction: not all of us tar trinitarianism generally with the “Polytheism” label. I have always held that some Trinity theories do not imply polytheism, while others do. It depends on what the trinitarian says exactly about the “Persons” in his theory.”

 

I must firstly point out that the entire idea Dr. Tuggy so often proposes, and on which he bases his website and general podcasts is the idea of multiple theories of the Trinity. Now, obviously, there are different views on the Trinity, like Latin and Social Trinitarianism, however widely and diversely defined those concepts are, however, that is not what Dr. Tuggy has in mind.

 

In his published work[2] Dr. Tuggy supposes an idea entirely of his own proprietary making. Namely, that there are “One-Self Trinitarian” theories, “Three-Self Trinitarian” theories, and possibly, although not clearly stated in his writing, he considers what I term “Three-God Trinitarian” theories.

 

As stated, this terminology is entirely proprietary to his own writing, with perhaps some ulterior motive, to propose that there is a variety of Trinities believed by Christians, just as there are a variety of Unitarian theories (some of which he terms as Trinities!)proposed by his fellow co-religionists. In other uses by anyone else, apart from his following, these are distincted as Modalism, Trinitarianism and Tritheism (in order of mention above). I believe quoting a source for this would be rather absurd.

 

Moving on, he states:

 

“This article will seek to demonstrate that the doctrine of Biblical Unitarianism as held by its proponents, at the very least constitutes Functional Dyotheism (Polytheism).

I think he means “Functional Ditheism.” One would think this means that the position requires its adherents to act (“Functional”) as if there were two gods (“Ditheism”). But this is not what he means.”

 

I must note I find it funny that he corrects “Dyotheism” with “Ditheism” when the terms are synonymous in the English language[3], I’d be far more concerned, if I was to be pointing out meaningless grammatical mistakes, with things like “biblical unitarinas” Dr. Tuggy mentions in his article, which I can only conclude to mean female Unitarians, but cannot quite grasp the need to mention them. An old saying goes: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” (The entire thing is a meaningless exercise but regardless, I post this paragraph as an example of pointless things to point out in an opponent’s article)

 

Dr. Tuggy continues:

 

“I omit here his needless definition of “Ontological Dyotheism” – but this is just belief in two gods, two (fully) divine beings. Here’s how he defines the label he wants to hang on biblical unitarians:

 

Functional Dyotheism can be defined as a belief in 2, distinct beings, such that one of them is Ontologically Divine, that is, possesses a divine nature, as defined above, while the other exists primarily in some other form of nature, but has been endowed functional divinity by the aforementioned being. Functional divinity can be defined such that, the being possesses attributes, does actions and has powers fitting only of an ontologically divine being, which however has such by a process of

delegation of such powers onto that being by an ontologically divine being. This does not change the primary nature of this functionally divine being; I.e. does not make it ontologically divine, but functionally.

 

So “Functional Dyotheism” is belief in a god and a non-god, and the god has given the non-god being “actions and has powers “fitting” only of an ontologically divine being.

 

The definition of “Ontological Dyotheism” was precisely needed because from it, the Unitarian belief of “Functional Dyotheism” is derived, namely by demoting one of the beings believed in into a functional, rather than an ontological deity. He makes 2 additional points. (1) That Unitarians do not act as if there were 2 Gods; and (2) That “Ontological Dyotheism” is merely a label I want to hang on “Biblical” Unitarians.

 

  1. Dr. Tuggy later on in the article admits to this in all but words, but more on that later
  2. If a label is correct, what is the issue?

 

Dr. Tuggy continues:

 

“Fitting?” Is this “Functional Dyotheism” being defined as impossible, so that this god gives about powers and enables actions which in principle can’t be had or done by a non-god? Or does he mean only that these “powers and actions” are typically found in a god, not in a non-god – this case being an exception, due to the generosity of the god in this scenario? I don’t know! The first accusation, we of course deny on biblical grounds. And the second claim, we would not object to. “

 

Well, since it is indeed Functional Polytheists (FP) who are well known for their incoherent claims, an understandable thing would be an attempt to project them to the Trinitarian side.

 

I find Dr. Tuggy’s definition of “fitting” in my argument, rather interesting. He states:  

“[If] … these “powers and actions” are typically found in a god, not in a non-god – this case being an exception, due to the generosity of the god in this scenario … we would not object to[it]. (Derived from the full quote available above)

 

As such then, let’s combine my definition of Functional Dyotheism with Dr. Tuggy’s definition of “fitting” which he agrees with.

 

“Functional Dyotheism can be defined as a belief in 2, distinct beings, such that one of them is Ontologically Divine, that is, possesses a divine nature, as defined above, while the other exists primarily in some other form of nature, but has been endowed functional divinity by the aforementioned being. Functional divinity can be defined such that, the being possesses attributes, does actions and has powers and actions which are typically found in a god, not in a non-god – this case being an exception, due to the generosity of the god in this scenario, which however has such by a process of delegation of such powers onto that being by an ontologically divine being. This does not change the primary nature of this functionally divine being; I.e. does not make it ontologically divine, but functionally.”

 

What have we changed? I don’t know! It seems that under the definition Dr. Tuggy agrees with, they would be Functional Polytheists!

 

Moving on:

 

“Our accuser proceeds:

Are, Biblical Unitarians, therefore Functional Polytheists? Well, the question can be more precisely stated by asking some other questions, number of which is extensively large, however, for purposes of the article, I will limit myself to 5: 1. Does an Omniscient being fall into a Functionally Divine Category (FDC)? 2. Does an Omnipresent being fall into FDC? 3. Does a being with authority above all authority fall into FDC? 4. Does a being upon which believers call for salvation fall into FDC? 5. Does a being worshiped by all creation fall into FDC?

What on earth is he driving at? He seems to be arguing that Jesus, according to biblical unitarinas[sic], has properties which in principle only the one God could have. Thus, biblical unitarians think Jesus is “Functionally Divine,” which means that they are “Functional Polytheists.” Rather than coining these new and controversial terms, our author might just simply state his accusation like this: biblical unitarians think Jesus is not God, and yet has features that only God can have.”

 

What am I driving at?

 

Steve Hays appropriately states:

 

“Vlad mounting an internal critique of unitarianism by showing that it’s inconsistent on its own grounds, because it must deify the merely human Jesus.”

 

He also asks as to why I couldn’t state it more simply. I could. But that doesn’t illustrate the force of the proposition, now does it? As with the Modal Ontological Argument, stating merely “God is possible” does not immediately give us the force that the statement implies, namely that “God exists”.

 

Tuggy continues:

Next he cites a lengthy text to show that God is omniscient (all-knowing). This is a waste of words, of course, because biblical unitarians agree. He then tries to establish that Jesus too is omniscient (all-knowing).

Is Jesus then, omniscient? Perhaps the most striking example is found in John 21:17: “He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

The author evidently think that this asserts that Jesus is literally (and essentially?) omniscient. But it need not be read that way, and should not, in light of Jesus’s straightforward statement that he does not know something which God (aka the Father) knows – which, conveniently, our young apologist ignores.

 

“[The above] evidences Dale’s chronic inability to argue in good faith. He acts as though that’s inconsistent with orthodox Christology, but he knows perfectly well that orthodox Christology operates with a two-natures paradigm.” – Steve Hays

 

I would also point out something in this regard, that Tuggy does not address the plain statement of the text, that Jesus knows all things, among them being the hearts of men but as Steve above points out, attempts to interpret a different text in a Unitarian way while criticising the consistency of the Trinitarian framework. Color me impressed.

One can also point out that the texts he references need not at all be interpreted in the manner he proposes. As this is not related to the article in any meaningful way, I will simply provide a source bellow.[4]

 

Dr Tuggy continues to point out that Jesus hearing the prayers of millions of believers and processing them as a mere human, then also fulfilling them doesn’t require omniscience.

In regards to Jesus knowing all things, as Peter says, knowing the hearts of men, The Father, etc. he points out that this also curiously, despite Jesus directly being proclaimed to be knowing of all things, and knowing things only God is said to know does not mean he is omniscient, since, as he stated above, there are passages where Dale finds incompatibility, in his Unitarian interpretation, with the concept.


“It’s a mark of Dale’s persistent philosophical ineptitude. A competent philosopher will adopt the viewpoint of the opposing position for the sake of argument. It’s the only way to demonstrate that the opposing position is internally inconsistent. All Dale does is to point out how Trinitarian interpretations are inconsistent with unitarianism! Dale suffers from incurable tunnel vision.” – Steve Hays

 

Tuggy then continues to point out how my support for Omnipresence of Jesus, by using various passages that show he is with and in believers wherever they may be, is insufficient, because it is merely consistent with and not necessitating of the proposition.

 

Now, while he is correct, it is hard to imagine where Jesus is not present if, alongside the Spirit, he is in all the believers, wherever they potentially might be. The least Dr. Tuggy must concede from the passages is that Jesus can be wherever he needs to be, but if one is to be consistent with the established fact that Jesus is knowing of all things, and that he can be where he needs to be, I need cite no further proof to establish practical, if not ontological omnipresence, from the passages given.

This is the obvious point, not to establish ontological identity with God in their worldview, but rather show that properties of God, in the same or similar manner, are assigned to him.

 

Now, addressing point 3 and onwards, I feel that the most encompassing statement I can make about the vast majority of what he has to say is “Assumption of Unitarianism”.

 

“Philippians 2:9-10  says;“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Read Isaiah 45:23)

 

Here he omits what Paul immediately says (Philippians 2:11) which is that this is to the glory of God, the Father, which shows that Jesus is someone else, and someone in a lower position that the God who exalted him! God is not worshiped to the glory of any other. (The reason he cites Isaiah 45:23 is because he thinks that since it is being referenced here, this must imply that Jesus is God himself. But it does not; this is an obvious mistake in reading the NT, which I’ve called the fulfillment fallacy.)”

 

As we can see, on the onset we have an obvious assumption of Unitarianism, he immediately assumes that since the worship of Jesus brings glory to the Father, that Jesus is not God, and that he is not glorified in a divine manner. The evidence for such an assertion is well… the assertion!

 

The fulfillment fallacy fallacy:

 

He proceeds to speak of his vaunted “fulfillment fallacy”, a proprietary work of course, much like his [mis]definitions of various “Trinities”.

 

He proposes that some passages in their original context, apply to someone other than Jesus, yet NT writers quote them of Jesus, as such implying that passages about God, quoted of Jesus by NT writers make him God, would make someone else in a similar passage to be Jesus and therefore God!

 

This is obviously, nonsense. Examples brought forth like Psalm 45 or 110 are not, in the original context, talking about anyone BUT Christ.

 

“As Brown pointed out, if you take Ps 45 to be a messianic psalm, then there’s no reason to assume that refers to a human king. Dale appeal to OT scholars, but that’s self-defeating because many OT scholars don’t think that passage is messianic. Yet Dale does think it’s messianic.” -Steve Hays [Triablogue: Tuggy v. Brown] [5]

 

But here, we may perhaps speak of the fulfillment fallacy fallacy.

 

If we assume this to be a correct argument, Dr. Tuggy seems to apply it as a carte blanche dismissal of any possible statement that might be applicable of Christ as God.

 

We may put forth the following argument:

  1. The fulfillment fallacy is sound
  2. We do not know if the author, at some point meant to actually name Jesus as Yahweh from some OT text, or if it is a reapplication of such to Jesus
  3. Therefore, the “Fulfillment Fallacy” while potentially sound (is applicable in certain situations), is fallacious in general application because it assumes a priori that the author’s intent

 

As such, even generously granting the “fulfillment fallacy” to be sound, which it is evidently not, its use is fallacious as it is based on a hidden assumption of Unitarianism.

 

“Colossians 2:9-10 says;“For in Him all the fullness of Deity (theotetos, what makes God be God) dwells in bodily form,  and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.”

 

Our author seems to read this as implying that Jesus has a divine nature and so is God. But just read the rest of the book, which throughout distinguishes Jesus from God. For instance, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (1:15) – so, not God. An image of a thing is not that thing.”

 

Trinitarians believe in a distinction between the persons of the Trinity, the statement is the purest form of “assumption of unitarianism” one can think of.

 

As for theotetos in Colossians, I am interested to see how Dr. Tuggy interprets the word literally meaning “deity” or “that which makes God God”-in a bit more elaborative fashion.

 

He continues by quoting 1 Cor. 15, standard Unitarian discourse.

 

Steve responds by stating:

 

“Likewise, as I’ve explained to him, Paul is using Last Adam typology in 1 Cor 15. This is not about the Son qua Son but the Son in his economic role as the eschatological Adam. That’s discussed by Gregory Beale. “

 

It certainly does not surprise me that Dr. Tuggy is not interested in modifying arguments refuted long ago.

 

He follows by addressing my fourth point with the “fulfillment fallacy fallacy”.

 

Now a surprising response to my point 5. follows:

“In the NT, however, Jesus is worshiped not “as God” (i.e. in the belief that he is God himself). Rather, he is worshiped in addition to God (see Revelation 4-5), and this is to the glory of God (Philippians 2:7). And evidently the reason he is worshiped, is because God has exalted him into a worship-worthy position, as it were “at his (God’s) right hand.”

 

When I started reading the words, it seemed to me that Dr. Tuggy is denying that the degree of worship of Jesus is as that of God. The words in brackets however, revealed a surprising point! Dr. Tuggy is not denying that Jesus is worshiped “as God” if that means “in the exact same manner God would be” rather he is denying that Jesus is worshiped “as God” in the meaning “he is God himself that is being worshiped”.

 

Astounding, is it not! How is this then supposed to address my point! It exactly supports it! The Functional Polytheists worship Jesus, with exactly the same words they would use of the Father, short of identifying him as such! One here is in their view Ontologically God, while other functions precisely as one!

 

Skipping the snarky remarks, Dr Tuggy continues:

 

“So is Mr. Susic’s point is that we biblical unitarians are committed to someone who is not God, Jesus, having powers that only God could have, and doing actions that only God could do?

 

To that point our answer is: no, we’re not. We’re committed to NT teaching, and no NT passage teaches that in principle only God himself can, e.g. hear prayers, judge the world, or receive worship. To the contrary, it is explicit that someone other than God has been empowered to do these things. It is only catholic traditions which say that only God himself or only a “Person” with a “divine nature” can do such things. And when they clash, we prefer scripture to catholic theological traditions.”

 

Except that the Bible consistently teaches that God is a jealous God, not allowing others to be worshiped, the one that will judge the world and the only one who fulfils prayers. It is merely the assumption of the Unitarian, that God now has rendered such powers unto someone else, which precisely, regardless of any tradition, demonstrates my point of Functional Polytheism, one Functions as God would, and one is God.

 

“But the above seems not to be his main point. Remember that his main point is, for polemical purposes, to hang the bad-sounding label “Functional Dyotheism” on us. But we saw that this was unclearly defined. If this means that we think that God has given to another powers such that he couldn’t possibly give them to another, then we just deny this based on straightforward NT teaching. That label would not fit our actual views. If it just means that God has authorized his human Son to do things which, otherwise, we would assume that only God would be able to do, then we agree with that. But then, there is no kind of “Dyotheism” or Ditheism in this – that’s a silly label.

 

He might say, “Ah, but it is Functional Ditheism that I meant!”

 

Well, in the above sense, this is not any sort of polytheism! To believe in one God who gives another some surprising powers is by definition to believe in one God, so it is by definition a variety of monotheism.

 

In sum, this article is just a clumsy and ineffective attempt to pin bad-sounding words (“Dyotheism,” or “Ditheism,” or “Polytheism”) onto biblical unitarian views.”

 

Conclusion:

 

And here we have the crux of what happens with this response. You can see that most of it was attempting to show passages I quote do not teach the deity of Christ, when in fact, this was not the point of the article.

 

He regards “Functional Polytheism” as some sort of an attached label. That aside, his refutation is that he does not admit to the wording!

 

He says that this is not Polytheism, by definition, but he obviously has Ontological Polytheism in mind. Nobody proposed that they believe in multiple ontological Gods.

 

As we can see, the attempted refutation of the proposition that “Functional Polytheism” ought be the actual name of “Biblical Unitarianism” is unsuccessful, and might I say, not even attempted in the above given paragraph.

 

Finally, let me quote my definition of Functional Dyotheism bellow:

 

“Functional Dyotheism can be defined as a belief in 2, distinct beings, such that one of them is Ontologically Divine, that is, possesses a divine nature, as defined above, while the other exists primarily in some other form of nature, but has been endowed functional divinity by the aforementioned being. Functional divinity can be defined such that, the being possesses attributes, does actions and has powers fitting only of an ontologically divine being, which however has such by a process of delegation of such powers onto that being by an ontologically divine being. This does not change the primary nature of this functionally divine being; I.e. does not make it ontologically divine, but functionally.”

 

The above sounds a bit like Dr. Tuggy’s explanation, does it not?

 

“If it just means that God has authorized his human Son to do things which, otherwise, we would assume that only God would be able to do, then we agree with that.” – Dale Tuggy

 

Tuggy does continue with attempts to teach me how to argue, and an attempt at comparing the trimurti to the Trinity as “Functional Hinduism”, in an attempt to parody the argument, but I do not consider such things remotely relevant or worth addressing.

May the Triune God be Glorified!

 

References:

 

[1] https://trinities.org/blog/the-functional-polytheism-accusation/

[2] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/trinity/

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dyotheism

[4] https://carm.org/if-holy-spirit-god-why-didnt-he-know-time-christs-return https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfdozI26lQQ

 

[5] http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2019/01/tuggy-v-brown.html

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Website