The O’Neal-Welch Debate in Book Form

By Donnie V. Rader

Tom O’Neal and John A. Welch met in debate on August 1, 2, 4, 5, 1994 in Bowling Green, Kentucky on the deity-humanity issue. This was the first oral debate on the subject. The proposition for the first two nights was “The Scriptures teach that Jesus was not a man as I am.” O’Neal affirmed and Welch denied. The last two nights the proposition was, “The Scriptures teach that Jesus was a man as I am, yet without sin.” Welch affirmed and O’Neal denied.

My purpose in this review is to let brethren, who may not be aware, know that this study is available in book form. It is not my intent to give a review of all the arguments that were made. Others have already written about the debate shortly after it was concluded (in Guardian of Truth, Walking In Truth, and Faith & Facts).

1. The value of a debate in book form. While there are many advantages of being present at an oral debate, there are certain advantages of being able to have the speeches before you in printed form. I was present at this debate, but found the arguments easier to follow with the book. The book allows the reader to focus on the arguments and the answers and then analyze them (at his own pace) rather than attention being given to the style, voice, ability, or personality of the speaker.

2. The styles of the debaters were different. Though more noticeable if you were present (or had the tapes), the differing styles of O’Neal and Welch are still obvious in the book. Both men are experienced debaters. On the one hand, Tom speaks slower and is more deliberate. Tom is more of an affirmative debater. He takes a few points and strives to drive them home. On the other hand, John works much faster and covers more ground. He is very effective with visuals. John is more a negative debater.

3. The basic arguments. Tom began by showing that this was not a debate about whether man has to sin, whether men are unconditionally cleansed or forgiven of sin or whether Jesus was fully human on earth. All of these John has tried to tie together throughout this controversy.

In his first affirmative Tom said, “It should be clearly understood that nothing I say in this discussion is intended to deny that John says that he believes in the deity of Christ on earth. He has said it repeatedly and I recognize that. But I will prove that he has made blatant statements that are hopelessly inconsistent with the deity of Christ on earth and which flatly contradict the deity of Christ on this earth. I will prove that the consequences of John’s teaching is a denial of the deity of Jesus and he makes statements which are unwittingly denials of the deity of Jesus” (p. 3).

Early in the debate John tried to show that Tom (and those who agree with him) in reality denies the humanity of Jesus. He attempted to tie this question with the continuous cleansing issue.

At the heart of the discussion was the question of whether Jesus gave up the attributes of deity or merely limited his use of them when he came to earth. Tom con-tended that if Jesus gave up any one of his attributes, he no longer has the nature of God (Gal. 4:8). Tom pointed out that there is a big difference in giving up his attributes and in limiting his use of them. John repeatedly said to Tom, “I agree with you!” provided you are talking about Jesus limiting his attributes. However, John shifted back and forth in the debate between Jesus not using his at-tributes of deity and not having them.

4. A few things in this book that are different than most debates. (a) John Welch’s charts do not appear in the book. In the front of the debate book Tom wrote, “John Welch has copyrighted his charts, so they do not appear in this printed form. However, the reader is not at a great disadvantage because as he read the material on his charts, line by line, they were being put on the screen line by line as he read them. Thus, the text contains the words that were on his charts. I have tried to be extra careful with his speeches in getting them just as accurate as possible.” John’s charts are available on CD-ROM (“The Humanity of Jesus”  $49.95 from Faith & Facts Bookstore). (b) There are numerous quotes from brethren. Much of John Welch’s time was spent quoting from brethren in an effort to show that what he taught is no different than what others have always taught. In one speech John quoted from 19 men. In another, 14 men. Other speeches contained nine, eight, and seven quotes. (c) On the third night when Tom gave a quote from Herman Black on how to identify a modernist, John’s moderator called a point of order, went to the platform, called for charts and proceeded to answer Tom O’Neal (pp. 55-56). Few, if any, had ever seen that happen in debate. (d) A question and answer period that took place after the last session is included in the book.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 10 p. 14-15
April May 1, 1997