Third Negative: Sharp-Needham Debate

By James P. Needham

My thanks to the editor for printing this debate in a single issue of the magazine, and to brother Sharp for his participation and attitude.

Keith says the debate has proven four things, (1) that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. I thought that was a given. I’ve not known any brother in my lifetime, that denied this before John Welch.

(2) Keith says the debate has proven that our disagreement is over the humanity of Jesus, not his Deity. If “our” includes Keith and his fellow-travelers, it is not true because the debates with John Welch have been over his denial of the Jesus’ deity. In fact this whole controversy was spawned by John’s saying that Jesus was “an ordinary guy like you and me.” He has apologized for his wording, but not his concept, Keith’s claim to the contrary notwithstanding. In my humble opinion Keith labors hard to salvage John from his error, not by rebuking him, but by trying to find a position that doesn’t sound as blasphemous, but essentially amounts to the same thing. Just what is the essential difference between Jesus’ not having his divine attributes, and having them but not using them? This is an odd, awkward, and an unscriptural position.

(3) He says the debate has proven that those who accuse him of denying the deity of Christ are inconsistent because they teach the same thing he does. Keith often is assumptive and ambiguous. It is often difficult to get his point. As it stands, the above statement is not true.

(4) He says he has proven that “this issue is a result of neo-Calvinism.” This is pure nonsense! I said previously that Keith doesn’t seem to know what Calvin-ism is. He claims he does because he quoted a Calvinian creed! Some proof! His quoted creed doesn’t say what I said, nor does it mean it. I challenge Keith or any of his fellow-travelers to name any brother that took their position before John Welch did in 1990. Were all our brethren previous to John Welch neo-Calvinists? Neo-Calvinism has become a buzz word that these brethren throw around in-discriminately. It is a prejudicial false charge.

Keith thinks the Father’s use of his omniscience to fore-see and foreknow that Jesus would use his free moral agency to choose not to sin, therefore could not sin without making God a liar, is neo-Calvinism! I showed this is exactly what the Bible teaches, so Keith must think God is a neo-Calvinist! During the last almost 50 years I have preached against Calvinism among some of the most rabid Calvinists in the world (the Dutch Reformed). I have de-bated Calvinists and studied with them in their homes. I have devoured their creeds and researched their literature, and I don’t believe or teach one thing that is a 42nd cousin to anything peculiar to Calvinism and for Keith to insinuate that I do is a travesty on truth, comes close to an insult, and reflects his lack of knowledge of Calvin-ism.

Keith charges that I deny that Jesus was tempted to sin as a man? He cites Hebrews 4:15 and wonders if it is in my Bible. I wonder if my explanation of this passage was in Keith’s copy of my negative. I know it is in mine, and it was in his when they left my desk!

Keith says he proved that Jesus’ spirit was “fully human and fully divine.” Keith can’t make a single argument for his position without meeting himself coming back or colliding with John Welch whose heresy he is trying to defend. Keith should have shown just how this works out. The body of Jesus, according to Keith, was inhabited by only one spirit which was “fully human and fully divine,” but the “fully divine” part was inactive. If it was “fully human and fully divine,” then your good friend John Welch says that’s 200% and an absurdity. Are you going to debate John? If Jesus’ spirit was “fully human and fully divine” that is equal to two fully independent spirits. The “fully Divine” spirit had to be capable of “fully” functioning, and the “fully divine Spirit” certainly was unless Jesus’ body was animated by a half spirit. Keith doesn’t like the two-spirit position, but his position logically leads to it. If the “fully Divine” Spirit was inactive during his earthly sojourn, then he was animated by a “fully human” spirit? Two full spirits: 1 + 1= 2 spirits, or is it’ /z + = = 1 spirit? No, it is one fully divine spirit that acted like a human spirit when it was appropriate and harmonized with Jesus’ earthly mission as Servant and Savior. Will Keith deny that Jesus had the power to so do?

Keith says Jesus “had 100% of the human attributes (Heb. 2:17), but kept 100% of the divine attributes (unused: Heb. 1:1-4; 13:8).” This is what he says, but I proved that Jesus used divine attributes in having the power to effect his own resurrection, accepting worship, and he had power on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). Keith replies that Jesus never demanded worship but was passive in it. So what? The Father demanded it (Heb. 1:6). Should Jesus have re-fused what his Father commanded? Was he not worthy of what his Father commanded? Is that Keith’s point? His replies on this point insinuate that something was inappropriate about worshiping Jesus, and that it was equal to worshiping Herod! Where did the Father ever command the worship of Herod, or an apostle, or any other object but Deity? If God commanded all his angels to worship Jesus in the flesh does not prove Jesus used a divine at-tribute, I am at a loss to know what would. And all I needed to defeat Keith’s proposition is proof that Jesus used just one Divine Attribute. I have proven that he used at least three! Keith even admitted that Christ’s forgiving sins was different from the apostles! That was a fatal admission! He thus surrendered his proposition! He tried to patch it up, but his patch doesn’t stick.

Keith thinks my admission that Jesus limited himself in that he grew in knowledge, is making his argument. All sensible Bible students know that deity sometimes limits itself; to deny that it can do so is to limit the power of deity. I don’t even deny that Jesus could have limited all his divine attributes as Keith argues, but the question is, did he? I have proven that he did not, and Keith has failed to prove that he did, so his proposition fails. Jesus did not allow any of his divine attributes to sully his earthly mission. I showed that the Father limited his knowledge in commanding Abraham to offer Isaac, thus the limitation of knowledge doesn’t prove Jesus used no divine attribute.

Keith contends that since Jesus did all his works by delegated authority, this proves he used none of his own divine attributes. No, it only proves the hierarchy of the Godhead. The Father has primary authority, Christ and the Holy Spirit have delegated authority. If Christ’s using delegated authority proves he deactivated all his own divine attributes, it also proves the same for the Holy Spirit since he too exercised only delegated authority (John 16:13, 14;14:26)? And what about the apostles? They too had only delegated authority? Does this mean they emptied themselves of the use of all their human attributes? What proves too much proves nothing!

Keith’s final affirmative is largely wasted paper, ink and effort. All his quibbles and quotes about some supposed disagreements I might have with this brother or that, cut no ice with me, and prove his desperation and that he has a party spirit which is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). I have not consulted with any party bosses (since I know none) in preparation for this debate. Keith knows more about the beliefs of the brethren he mentions than I do. I have answered his quibble once and for all. I said I would be glad to discuss the Bible with any brother under honor-able circumstances. This reply alone answers about half of his third affirmative.

Keith claims to be working for unity while fomenting division. He has unsuccessfully tried to put me in some party, but he has failed. I don’t fit into parties  never have. I am my own man and I do my own thinking. If he wants unity, then let him purge himself of the party spirit.

Keith is anxious for me to answer his question about whether one must believe Jesus used some of his divine attributes while on earth to be saved. Keith is playing to the grandstand here. He has said that since both of us believe in the deity and humanity of Jesus our differences should not affect our fellowship. His magnanimity may not be as warm and fuzzy as it appears since he is the one who challenged for this debate. When my comments on the Welch heresy appeared in this periodical, Keith jumped to the defense of Welch and challenged for a debate. His question is like the sectarians’ asking, “Do you think that just you and your little bunch are going to be saved?” It is prejudicial. I have proven that Jesus used some of his own divine attributes while on earth. Whether one has to believe that to be saved is a matter for God to decide. I don’t try to tend to God’s business. I plead his law, and leave the rest to him. Keith wondered why I didn’t give the law. I thought he knew it! A better question is, can one be saved who sows discord among brethren and divides churches with false doctrines (Prov. 6:19), then tries to cover his tracks with bogus apologies. Keith preaches unity while sowing discord! The conservative churches are not growing outwardly, and are being devoured from within by factions and parties and foolish controversies.

Keith’s defense of Welch at the expense of truth and facts is obvious. He has not learned, seemingly, that we should not think of men above that which is written (1 Cor. 4:6). He says John confessed he had been wrong not just in word but in concept. Then why did he say in his most recent debate with Gene Frost, “I’ll apologize to you for any word I’ve used. Fine, let’s get rid of it. But, Brother Frost, I believe the same thing, I haven’t shifted”(Emphasis mine, jpn, Frost-Welch Debate, 91, 4th par. left column, June 1995). He asked which Welch apology has Frost ever accepted? Welch’s apologies are hard to accept because he repudiates them before one has time to accept them! Gene tried to accept the apology Welch made following the Louisville debate, but the ink wasn’t dry before Welch publicly was repudiating it.(See article by Gene Frost in Gospel Truths, January 16, 1997, 16-19; cf. his follow-up article June, 15-17).


This debate has been frustrating to me. I am chagrinned that at this late date we are spending our time and energy debating the nature of our blessed Savior while the world goes to hell in a hand basket! I cannot understand why or how those brethren who are standing with and defending the Welch doctrine cannot see that he has made false apologies, and supposed repentances, only to continue to defend his original error. If he has changed the substance of the position he took in his Shively, Kentucky sermon, and has repented of both his words and his concept, why does he continue to defend his original position and deny that he has “shifted”? What are all the debates about if we all agree?

Keith seems to feel that the brethren opposed to the Welch doctrine are hard-hearted, mean-spirited, and hell-bent on hitting on John Welch and his fellow-travelers. Nonsense. Gene Frost’s article trying to accept Welch’s latest “apology” was a genuine offer of his heart and hand, and I, and I am sure many others, were delighted to think this might end this foolish controversy. He personally wrote Welch’s defenders and asked them to commit to Welch’s supposed change, only to receive not a single reply. Be-fore the ink was dry in Gene’s article, Welch publicly was reneging on his supposed change and accusing others of stretching his apology beyond his intention.

Guardian of Truth XLI: 22 p. 
November 20, 1997