A Review of "Do Theophanies Identify God the Son?"
August, Mark. Do Theophanies Identify God the Son?: A Contemporary Survey of Doctrinal Continuity from Second Temple Judaism to Third Century Christianity. N.p. 2023.
Mark August, a Oneness Pentecostal who has previously been criticized for attending a degree mill (see here and here), has published his doctoral dissertation, namely, Do Theophanies Identify God the Son? This volume seeks to frame NT Christology on the basis of August's understanding of the OT and pre-Christian sources from the Second Temple
Prior to evaluating the argumentation in this volume, several preliminary observations are required. First, this volume is filled with errors in pagination, citation, and grammar. Four spaces are used to separate paragraphs making this volume about twenty pages longer than it ought to be. The use of incorrect prepositions and run-on sentences results in a volume wherein one must constantly attempt to interpret August's writing. For example, at the beginning of the first chapter, August wrote, "This proposition is put forth by Trinitarian Apologists and is subjective in presuppositions produced by the dogma distributed to and accepted by them" (6). The sentence appears without an antecedent and the reader must depend upon the chapter heading to give meaning to the demonstrative. The phrase
"subjective in presuppositions" should be "subject to presuppositions." Errors such as this abound. August provided the reader with neither footnotes nor endnotes despite frequently quoting other writers. Instead of a bibliography, there is a massive run-on paragraph on p. 191 which conflates sources in a hodge podge of citation styles-- none of which are used properly. There are a number of novel misspellings (e.g., "Phariseeical;" "sycretizing;""Trinitrian") and for some reason, August frequently used British spellings for various terms despite the fact that he is from the American South.
While errors such as those described above may not be a terribly big deal for some readers, this text is allegedly a doctoral dissertation. Failing to adequately cite sources is unethical and August's bizarre attempt at a bibliography demonstrates that he was not interested in dealing with sources in a responsible manner.
Reading Do Theophanies Identify God the Son? is akin to passing a train wreck-- it's so bad it is hard not to look. Perhaps the most significant problem within August's text is the complete lack of biblical exegesis. August asserted that Christ is the Angel of Yahweh and the subject of OT theophanies (16). He then argued that the expression "Word of God" is defined as "God's self-disclosure" (18) and that the apparent personal distinctions present in Scripture between God and his Angel are actually merely differences in God's modes of being (24). Instead of deriving these conclusions from the text of Scripture, August persistently quoted disparate sources as if they are definitive on their own merit. Indeed, the perpetual amount of inappropriately cited quotations comprise most of this book. The problem with this style of argumentation is that it substitutes the opinions of disparate scholars, many of whom fundamentally disagree with August's conclusions, in place of the biblical text. The Christological title "Word" ought to be defined by a rigorous and contextual evaluation of the relevant biblical texts and not by disparate quotations from modern writers.
August claimed the origin of the trinitarian doctrine of personal distinctions is rooted in the conflation of Platonism and the Christian faith (26-7). While this is a considerable claim, August never provided a substantiation anywhere in Do Theophanies Identify God the Son? Instead, August strung together unsupported assertions ad infinitum. For example, August asserted that Aristotelian categories of form and matter directly inform Tertullian's doctrine of divine persons (32-3). Never does August actually demonstrate this claim from Tertullian's corpus. Rather, this assertion, like most in Do Theophanies Identify God the Son?, is posited but never demonstrated. Given that Tertullian presents significant interaction with the biblical text (in Ad. Prax. for example), one would imagine that actually dealing with Tertullian's exegetical argumentation would be pertinent to the project. However, August made no such attempt. Moreover, August never attempted to find validation of his theory within Tertullian's corpus. Had August actually engaged with Tertullian's literature, he would have seen Tertullian's incessant disdain for philosophy and his considerable criticism of those who sought to conflate preexisting philosophical categories with the Christian faith.
All of August's interaction with patristic sources suffers from the same central problem-- he never interacts with what these writers actually wrote. Instead, he depends entirely upon secondary sources, leaping from one quotation to the next. Subsequently, the conclusions offered in this volume are evidently dubious at the outset since the reader is left to depend entirely on hearsay.
One rather obvious lacunae in Do Theophanies Identify God the Son? is any interaction with those works written to specifically address Oneness Pentecostal theology. While August cites my book Against Oneness Pentecostalism (inappropriately I might add), he never interacts with its argumentation. Since my book devotes a large chapter to OT Christology, one would assume that dealing with that treatment would be relevant to his project. However, there is no interaction. Ever.
Do Theophanies Identify God the Son? is a grand exercise in question-begging and pseudo-scholarship. The book's complete lack of primary source interaction, lack of basic coherence, and multitudinous mechanical errors make this volume a pain to read. Its argumentation is imbalanced and often circular. While Oneness Pentecostals require a substantial treatment of the OT, this isn't it.