• Michael Burgos

On the Many Errors of D. R. Vestal

By Michael R. Burgos

Bishop D. R. Vestal serves as pastor of Apostolic Temple in Garden Valley, Texas. Vestal also runs Cypress Bible Institute (CBI), a school which he founded and from which he earned a Ph.D. in religion.[1] That is, Vestal awarded himself a Ph.D. through his own institution.

Unsurprisingly, the staff listed on CBI’s website are also graduates of the same school. This is, of course, academically spurious and a superb example of intellectual inbreeding. CBI sells honorary doctorates for $500.00, lists no faculty, and cites accreditation from “Shema Israel Ministries International” (i.e., a Oneness Pentecostal parachurch organization).[2] These are good indicators that the school fits the definition of what Rick Walston calls a “Cullege” (i.e., a substandard educational institution that requires inadequate work).[3]

The substandard nature of scholarship produced at CBI is exemplified in the doctoral dissertation of Larry Yates, a CBI graduate.[4] Yates’ dissertation, The Divided God: Apostolic Theology and the Contemporary Challenge to Trinitarianism, is a mere one hundred and sixty-three pages long. Approximately twenty pages of Yates’ dissertation are comprised of nothing more than disparate quotations from other works. The Divided God is filled with errors of citation, pagination, and grammar.[5] Whatever education is being sold by Vestal and CBI, it lacks both credibility and rigor.

Vestal’s book, The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine, is one of a few volumes Vestal has produced that deal with the doctrinal distinctives of Oneness Pentecostalism.[6] The other texts have significant overlap with The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine, and thus this volume serves as something of an exemplar. Despite its paltry content (i.e., approx. 104pp.), the errors in The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine are so multitudinous that time and space will only allow for a few prime examples.

Vestal’s definition of “trinitarian theology” divulges a significant misconception: “Trinitarian theology teaches there is one God manifested in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.”[7] Vestal went on to claim, “The Bible does not teach this Catholic doctrine.”[8] Evidently, Vestal is so unfamiliar with trinitarianism, that he defined it in modalistic terms.[9] The phrase “manifested in three persons” does not represent trinitarianism but modalism. Rather, trinitarianism asserts the consubstantiality and eternality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and not merely the “manifestation” of the persons. This error creates a predicament for Vestal who pejoratively categorizes a depiction of modalism as “Catholic doctrine.”

Vestal’s definition, indeed all of the material Vestal attributes to “trinitarian theology,” is never attributed to any trinitarian work—ever. Vestal never cites a trinitarian treatment of Oneness theology or even a trinitarian systematic theology or monograph. Vestal never provides any cogent interaction with trinitarian scholarship. For this reason, Vestal mischaracterizes trinitarianism on the outset and consistently fails to provide accurate characterizations throughout the entire volume. In the place of actual critical interaction, Vestal repetitiously refers to things “Trinitarians say.” This sort of pseudo-scholarship results in continuous and often absurd errors. For example, Vestal claimed, “Trinitarians claim the Jesus Only people have embraced ancient Anti-Trinitarian refuge called Arianism [sic].”[10] This statement is not only incoherent but also divulges Vestal’s lack of familiarity with church history. Vestal would be hard-pressed to find any piece of trinitarian scholarship that identifies Oneness Pentecostalism as a modern iteration of Arianism.

Vestal claimed, Jesus was “the second Person of the Godhead according to the wild imaginations of the Catholic Church and Tertullian, around 200 AD.”[11] Vestal erred in his assertion that the Roman Catholic communion existed in the third century—such a claim is historically indefensible. It may be that Vestal has confused the term “catholic” as it appears in the trinitarian creeds with the Roman Catholic Church. If that is the case, Vestal has anachronistically projected a modern iteration of the Roman communion upon a term that bore no such connotation in antiquity. The term “catholic” as it appears in the creeds is derivative of καθολικός, meaning “general” or “universal,”[12] and is, therefore, not an anachronistic reference to the Roman Catholic Church. One would expect that someone with a Ph.D. in religion would be aware of the distinction.

There are places within The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine that are so infantile and arcane that it is surprising that Vestal would be willing to make this volume available to the public. For example, Vestal claimed that invoking the names of the “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” is to invoke the “words of Tertullian.”[13] Vestal, in his zeal to defend what he views as the genuine baptismal invocation, has misattributed the words of Matthew 28:19 to Tertullian. Not only does The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine present peculiarities like those cited above, it also features copious amounts of circular argumentation[14] and reliance upon subjective opinions.[15] Vestal never provides an actual positive exegesis for any passage and instead suggests that his conclusions are derived from the natural reading of Scripture.

The third rate argumentation that comprises Vestal’s work, and that of other CBI graduates, depicts a lack of cogency, familiarity with basic theological concepts, and an allergy to biblical exegesis. While there are Oneness Pentecostals who are conversant with the relevant concepts and who have demonstrated a willingness to engage in biblical exegesis, Vestal is not among them.

[1] D. R. Vestal, The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine (Van, TX: Cypress Bible Institute, 2019), 103. [2] See both “Tuition” and “Accreditation,” Cypress Bible Institute, Accessed 11/2021. [3] Rick Walston, Walston’s Guide to Christian Distance Learning 5th ed. (Maitland, FL: Xulon Press, 2007), 23-34. [4] Yates has started his own “cullege,” namely Mineola Bible Institute & Seminary. This institution claims to be “an outgrowth and affiliate program of Cypress Bible Institute” and requires a forty page dissertation for its Doctor of Philosophy program. The typical humanities Ph.D. dissertation listed on ProQuest is over two-hundred pages. 2020. “Student Handbook,” Mineola Bible Institute & Seminary, Accessed 11/2021 [5] E.g., Larry L. Yates, The Divided God: Apostolic Theology and the Contemporary Challenge to Trinitarianism (n.l.: Miracles in Action, 2012), 10, 21, 25, 40. [6] D. R. Vestal, Trinity or Truth (Van, TX: Cypress Bible Institute, 2019); Trinity Research & Development (Van, TX: Cypress Bible Institute, 2020). [7] Vestal, The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine, 19.Cf. ibid., 91 wherein Vestal seems to see the distinction between trinitarianism and the language of “manifestation.” This, however, leads one to wonder why he provided the above definition. [8] Ibid. [9] E.g., “Our Beliefs,” UPCI, Accessed 11/2021; Davis, Landon, A Misplaced Mystery, (Scottsdale, AZ: BookPatch, 2016), 14. [10] Ibid., 37. [11] Ibid., 19. [12] G. W. H. Lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: At The Clarendon Press, 1961), 690. Cf. William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 493. [13] Vestal, The Truth of the Oneness Doctrine, 78. [14] E.g., ibid., 20,25, 47, 55, 64. [15] See esp. ibid., 53, 90.

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