Unity Speaks – Christianity Responds – Program 1

By: Rev. Sarah Travis, Travis Wolfe and Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1981
What are Unity members taught about who or what God is, the nature of Jesus and the problem of sin? How do those believes compare with traditional Christian beliefs?

What Does Unity Believe about God, Jesus and Sin?

John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program today. And, Sarah, I’d like to ask you, “What do you have to do to become an ordained Unity minister?”
Sarah: Well, all I can tell you is what I had to do. I studied in Unity School for Licensed Teachers for eight years, then worked two years in Silent Unity Prayer Ministry and two more years as an associate in the Association of Unity Churches before attending school.
Ankerberg: You told me off the set that before you became an ordained Unity minister that you also came out of a Lutheran background.
Sarah: Yes.
Ankerberg: And that your home was up in Des Moines, Iowa.
Sarah: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. And, Travis, you’ve come from what kind of a background?
Travis: Baptist.
Ankerberg: Southern Baptist.
Travis: Right.
Ankerberg: Okay. And about two years ago you joined Unity.
Travis: Yes, that’s true.
Ankerberg: Alright. I’d like to find out, if we could, what Unity believes and compare that with orthodox historic Christian belief. And the way I’m going to do that for this segment is just to ask you to give me some quick definitions of words like “God,” “Jesus,” “sin,” and so on. Let’s start, and, Sarah, maybe you could start and then, Norm, maybe you could reply. But we won’t get into going back and forth. Let’s just get the terms out of the table here, first of all. Sarah, would you define for us, what does Unity believe about God?
Sarah: That it’s the one power and one presence in the universe – the creative cause behind all.
Ankerberg: Okay, Norm, what does orthodox Christianity say?
Dr.Norman Geisler: We believe God is personal, in fact, Tri-personal – Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one Eternal Essence that is infinite and beyond the universe, who is the Creator of the physical universe.
Ankerberg: Okay, and I’m sure you’re going to go back and forth right there, but let’s move on to the next area, and that would be, where does Jesus Christ fit in to Unity? Who is He is Unity?
Sarah: Jesus and Christ in Unity have two distinct definitions. Jesus was the man in Nazareth who was the perfection of the Christ. He had the perfect idea of the Christ embodied in him. But Jesus and Christ do have two distinct definitions. Jesus Christ is perfect consciousness or the perfect Christ in man, which I believe Jesus was.
Ankerberg: Okay, let me just see if I can run that by again. He would be a real man?
Sarah: Yes.
Ankerberg: Was He also God?
Sarah: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay. Just as much God as His Father?
Sarah: Yes. The perfect idea in the mind of His Father, just as the drop of ocean has all the elements of the ocean, the same perfection. It isn’t the allness of the ocean, and yet the drop has the same elements and the same perfect qualities that the sum total of the ocean has.Ankerberg: Would you say He was just as much God as His Father, and just as much a man as you or I in one Person at the same time?
Sarah: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay, we’ll come back to that. Norm?
Geisler: We believe Christ is the Second Person of the Godhead who was co-eternal with the Father and who has all of the essential attributes of God but who incarnated Himself in human flesh, was born in Bethlehem; He was known as Jesus from Nazareth but the Christ or the Messiah who died on the cross, rose from the dead bodily to forgive us of our sins.
Ankerberg: Okay. We want to come back to that too, but what is man’s basic problem? How does Unity see man’s basic problem? Does he have a problem?
Sarah: Yes. The problem is seeing himself separated from his Creator. The oneness consciousness, which is the Christ-consciousness that Jesus perfected, is total belief in oneness with the Father. We have believed in separation.
Ankerberg: Okay. Norm, what would you say man’s basic problem is?
Geisler: We believe man’s basic problem is sin, namely that he is in rebellion with God; he disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and as a consequence death and sin have passed upon all men and men are born with a tendency to sin and that they manifest this tendency in rebellion and disobedience to God’s Word.
Ankerberg: And, another one would be this: If that’s the problem, what’s the answer? What are we trying to get to? What’s the goal? What’s the salvation? What’s the solution to man’s basic problem?
Sarah: To tune into the nature of the Christ. It’s funny, in spiritual matters I’ve heard people say that the difference between religious movements like Unity and orthodox Christianity is that we don’t take the Bible literally; and yet I find that in some of Jesus’ teachings we take them even more literally. “Lo, I am with you always,” [Matt. 28:20] meaning quite literally Jesus talking as the Christ is literally with us always.
Travis: And, also, Sarah, you know we take literally the expression that “God is love.” [1 John 4:8] We believe that God is love.
Sarah: Yes.
Ankerberg: Okay, Norm?
Geisler: We believe that the basic solution to man’s basic problem is that because he is a sinner and has alienated himself from God, that Christ had to die as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. He had to pay the price for their sin; and He was made to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. [2 Cor. 5:21] So He sacrificed His life on the cross. He vindicated this by a resurrection from the dead, and that whoever will become a believer must accept Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
Ankerberg: Okay. Also, what is the authority in Unity? How do you know what you’re saying is true? We’re saying some things that are just flying by some people out there in the audience, and they’re asking you, “Gee, that sounds nice. How do you know that’s true?” What would you say? What’s the authority? What’s the basis that you know it’s true?
Sarah: The Bible. The way that Unity interprets the Bible. The Bible is the final authority for the Unity teachings.
Ankerberg: So if the Bible didn’t say it, then it wouldn’t be true in Unity?
Sarah: I guess that’s right.
Travis: But,… Well…. Okay.
Ankerberg: Okay, Norm?
Geisler: Okay, we believe that the Bible and the Bible alone is the final and sufficient authority and that the Bible must be interpreted in the same way in which we would approach a newspaper – in the normal grammatical, literary method and it cannot be interpreted in any spiritual or allegorical way. That we must understand it in the way in which the authors of these books intended it to be understood.
Ankerberg: We want to talk about this thing of the Bible and how we do read it. And we’re coming, it seems, with two different things here. Sarah, when we read the Bible, if the authority for Unity is the Bible, what do you do when a verse like Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” or, “The wages of sin is death and the gift of God is eternal life,” [Rom. 6:23] what would you do with some of those statements? Because it would seem to suggest something other than what you said about man’s basic problem and also man’s basic solution.
Sarah: Okay, in that particular verse, I think it would be, “What is the definition of sin?” Yes, sin, that’s correct in a metaphysical sense, as much as it is in your literal way of looking at it.
Ankerberg: Okay, define sin for us. That’s really good. What is sin?
Sarah: The belief that there’s anything but God. The belief that there is another power in this universe that is equal to or even comes close to the power of God is sin.
Ankerberg: Is there anything else that is sin than that?
Sarah: No, because when you believe that in consciousness, there doesn’t have to be any other sin. Belief is separation.
Ankerberg: If I tell a lie, or I commit murder, or adultery, is that a sin?
Travis: I would like to answer that.
Ankerberg: Okay, Travis. That’s a tough one. I’m sorry on that one, Sarah. Let’s just jump into it.
Travis: Can we say that murder in every instance is a sin? Look at the crucifixion of Jesus.
Ankerberg: Okay, looking at it, what would you say?
Travis: Would that be evil? Would it be wrong?
Ankerberg: Most people would say, “Yeah, that was wrong.” What would you say?
Travis: I’m just asking the question.
Ankerberg: Yeah, I would say that was wrong. Would Unity say that that’s a sin?
Sarah: Murder?
Ankerberg: Yeah.
Sarah: Literal murder, yes, on this… where we’re living now. But it has no reality. Just like darkness has no reality when you turn on the light bulb: it disappears. It’s our human judgment that decides what’s sin and what’s good. God sees only the good because God is the nature of good. And the light bulb and the darkness is the simplest way to realize that. The darkness is an illusion when you turn on the light. It has no real existence. All that is real is God, the Good.
Travis: And in that sense there is no evil.
Ankerberg: Is death real, Sarah?
Sarah: No.
Ankerberg: Death is not. Now, if Travis falls over and lays on the floor and stops breathing, what will we pronounce about him?
Sarah: We would say that the physical Travis is, yes, dead; but Travis was created in the image and likeness of God; and God is Spirit. Therefore, we are spirit created in that image. And it depends on, once again, what you believe God is. If you believe God is a physical person, of course you’re created in that image. But if you believe God is Spirit, then if you’re created in that image, the real of you, the Christ, is also spirit.
Travis: And we are spirit now as well.
Ankerberg: Okay, let me let Norman respond to that. Norman, if you fall off the chair and you lay down here and you quit breathing, what would you think we ought to define that as?
Geisler: Well, the Bible would define that as death where the spiritual inner aspect of man leaves the outer aspect of man. The Bible also says that the whole man – body and soul – was created in the image and likeness of God, because in Genesis 1:26 it says that God created male and female, which includes bodily distinctions. And in Genesis 9:6 it says that it’s wrong to kill somebody because he is in the image of God. So if the body were not a part of the image of God, then it would be wrong to differentiate male and female in the image of God and it would not be wrong to kill someone, because the prohibition against murder is because man is in the image of God.
Sarah: Can I speak to that?
Ankerberg: Sure.
Sarah: You can also interpret that “male and female He created them” in the sense that we are all male and female. We all have the intellectual masculine nature in us and we also all have the feminine intuitive nature. So, on the metaphysical level, “male and female He created them” can mean one.
Geisler: It could possibly mean that, but the way we understand a passage in the Bible is we must interpret the text in the light of its context. This is the way we approach a newspaper; this is what we call the historical, grammatical method. The context there, the succeeding verse, verse 28, after it says in 26 and 27, “They are made male and female,” it says for them to reproduce. So it can’t be understood in a purely spiritual way because that male and female were able to reproduce children from which the whole human race came.
Ankerberg: Let’s jump to another area here going back to this thing of sin. You defined sin in Romans 3:23. Using the historical, grammatical method, do you think that’s what the apostles meant? That it’s simply the fact of “in your mind.” Or, in other words, what from that verse would take you to the interpretation that you got? What is the method that you used to get there, using the Bible?
Sarah: I can’t remember the verse now.
Ankerberg: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” [Rom. 3:23] and the other one would be, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [Rom. 6:23]
Sarah: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” for all have seen themselves as less than the created of the Creator, is another way to look at that.
Travis: But they don’t necessarily have to see themselves that way.
Sarah: No.
Ankerberg: The question would be: Why should we see it that way or any other way? In other words, what’s the method to get us to the conclusion? In other words, we’re saying we take words as they’re used in that day and age, and we define them and we say, “This is what it meant then” and we’re going to say, “That’s a good starting point for it meaning that today.”
Sarah: For one thing, I believe that the Hebrew writers were very symbolic people. How anyone could think that a writer like John sat down and wrote literally with the symbology involved is beyond me. Aramaic Bible scholars said that the writers at that time were deep into symbolism and allegory. And of course there are literal teachings in the Bible. But there are also allegory and a great many teachings that can be taken on several different levels.
Ankerberg: I’d like to talk about a verse in John. Take John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And in John 8 we have some words from Jesus. He’s talking with the Jewish leaders and He makes the statement, “Before Abraham,” the father of the Jewish nation, “Before Abraham was, I am.” [John 8:58] Say, what’s the matter, Jesus? Is your grammar wrong? Now, the question is, what should we think about Jesus from at least those two statements? And, Norman, let’s go to you on this one first.
Geisler: Well, two things: one is in John 1 it says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” [John 1:14] so that the Eternal Word of God was in flesh, so He is a literal human being. In fact, in the first Epistle of John he said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, we have handled with our hands… the Word of Life.” [1 John 1:1] So the Eternal Word of Life was handled; it was physical, literal Person, Jesus Christ. And when He was claiming to be before Abraham, He meant that He was the “I Am” of Exodus 3, the Yahweh, the Jehovah, the Eternal God. And Jesus said, “I Am the I Am.”
Ankerberg: Okay, Sarah or Travis, what would you say about that?
Travis: I don’t have anything to comment about that. But I would like to say, getting back to the authority from which we speak is, we don’t have to have an authority. We are children of God and we speak.
Ankerberg: Okay, but now, Sarah said at the beginning that if the Bible didn’t say it, then we didn’t have it. Now, how does that fit in?
Travis: Well, I’m not sure exactly what you meant, Sarah.
Sarah: Well, Unity uses the Bible as its authority, but it doesn’t say that that is the only truth in the universe. There are other truths. The Tao, the Bhagavad-Gita, they all have truths of God. Unity happens to use the Bible because we are dwelling in the Western World here. But the Bible is not the only truth of God.
Ankerberg: The problem is, Sarah, that one of the philosophers once said that when you’ve got one guy saying one thing and another guy saying something else and they’re saying something contradictory, they both can’t be right at the same time. And the schmear is that I don’t hear the Bhagavad-Gita or some of these others saying the same thing as what I just was quoting to you in John 1:1 or John 8.
Sarah: Okay, I’d like to get back to that. Since we believe that Jesus has one definition and the Christ has another, that those are Christ’s statements. Whenever Jesus spoke with “I am” statements, He was speaking from the Christ within Him. And the Word made flesh was the Christ made flesh in Jesus. I’m not saying that the Christ is perfected in me or anyone else on this planet, but the possibility and the potential of the Christ within all of us has the potential to become the word made flesh.
Ankerberg: But, Sarah, if I was to say, “Maybe that’s a possibility that we ought to interpret and see Jesus in that light, but if Jesus Himself gives us reason to believe something else, why not go with Jesus Himself who ought to know?”
Sarah: I do. And He said, “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48]>
Ankerberg: Okay, but when He says, “I Am” and He refers to Himself. Or, “I am the light of the world,” [John 8:12] He didn’t send somebody to somebody else. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me.” [John 14:6] “I am the resurrection.” [John 11:25] All these “I, I, I, I,” He is telling people to come to Him.
Sarah: The “I am,” of course, goes back to Old Testament. That was God’s way of telling Moses “I am” in you. “I am.”
Ankerberg: But the people around Jesus when He made that statement, they picked up stones and they said, “Because you, being a man, make yourself to be God.” [John 10:33] They seemed to interpret Him to be saying that He was God in the flesh. Now the question is, should we go beyond that?
Sarah: What do you mean?
Ankerberg: Well, should we see Jesus as something else after we see Him as that?
Travis: I would like to say that we all think, or I do, think that we are all divine; that is, the divine spark exists in all of us. And we strive to be like Christ. He is our example.
Ankerberg: Norm, what would you say to that?
Geisler:Well, Jesus said that He knew what was in man, and it was sin, [John 2:25] it was not a spark of the divine. In the end of John 2 He said that statement and then He began in John 3 by saying, “That’s why you must be born again.” [John 3:5] If there were a spark of the Divine in all of us and all we had to do was fan it, then Jesus would have been wrong by pronouncing us sinners and by demanding even that a very righteous, religious man like Nicodemus must be born again.
Furthermore, John says that Jesus is the Christ, and that’s the whole purpose for writing his book, as he says in the last chapter of John. [John 21:24-25] And in 1 John 4 he said there are many spirits that have gone out into the world, but we’re to test the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of error, and the way we can tell the difference is if they confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. But if they don’t admit that the Eternal God, Jesus Christ, has come in the flesh, then they’re not of God. [1 John 1:1-4]
Ankerberg: Comment on what we were talking about before, Norm. I think that we covered that one there, in terms of there being many different concepts of Jesus. I feel like the panel show, you know, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” And I don’t think that’s what Jesus wanted us to think.
Geisler: Well, many people think of Jesus just as an idea in the mind of God. They think of Jesus as an ideal man. But the Bible describes Him not as an idea in the mind of God or as an ideal man, it describes Him as God Himself who became man and was in every sense human as we are, yet apart from sin, that He might be the perfect sacrifice. [Heb. 4:14-15] As Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and man: the man Christ Jesus,” because as God He can reach to God and as Man He can reach to man and bring man and God together through the cross and His sacrifice.
Ankerberg: Sarah, what would you say in return?
Sarah: I would say once again it’s just a matter of defining Jesus, Christ and Jesus Christ. The definition Unity gives of Jesus Christ is the pervading consciousness of good, of love, and the Jesus Christ consciousness is here with us now. All we have to do is tune in to it.
Ankerberg: Okay, let’s pick that up next week. And for you folks at home, we’ll start off with some of these definitions. And especially this consciousness that Christ had, supposedly, or how Unity defines it, and we’ll compare that back and forth. I think it will be a great discussion. Thanks for being with me this week. Tune in next week.

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