Having come from the Philippines, the Iglesia ni Cristo is not an unknown name to me. They are the second largest religious group in the Philippines, after the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve seen videos of their ministers debating representatives of other religious groups (Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, etc.) before, and I’ve gathered from those debates that the InC has a very specific debating style. It tends to be characterized by showing as much bravado as possible and getting InC members in the audience to cheer as loudly for their side as possible in order to give the impression that their side is demolishing the opposition (not unlike what what most Social Justice Warriors here in the west do in political protests and rallies). Logic and careful reasoning are, at best, secondary to rhetoric and cheerleading.

Hence, I was not at all surprised by how the debate between Dr. White and Joe Ventilacion went down. Because the debate took place in a carefully moderated venue, and was in the United States rather than the Philippines, the blustering and cheerleading was kept to a minimum. However, the emphasis on putting on a brave face and throwing red meat to the already convinced was clearly on display. Note how Ventilacion repeats the same questions over and over, and never takes into consideration the rebuttals presented (this is classic cult behaviour, by the way–give the scripted answers, and if an answer is given that doesn’t match what is in the script, then pretend that an answer wasn’t really given. Also, reading the entirety of a text doesn’t support your conclusion, then just focus on the parts that do (hence why Ventilacion focuses only on verse 3 of John 17 to the exclusion of verse 5, and clause b of John 1:1 to the exclusion of clause c).

Now, those who have listened to many of Dr. White’s debates know that the doctrine of the Trinity is an area of specialty for him, and he has had many debates on this topic with Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and other Unitarians (ohh, and did I mention Muslims?). Almost all of these groups argue for Unitarianism better than the InC do, so if anything, Ventilacion’s level of argumentation is actually a step down from what Dr. White is accustomed to arguing against (again, see above videos).

For example, the InC claims that it is proper to give Jesus worship because God commanded the worship of Jesus, but worshipping Jesus does not make Him God. By contrast, Jehovah’s Witnesses do their best to avoid the theological implications of worshipping Jesus by arguing that the word προσκυνέω, when applied to Jesus, does not mean “worship” but “give obeisance.” This leads to some glaring inconsistencies in their New World Translation, but it is understandable, since they realize the problems that are inherent in giving Jesus worship if Jesus is only a creature, since creatures are inherently unworthy of worship (cf. Acts 10:26, Revelation 19:10).

Way back in the Arian crisis of the fourth-century, Athanasius already pointed out the inherent problem with how the Arians gave Jesus worship even though they denied His divinity. It is idolatry to worship Jesus if Jesus is only a creature, so the Arians had to either abandon their worship of Jesus (which would force them to abandon the clear teaching and practice of the New Testament) or else admit that they were worshipping a mere creature (and thus admit to being guilty of idolatry). To attempt to claim, as neo-Arian sects such as the InC do, that one can worship Jesus without believing in His deity, is to attempt a middle ground position that is simply not tenable from a Biblical perspective.

On that note, both the ancient Arians and modern JWs are also generally willing to accede that the word for “God” (Heb. אֵל, Gk. θεός) is used of Jesus. They get around this by saying Jesus is a small-g God, as opposed to Jehovah, who alone is the capital-G God. InC tries to avoid admitting Jesus is God in any sense altogether, which results in some very strained attempts at interpreting texts where the word “God” is clearly used of Christ (more on this below).

Another area where the InC fares even more poorly than other neo-Arians is in their handling of Hebrews 1. At least the JWs (in their Reasoning from the Scriptures handbook) accept that the author of Hebrews is applying references to YHWH in Psalm 102 to Jesus, and attempt some sort of explanation for why descriptions YHWH applied to Jesus do not necessitate making Jesus out to be YHWH (untenable though that position may be). The InC makes no such attempt. Instead, they try to atomize Hebrews 1 and separate verses 10-12 from the rest of the chapter, resulting in a disjointed and unnecessarily confusing reading of the passage.

Also, note the InC’s shoddy handling of church history. Ventilacion never touches the Ignatius of Antioch quotes presented by Dr. White, and merely repeats the claim made by some obscure Roman Catholic historian that the deity of Christ wasn’t established until Nicaea. Even most liberal scholars wouldn’t date the establishment of that doctrine that late. If the InC is going to prove that the deity of Christ is a late fabrication, they’re going to have many passages from the early church fathers to explain away (and Ignatius is only the tip of the iceberg).

One last note to make before I conclude: In this day and age, anyone can paste Greek text onto PowerPoint screen, but that doesn’t make one a Greek scholar. It was painfully obvious that Ventilacion had zero knowledge of Greek. He did not know what a Granville Sharp construction is (hence why he had no answer to 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 explicitly identifying Jesus as God), nor did he know that most basic aspects of Greek grammar–what noun cases mean. Notice how he makes much of the fact that both John 1:1b and John 17:3 have τόν Θεόν in the accusative case, even though the fact that they’re both in the accusative case has zero exegetical significance to the point he was trying to argue. This was simply a way of claiming that somehow, these instances of Θεός are somehow different from all the other places where they occur in the nominative, dative or genitive cases, which he has to, since many of those other instances of Θεός clearly refer to Jesus, such as in John 1:1c, John 20:28, Romans 9:5, 1 John 5:20 (all of which are exegeted by Dr. White in The Forgotten Trinity and are studiously avoided by Ventilacion).

Overall, this debate was entertaining, but by no means informative. If you want a textbook example of InC apologetics in action, this is the debate to watch. If you want a serious attempt by a Unitarian to argue against the historic Christian position on the nature of God, then you’re better off listening to the debates by Shabir Ally, or Greg Stafford, or Anthony Buzzard.