I recently had a run in with someone who posed themselves as believing a doctrine called the “Incarnational Sonship” of Christ. I soon discovered this was merely a small, insignificant theological problem compared to his views about the Trinity as a whole. Nevertheless, the actual position of the Incarnational Sonship of Christ peaked my interest because I had never heard the term before. In essence, the doctrine can be briefly summed up by saying that it is a position in which someone does not believe that Jesus was the “Son of God” from eternity. This doesn’t mean that they believe Jesus Christ is not eternal. They just believe that the Sonship began when he was “begotten.” In other words, the title of Son of God did not become realized until Jesus’ incarnation.
Although this sounds strange to the ears, and would merit anyone espousing this doctrine having to reinterpret the many Scriptures that affirm the eternal Sonship of Christ, I believe it is possible to hold this position and be truly born again (I’m making room for grace). Moreover, I recognize that theological ignorance or semantical misunderstanding can play a role as to why someone would choose to believe this doctrine, even after being confronted with the insurmountable truth that Christ was always the Son of God before time began.
Surprisingly, John MacArthur once held to this doctrine (other advocates were Ralph Wardlaw, Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, Finis J. Dake, & Walter Martin). Thankfully he no longer believes it, but I figure posting his article here would be fitting. After all, why write about something when someone else credible has done the work, right? It is my hope that in revealing this doctrine we all become more aware of the various kinds of Christological teachings, even the ones the skate on thin ice.
I also stumbled across a gem of a post that explained this theology in contrast to the Eternal Sonship of God. After researching this doctrine, I found this contrast helpful.
Jesus was always the Son of God. He is the Eternal Son. “Son of God” is Who He Is. His Sonship directly relates to His Deity.
Before the incarnation, Jesus was the Eternal Logos, not the Son. “Son of God” is What He Became. His Sonship directly relates to His incarnation, and has no bearing on His essential Deity.
Christ’s Sonship is essential to His true identity and cannot be divorced from the person that He is. “Son of God” is who He is in His being of beings.
Being the Logos is essential to His inherent unchanging identity.”Son of God” is merely a title and role that He assumed, a relationship He was born into.
“Son of God” means equal with God, indicating likeness or sameness of being.
“Son of God” as an attribute of assumed humanity speaks of subservience, being less than God. [A debatable point]
God the Father has always been God the Father.
God has always been God. Prior to the incarnation He was “father” in a metaphorical sense as Creator. With the Incarnation He became a Father in the literal sense. Relationship does not involve a change in Person.
The Father-Son relationship has eternally existed in the Godhead. Before the Incarnation the Son was ever in the Father’s bosom.
Before the incarnation there was no Father-Son relationship in the Godhead. This does not imply there was no Triune relationship between persons (God, Logos and Holy Spirit), merely that we have no other term but “God” to represent the 1st Person of the Trinity. The Logos was ever in God’s bosom.
The Father sent His own Son into this world (see John 3:16-17; Galatians 4:4; etc.).
God sent His own Logos — the One who was born Son — in Person into this world. Once again, a change in relationship does not equate to a change in Person
Taken from firstname.lastname@example.org
Because of my recent experience, here is a warning/exhortation. If you come into contact with someone that believes that Christ was not eternally the “Son of God,” take a breath and don’t be quick to label them as a heretic. Find out if they believe whether Jesus eternally existed with the Father before the world was made. If they deny that Jesus, as the 2nd person of the Trinity, did not exist with the Father before time began, and/or they believe that Jesus and the Father are not one essence yet two distinct persons (not “manifestations” like some Oneness Pentecostals like to say), then it is safe to expose it as heresy. If, after pleading with them and correcting them on their position, they remain resolute, warn them about their dangerous position, that you will be obligated to warn others concerning them (especially if they are a teacher/leader), and that they will be marked as a heretic. You want to give space for them to admit openly that they are willing to at least consider the essential doctrine of Christ and His eternal essence.
If provided an opportunity, follow up and find out if there is any change or a willingness for further discussion. If, for whatever reason, they are unwilling to discuss the issue with you, and remain staunch concerning their heretical position, then the removal of the right hand of fellowship is sadly in order. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk with them in future contexts, pray for them, or perhaps further assist them with good works (if they care to have you in their company) that may open their hearts to the true gospel. It just means you can no longer consider them a brother or sister, or among those who are truly born again. However, if they are a teacher, leader, or just a strong advocate of their heresies, one of the options is avoidance.
Some Scripture concerning the handling of heretics: Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10; 1 John 1:7-11.
One final thought. It is one thing to contend against a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Oneness Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, etc. that are openly affirming their denomination and what they believe (whether ignorantly or with knowledge), but it is quite another when you have someone that marches among the ranks of Christianity who are posing to have a biblical view of the essentials of the faith and are found wanting. Also, it is important to reserve heretical judgment toward someone until we are absolutely sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt, they are believing historical heresies. Always verify and ask for clarity. We are to treat all people with respect, but we must fear God and sin enough to speak the truth to others that may hold to damnably erroneous views of Christ. Let love lead our motive, truth organize our thoughts, the gospel guide our passions.