Which is it?

Today, in the continuing discussion over the Trinity,  Dr. Albert Mohler has weighed in to defend the orthodoxy of Drs. Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware.

Recent charges of violating the Nicene Creed made against respected evangelical theologians like Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware are not just nonsense — they are precisely the kind of nonsense that undermines orthodoxy and obscures real heresy. Their teachings do not in any way contradict the words of the Nicene Creed, and both theologians eagerly affirm it. I do not share their proposals concerning the eternal submission of the Son to the Father, but I am well aware that nothing they have taught even resembles the heresy of the Arians. To the contrary, both theologians affirm the full scope of orthodox Christianity and have proved themselves faithful teachers of the church. These charges are baseless, reckless, and unworthy of those who have made them.

While I respect Dr. Mohler and I appreciate his desire to defend both orthodoxy and his associates,  I have to wonder if he’s aware of statements by Dr. Ware that deny the Nicene creed on eternal generation and eternal procession:

The Western church adapted the Nicene Creed to say, in its third article, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the son” (filioque) and not merely that he proceeds from the Father (alone). While I agree fully with this additional language, I believe that this biblical way of speaking, as found in John 15:26, (But when that Comforter shall come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth of the Father, he shall testify of me.), refers to the historical sending of the Spirit at Pentecost and does not refer to any supposed “eternal procession” of the Spirit from the Father and the Son. The conceptions of both the “eternal begetting of the Son” and “eternal procession of the Spirit” seem to me highly speculative and not grounded in biblical teaching. Both the Son as only-begotten and the Spirit as proceeding from the Father (and the Son) refer, in my judgment, to the historical realities of the incarnation and Pentecost respectfully.

(Ware, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, pg 162, footnote 3, emphasis added)

I agree with Dr. Mohler that Nicene doctrine is extremely important and that charges of being outside Nicene orthodoxy are equally serious.  Those who have made the charge that Drs. Grudem and Ware are outside Nicene orthodoxy have not done so lightly.  I believe their own words are strong evidence to support the charges.

In addition,  the charge is not that Drs. Ware and Grudem are Arian. The charge is that they are subordinationists. In his book Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, Dr. Grudem writes:

For all eternity there has been a difference in authority, whereby the Father has authority over the Son that the Son doesn’t have over the Father, and the Father and Son both have authority over the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have over the Father and Son. (p. 433)

And,

If we didn’t have such differences in authority in the relationships among the members of the Trinity, then we would not know of any differences at all. (p. 433)

All Arians were subordinationists, but not all subordinationists are Arian. To teach,  as they do, that there is an eternal subordination structure in the very nature of God is the very definition of subordinationism. While the Nicene Creed was specific in addressing the Arian version of subordinationism, all forms of subordinationism are denied as well.

20 thoughts on “Which is it?

  1. roscuro says:

    I respect Dr. Mohler’s commitment to correct theology highly, but he consistently defends those in high positions from legitimate criticism. He would do well to remember that even Peter had to be reproved by Paul.

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  3. Barbara Roberts says:

    Grudem says: “For all eternity there has been a difference in authority, whereby the Father has authority over the Son that the Son doesn’t have over the Father, and the Father and Son both have authority over the Holy Spirit that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have over the Father and Son.” (EFBT p. 433)

    Grudem believes that the ad intra relations between the persons of the trinity are:
    Father has authority over the Son.
    Son submits to the Father.
    Father and Son have authority over the Spirit.

    This maps exactly onto husband, wife and children:
    Husband has authority over wife.
    Wife submits to husband.
    Husband and wife have authority over the children.

    It is crystal clear. Grudem has a “chain of command” doctrine of the Trinity which is an exact parallel to Bill Gothard’s “chain of command” teaching about the family.

    This is what we are up against.

    As Mark Jones rightly points out, “Many have spoken and it appears as though Grudem et al are simply unwilling to listen.” http://newcitytimes.com/news/story/wayne-grudems-historical-theology

    Grudem et al are being divisive and are not willing to listen to admonishment. The Bible tells us what to do with such people:

    “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Titus 2:10-11)

    But will the church obey this commandment? I very much doubt it. Not with people like Al Mohler occupying its higher echelons.

  4. Jeff Crippen says:

    The motive of all this is vital to understand, as Barbara Roberts has pointed out elsewhere. Grudem and company have been the movers and shakers in the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood for years, pressing their model of what they call complementarianism in marriage and even further, in male and female relationships. We must get the cart before the horse in this. The debate did not begin with the nature of the trinity. It began with the insistence that wives are to submit to husbands in marriage, and I emphasize that the definition of “submit” as CBMW writers teach it is not necessarily that of Scripture. Once the argument proceeds to women being required to submit to men, it has gone well beyond the teachings of God’s Word. Grudem and his associates would do well to heed the Apostle Paul’s warning-

    I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. (1Co 4:6)

    • Barbara Roberts says:

      I believe that CBMW have been pushing notions of complementarianism that go way beyond scripture and deep into legalism and a very thinly veiled ‘works-righteousness’ mentality. In saying this, I include even the people in CBMW who are uncomfortable with (a) Grudem & Ware’s concept of ESS/ERAS and (b) Grudem’s blowing off of Eternal Generation.

      The gender role ideology which CBMW has been pushing has done harm to many women, and UNFATHOMABLE harm to women who are victims of domestic abuse and spiritual abuse. We have been pointing out this for a long time, but very few listen to us. The victims of abuse flock to us (at A Cry For Justice) but the male theologians and pastors and big shots in conservative Christendom studiously ignore us — all the female victims of domestic abuse who are crying out for their voices to be heard at the table.

      The ESS doctrine has now hit the web dialogue big time, thanks to Trueman, Goligher, Mark Jones and others. They at last woke up that some in their own camp had been tampering with the doctrine of the Trinity. And the vast majority of the discussion is now focusing on the doctrine of the Trinity.

      Now; I’m very happy to see the doctrine the Trinity being debated by good theologians. I’m very happy that sound theologians and pastors are rebutting ERAS and questioning Grudem for blowing off Eternal Generation.

      But what I’m seeing, and what is disappointing me greatly, is that whenever I have tried to open up the debate to the injustice that is being done to women by the legalistic conceptions of gender roles being pushed or tacitly endorse by complementarians, and how this DIRECTLY RELATES to the ERAS doctrine, I get crickets… except for a few women bloggers and from rare men like Jeff Crippen.

      I long for men like Goligher and Trueman to wake up and see that the Tampering with the Trinity was only the tip of a giant iceberg. And that they need to pay attention to all the iceberg that is under the water…. And that nine-tenths of the iceberg is the women victims of domestic and spiritual abuse plus the spiritually abused men who have also been excluded from the table.

      If men like Goligher and Trueman think this battle is chiefly about Trinitarian Doctrine and defending the Nicene Creed, I think they have not fully understood what the true church of God is up against.

      Sure: keep articulating sound Trinitarian doctrine, but don’t leave the victims of the legalistic gender role prison out of the discussion. I know that people like Rachel Miller let us come to the table (thanks Rachel!) but I do wish more people would respect our voices when we try to insert them into the discussion.
      .. and by ‘our,’ I mean the victims of domestic abuse and spiritual abuse…

  5. jsmithebc says:

    Just want to add something that might clarify a bit. A person may take the view that the text in John speaking of the Holy Spirit “proceeding” is referring to Pentecost and the Son being “begotten” is referring to his mediatorial Sonship “this day I have begotten you” (Ps.2) without advocating eternal submission. I disagree with the doctrine of the eternal submission of the Son to the Father. I hold to the classical view. However I have questioned the use of this language to describe the nature of the eternal Trinity with reference to each person distinct properties. I think a case can be made from scripture that the terms “proceeding” and “begotten” are not actually used in the Scripture texts themselves in the way they are used in the creeds. However, again, I do hold to the doctrine presented in the creeds.

  6. hebrewsdnt says:

    I think the problem with Mohler, Ware, Grudem and many evangelicals is that the current social controversies frame how they read the text of scripture, and they don’t stop to realize that the Bible was written to an Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman context and people, and that must be taken into account *before* you apply the text of scripture to your current situation. I remember talking about this with a friend of mine at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School while I was doing my coursework, and she gave a quote from a New Testament professor she really liked that went something like this: “Evangelicals have a tendency to confuse the idea that the Bible was written *for* us with the idea that the Bible was written *to* us. The text was not specifically addressed to our problems, but to issues in the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world that are, nonetheless, still relevant to us today. Thus, these men who believe in the ESS have simply read these texts about the temporary economic submission of the son in the light of the battle between feminism and traditional gender roles, and voila! You have the ESS. It will appear “Biblical” to them, because they were interpreting scripture when they got it-even though the battle between feminism and traditional gender roles was interfering with their ability to understand the text.

    Sadly, I have seen just this very mistake from many SBTS grads and even professors. Certainly not everyone there does it, and even those who do it don’t do it all the time. However, it produces some very strange ideas, and some very weird teachings. Consider Albert Mohler as an example. He promoted the courtship books of Joshua Harris-books that are an exegetical and hermeneutical mess. Why did he do it? For the same reason Harris wrote the books-the Christian dating scene was a mess, and people were looking for a solution. Mohler has also argued that there is a sin of delay of marriage. In fact, the has said that young people getting married in their late twenties and early thirties is a “moral revolution:”

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/06/08/briefing-06-08-16/

    He also had an interview with Focus on the Family’s “Boundless” in which he flat out said that he asks single men delaying marriage, “How will you be holy without marriage?:”

    [audio src="http://fotf.cdnetworks.net/boundless/mp3/boundless111.mp3" /]
    (Start litening at 24:15)

    He uses texts like Genesis 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 to prove his case. However, such is a total exegetical absurdity. Dr. Andreas Kostenberger, a professor at another Southern Baptist school, responded to Mohler’s view in his latest edition of “God, Marriage, and Family.” His views have been widely criticized since then.

    However, if it is such a mess exegetically, where did it come from? Well, we have a cultural problem of marriage happening much later-dangerously late in fact. It creates all kinds of problems for a society in terms of fertility and even in the ability to raise children. More than that, young people are not maturing, and they are getting involved in sexual sin at high numbers. If you read Genesis 2:18 and 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 as if they were addressed to that situation, you can see how Mohler gets what he gets. Also, you can see why Mohler gets the idea that marriage can sanctify by reading Ephesians 5:25ff as saying that spouses can do what Christ did and sanctify their wives. I agree with Mohler that these things are problems. However, the solution he gives is a product of not letting the text of scripture speak for itself in isolation from these problems.

    Mohler also believes there is a sin of deliberate childlessness, and he uses many of the same arguments of the Quiverfull movement as well as their horrendus eisegesis of “Be fruitful and multiply” of Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 127:3ff. He has called deliberate childlessness “moral rebellion with a new face:”

    http://www.albertmohler.com/2003/10/13/deliberate-childlessness-moral-rebellion-with-a-new-face-4/

    I talked to one SBTS grad who held these views, and he even said that a couple that meets at a homeless shelter where both of them volunteer after work making dinner and sharing the gospel until 9:00PM who decides to forgo having children so they can pour their extra time and money into the homeless shelter is still in moral rebellion for not having children. If such anti-contraceptive views have a checkered exegetical history in the church, why do Mohler and others in the SBC hold them?

    Well, America is in the midst of a fertility crisis. We are barely making the replacement rate, and most of the people who are reproducing are immigrants. Countries that get below a certain fertility rate usually die eventually, and we are getting close. If you read the “Be fruitful and multiply” of Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 127:3 as addressing that issue, you can see why those interpretations are taken.

    It is the exact same with the ESS. Sadly, this is becoming a habit in evangelicalism. We want to be “radical” and “countercultural” to solve our problems from scripture, but often we end up making a mess of things because such an attitude neglects care and caution. After my Advanced Hebrew Grammar professor showed us how to take a really bad but radical attempt at harmonizing light coming before the stars in the sun in creation, he said to us, “Don’t get cute, because, if you get cute, you open yourself up to refutation.” The exegete simply cannot be “radical” or “countercultural.” He must be careful and sober-minded. He must test every interpretation against all the relevant information to see if it is correct. If, after doing all of this, his conclusion is radical and countercultural, he must stand by it. However, having that kind of attitude from the outset is a good way to get refuted, and, in this case, to make errors in something as critical as the doctrine of the Trinity.

  7. Benjamin Wong says:

    Dear All:

    1. I am of the opinion there is an ambiguity in the use of the term “eternal” in this debate.

    There are two distinctions that have to be kept in mind:

    (a) Eternal vs. Temporal;

    (b) Necessary vs. Contingent

    Taking their cross products, there are four possibilities:

    (a) Eternally necessary;

    (b) Eternally contingent;

    (c) Temporally necessary;

    (d) Temporally contingent.

    What belongs to the ontological Trinity are what are eternally necessary.

    What belongs to the economic Trinity are what are eternally contingent.

    Using the term “eternal” by itself does not discriminate between these two concepts.

    2. I agree with Rachael’s statement “All Arians were subordinationists, but not all subordinationists are Arian.”

    But I have reservation about Rachael’s “To teach, as they do, that there is an eternal subordination structure in the very nature of God is the very definition of subordinationism.”

    Eternal subordination can be of the “eternally necessary” variety which asserts the Father-Son subordination relation is a relation of the ontological Trinity.

    Eternal subordination can also be of the “eternally contingent” variety which asserts the Father-Son subordination relation is a relation of the economic Trinity.

    Rachael’s “an eternal subordination structure in the very nature of God is the very definition of subordinationism” is a good definition but does not address what puzzles Wayne Grudem.

    Rachael’s definition, although a good one, does not make clear there is room for an eternal subordination structure that is not “in the very nature of God”.

    There is room for subordination in the economic Trinity.

    But any subordination “in the nature of God” implies the subordination is in the ontological Trinity.

    It is the “eternally necessary” (“in the nature of God”) variety of subordination that is contrary to the Nicene Creed.

    So I have reservation about “While the Nicene Creed was specific in addressing the Arian version of subordinationism, all forms of subordinationism are denied as well.”

    Again, the assertion by itself is fine because Rachael define “subordinationism” as “in the very nature of God”.

    My reservation is that she does not make clear there is room for the “eternally contingent” variety of subordination.

    I do not believe the Nicene Creed denied that there can be an eternal subordination in the economic Trinity.

    I think Rachael’s two quotations of Wayne Grudem are insufficient to rule out Grudem might be of the “eternally contingent” variety and therefore the subordination is not “in the very nature of God”.

    Maybe Wayne Grudem has not think through the philosophical issues?

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin Wong

  8. Benjamin Wong says:

    Dear All:

    Some notes on the issue of Eternal Subordination:

    1. There are two groups of related concepts:

    (a) Eternal necessity, ontological Trinity, ontological subordination.

    (b) Eternal contingency, economic Trinity, economic subordination.

    2. Is the Father-Son-Holy Spirit relation a relation of the ontological Trinity?

    Our Nicene forefathers are entirely right in rejecting any ontological subordination in the Trinity.

    There is an inherent authority structure to the Father-Son-Holy Spirit relation as describes in the Bible.

    If this inherent authority structure is a structure of the ontological Trinity, then it implies the three Persons of the Trinity are not ontologically equal.

    The ontological equality of the three Person of the Trinity is a non-negotiable of orthodox Christian theology.

    So the Father-Son-Holy Spirit relation being a relation of the ontological Trinity is not orthodox Christian theology.

    3. Is there any other options in attributing the Father-Son-Holy Spirit to the Trinity?

    There is the option of attributing the Father-Son-Spirit to the economic Trinity.

    4. What is the difference between the two attributions?

    The attribution of the Father-Son-Holy Spirit relation to the ontological Trinity implies the relation is eternally necessary.

    The attribution of the Father-Son-Holy Spirit relation to the economic Trinity implies the relation is eternally contingent.

    5. What is different between eternal necessity and eternal contingency?

    Assuming that God exists in timeless eternity.

    What are eternally necessary are states of affairs that do not depend on the Will of God but are of His nature.

    What are eternally contingent are states of affairs that do depend of the Will of God and are of His freedom.

    Eternal necessity pertains to God’s nature and eternal contingency pertains to God’s freedom.

    For example:

    (a) The state of affairs that God is omniscience does not depend on the Will of God but is part of His nature — God could not have been God without being omniscience.

    (b) The state of affairs that God decrees the creation of the world depend on the Will of God and is part of His freedom — God could have been God without decreeing the creation of the world.

    Both states of affairs are eternal:

    (a)The eternity of God’s omniscience should be self-evident.

    (b) Reformed theology speaks of the Eternal Decree of God regarding His creating the world.

    6. If the Father-Son-Holy Spirit relation is a relation of the economic Trinity, then how can we distinguish the three Persons of the Trinity ontologically?

    In Christian theology, the Eternal Generation relation and the Eternal Procession relation are used to distinguish the three Persons of the Trinity ontologically:

    (a) Eternal Generation is a two terms relation:

    Eternal Generation (Person A, Person B)

    and is read as Person A eternally generates Person B.

    (b) Eternal Procession is a three terms relation:

    Eternal Procession (Person A, Person B, Person C)

    and is read as Person C eternally processes from Person A and Person B.

    Using these two relations, the three Persons of the Trinity can be uniquely identified ontologically without confusion:

    The First Person of the Trinity is the one who eternally generates another Person.

    The Second Person of the Trinity is the one who is eternally generated by another Person and who does not eternally generates another Person.

    The Third Person of the Trinity is the one:

    (a) who is eternally processes from two other Persons, and

    (b) who neither eternally generates nor is eternally generated by any other Persons.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin Wong

  9. Barbara Roberts says:

    Benjamin Wong, thank you for your attempt to carefully and unemotionally disentangle the intermixed concepts which are confounding the ESS debate. 🙂

    I very much appreciate it, especially this part: “Eternal necessity pertains to God’s nature and eternal contingency pertains to God’s freedom.”

    I agree with what you said. And I take my hat off to you; your comment stretched my brain but I appreciate being stretched! 🙂

    If I may, I would like to slightly recast your point 5. My recasting is only offering an improvement to make it more clear. My recasting is only a suggestion, a few lines on the white board that can be erased it they don’t work well enough…

    so, here is my attempt to recast the wording of Benjamin’s point five:

    5. Assuming that God exists in timeless eternity, what distinguishes characteristics of God that are eternally *necessary* from characteristics of God that are eternal *contingent*?

    Things which are eternally necessary are states of affairs that do not depend on the Will of God but are of His nature.

    Things which are eternally contingent are states of affairs that do depend of the Will of God and are of His freedom.

    Eternal necessity pertains to God’s nature; eternal contingency pertains to God’s freedom.

    For example:

    (a) The state of affairs that God is omniscient does not depend on the Will of God but is part of His nature — God could not have been God without being omniscient.

    (b) The state of affairs that God decrees the creation of the world depend on the Will of God and is part of His freedom — God could have been God without decreeing the creation of the world.

    Both states of affairs are eternal:

    (a)The eternity of God’s omniscience should be self-evident.

    (b) The eternal and freely chosen will of God to create the world is evident to us because we are creatures in the world, and because his decision to create the world is narrated and confirmed in his Word — the Bible.

  10. Bruce says:

    Rachel, I would like to humbly ask you to consider what Dr. Sam Waldron has written on the issue of subordination. As I would assume you know, Dr. Waldron, a confessional Reformed Baptist, has written “A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith”, in which he expresses the following in the chapter regarding God and the Trinity:

    “It is often thought that the doctrine of eternal generation involves Subordinationism. Three kinds of subordination must be distinguished. There is subordination in the modes of operation. This has reference to the subordination of the God-man to the Father in the economy of redemption. This may be called economic subordination. Secondly, there is subordination in the modes of subsistence. This has reference to an order and relationship of derivation among the persons (or hypostases) of the Trinity itself. The Son is begotten of the Father. The Spirit proceeds from both. This may be called hypostatic subordination. Thirdly, there is subordination in essence. This has reference to the idea that the deity of the Son and Spirit is a qualified form of the deity of the Father. This may be called essential subordination. It is this which has been historically and properly known as Subordinationism.

    The historic doctrine of the church and its creeds is that as to their essence the Son and Spirit are equal in power and glory to the Father, but as to their persons they are eternally generated and eternally proceed from the Father. Thus, as to their essence, they are self-existent, while as to their persons, they are eternally derived from the Father. As the historic doctrines of the church, these two doctrines are not rightly called Subordinationism. That term is properly reserved for the teaching that the Son and the Spirit are as to their essence less God than the Father and essentially less transcendent. Hypostatic subordination and economic subordination are not, therefore, Subordinationism.”

    And my point here is to wonder if your statement – “While the Nicene Creed was specific in addressing the Arian version of subordinationism, all forms of subordinationism are denied as well.”, is not strictly speaking precisely accurate, but rather a bit reductionistic? I am not offering this to criticize, but for greater precision of terms. What do you think?

      • Bruce says:

        I don’t think he is Rachel. I think he is simply distinguishing different kinds of subordination as the term has been historically used in reference to the Trinity. At any rate, I appreciate your response and your thoughtful labors for the cause of God and truth.

      • Rachel Miller says:

        Subordination and the heresy subordinationism aren’t the same thing. All forms of subordinationism, where the Son is subordinate to the Father by nature, are against the Nicene.

      • Bruce says:

        Agreed. Only ontological subordination, as Waldron states, is that which has been historically and properly known as Subordinationism. It wasn’t clear to me that you were using the term subordinationism in that specific sense, but I can see that a fair reading of what you expressed would indicate that. Thanks for the clarification.

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