Evangelical Doctors & The Trinity

Successful Christian author Denny Burk went to the ETS and is glad to report that the whole Trinity thing has successfully been put to rest. Yes, it is beyond question over and done. Established and respected evangelical professors of theology Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware, harshly and unexpectedly accused of embracing views of the Trinity not compatible with the Nicene formulation, declared themselves both believers, now, in the eternal generation of the Son. As we can see, the ETS got to the bottom of it, and in that way the ETS is not unlike the Gospel Coalition, another very good outfit.

This historic formulation of an essential component of Trinitarian orthodoxy for over sixteen centuries was at last explained in such a way to these eminent evangelical theologians that they were able to sense that exegesis supported it rather than simply quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus credituni est. So that red line was crossed by them, much to the joy of Denny Burk who got a perfect angle on the story from it. Apparently there is an academic paper delivered in utter obscurity some while back which offered incontrovertible evidence even these eminent evangelical theologians could understand (and also proved that on the whole evangelical scholarship is accomplishing something). It was found to be exactly the lamp to bring light to this bewildering situation, oddly enough, and as a result the whole thing is completely behind us. Who knows, the paper may even be published, it is that good.

So the controversy is behind us. Behind everybody, that is, who is polite. [Persons are probably urged to go ahead and not obtain more information from places without tone.] One can understand why Denny Burk feels it is a moment for great rejoicing. The embarrassing interlude so rudely and rashly begun by the loose cannons of Philadelphia, creedalist prelates with—as everybody has so rightly protested—a most dubious tone has been debated to the bottom in high places. Eternal generation was mentioned, affirmed, the Trinity stands, of course, its basic, duh, nobody denies it and never has, that’s what other people do, we do exegesis, scholarly academic papers, Biblical hermeneutics, inerrancy, complementarianism, Gospel, evangelism, conferences and programs you can trust, and books, because we are, after all, the good guys here. The knock-down drag-out final outcome of it all is that internet bystanders ought to move on: there is no heresy to see, folks, and there never was and never of course shall be world without end. The blog of intellectual fundamentalism even linked to Denny Burk, that’s how solid this achievement is.

In fact, those designated to prosecute the accused in the proper academic forum exhibited contradictory opinions (Oh ho!), and one old stalwart, Millard Erickson, never accused of anything apparently, has never even himself come so far in affirming eternal generation as have the distinguished, patient, and tractable Grudem and Ware. So they’re even better than when it all started. Well, at least as far as the intelligible and perspicacious Dr. Ware is concerned. As far as Wayne Grudem goes, and I urge this with the utmost respect and all desired tone, should not Denny Burk perhaps wait a few months before perpetrating narratives of absolution?

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7 thoughts on “Evangelical Doctors & The Trinity

  1. It is a curious link. How much of my take are you interested in? I ask because I’m not sure the point of my post was obvious: I think these guys are clowns. Nor do I really think anything Wallace says has anything to do with the issue. I don’t think interpreting the Bible is something these men can be relied on to do accurately. On the whole, when it comes to handling Scripture, they are not worth consulting. They are at best suited to convey some of the parts of interpretation, but are not suited to teach all that it involves. They simply lack the education for it, and that has been demonstrated by the summer debate. Specifically, they are completely unaware of the fact that theological words need a theological culture to have a stable meaning. They are as Nicene as Eusebius of Caesarea, and that is the problem. They are certainly not qualified to arbitrate the meaning of words, as Grudem and Ware have given ample testimony, even the disgraceful Mohler. In Wallace’s case, I can detect no humane learning.

    There is a considerable malady when these people obtain eminence and especially when the people in charge go to such lengths to protect them. Ware has not even exhibited an ability to understand the accusations made against him, and I believe most of those defending genuinely don’t understand either. Nothing wrong with being unable to grasp complex theology; everything wrong with still making a living as a theologian.

    As for Wallace, all he can do is register probabilities and count beans. There is a little more involved in doctrinal formulation than the statistics of the probability of the usage of a rare word and some fancy terms from Carson’s fallacies. You could say that what Wallace is doing represents the whole problem. For heaven’s sake, people who were native speakers of Greek have thoroughly debated eternal generation already! They left no statistics because they did not need them.

    You cannot redefine the meaning of careful ancient doctrinal formulations without changing the doctrine: it is that simple. There is a reason the reputable Church historians are all lined up on one side. What is most interesting to me in all this is that you can’t change the underlying metaphysical assumptions of careful ancient doctrine because the meaning very much depends on that. That for me has been the eye-opener in this debate.

    1. I think I got the “these guys are clowns” point of view, it seemed that Wallace was saying, “these guys might be clowns. possibly. but I mean it in the nicest way”, so I wondered what you thought of his points.

      In reading your comment, I now wonder what you mean by “You cannot redefine the meaning of careful ancient doctrinal formulations without changing the doctrine” – are you saying that these clowns are redefining eternal generation? Or?

  2. I see what you meant. But I think Wallace is in the same boat. It really isn’t a matter of exegesis, important as that is. And part of the problem is that they think that all good doctrine comes from clearing your mind of preconceptions (the past, for better or worse), doing exegesis with your computers, and giving priority to your pristine conclusions, for you alone, or in consultation with your evangelical contemporaries, will get to the truth. Then whatever the old documents say can be adjusted to fit the data you are getting straight from Scripture, unbiased.

    Anyway, it isn’t eternal generation that they’re redefining, it is the doctrine of the Trinity. Though at the ETS Grudem actually said that he used to mean something different by it and now he means something else. This guy should not be trusted with theological words! They claimed in the past to believe in the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity without affirming the eternal generation of the Son. The accusation against them was that this was a sign that their notion of the Trinity was not what, for example, those who formulated the doctrine held. At that point, though the language of eternal generation was being rejected, the rest of the language was not. Essence, equality, person, etc. But eternal generation was just one disturbing aspect of what they were doing, and it was disturbing for several reasons.

    The greater issue was that they claimed, and still do, an eternal functional subordination. They claim that an eternal subordination is not ontological if it is functional, and most people have been taking it as an economic subordination. But it isn’t an economic subordination if it is eternal. They want to insist that it is perpetual, unbeginning and unending, and to do so they have to go to what in theological terminology is called ad intra. They have to say about the Trinity what the language of the Trinity is set up to avoid. And so they undermine the stability of the words employed. I have even read that they say that this is essential but it is not of the essence. There is the problem: using words in ways that are foolish, in this case, just contradictory nonsense. But there is more: they play with the precise and careful language of the doctrine of the Trinity, meaning by person (in the case of the Son and the Father) what nobody has meant by person. There can be no subordination of the persons apart from the mission, they have always been understood to be on complete equality, and the point of affirming eternal generation was to affirm that the Son is all that the Father is, and only distinguished in our perception because he is generated, while the other generates, not because he is therefore subordinate. Eternal generation is an affirmation of shared essence, and therefore complete equality. There is no equality that further allows the person of one to always be subordinate to the other: in other words, to speak of eternal functional subordination is nonsense, and it flies in the face of what Nicea achieved.

    The trouble with Nicea is that it was a complex event that took place over almost a century, and it is usually explained simply as a rejection of Arius, not as the definition of Arianism in order to reject it and the simultaneous creation of a culture in which the words (homoousious was an ambiguous word at the beginning of the fourth century, and so was hypostasis) being used could not be taken in different ways by different people. In fundamentalist terms, Don, Ware and Grudem were doing what the old fashioned liberals were doing with words: saying I believe that Jesus rose from the dead to mean this is a beautiful inspiring idea that never actually happened. They were saying I believe in the Trinity just not quite as the doctrine has been formulated because unlike the rest of the church through the ages, we have a better way to interpret Scripture and a pressing need to fight egalitarianism.

    That is what is I think is going on. And now the leadership (Mohler, Patterson) is saying these guys are good Trinitarians. Notice, in the first place, nobody is hasty to embrace EFS. They just endorse these guys to teach others and won’t denounce them. The ones denounced are the ones sounding the alarm. In the second place, these guys have demonstrated they don’t understand what they’re being accused of. Why? Probably because they just don’t get it. I’ve talked to people who have talked to Grudem: he has no idea what this is about. He is a NT scholar who has not even read the primary sources. A man who has no idea what he is doing wrong is being allowed to formulate or at least to propagate this Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son?

    And that’s the accusation: the Presbyterian ministers, who have taken vows which require them before God to uphold the Trinitarian doctrine of the Church as formulated in Nicea their confession, are concerned that teaching this (books with it being read by members, conferences, etc., to which they are particularly vulnerable because they are complementarians) is going to erode the doctrine and eventually produce those who forsake it.

    Thanks for asking, by the way, as you can see, its something I find interesting. If you get curious and want to read a good history book on Nicea, and were to take a recommendation from me, Nicea and its Legacy by Lewis Ayres is what is informing a lot of the historical side of the debate. It is a really interesting book.

    1. Thanks, I think I’ve got it now. I’ll have to think on this more myself. I’ve read a lot of complementarian literature and find the position to be correct overall, but I wonder about the Trinitarian aspects. Hadn’t thought much about these details.

      As for Grudem, I have found him underwhelming, to say the least. His book, The Gift of Prophecy, betrays woeful interpretive ability as he argues very ineffectively for an untenable position. Makes me suspect the laudits given for his other work.

      I’ll have to put Ayres on my wishlist. I see they want an arm and a leg even for the Kindle edition!

  3. You make a great point regarding liberals; this crowd likes to parade its conservatism and can be quite smug in calling opponents, such as marriage role egalitarians, radical liberals seeking to undermine the primacy of the Gospel, but at the end of the day, they’re liberals themselves, willing to overlook any ancient understanding, to discard any inconvenient scripture, to redefine any word that doesn’t fit their agenda. What does it matter if someone distorts the truth because the axe they grind is women’s rights or men’s authority? Why should it matter? At heart, it seems Grudem, Mohler and the gang are just plain old radicals. Not all liberals sport rainbows outside the church, some pound ESVs.

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