I tend to think that what is not Nicene Christianity is simply not Christianity from a dogmatic standpoint at all. Doctrinally, I have no more in common with such a view than I do with Islam or Judaism. It seems to me that this is the line in the sand between the types of Christians. Those willing to accept the "Old Princeton" school of theology simply aren't Christians in a historical sense and cannot be. They've declared war against orthodoxy for anyone who believes in the binding nature of councils.
I think the move made by Reformed Catholics would be to argue that Calvin was simply inconsistent on this point, that he himself was being speculative with his notion of "autotheos" and that since the Westminster Confession was silent on the point (or outright contradicted it with the "eternally begotten" language), it would be foolish to elevate Calvin's speculation against the historical authority of the Church. But in that case, ISTM that it is hopeless to expect any sort of reconciliation between the two sides; they must almost certainly divide as they don't even believe in the same God (if Warfield's notion of "God" can even be properly be called by that name).
My question is whether we ought not, despite the credibility of its claim to continuity with Calvin, properly label this brand of theology something alien to historical Christianity, as we would with Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses or Christadelphians. I say this because there is little doubt in my mind that the "Trinity" they worship is only nominally equivalent to that worshipped by the Catholic Church. The validity of their baptisms may be preserved by their intent to "do what the Church does" in the Catholic sense, but in terms of doctrine, there seems to be almost no point at which any meaningful agreement can be had.
I find this question seriously troublesome in light of some Reformed apologists (e.g., Steve Hays) openly repudiating the Nicene dogma, citing Calvin, Warfield, John Murray, John Frame, and Paul Helm. If the Trinity really is up for grabs in conservative Evangelical scholarship, then isn't it really just another religion entirely?
Edited by: JPrejean at: 9/8/05 5:40 pm
As I’ve said before, Catholics and Evangelicals define heresy differently. For a Catholic, a heresy is whatever the church says is heretical. The case is closed. A Catholic is precommitted to dub as heretical whatever his church has so dubbed. So the definition is essentially technical and mechanical, extrapolating from a past “heresy” to a modern counterpart.
For an Evangelical, by contrast, a heresy is whatever the Bible implies is heretical—not according to the formal pronouncement of the word, but operative concepts, from which we can extrapolate to past and present counterparts. This involves an element of discretion as we ascertain the sense of Scripture and extend it to analogous cases.
In formulating the Trinity, two opposing errors are to be avoided: tritheism and unitarianism. Nicene subordinationism is a harmonistic device to avoid tritheism by making the Father the primary God. Standing behind the phrases God “of” God, light “of” light, and true God “of” true God is the imagery of the Father as the fons deitatis or fons trinitatis. And this is a form of modalism. It preserves monotheism by treating the Son as a secondary or second-grade divinity, and the Spirit as a tertiary or third-grade divinity. What you have is a continuity rather than identity of essence. Categories of generation and procession serve the same function.
Nicene subordinationism represents a compromise position, swapping one heresy for another. A Catholic is not a liberty to question dogmatic formulations or reopen an old debate.
Let us be clear on just what I and other such are guilty of. We resist a modalistic formula. We resist a reductionistic doctrine of the Trinity. We refuse to say that the Son and the Spirit constitute a lower grade of divinity than the Father. We affirm a higher Christology and a higher pneumatology than the Catholics and the Orthodox.