Friday, September 09, 2005

Nicene subordinationism

***QUOTE***

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

http://p090.ezboard.com/fgregsdiscussionboardgodtalk.showMessage?topicID=4122.topic

***END-QUOTE***

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.

11 comments:

  1. Hays wrote:

    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... A Catholic is not a liberty to question dogmatic formulations or reopen an old debate."

    This is the heart of the issue. Prejean can't accept any departure from Nicea because his church has told him he can't accept any departure from Nicea. It's a consistent stance to take, but purely formal. He doesn't have to actually make a positive case for Nicea against the alternatives, which is why he can rest content to *cite the names* of Calvin, Warfield, Murray, Frame, and Helm, but neglect to actually interact with their arguments.

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  2. Sad. In the end, after all the railing you do against liberalism, you're just another liberal. Shoulda known earlier, what with you reading all those books without understanding them. The pretense of intellectual superiority is straight out of their playbook. That would explain why you don't want to talk about your educational credentials. The minute somebody figures out you're faking it, the whole charade comes tumbling down.

    That, or like most liberals, you actually believe your own propaganda. Either way, anyone who wants to worship three gods under the stolen name of Christianity with you is welcome to it. Maybe you and c.t. can form a support group for "Christian" wackos!

    Oh well, off to dismantling your equally naive view of philosophical hermeneutics. That's been quite an interesting study, BTW. I had no idea how Evangelicalism got to be as bad as it is until I started studying that subject in detail.

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  4. Really, Jonathan, you have now completed your metamorphosis into the consummate demagogue.

    On the one hand you hype the value of academic credentials although you yourself, unless I’m greatly mistaken, have no advanced degrees in philosophy or theology or patrology or church history.

    On the other hand, you dismiss out of hand any men who do have the credentials (e.g., Frame, Helm, Murray, Svendsen, Warfield) if they happen to disagree with you. So that’s a transparent charade on your part.

    In the meantime you substitute invective for argument.

    If a liberal is someone who takes divine revelation as his rule of faith, then I’m a liberal.

    For that matter, even the Athanasian creed attributes a rational soul to the human nature of Christ. Are you saying that a rational soul is impersonal?

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  5. Wow. Nice arguments there, Jonathan. I was on the fence, but that last bit of invective pushed me over to your side.

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  6. "Really, Jonathan, you have now completed your metamorphosis into the consummate demagogue."

    Indeed, and it is quite deliberate. Once I realized that you were simply name-dropping yourself, the only right response is to point it out.

    "On the one hand you hype the value of academic credentials although you yourself, unless I’m greatly mistaken, have no advanced degrees in philosophy or theology or patrology or church history."

    On the contrary, I would actually like the matter to be about arguments instead of qualifications. Having noticed your habit of name-dropping in lieu of presenting arguments from sources and interacting with counter-arguments, the point that both Perry and I are raising is that you must surely have some brand of authority to do so, particularly when there is a perplexing disparity between what you claim and what the sources you cite in your favor claim. I've noticed that you avoided the issue again. I'm not ashamed of my lack of credentials; I don't know why you are.

    "On the other hand, you dismiss out of hand any men who do have the credentials (e.g., Frame, Helm, Murray, Warfield) if they happen to disagree with you. So that’s a transparent charade on your part."

    I don't dismiss them "out of hand." I dismiss them because I find their arguments unconvincing, as do a number of other people. What would be interesting is why you personally find them convincing. Dropping the names doesn't trigger my obligation to answer them, especially when other people have.

    "In the meantime you substitute invective for argument."

    I'm not sure how to answer invective with an argument. For example, the following is literally meaningless as far as I can tell:
    "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."

    Yeah, that's a great argument.

    "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."

    "Second-grade divinity?" "Third-grade divinity?" Is that supposed to mean something? "Continuity rather than identity of essence?" Sounds like an awful lot like someone who doesn't grasp the patristic doctrine of the immutability of God (which Helm obviously doesn't, nor has he ever significantly interacted with it). Let Helm respond meaningfully to Nicaea first. Stump has corrected him well enough on Thomistic eternity; that should have been his first clue he has missed the boat.

    The fact is that Perry's arguments, which are by and large the standard patristic arguments, have been entirely untouched by the Helms and Warfields of the world. Claiming victory without even comprehending the objection (as your recent forays into hesychasm demonstrate) hardly impresses anyone who knows anything. You're a fraud; the lack of credentials is only incidental to the point.

    "If a liberal is someone who takes divine revelation as his rule of faith, then I’m a liberal."

    A meaningless and contentless slogan, which only proves that you are a liberal at heart. I take divine revelation as my rule of faith as well.

    "For that matter, even the Athanasian creed attributes a rational soul to the human nature of Christ. Are you saying that a rational soul is impersonal?"

    You really don't know the difference between nature and person, do you? No, I'm saying that the divine person of the Word has a rational human soul. You're apparently saying that a rational soul must be associated with a human person, which is exactly Nestorianism.

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  8. I just wanted to throw a log on the fire before I went home. Here's JPII's "totus tuum":

    "Totally yours,
    Immaculate Conception, Mary my Mother,
    Live in me, Act in me,
    Speak in me and through me,
    Think your thoughts in my mind,
    Love through my heart,
    Give me your dispositions and feelings,
    Teach, lead me and guide me to Jesus,
    Correct, enlighten and expand my thoughts and behavior,
    Possess my soul,
    Take over my entire personality and life, replace it with Yourself,
    Incline me to constant adoration,
    Pray in me and through me,
    Let me live in you and keep me in this union always."

    I wonder: how does one attribute to Mary the work of the Holy Spirit and not actually denigrate the Holy Spirit or him Pneumatology in some way?

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  9. Tarring people with my initials has to be some kind of classic fallacy with its own Latin name.

    Prejean, missing from the molecular structure of your brain is the fact of the authority of Scripture. (That sounds too biological determinist. Let me restate: missing from your soul is the presence of the Spirit of Truth.)

    Calvin stood on Scripture. Warfield stood on Scripture. These Protestants you're debating, though they don't reference the fact enough (or it's not as primary in their thinking as it was in a Calvin or Warfield, thus it's more derived and hence less stressed and obvious) stand on the authority of Scripture.

    And, not a small fact, it is Scripture that is where the Spirit of Truth resides. Regeneration is effected, when it is, by the Word and the Spirit.

    Discernment comes down to the Word of God, foundationally. This is your critical weakness, Prejean, and the critical weakness of your church.

    [No, I don't plan on commenting on this blog, so if this isn't deleted immediately it won't be taken as an invitation to comment on this wonderful blog...]

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  11. For an Evangelical, by contrast, a heresy is whatever the Bible implies is heretical ...

    The obvious difficulty here is the question: implies to whom? To take just one issue: In the Lordship controversy, according to Zane Hodges' reading of the Bible in Absolutely Free, McArthur's "Lordship salvation" view is downright heretical. On the other hand, according to John McArthur's reading of the Bible in The Gospel According to Jesus (backed by Packer and Boice), Hodges' view is positively and heretically antinomian.

    Relavant to this discussion are Steve Hays' critique of Philip Blosser's critique of sola scriptura, "By Scripture Alone," and Blosser's rebuttal, "Sola Scriptura revisited: a reply to Steve Hays (in 95 antitheses)."

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