Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Is Wayne Grudem a heretic?

Keep in mind that I oppose the eternal functional subordination of the Son. That said, 

1. I see critics of EFS raising two contradictory allegations:

i) EFS is an theological innovation

ii) The Nicene creed condemns EFS 

But both allegations can't very well be true. You can't simultaneously contend that EFS was developed by a subset of complementarians in the late 20C, but stands condemned by the Nicene Fathers in the 4C. These two allegations cancel each other out. I'll revisit this contradiction further down. 

2. Debate over EFS has been conflated with debate over eternal generation of the Son. 

i) That's in part because some people who support EFS oppose eternal generation. However, some people who support EFS also support eternal generation. So even if you consider rejection of eternal generation to be heretical, that would only apply to the subset of EFS proponents who reject it.

ii) One issue concerns the definition of heresy. To my knowledge, a traditional condition of heresy is denial of a formally promulgated article of faith. The denial isn't heretical unless and until a duly constituted ecclesiastical authority defines the doctrine in question. 

Content along is not a sufficient condition. Rather, there must be a prior exercise of the Church. That's what makes the denial heretical. 

But unless you think the judgment of the church is constitutive of heresy, rather than the content of the denial itself, then you're not operating with a traditional definition of heresy, as I understand it. 

Keep in mind that this requires an ecclesiology that strikes me as inconsistent with the Protestant faith. From a Protestant perspective, declaring something to be heretical is not what makes it so; rather, we declare it to be heretical because the content is heretical. Truth is prior to the declaration. The declaration isn't a constitutive act. 

3. Assuming for the sake of argument that we use the Nicene creed as an arbiter of orthodoxy, is it heretical to deny eternal generation? Let's begin by quoting the relevant article of the creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of
God, begotten of the Father before all ages;
Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten,
not created, of one essence with the Father
through Whom all things were made.

I quoted two English versions, which say pretty much the same thing. 

Is it heretical to deny what the Nicene creed affirms on this point? Not necessary. You have to ask, what is the implied point of contrast? 

To my knowledge, the article opposes Arianism. It opposes the view that the Son was a creature who came into being. 

By contrast, men like Grudem affirm the full divinity and eternal preexistence of the Son. They don't formulate it in the same terms as the Nicene Fathers, but they oppose the same Arian Christology that the Nicene Fathers oppose. 

4. If anything, isn't a Christology that says the Son derives his existence from the Father closer to Arianism than a Christology that affirms the aseity of the Son? 

5. We might also ask whether rejecting eternal generation is a theological innovation. From what I've read, this goes back at least as far as Moses Stuart's 1822 Letters on the Eternal Generation of the Son of God. Is a position that's been kicking around for two centuries a theological innovation? Innovative in relation to what? What's the cuff-off? 

Keep in mind that Stuart was defending the Trinity against Unitarians. 

6. However, the primary target for the charge of heresy is EFS. But even if we grant that the Nicene creed is an arbiter of orthodoxy (which is certainly disputable), the Nicene creed doesn't speak to the issue of EFS one way or the other. It looks like critics of EFS are hijacking the Nicene creed to make it condemn something that the Nicene Fathers never contemplated. 

Indeed, when critics of EFS attack it as a theological innovation, isn't that a direct admission that the Nicene Fathers did not and could not intend to condemn EFS? It wasn't even possible for them to have that in mind. So citing the Nicene creed to anathematize EFS is a bait-n-switch tactic. Even if denial of eternal generation is heretical (disputable in itself), you can't swap out eternal generation, swap in EFS, then say that's what the Nicene creed refers to. 

7. Perhaps critics would say that while the Nicene Fathers didn't intend to anathematize EFS, that's a logical implication of their Triadology. But there are several problems with that argument:

i) When someone makes a statement that has unintended implications, we normally consider that to be an ill-considered or short-sighted statement. He didn't anticipate the ramifications of his statement.

So we wouldn't ordinarily hold someone to the unintended implications of his statement. Rather, we'd say he misspoke. He spoke hastily, without due consideration for what that statement would lead to, if carried to its logical conclusion. 

ii) This isn't based on what the Nicene Fathers meant, but inferences which 21C critics are drawing in reference to an admitted theological innovation. It isn't the Nicene Fathers who are drawing this inference. 

But, then, isn't there something fishy about invoking the authority of dead bishops to retroactively condemn something that never occurred to them? They didn't have that in mind. They couldn't have that in mind. 

8. The allegation is that EFS posits two distinct wills in the Godhead, and that entails heretical subordinationism. 

i) To begin with, it's hard to see how that's a legitimate inference from anything the Nicene creed says. Indeed, Mark Jones resorts to Thomistic metaphysics (e.g. divine simplicity, God as pure act) to make his case. But it's grossly anachronistic to accuse Grudem et al. of denying the Nicene creed because their position may be at odds with Thomism. 4C Greek Fathers and Greek bishops weren't Thomists. Even if you think Thomism is the greatest thing since lava lamps, the metaphysical underpinnings of the Nicene creed aren't based on that paradigm. 

ii) Take the covenant of redemption. The Father wills to send the Son and the Son wills to be sent. Surely these are distinct volitions. One party wills to send while another party is willingly sent. That's not reducible to a single will, even though these are harmonious volitions. To send and to be sent are not equivalent actions. These involve distinct agents. The Son didn't will to send himself. 

9. Trueman talks about a breach over the very identity of God, as if that's a shocking developing. But there are long-standing disputes over the "very identity of God" in historical theology, viz. Reformed theism v. freewill theism, Latin Trinitarianism v. Eastern Trinitarianism, classical theism v. theistic personalism, apophaticism v. kataphaticism, Thomism v. Scotism. 

10. Finally, I'm puzzled by why the gatekeepers of Reformed orthodoxy have so much to say about EFS, but so little to say about libertarian Calvinism. To my knowledge, Scott Clark hasn't issued a critique of Oliver Crisp's defense of libertarian Calvinism in his 2014 monograph: Deviant Calvinism. And even though Mark Jones faulted certain aspects of the book, it's striking that he had nothing critical to say about libertarian Calvinism. Here we have a block of plastique planted at the base of Calvinism, yet the gatekeepers of Reformed orthodoxy are silent on that issue, while they obsess over EFS.  

Likewise, Trueman's campaign is driven by his vendetta against TGC, parachurch organizations, &c. 


  1. Fantastic, Steve. Amens up and down.

    One point only. For Clark to critique LC he must first grasp it and then disagree with it.

    Well, maybe two points...I'm pretty confident that a skilled Molinist, though he couldn't affirm Westminster, could pass muster with the candidates and credentials committees from most Reformed presbyteries. I'm even sure that those who affirm metaphysical pure-contingency of choice are teaching at Reformed seminaries.

    Keep up the stellar work!

  2. I know almost none of the Inside Baseball aspects of this dispute, which you allude to in the last sentence; it seems to have come up out of nowhere. I'm saying that to explain that I'm asking this in real ignorance:

    Insofar as we can assess motivations externally, is this dispute primarily born out of a desire to defend Trinitarian doctrines or primarily to weaken Complementarianism?

    1. Here's some background info: