Tuesday, June 21, 2016


I will comment on this article:

1. I think Grudem et al. should probably concede that the church fathers teach eternal generation, and that's what the Nicene creed means. I think they are going to lose that argument with patrologists. They should just accept the fact that the opposing side has the better of that particular argument. 

That's not a fatal concession. What ultimately matters is not whether our beliefs square with what the church fathers believed, but whether our beliefs square with reality. 

Fact is, various church fathers teach various things which confessional Presbyterians and confessional Baptists reject. The church fathers are not the arbiters of truth. 

2. It is, of course, the prerogative of any particular denomination to absolutize the Nicene creed and make strict subscription to the Nicene creed a precondition of ordination for church officers. 

However, the Nicene creed is theologically primitive. There's such a thing as the progress of doctrine. In the course of church history, theologians have refined our understanding of many doctrines. 

In addition, the Nicene creed was a consensus document. In that respect, it has the potential to be less theologically accurate than a creed could be, since consensus documents, by design, have a certain amount of ambiguity and elbow room. 

3. We also need to be honest about what subscription to the Nicene creed amounts to in practice. I daresay the average layman has no in-depth background knowledge of what the formulas mean. When he recites the Nicene creed, he simply relies on his knowledge of what the words mean in ordinary usage, as a naive English speaker (or whatever). What the words would mean if he was reading a newspaper.

Most laymen and–indeed–most church officers, haven't invested in expensive, erudite, technical monographs on patristic Christology and Triadology. 

4. Grudem says:

But just what is meant by "eternal generation"? In what they have written, I cannot discover what they mean. To substitute the words "paternity" and "filiation" provides some Latinized terminology but those terms simply mean "existing as a father" and "existing as a son," which tells us nothing more. Quite honestly, I find it impossible to say whether or not I agree with "eternal generation" until someone explains, in ordinary English, what he means by it (not just what it does not mean). (If "eternal generation" simply means "an eternal Father-Son relationship," then I am happy to affirm it.)

That's a valid challenge. 

5. Grudem says:

But what kind of eternal Father-Son relationship is this? That is the point of difference. Bruce Ware and Owen Strachan and I have understood it in terms of the eternal authority of the Father and the eternal submission of the Son within their relationship. That seems to us to best account for the very names "Father" and "Son" as they would certainly have been understood in the ancient world... 

"Father" and "son" are metaphors that evoke wide-ranging connotations. Some of those connotations are unsuitable to the transcendent attributes of the Godhead. So we have to narrow that down to the intended scope of the metaphor. 

For instance, Scripture repeatedly presents Jesus as God's heir. That trades on the human custom of royal succession, where an aging king either abdicates or dies in offer. His son, as crown prince and rightful heir, assumes the throne. 

In some cases you have a temporary coregency to smooth the transition of power. Ensuring that the designated heir gets the job. 

Clearly, though, that needs to be qualified in relation to the Godhead. The Father is not a superannuated monarch. The Father is not in his dotage. So there are distinct limits to that theological metaphor. 

5. Grudem says:

...and also to best account for multiple passages of Scripture that show a consistent pattern of the Father who elects us in the Son (Eph. 1:4-5), creates the world through the Son (John 1:2, 1 Cor. 8:6, Heb. 1:2), sends the Son into the world (John 3:16), and delegates judgment to the Son (Rev 2:27), while the Son comes into the world to do his Father's will, not his own (John 6:38), after his ascension sits at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32-35), receives from the Father the authority to pour forth the Holy Spirit in New Covenant fullness (Matt 28:18; Acts 2:33), makes intercession before the Father (Heb. 7:25), receives revelation from the Father to give to the church (Rev. 1:1), and will eternally be subject to the Father (1 Cor. 15:26-28). These activities between the Father and Son are one-directional and they are never reversed anywhere in Scripture. 

There's less to that than meets the eye:

i) That there's functional subordination within the economic Trinity is not in dispute. The question is whether that carries back into the immanent Trinity. Does the economic Trinity mirror the immanent Trinity in that regard? Since that inference is the very issue in dispute, Grudem's appeal begs the question. Does he have any evidence independent of passages about the economic Trinity?

ii) If there's going to be functional subordination within the economic Trinity, we'd expect the subordination to be consistent, would we not? If there's going to be economic subordination at all, would we expect the Son to be subordinate to the Father in some respects, but the Father subordinate to the Son in other respects? Wouldn't that be rather ad hoc? 

In other words, what is Grudem's assumed point of contrast? He seems to be supposing that if the Son wasn't eternally functionally subordinate to the Father, then they'd sometimes reverse roles. Subordination would alternate between the members of the Trinity. If so, I don't think there's any presumption that this would be the case. If anything, I think there's a presumption that if there's going to be economic subordination, that would follow an invariant pattern, rather than having members of the Trinity arbitrarily swap roles, for the sake of variety. 

iii) Grudem muddies the water by failing to distinguish between the status of the Son qua Son and the Son qua Incarnate. But the fact that Christ is subordinate to God doesn't imply that the Son is subordinate to the Father. 

iv) Moreover, as Gregory Beale points out, 1 Cor 15:28 concerns the role of Christ as the last Adam. Cf. A New Testament Biblical Theology (Baker 2011), 261-262; 914. So that's not about the status of the Son qua Son, but the Incarnate Son resuming and fulfilling the role of Adam. 

v) BTW, there's a definite sense in which God sometimes takes a subordinate role. For instance, when God makes a covenant, he assumes an obligation to keep his promise. He obligates himself to humans. Human parties to the covenant now have a claim on God. 

It would be very strange to insist that God can assume a subordinate role in relation to mere human beings, but the Father can never assume a subordinate role in relation to the Son. If God can assume a subordinate role in relation to humans, then a fortiori, the Father can assume a subordinate role in relation to the Son. The greater includes the lesser. 

vi) Keep in mind, too, that in Reformed theology, the Father is obliged to honor the work of the Son. 

vii) Does delegation imply subordination? Even when a superior delegates authority to a subordinate, the superior may then be bound by the actions which his subordinate took on his behalf and in his stead, in the lawful exercise of his delegated authority. Even though there's subordination in that relationship, the superior is relinquishing some authority in the process, and making himself subject to the actions of his agent. 

viii) Furthermore, a division of labor does not imply subordination. Equals can play different parts. 

In fact, equals (or even superiors) may find nothing demeaning about assuming a lesser role, because it doesn't threaten their essential equality. If the boss arrives at the office before the secretary, the boss may have to answer the phones. Although that's a functional job demotion, he is still the boss. 

Suppose you have a nobleman and his manservant. Say they are both young men on friendly terms. They go on a trip together. The manservant takes ill or is injured. The nobleman cares for him until his manservant is able to resume his servile duties. The nobleman was playing the role of the servant in relation to the servant! But unless he's a snob, he doesn't feel that's beneath him. He does what's necessary. Nursing his servant back to health doesn't threaten the nobleman's aristocratic rank. 

Likewise, parents have authority over their young kids, yet parents routinely have to perform very down-to-earth tasks for young kids. Children make incessant demands on parents. Child-rearing is often undignified. 

Consider Jn 13 and Lk 12:37, where a superior assumes the subordinate role. 


  1. I believe many would be in line with Gregory Nazianzus who believed the second person, not the one essence, is generated or communicated. Grudem would be fine with that interpretation. From the Gregory premise Calvin's autotheos would not be a departure but an amplification / clarification of the Creed. But many believe the creed intends the deity is communicated to the Son. Yes, some generation is conveyed. That's hard to dispute.

  2. Have not had time to read the whole Ref21 article, but some of it; and the quote from J. I. Packer was excellent, and, along with the many other quotes that I scanned, for the time being, settled the issue for me (there is something to be said for understanding "the Father" as Father, and "the Son" as Son, in eternity past, but also affirming the full Deity and equality in essence of the Son and the Holy Spirit); but the pages I have for it are on page 62, not 54-55. Maybe Grudem was working from a different printing/edition.

    Did the Greek Fathers understand mongenes as "only unique one" or "one of a kind" rather than "only-begotten" or "only - generated" ?

    1. To my knowledge, the Greek Fathers take monogenes to mean only-begotten.

      Mind you, even if we think that's what the word means, it's still a theological metaphor. So the question would remain, what's the intended scope of the metaphor?

  3. "I think Grudem et al. should probably concede..."

    Do you mean Trueman's camp rather than Grudem's? I would think Grudem would agree with the patristic position.

    1. I believe the Nicene/post-Nicene Fathers taught the eternal generation of the Son and eternal procession of the Spirit. I believe Grudem rejects that.