I’ll be starting a weekly online Bible study next Tuesday evening. If you’re interested in joining with me, send me a message on Twitter, Facebook, or through the comment link on my “About” page for the link and info.
I’ve had the privilege the last few months to write for a couple of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelical websites. I’ve been meaning to make note of them here and link to the articles I’ve written. I’ll try to do so more quickly with the next ones, but to catch up, here are the ones I’ve written so far.
Place for Truth has a series called Theology on the Go which interviews authors on various topics. A few articles are also written on the topic of the interview as a way of continuing the discussion. So far, I’ve had the pleasure of writing five such articles. I look forward to having the opportunity to write more at Place for Truth this coming year.
I’ve also had the honor of writing a couple of articles for Reformation 21. One was on the Nashville Statement and my concern that it is going to be used as a litmus test by conservative churches and organizations, which appears already to be happening. The other article is a book review of Christina Fox’s most recent book, Closer than a Sister. I hope you’ll take the time to check out these articles and the Alliance websites if you aren’t familiar with them.
B.B. Warfield, Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary at the turn of the 20th century, is well-known for his work defending the divine inspiration of Scripture. During his time at Princeton Seminary, a debate was raging over the authority of the Bible. Were the words of Scripture actually God’s words, or were they merely the words of men with a “divine element” mixed in?
Unfortunately, this stress on the importance of the cosmos is part and parcel of Wright’s theology. Wright truly does believe that the cosmos are more important in the grand scheme of things. He believes that we have become far too focused on saving people and lost sight of our role in redeeming the cosmos.
Not only has the church misunderstood the purpose and overarching theme of redemption, according to Wright, the church has misunderstood the gospel. When Scripture says that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, Wright believes that the point is not so much about individuals being saved from their moral failures, but rather, that Jesus had to come to put God’s rescue plan for creation back on track.
Some, especially those in non-confessional denominations, believe that having confessional standards for ordination that elders are required to know, affirm, and uphold is unnecessarily strict. Some have called the standards a “straitjacket.” On the contrary, the structure and protection the standards provide should be a great comfort both for elders and for members of the congregation. Each knows what to expect.
“The greatest of all Protestant heresies is assurance.” Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621)
Can we know that we’re saved? That question was at the heart of the Reformation. Rome taught that professing believers could never be certain of their salvation. For this reason, believers needed to be careful to perform all the duties and sacraments required to merit final justification. But even the most dedicated believers could not know for sure if they would be saved.
The question should not be “If God is sovereign, why should we pray?” but rather, “If God is not sovereign, why should we pray?” It is only because He is sovereign that it makes any sense to pray to Him. What use would a god be that was powerless to help us or who might not hear us when we pray?
As Christians and as the church, we must stand strong for what the Bible teaches, in all aspects of life. But we should be careful not to bind the conscience of other believers. The Nashville Statement, for however good it might be, is not the Bible. It is also not part of the confessional standards of my denomination. As such, even if it were a perfectly accurate representation of what the Bible teaches, I would not be required to sign it. Given the many valid concerns that faithful, honest believers have regarding the Nashville Statement, we should be very cautious about making support of it a test of orthodoxy.
Of course, it takes time and effort to build the kinds of relationships where we can trust each other with our struggles and fears and needs. It’s not always easy, as Christina points out. Not everyone is trustworthy. Sometimes friends hurt us, even our brothers and sisters in the church. When that happens, as it does for most of us at some point, it can be hard to open up and allow others into our lives again. But when we withdraw and isolate ourselves so that we can’t get hurt again, we become increasingly lonely, and we miss out on the opportunities God has given us to serve others and to be ministered to.
Last week as the city of Houston, and most of Southeast Texas, was dealing with Hurricane Harvey and massive flooding, my sweet grandmother went home to be with the Lord. In addition to the stress and worry over flooding and the safety of our family and friends, we have been grieving the loss.
God has been very gracious to us through it all. My immediate family is dry and safe. The flood waters around my aunt’s house, where my grandmother was living, receded and did not cause the difficult situation to be worse than it already was. The flooded streets have prevented us so far from gathering together to tell stories and laugh and cry. Hopefully next week we’ll be able to do so.
For today, I want to share with you a little about my grandmother and the testimony of her faith. My grandmother, Anita, was a strong believer and a great encouragement to all who knew her. Her smile and her laugh were genuine and infectious.
My grandparents, Tom and Anita, married young, by today’s standards, and shared an enduring love for each other. My grandfather died nearly 20 years ago, but my grandmother never stopped loving him and missing him. Their example of love throughout their marriage is an inspiration to me.
Life wasn’t always easy for my grandparents. They married at the end of WWII. Like many men of his time, my grandfather served in the Navy through the war. My grandparents kept letters they wrote to each other through those times.
After they married, my grandfather went on to become a Baptist pastor. My grandparents were missionaries in South America for many years. After my uncle died in a construction accident here in the States, my grandparents returned to Texas and did not go back on the mission field.
My grandfather continued to work in ministry until his retirement, and my grandmother worked in education until her retirement. Through it all, they raised my dad, my uncles, and my aunt. Once they retired, they loved to travel, often taking some of the grandkids along. I have great memories of Glorieta, Carlsbad Caverns, and 4th of July weeks at the beach.
My grandparents left an enduring legacy of faith in our family: children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who love the Lord and serve Him in many ways. It’s my grandmother’s faith, as well as her love and her laughter, that I will remember most.
A couple years ago, we had the joy of celebrating our middle son, Gabriel, as he professed faith and became a communing member of the church. My grandmothers were both able to attend. After church, my grandmother, “Mom” as we always called her, hugged my neck and told me how proud she was of us, how thankful she was that our boys love the Lord.
As her health failed, my grandmother continued to demonstrate the strong faith she had in the Lord. My aunt said that she and my grandmother had conversations about the challenges she was facing as her health got worse. My grandmother accepted what was happening and the hardships. She trusted God to carry her through it, one way or another. And He did.
In the last couple of weeks, my grandmother knew it was nearing time for her to go. We gathered together to hold her hand, to hug her neck, to tell her we loved her. She smiled and squeezed our hands. She told us she loved us. She had joy and faith that she would see Her Savior and also her beloved Tom. Her hope was in her eternal life with Jesus and in the coming resurrection.
I miss her terribly. My heart aches, and my eyes hurt from crying. But I know I will see her again. And when that happens, there will never again be tears and pain and separation and death.
I could tell wonderful stories, funny ones too, about my grandmother’s life. She loved to laugh. She loved to tease. She loved to be with her family. What I will remember is her laughter, her smile, her love, and her faith. I pray that I will honor her legacy in my own life and faith.
This is the obituary my aunt and cousins wrote. It’s a lovely tribute to my grandmother.
Anita Newell Green, a native Texan born on the anniversary of Texas Independence, March 2, 1926 was received into the loving arms of her Lord and Savior August 28, 2017. She was the youngest daughter of Virgil “Merle” and Jesse “Pearl” Newell.
She graduated from Reagan High School before attending The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. While she did not graduate from UMHB, she was an honorary member of the class of ‘47 and enjoyed celebrating yearly homecoming events until recently. In 1945, Anita married the love of her life, Thomas Stuart Green in Temple, Texas and they were married until Tom’s death on April 10, 1999. Anita went on to graduate with a BA from Howard Payne University (‘49) in Brownsville, Texas and later received her M.Ed from the University of Houston (‘69).
After nine years of teaching, raising children, and serving as the pastor’s wife for several Baptist Churches, Tom and Anita were called to serve as missionaries for what was then known as the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. After language school in Costa Rica, the family moved to Paraguay in 1959. While in Paraguay, Anita was the director (principal) of Colegio Bautista de Villa Morra, the president of the Women’s Organization of the National Baptist Convention, and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Baptist Hospital.
Upon their return to the United States in 1970, Tom and Anita settled in Houston, Texas where Anita was an educator in the Houston Independent School District. As they settled into their new life in Houston they found a tumultuous and divided city along racial lines. As an educator, she was one of the first teachers in HISD to participate in “cross over” integration in support of equal education for all. She continued her career as a Magnet Coordinator at Davis High School where she worked tirelessly to provide a quality education for all students. Her last assignment was teaching High School English at Waltrip High School until her retirement in 1989.
In 1992, Tom and Anita moved to Huntsville, Texas and were active members of University Heights Baptist Church. As an active member of UHBC, Anita ministered in various ways. Whether one needed wise counsel, a friendly smile, or a compassionate hug. Anita touched many members of the church and the community. She led the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) and encouraged women of all ages to take an active part in missions. She demonstrated that faith as a member and leader of UHBC’s Widows’ group, Circle of Friends. She also touched the lives of many young college girls who needed the quiet respite of a home atmosphere and a home cooked meal.
Anita is preceded in death by her parents Virgil “Merle” (1979) and Jesse “Pearl” Newell (1984); her husband, Thomas Stuart Green (1999); son, Thomas “Skipper” Stuart Green Jr. (1970); her sister, UnaVee Newell Yeatts (2011); her brother, Alvin Newell (1928); great-granddaughter, Bethanne Miller (2002); as well as several other precious great-grandbabies who were also welcomed into the Lord’s loving arms.
Anita is survived by son David Allen Green and wife Linda; son Jon Dale Green and wife Carolyn; daughter, Annesta Green Lunde and husband Gary; as well as Rosa “Rosie” Elizabeth Elgueta. She is also survived by her grandchildren: Travis and his wife Sarah; Dale and his wife Melissa “Missy”; April and her husband Anthony; Rachel and her husband Matt; Benjamin “Ben” and his wife Echo; Amy and her husband Joshua; Aleece and her husband Matthew; as well as 14 dearly loved great-grandchildren. She is also survived by Gordon Yeatts and family; Harriet Yeatts Sweatt and family; and Paula Saraceno and family.
Her light brightened so many of our lives and we can not help but mourn. The world seems quite a bit dimmer without her, but those of us who knew and loved her know that the light she shared with us was a reflection of the True Light. Therefore, we rejoice that she is in the presence of Christ, at home with God and has joined that great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we live and love through faith by the power of the Spirit. She will most be remembered giving her whole life in service of her Lord, Jesus Christ. Her faith has inspired her family. She will be missed.
During a recent discussion, Valerie Hobbs and I realized that we share a concern about the pitfalls of social media, especially for church leaders. What follows is an article we wrote together addressing this concern.
Some people love twitter. Some people hate it. It seems everyone at least has an opinion about it. Writes Joe Nocera,
So much on Twitter is frivolous or self-promotional. It can bury you in information. Because people often use Twitter to react to events instantly, they can say some awfully stupid things.
Beyond stupid, Twitter users can be mean, hateful even. It is a place where bullies can build a platform and quickly assemble a mob.
Still, we’ve seen some amazing one-liners on Twitter, mostly from people who intuitively understand how to operate within Twitter’s limitations to craft something clever, funny, or sharp. Who can forget this gem, for instance?
“Anybody here named Jeff?”
— Matt Tobey (@mtobey) January 21, 2016
And of course, it isn’t just the funny one-liner that is successful on Twitter. This tweet, like all good tweets, effectively packs volumes into a short space.
Tell me again how rape and sexual assault accusations will ruin a man’s career
— Paxmee (@Paxmee) November 9, 2016
But how effective is Twitter at expressing complex concepts? Many of us Christians, including our own esteemed theologians, tweet complex ideas, but the results are often poor. Perhaps you too have seen exchanges that go something like this:
- Pastor/theologian/Christian author/blogger tweets a complex theological concept in an ambiguous way, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.
- Readers/followers ask questions, challenge, push back on the ambiguity. “What on earth are you talking about?”, “This could be dangerous!”, “Did you mean it in this (heretical) way?”
- Tweeter: “I shouldn’t have to respond to these challenges.”, “Obviously, I didn’t mean it like that!”, “Get a life. It’s Twitter.”, [tweets 10 clarifying responses]
Admittedly, Twitter would be a much friendlier place if we all read with charity to a greater extent. But then again, when it comes to the Gospel, clarity and precision are pretty important. The devil is in the details, as they say. If you don’t believe that, here’s a helpful use of Twitter which makes the same point:
All heresy begins with a partial truth. Geerhardus Vos
— Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) May 16, 2013
The most obvious sources of the mismatch between Twitter and theology are points already mentioned: lack of skill in using a limited space to express complex ideas and, of course, our own sinful natures. That is, some people enjoy stirring up trouble. They like the attention, and they think they can get away with it online. But there’s another factor in the mix that scholars researching and writing about social media have identified: context collapse.
Context collapse “refers to the audiences possible online as opposed to limited groups we normally interact with in face-to-face interactions” (source). Put simply, it refers to the lack of boundaries in many social media contexts, particularly Twitter, as all posts are public. In most of our off-line interactions, social boundaries allow us to assume shared knowledge. When we are with our friends, for instance, we can use a shared vocabulary. We can assume, to some extent, that people we talk to know us in that context, what we are like, the meanings of our words, what we believe and don’t believe.
On Facebook, some users attempt to recreate these social boundaries by setting up sub-groups or private groups. Even still, for those Facebook users who keep their account public or who have hundreds of acquaintances they don’t know personally, context collapse is a significant issue to contend with.
Context collapse means that tweets and posts for a public audience cannot require much assumed knowledge. When we tweet, we cannot assume that readers have much knowledge of who we are, what we stand for, and whether or not we hold dangerous theological views.
No doubt close friends and those who’ve read all of our work and who interact with us frequently can see our tweets in light of that shared context. But most people reading our tweets cannot do that. And it is dangerous to assume otherwise as we run the risk of leading people astray. This is particularly true when it comes to theology. Mascall writes,
To avoid vagueness and ambiguity is even more of a duty in popular work than in learned treatise. The very fact that the Christian mysteries in their profundity outstrip our finite powers of comprehension makes it all the more important for us to express the limited grasp which we have of them with all the clarity and accuracy at our command, while fully recognising how very imperfect and partial our grasp of them is.
So how can we tweet about theology in a responsible way?
Get off Twitter.
No, really. How can we tweet responsibly, especially about theology, in light of collapsed context? We should aim for clarity, edification, and self-control.
1. Seek clarity in your tweeting.
“But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’” (Matt. 5:37, NASB)
Remembering that anyone might read and misunderstand what we’ve written, we need to be as clear as possible. Our speech should be open and honest. We should not give anyone cause to doubt our words or cause to question our orthodoxy. While it’s true that anything has the potential to be misunderstood and that no one can prevent that from happening all the time, our goal should be clarity.
How does this apply to Twitter? Retweeting quotes or snippets from sermons or conference talks without the context may lead to confusion. You understood what was meant, but is the tweeted quote clear to someone who wasn’t there?
The same question should be asked when attempting to tweet about a complex theological concept. Is your tweet clear or is it likely to be misunderstood? We’re aiming for sharing the light of the gospel, not muddying the waters. If the concept is particularly complex, maybe it would be better to write more on it elsewhere and link to it through Twitter.
2. Seek to edify with your tweets.
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear … But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” (Eph. 4:29; Eph. 5:3-4, NASB)
It can be tempting to think that Twitter is fairly anonymous and that no one much will notice what you tweet, comment on, or “like” online. In truth, our words and actions are there for the world to see, and people are watching. People will not always agree with us, and the gospel itself will sometimes be offensive to others. But our words should be edifying, should give grace, and should glorify God. We’re not saying we can’t joke or tease. What we are instead saying is that our teasing shouldn’t be crude, and our jokes shouldn’t be double entendres.
Thom Rainer has a recent article “Five Reasons Why Pastors Are Getting Fired Because of Their Social Media Posts.” (source) In it he notes:
Unsavory comments. A pastor or church staff member making lewd or suggestive comments on social media gains nothing, even if it’s a quote from a movie or someone else. The consequences are always negative.
How does this apply to Twitter use? Be careful what you “like” and retweet. Consider how your jokes and things you respond to online might be viewed by others. We used to say, “Never write anything you wouldn’t want the whole world to see.” Now that the whole world can see what we write, consider this: If someone only or mainly knew you from your tweets, etc, what would their overall impression of you be?
It may seem harsh or unfair to have to police yourself so strongly. But when we are known to be Christians and especially known to be pastors or elders, we will be held to a higher standard. James tells us that this is the way life is.
“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1, NASB)
3. Finally, exercise self-control in your tweeting.
“For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” (James 3:2-10, NASB)
Self-control is included in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. Most often we hear it discussed in conversations about gluttony or sexuality. But it also applies to our behavior online. In fact, it’s the key to this whole discussion.
When we are self-controlled, we are likely to be clearer because we won’t be quick to speak and slow to think. When we’re in control of ourselves, we aren’t likely to be crude or inappropriate. And when we’re self-controlled, we are less likely to stir up trouble.
How does this apply to Twitter? As noted earlier, some pastors/elders/theologians appear to tweet intentionally ambiguous or provocative statements. They seem to enjoy the ensuing firestorm. This is a lack of self-control.
There are many temptations on Twitter to act and react without thought. As James points out, our tongues are hard to tame. It helps if we remember that those people on Twitter who provoke us and tempt us to respond in anger or in ugliness are people made in the likeness of God.
And if the struggle to control yourself is too much? Then maybe it is time to get off Twitter.
2016 was a very interesting year. As I compiled the following list of my top posts for the year, I reflected on the hot topics. Doug Wilson and plagiarism was again in the top 10, although a different set of books from 2015. Not surprisingly, several Trinity debate posts also made it to the top 10. I’m so thankful for all those who spoke up to defend Trinitarian orthodoxy. There is still much work to be done.
Thank you all for your support and encouragement. May God bless you all this year.
This continued insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS by Grudem and Ware worries me for both complementarianism in general and CBMW in particular. And for these reasons I was not as reassured by Ligon Duncan’s talk as I would have liked to have been. I am extremely glad to hear that both Dr. Duncan and RTS are Pro-Nicene, but that really wasn’t in doubt, was it?
These are merely six examples, one from each volume. Each of these examples is mostly word for word. None of these are from open sources like Wikipedia. The only difference between the Omnibus examples and the Driscoll ones is that there are more of them from the Omnibus. I’m honestly not sure why the “rules” that applied to the Driscoll plagiarism don’t apply to the Omnibus.
In The Grand Design, Strachan and Peacock ground their understanding of the complementarity of men and women on a relationship of authority and submission in the nature of the Trinity. The result does damage to the doctrine of the Trinity, distorts the gospel, and damages the understanding of men and women and how they should interact.
Why do Keller and Redeemer want to plant churches and train leaders? To see New York City flourish:
We’re doing this for our city. Our longing is to see New York—and everyone in it—flourish. We believe the best way to serve the city is to embody the gospel in every neighborhood. The gospel doesn’t just change individual lives; it advances the common good. The increase in philanthropy, mercy, justice, racial reconciliation, integrity, and hope that occurs when more and more people live out the gospel is good for all of society, not just the body of Christ.
Doug Wilson’s views on theology, history, slavery, patriarchy, marriage, sex, etc. are present in materials that many CCE schools, programs, and homeschools use. In doing my research, I focused on the six-volume Omnibus produced by Veritas Press. Veritas Press is owned by Marlin and Laurie Detweiler who were members of Wilson’s CREC denomination.
In my previous article on CBMW and the Eternal Subordination of the Son, I gave many examples of why it’s not accurate to say that CBMW is neutral in the current debate. But it is also not accurate to say that CBMW only has the one post on the Trinity. A quick search on CBMW’s website for “eternal subordination” will return a number of hits. There are several posts responding to or reviewing books by egalitarians who have written against ESS/EFS/ERAS. There is also an interesting series of posts specifically on the Eternal Subordination of the Son.
Let me take these one by one. First, of the almost 70 original sources cited in my post, fewer than 20 of them are from Wikipedia or other “open source” sites. When I cited Wikipedia as the source, I was careful to use the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine to verify that the Wikipedia information existed before the publication of each Omnibus volume. You can click on any of the Wikipedia links to take you to the archived page from a particular date that is older than the Omnibus publication date. So, unless time travel is an option, the Wikipedia sources predate the Omnibus volumes.
Before I published my article on the plagiarism, I presented my findings to 5 seminary and university professors. I wanted to know what they thought of the significance of what I’d found. All of them said it was plagiarism. They said that if they had done it, they would have been in trouble with their university/seminary/academic community. They also said that if one of their students had done the same the student would face disciplinary action including expulsion. Plagiarism is serious business.
Given the recent debate over ESS/EFS/ERAS, I thought it would be worthwhile to demonstrate the influence this teaching has had in possibly unexpected places. The following are quotes from the ESV Study Bible study notes on various Bible passages. The page numbers are from the ebook version. The Scripture passages are all from the ESV translation.
As these example show, the plagiarism in the Omnibus volumes is extensive and pervasive. These are only a small portion of the more than 100 instances I found.
After writing up my summary yesterday of the four talks at the recent Trinity conference at RTS Houston, I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts on the conference. On the whole, I found the talks extremely helpful. They were scholarly but still accessible for the average person in the pew. I was pleased to see many women and children in attendance. It makes me glad to see others interested in theology.
I came away from the conference with a stronger appreciation for those who have gone before us and fought for orthodoxy. I gained a greater understanding of the history and Trinitarian language used this summer in the debate. That was a great help. I also came away with a better understanding of why it matters. The Trinity is not a minor issue. This debate isn’t quibbling over silly things. What we believe about God will have an impact on all of our theology and life. I appreciated the speakers addressing the practical and pastoral aspects of the debate.
As far as the history goes, the talks at the conference gave me some insight on how to apply the lessons of the past to today’s debate. Here are some of my insights.
The tone police who have complained about the recent discussions would be horrified by how rough the 4th Century debates were. Having read letters from other church conflicts, I can add that this is true throughout history. We have very little sense of history when it comes to debate. Some issues are very serious, and sometimes it takes pointed words.
It’s not enough to claim that we’re following Scripture. It was pointed out a couple of times this weekend that Arius and the other heretics were claiming Scriptural support for their arguments. Scott Swain said that the short path to heresy isn’t denying Scripture, it’s affirming only part of what the Bible teaches. I believe that this is true of the debates today as well.
Dr. Haykin spoke of the Arian heresy as an overcorrection in response to modalism. Just as the Arians were so concerned about modalism that they went into heresy in a different way, I believe the current ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents have overreacted to concerns over feminism and egalitarianism. While there may be valid concerns, the answer is not in undermining the doctrine of the Trinity.
It was interesting to note that Athanasius, the Westminster Standards, and even the CBMW Statement of Faith affirm that each of persons of the Godhead possess all of the divine attributes. The question that came to mind when I realized this was whether or not the ESS/EFS/ERAS proponents would agree that God’s authority is a divine attribute.
In the 4th Century, there was much debate over the role and deity of the Holy Spirit. I think this is key today too. In much of today’s evangelical culture the Holy Spirit is treated as an “also ran” or afterthought. In the ESS/EFS/ERAS debate, the Holy Spirit has been described as the child of the union of the Father and the Son. Some evangelicals treat the Spirit as an impersonal force. Many seem to think His work is unnecessary in this “everything is grace, there are no rules for behavior”culture. We need to recover an understanding of the full deity and work of the Spirit.
I was amused by some of the historical accounts of orthodox church fathers who were deemed suspicious because of their allies. Modalists were also against Arianism, and some orthodox fathers were called modalists because of their friendships and their work against Arianism. Today, many of those on the Pro-Nicene side of the Trinity debate have been accused of being egalitarians or feminists. It’s true that there are egalitarians and feminists who have opposed ESS/EFS/ERAS. I am appreciative of their work in this regard. But, the fact that we agree on our opposition to ESS/EFS/ERAS doesn’t mean we agree about everything.
In the recent debate, proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS balked at being equated with Arians. As many of us pointed out, Arianism was just one of many forms of subordinationism. But, it is worth noting that many of the same passages of Scripture are being used now as then to support their ideas. For example, Grudem uses John 14:28, “the Father is greater than I” as one of many verses in support of ESS/EFS/ERAS. The Arians used it too. The orthodox answer then, and now, is the same. Dr. Haykin pointed out that the orthodox understanding of the verses that speak this way is that they are speaking of Christ’s humanity. This is one of many examples of how a good understanding and appreciation of church history can be of great help.
It was noted a couple of times at the conference that scholarly debate and face to face meetings are to be preferred over online articles and discussions. While it’s certainly true that the church fathers got together to discuss at councils and other meetings. They also wrote many letters, tracts, papers, and books addressing specific heresies and those who promoted them by name. The names of these works are often “Against so-and-so.” I’m thankful that these were written and that the discussions were recorded for posterity sake. It is a very good thing that these are available to us today.
Several times at the conference, the speakers emphasized the importance and Scriptural veracity of the Nicene formulations. For a very long time, the Nicene Creed has been considered a baseline for orthodox faith. However, affirming it means more than just agreeing to the words. We must also agree with the Pro-Nicene fathers as to what the words mean.
The annual ETS meeting is going on right now in San Antonio. Drs. Ware and Grudem spoke yesterday. Both now say that they affirm the language of the Nicene Creed regarding eternal generation. They also continue to affirm the necessity of believing ESS/EFS/ERAS. I was wondering how they could hold to both the Nicene and ESS/EFS/ERAS, but I found an answer in something Grudem wrote in the debates this summer:
I am happy to affirm both the full deity of the Son and that the Son is eternally “begotten of the Father before all worlds,” provided that “begotten of the Father” is understood to refer to an eternal Father-Son relationship in the Trinity that includes no superiority or inferiority of being or essence. Up to that point, I think all sides agree. 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.
So, they agree with eternal generation as long as it fits their definition of the Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission in the Trinity. We’re clearly not saying the same things then. There are two fundamental differences.
First, we differ in our understanding of what is meant by the divine naming. Historically, the orthodox explanation has been that the names Father and Son mean that God the Father and God the Son have the same nature. Everything the Father has, the Son has, except being the Father. The distinction between the persons of the Trinity is limited to begetting, proceeding, and being begotten, not authority and submission.
In contrast, Grudem and Ware insist that the names Father and Son mean that there exists an inherent authority in being the Father and inherent submission in being the Son. This makes passages like, John 14:9, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” make little sense.
Second, as noted earlier all persons of the Godhead have all the attributes of God and this list usually includes power and glory. But this seems to be another difference between orthodoxy and ESS/EFS/ERAS. Is God’s authority (power) an attribute or not? Orthodox teaching says yes. Grudem and Ware say no. At ETS yesterday, Grudem said that authority is not a divine attribute, it’s a relationship. In Ware’s book, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, he claims that the Father has supreme glory as well as authority:
God the Father receives the ultimate and supreme glory, for the Father sent the Son to accomplish redemption in his humiliation, and the Father exalted the Son over all creation; in all these things, the Father stands supreme over all – including supreme over his very Son. … It is the Father, then, who is supreme in the Godhead – in the triune relationships of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and supreme over all the very creation over which the Son rules as its Lord. (quoted in Who’s Tampering with the Trinity, Millard Erickson, pg. 233)
These are serious differences indeed. Until Ware and Grudem affirm the substance of the Nicene formulations, including full equality of power and glory, then they will continue to be outside the Nicene orthodoxy.
This continued insistence on ESS/EFS/ERAS by Grudem and Ware worries me for both complementarianism in general and CBMW in particular. And for these reasons I was not as reassured by Ligon Duncan’s talk as I would have liked to have been. I am extremely glad to hear that both Dr. Duncan and RTS are Pro-Nicene, but that really wasn’t in doubt, was it?
Grudem and Ware made clear yesterday at ETS that they are not backing down and they are continuing to say that to deny ESS/EFS/ERAS is to threaten the Trinity. These are strong words. I believe that equally strong words are needed in response. Clarity is also needed, which brings me to my concerns about Ligon Duncan’s talk.
Despite what Dr. Duncan said in his first point, the proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS are indeed teaching ontological submission. If the Father is in authority by nature of being the Father, and the Son is in submission by nature of being the Son, that is an ontological argument. The Son submits because He’s the Son. There’s no way around this.
In his first point, Dr. Duncan gave several questions that were raised by the summer’s debate, but he did not answer the questions. They are important ones, and I would have liked to hear what he believes to be the answer to them. He did give a partial answer regarding whether or not ESS/EFS/ERAS is heresy. He quoted Liam Goligher as having called for proponents to quit or be deposed. While many accused Liam of having said this, it’s not what he said. Here’s what he actually said:
To speculate, suggest, or say, as some do, that there are three minds, three wills, and three powers with the Godhead is to move beyond orthodoxy (into neo-tritheism) and to verge on idolatry (since it posits a different God). It should certainly exclude such people from holding office in the church of God
Dr. Duncan said that the Trinity debate began with Liam’s two posts on Mortification of Spin in June and that the debate has been within the complementarian camp. While it’s true that Liam’s posts kicked off a particularly intense debate, many people have been challenging ESS/EFS/ERAS for years. There are both Pro-Nicene and ESS/EFS/ERAS complementarians in the current debate, but there were also many egalitarians involved as well. The Trinity is not just a complementarian issue.
Dr. Duncan also said that CBMW was mostly unaware of ESS/EFS/ERAS at least at an official level. It may well be true that he was personally unaware, but from what I’ve demonstrated before, ESS/EFS/ERAS has been taught from the beginning of CBMW. In fact, it seems to be foundational to CBMW’s version of complementarianism. And while I appreciate the theological diversity within CBMW, the Trinity is not something we can agree to disagree over. It’s much more than mode of baptism or even the 5 points of Calvinism. Should a statement of faith be more inclusive than the Nicene Creed? In the Nicene formulation too narrow? These are important questions that have not really been answered.
I was surprised by Dr. Duncan’s assertion that the Westminster Confession of Faith is minimalist regarding the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s true that the Confession doesn’t say everything that could be said, but it is a theologically rich statement. Here are some excerpts:
There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty. (WCF 2.1)
It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good. (WCF, 4.1)
The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. (WCF 8.2)
Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself; yet, by reason of the unity of the person, that which is proper to one nature is sometimes in Scripture attributed to the person denominated by the other nature. (WCF 8.7)
That last paragraph would help to answer the question of how Christ is said to submit to the Father. This is just a small portion of the Confession. There is a wealth of information there.
Dr. Duncan said that discussions like this one on the Trinity are best addressed in serious venues such as conferences and journals. I appreciate so much that RTS Houston held the Trinity conference this weekend and that I was able to attend. There certainly needs to be much work done at the academic level to combat the very widespread teaching of ESS/EFS/ERAS. I am thankful for those scholars and theologians who are doing this work.
But because ESS/EFS/ERAS is so widespread and particularly because it is so prevalent in popular level books and Bible studies, it must be addressed more broadly. The orthodox response needs to have the same reach as the heterodox teaching. This teaching is not merely academic or esoteric. This teaching has very real and very practical implications on the men, women, and children in our churches.
Even the PCA’s women’s leadership training material has contained ESS/EFS/ERAS teaching. I am very grateful to hear that this is being addressed. For many people, conferences and journal articles are not accessible. If the average person hasn’t been taught about why ESS/EFS/ERAS is wrong, they will continue to be influenced by it. As long as the proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS continue to teach it, we must continue to respond to it.
Again I am very thankful for Dr. Duncan’s reassurance regarding RTS and himself. I never doubted that they are Pro-Nicene. I have no doubts as to their orthodoxy or to their commitment to orthodoxy. I simply think there are questions that need to be answered regarding the connection between CBMW, complementarianism, and ESS/EFS/ERAS. I had hoped those questions would be answered, but I was disappointed.
A reader left a comment on my last article. He/she took issue with saying that complementarianism is not compromised by being Pro-Nicene. He/she said:
Wrong question. Has the complementarian movement been thoroughly compromised by ESS/EFS?
I think that is a very valid question, and one worth addressing. After the conference, I was left with one main question:
What’s more essential, being complementarian or being inside Nicene orthodoxy?
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. (Proverbs 25:11-12, ESV)
I’m re-reading one of my favorite books, Anne of Avonlea. It’s such a sweet story. I’ve always believed that the author, Lucy Maud Montgomery, had great insight into people and human nature. It’s more apparent to me now reading it as an adult.
One passage I read stood out to me this week. Anne is talking with Mr. Harrison, a grumpy, cranky sort of man. The kind of man who offends others and doesn’t care. Here he makes excuses for his behavior:
“It was the truth and I believe in telling the truth to everybody.”
“But you don’t tell the whole truth,” objected Anne. “You only tell the disagreeable part of the truth.” …
“You must excuse me, Anne. I’ve got a habit of being outspoken and folks mustn’t mind it.”
“But they can’t help minding it. And I don’t think it’s any help that it’s your habit. What would you think of a person who went about sticking pins and needles into people and saying, ‘Excuse me, you mustn’t mind it . . . it’s just a habit I’ve got.’ You’d think he was crazy, wouldn’t you?” (Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea, pg. 63)
How many times recently have we heard certain pastors or politicians praised for their “honesty.” There seems to be a lot of praise for offensive “honesty” lately. But being offensive is not a virtue.
As believers, there will be times that we have to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), and it may very well offend. When we confront others for their sin, we can do it gently and lovingly and with kindness towards them. They may be offended by what we say, but let it be the message that offends, not the method.
Let’s put off seeking to offend and rejoicing in offending others. It doesn’t speak well of us or commend us or our message of grace and forgiveness. Let’s put aside the world’s ways of communicating with others and build each other up out of love for each other. And let’s stop promoting public figures who enjoy being offensive. As Anne says, they’re like crazy folk going around “sticking pins and needles into people.” We wouldn’t stand for that, why should we promote, support, or excuse offensive behavior in others, especially those in authority.
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. … be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:4, 18b-21, ESV)