A Reflection and Some Lingering Concerns after the RTS Trinity Conference

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:

On God:

There is but one only,[1] living, and true God,[2] who is infinite in being and perfection,[3] a most pure spirit,[4] invisible,[5] without body, parts,[6] or passions;[7] immutable,[8] immense,[9] eternal,[10] incomprehensible,[11] almighty,[12] most wise,[13] most holy,[14] most free,[15] most absolute;[16] working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,[17] for His own glory;[18] most loving,[19] gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;[20] the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;[21] and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments,[22] hating all sin,[23] and who will by no means clear the guilty.[24] (WCF 2.1)

On creation:

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,[1] for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness,[2] 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.[3] (WCF, 4.1)

On Christ:

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,[10] with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin;[11] being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance.[12] 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.[13] Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.[14] (WCF 8.2)

Christ, in the work of mediation, acts according to both natures, by each nature doing that which is proper to itself;[37] 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.[38] (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?

Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s Church- RTS Houston

This weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending RTS Houston’s conference on the Trinity: Confessing the Triune God: Retrieving Nicene Faith for Today’s ChurchHere’s a brief description of the conference:

The recent “Trinity debate” reveals much confusion surrounding what is undoubtedly the most important and the most glorious of Christian doctrines. It also signals the need to retrieve the doctrine of the triune God as confessed by Fathers of the church on the basis of Holy Scripture in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381. Join Drs. Ligon Duncan, Michael Haykin, Blair Smith, and Scott Swain as they seek to mine the riches of the Nicene Faith for the renewal of today’s church. Speakers and topics include:

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

We were told that the sessions were recorded and would be available soon on RTS’s website. I haven’t seen a link yet, but when I do, I’ll update it here. The talks are also being published as papers in the RTS Journal in the March 2017 edition. I highly recommend watching or reading these when they are available. The talks were very informative. For today, I thought I’d give a short summary of the talks. In the next post, I’ll give a brief reflection on the conference.

Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin | Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates

The first talk, by Dr. Michael Haykin, was on Biblical Exegesis in Fourth-Century Trinitarian Debates. Dr. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While focused primarily on the fight to affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit, his talk was a helpful summary of the various 4th-Century councils and the extended debates that resulted from them. Dr. Haykin did hand out a copy of his paper, so I will be using some quotes with page numbers.

Dr. Haykin began by explaining that the doctrine of the Trinity is a gift for us from the early church fathers. We owe them a debt of gratitude. The doctrine of the Trinity is thoroughly Biblical, and it’s extremely important for us today. Dr. Haykin pointed out that our understanding of the Trinity is going to be crucial in interacting with Islam.

By the time of the Council of Nicea, the early church had dealt with and was still dealing with a number of heresies. One was modalism or the idea that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three masks that the one God uses in His interactions with humanity. Tertullian responded to this heresy by explaining that Genesis 1:26 is an example of God the Father speaking with God the Son and God the Spirit. According to Tertullian, God must be one substance, one being, but also three persons. From Tertullian, we get this language of the Trinity.

Another heresy that the early church faced was Arianism or subordinationism. This heresy taught that the Son was both created and ontologically (by nature) subordinate to the Father. Arius used verses like John 14:28, “my Father is greater than I,” to argue that the Son “did not share all of the attributes of the Father” (Haykin, pg 5). Interestingly, Arius and his followers were attempting to address the heresy of modalism, but they went too far. Dr. Haykin noted that in theological controversy it’s best to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

Dr. Haykin went on to give a very helpful, detailed explanation of the long battle against Arianism. The next Trinitarian debate was over the deity of the Holy Spirit. Basil of Caesarea was instrumental in this. For Basil, Matthew 28:19 was key. Dr. Haykin pointed out that we are baptized in the (singular) name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. This “implies faith in the three persons of the Godhead and also determines doxological ultimacy – the Father along with the Son and the Holy Spirit are to receive equal honour and worship” (Haykin, pg. 12).

Ultimately, the Council of Constantinople in 381 added the statement on the Holy Spirit as proceeding from the Father and worthy of worship and glory with the Father and the Son. Dr. Haykin concluded by that the Nicene Creed, post 381, “must be viewed as a norma normata (‘a rule that is ruled’) it is a rule that faithfully reflects the biblical view of God and, as such, it stands as one of the great landmarks of Christian theology” (Haykin, pg. 16). As Dr. Haykin explained, the creed is not infallible, but we tamper with it to our detriment.

Rev. D. Blair Smith | Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century

The second talk was Trinitarian Relations in the Fourth Century by Rev. D. Blair Smith. Rev. Smith is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS-Charlotte. Building on Dr. Haykin’s talk on the history of 4th-Century Trinitarian debates, Rev. Smith discussed three specific developments in understanding the Trinity: the correlativity of names, eternal generation, and a fully Trinitarian vision.

Athanasius developed the concept of correlativity of the names Father and Son. For the Father to be eternally Father, there must also be an eternal Son. The names carry the meanings with them. The Son can’t be created, because that would mean there was a time before the Father became a father. Athanasius also looked at the divine titles: Word, Wisdom, Power, and Image. Each of these was used to describe the Son. These divine titles indicate a shared nature or ontology between the Father and the Son. Everything that is said about the Father, except being Father, is said about the Son.

Hilary of Poitiers helped developed the teaching of the eternal generation of the Son. Hilary wrote of the Father as the giver in an eternal “birth” or nativitas and of the Son as the receiver. The Father gives all that He is in His nature and there is nothing lacking in what the Son receives. In this giving and receiving, there is an order or taxis that speaks of a priority of the Father as the giver or source. This priority does not place the Father in a higher position, though, because the order is balanced by divine unity and inseparable operations.

Rev. Smith’s last point continued on from Dr. Haykin’s discussion on Basil of Caesarea and his development of a fully Trinitarian vision. Basil helped to expand the debate on the Trinity to include the Holy Spirit. Basil explained that the Spirit is uniquely named in Scripture and has a kinship with the Father and the Son. Therefore, it is right to worship the Spirit.

Basil defined the Spirit as proceeding from the Father, as “breath from His mouth.” This proceeding mirrors the begetting of the Son, both ineffable and yet true. Rev. Smith spoke about the logic of the kinship in the Trinity. There is a communion where each person of the Trinity receives glory. This glory travels along the lines of order from the Father to the Son to the Spirit, but also back from the Spirit to the Son to the Father. In this way, it is not a unilateral dependence, but a rhythmic reciprocity in the Trinity.  This balance is a mystery that is hard to understand and explain, but Rev. Smith concluded by saying that the Nicene honors what Scripture teaches about the nature and acts of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Dr. Scott R. Swain | “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation

The third talk was by Dr. Scott Swain on “God from God, Light from Light”: Retrieving the Doctrine of Eternal Generation. Dr. Swain is Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean at RTS- Orlando. Dr. Swain answered four questions regarding eternal generation.

The first question was “What is Eternal Generation?” Dr. Swain answered that eternal generation describes the Son’s “eternal relationship of origin from the Father.” The Son is from God the Father but in a way that is different from everything else that we say is “from God.” The Son is without beginning or end.

The second question was “What happened?” Why has interest in the doctrine of eternal generation waned in recent years? Dr. Swain noted that much of the lost of interest comes from attempts to give a simple explanation of the Trinity. He traced the root of this to an early 1900s article written by B.B. Warfield. In his article on the Trinity for the International Standard BIble Encyclopedia, Warfield summarized the Trinity with three points: there is one God, Father/Son/Holy Spirit are each God, and Father/Son/and Holy Spirit are each distinct persons. Warfield then said that this was a complete doctrine of the Trinity.

Dr. Swain noted that in contrast to Warfield’s article, the Westminster Standards explain how the three persons are distinct using the language of begotten and proceeding. Warfield’s definition left out both eternal generation and eternal procession. Unfortunately, systematic theologies of the late 20th-Century summarize the Trinity using Warfield’s limited three points. This includes Grudem’s best selling systematic theology, which Dr. Swain did not mention by name.

Dr. Swain explained that the vacuum caused by leaving out eternal generation and eternal procession was filled with the language of authority and submission. This gave us Eternal Subordination of the Son, Eternal Functional Subordination, and Eternal Relationship of Authority and Submission. Dr. Swain noted that the irony was that Warfield was trying to avoid suggesting authority and submission in the Godhead.

The third question was “Why believe eternal generation?” Dr. Swain explained that eternal generation is rooted in “Biblical patterns of divine naming.” This has two parts. First, the New Testament attributes God’s names and works to Christ, therefore the Son is the one true God. Second, there is a relational pattern of divine naming in Scripture. The Son is called begotten.

Dr. Swain pointed out that even if one doesn’t want to translate “monogenes” as “only begotten,” there are many Scriptural proofs for eternal generation. Hebrews 1:5, Proverbs 8:22-24, Micah 5:2, Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15, and John 1:1 all speak of the Son as existing from eternity with God, equal with the Father. The emphasis in these passages is the relational origin of the Son in the Father. Christ is the radiance of the Father, the image of the Father, the Word from the Father.

Even if one doesn’t like the language of eternal generation, Dr. Swain said, one has to affirm the concepts as Scriptural. The Nicene formulation is simply repeating Scriptural concepts.

The fourth question was “Why does eternal generation matter?” The answer is both practical and pastoral. Eternal generation establishes the distinction between the Father and the Son and preserves equality within the Godhead. The Son (and Spirit) are equal in power and glory with the Father (WLC Ques. 9).

This equality of power and glory is lost when eternal generation is replaced by an eternal relationship of authority and submission. Proponents of ESS/EFS/ERAS can affirm that the Father and the Son have the same substance, but they can’t confirm that they are equal in power and glory. Dr. Swain quoted from one ESS proponent who claims that the Father has supreme glory in the Trinity.

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III | The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions

The last talk was by Dr. Ligon Duncan on “The Doctrine of the Trinity and Complementarianism in Recent Discussions.” Dr. Duncan is Chancellor of RTS and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology. He is also a senior fellow and board member of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He gave nine points related to the recent Trinitarian debate.

Dr. Duncan first gave a background to the recent debate regarding complementarianism and the Trinity. He referenced Liam Goligher’s posts on Mortification of Spin as the start of the debate. He emphasized that the debate is primarily between complementarians. He gave the meaning of the various ESS/EFS/ERAS acronyms and explained that while some might consider it debatable, EFS is not arguing for ontological subordination.

Dr. Duncan then listed several questions that were brought up in the debate. He did not attempt to answer them at this point. The questions included: Is EFS/ERAS taught in Scripture? Is it heretical? (He did give a side note here to say that Liam Goligher called for proponents to quit or to be deposed in his 2nd article.) Does EFS/ERAS entail multiple wills? Does it deny eternal generation?

Dr. Duncan’s second point was that complementarianism relies on Scripture and does not require a “reformulation of the Trinity” as in EFS. His third point was whether or not there is a coming war between Pro-Nicene and EFS complementarians. He explained that CBMW met and voted unanimously that to be a complementarian you need only affirm the Danvers’ Statement. He appealed to the wide theological diversity present in CBMW since it’s foundation.

The next point was a discussion of CBMW’s statement of faith. Dr. Duncan said that the statement of faith is orthodox and minimal regarding what it says about the Trinity. The statement does not mention EFS:  “We believe there is one true God, eternally existing in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom possesses all of the attributes of deity and divine personality.” This he said is close to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s wording.

Dr. Duncan’s fifth point was that classical protestant confessions don’t affirm EFS, but are minimalist about what they affirm on the doctrine of the Trinity. He said that  WCF 2.3 is the “only statement on the Trinity in the WCF.” He went on to say that all protestant confessions are equally minimalist regarding the Trinity.

Next, Dr. Duncan explained that this creedal minimalism left room for 20th-Century evangelicalism/biblicism to question Trinitarian language such as: simplicity, impassibility, foreknowledge, eternal generation, and eternality. He said that the Westminster divines assumed an inheritance from the church fathers and reformers and weren’t writing at a time when these issues were being addressed. They didn’t anticipate this current debate.

Dr. Duncan went on to say that the debate was part of a greater tradition of biblicism vs. retrieval. He said there has been an emphasis on non-speculation in modern times and that younger theologians are more interested in theological retrieval and drawing on church history. They have a different attitude towards historical theological formulations.

The eighth point was that the tone of the debate has been lacking. He said he’s thankful for the discussion, but that it’s better addressed in serious venues like conferences and journals.

The last point was a reassurance that RTS and Dr. Duncan are both complementarian and Pro-Nicene. He concluded by saying that complementarianism is not compromised by being Pro-Nicene.

 

Again, I am very grateful to have been able to attend and thankful for my sweet husband for coming along with me. I learned a good deal. In my next post, I plan to give my thoughts on the conference.

Jane Austen’s Faith

A little over a year ago, I read a blog post, “What Churches Can Learn From Jane Austen“, that began:

Don’t worry – it’s not soteriology or anything. There is no evidence that Jane Austen possessed saving faith, so taking theological tips from her doesn’t make sense.

I was disturbed by the statement “there is no evidence that Jane Austen possessed saving faith.” It seemed a harsh assessment. Of course, it’s impossible for us to know for certain the status of anyone else’s faith, but there are usually indications, or fruit, if someone is saved.

As a fan of Austen’s work, I was disappointed that her faith would be dismissed so quickly. While her books aren’t theological treatises, I’ve always believed that Austen’s faith in God and her trust in Christ as her Savior were evident in her writing. Along those lines, I was pleased to see a review of a new book, Eight Women of Faithon Tim Challies’ blog last week. The book, by Michael Haykin, explores the faith of eight women who are known historical figures. These include Lady Jane Grey, Anne Steele, and Jane Austen.

In his introduction, Haykin writes:

and, finally, there is a chapter on Jane Austen, far and away the most famous of all the women in this book, who was also a serious Christian, though this is not often remembered.

In a second blog post, Challies shares a prayer written by Jane Austen that Haykin includes in his book. In it she writes:

Above all other blessings Oh! God, for ourselves, and our fellow-creatures, we implore thee to quicken our sense of thy mercy in the redemption of the world, of the value of that holy religion in which we have been brought up, that we may not, by our own neglect, throw away the salvation thou hast given us, nor be Christians only in name. Hear us Almighty God, for his sake who has redeemed us, and taught us thus to pray.

I haven’t yet read Haykin’s book, but I’m hoping to soon. And while this is not an endorsement of the book as a whole, I’m thankful for Haykin’s work to shed light on Jane Austen’s faith. I hope those who have judged her harshly will reconsider.