Sunday, July 24, 2016

The one will of God and respecting the three persons

The will of God is one. That is a direct inference from the doctrine of simplicity, which states that God is not made up of parts. Since God is simple, He is His attributes. One cannot remove anything from God without causing Him to not exist. God is like a binary — either He is, with everything that He is, or He is not.

In the being of God, to posit more than one will in God is to say that He is composed of more than one will. This introduces multiplicity into the being of God, and thus is an assault on the doctrine of simplicity. To say that God in His essence can undergo relations of authority and submission is to posit more than one will, and that is contrary to Scripture and contrary to Nicene Orthodoxy.

In the same vein, when we talk about the Trinity in His being, the divine nature is not a genus that is ascribed to the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is no such thing, technically speaking, of a "God-kind." God is qualitatively beyond anything in this world. The divine nature in its proper sense is God, the Triune God. There cannot be any taxonomy within the Godhead, which is a kind of ridiculous concept anyway!

All of these are biblical and part of true Christian theism. All these are non-negotiable truths which anyone who calls himself a Christian should hold to. All these form part of the legacy of the ancient church that even Rome (her non-liberal versions) did not reject when she rejected the other parts of Scripture. While it is technically part of councils to pronounce anathemas, it wouldn't be an invalid deduction to say that anyone who explicitly denies any part of these truths are heretics under the curse of God.

But if one were to be only fixated on ontology, then one will at best lose sight of the beauty of God's works, and at worst be an imbalanced "classical theist," of which there seems to be far too many nowadays. Alongside the immanent Trinity (ontology), we see also the concept of the economic Trinity (in outside-of-human-time "timed" and time-bound acts). Both describe the one Trinity, but the economic Trinity focuses on the works of the Triune God, from eternity past to eternity future. As I have said, God in His works is not timeless but everlasting. Therefore, while eternity is an attribute of God and thus of the immanent Trinity, we can rightly speak of an eternity(2) that is not timeless but speak concerning God's endless interactions in time.

When we open the pages of Scripture, what do we see and read? We see a God who acts in time, a God who seem to change (i.e. "repent") and so on. While we deplore the stupid interpretations of those who deny immutability, impassibility and so on, we must recognize that we have to deal with the narrative and descriptive texts and not superficially write them off everytime as just "anthropomorphisms" following which we platonize all of Scripture as a manual on "timeless eternal truths." If there is anything clearer in Scripture, it is that God acts IN history; God acts in time. God DID not wait for the incarnation to start working in time either. What else do we see in Scripture besides God interacting with people except that God interacts with God!

Psalms 2:7 tells of the decree whereby God the Father SPEAKS his covenant into being with God the Son. The text did not say that God decided that the Father and the Son would have such and such a working relationship. It says God SPEAKS the covenant into being.

I don't know about the "classical theists," but it seems to any normal person that speaking at least involves someone who speaks, and someone who is spoken to, in order for someone to speak to another. The one who speaks must will to speak, and the one who is spoken to must will to listen, and the two must be distinct wills. It cannot be one will, for then you have both speaking to each other and to themselves. In the context of the pactum, God the Father wills to speak to God the Son, and not the other way around, for God the Son does not will to speak to God the Father. It is the Father who says, "Today I have begotten you," not the Father and the Son saying "Today I have begotten you" to each other and to themselves, which is what would happen if both had one will between them.

Now, I can just hear the critics point that this text is a text about the eternal generation of the Son, and indeed it is. BUT... It is speaking not of the Father generating the Son, but of the Father speaking about the generation of the Son. The Father eternally generates the Son, THEREFORE He speaks thus to the Son. Psalms 2:7 is the revelation of eternal generation, not eternal generation! It is after all not that the Father speak and generate the Son into existence or some heretical notion, but rather the begottenness (Qal, Perfect Tense) happens in the past of this speech.

All of these is to say that from the Scriptures, we must acknowledge a very real dynamism in the workings of God among the three persons. In the economic Trinity, we can, indeed we must say that there are three distinct wills of some form of subsistence, otherwise Scripture makes completely no sense. To think that there is one will of God in the economic Trinity is to function like a modalist regardless of one's actual doctrinal profession. God the Father interacts with God the Son before the Incarnation, and it is ridiculous to think that the interaction does not actually happen because of an a priori idea of what "will" and simplicity must mean.

We must respect the three-ness of the three persons. God is BOTH one and three, not primarily one and secondarily three. While there is one will of God in the immanent Trinity, one should be able to say that each person of the Godhead has a distinct will. Otherwise, what kind of person is he if he cannot communicate except in unison? God is not three persons saying the same thing together, like 3 speakers attached to the same computer. But each one says differently. And as we have seen, it is in the pactum salutis that God the Son submits to God the Father, as the servant of the covenant.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hypocrisy of some confessionalists

EFS proponent: We believe that the Son has the eternal function of submission to the Father
A self-proclaimed confessionalist: HERETIC!

Cornelius Van Til: The Trinity is one person and three persons.
A Self-proclaimed confessionalist: What a great man of God and a true defender of the faith!

Thus says the Lord:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Mt. 7:3-5)

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NOTE: I do not think Van Til is a heretic (but he is wrong), and I likewise do not hold EFS proponents to be heretics; this is just a reductio ad absurdum argument against the heresy hunters.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The third side of the Trinitarian debate

Readers of my recent posts would have known that I have by and large taken the EFS side of the debate. That said, my position has always been that of the economic submission of the Son from eternity. As the controversy continue on a slower pace and after much thought, I think it would be better to stake out as a third side to the entire debate.

I have acknowledged the biblicist paradigm of many of the EFS proponents. While an error, I do not see it as heresy. Neither do I think that their biblicist paradigm necessarily invalidates their teaching on any biblical issue, and I have always found CBMW's advocacy of biblical complementarianism helpful even if I do not necessarily agree with them on everything. That said, when clarity was demanded and not given, it is difficult to avoid some taint that they are suspect even though I do not necessarily think they are. Bruce Ware's recent open letter to Liam Goligher, Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman is a case in point. In the letter, Ware I think has helped to clarify his views on certain issues. I think there are still concerns over how he expresses glory as being ultimate to the Father, but this ties into the main problem with his letter: his failure to interact with the ad intra/ ad extra categories. I understand he probably doesn't think in those terms, but since the critique is fundamentally on those terms, it would be helpful for Ware to interact with that main issue.

The failure of major EFS proponents to address the concerns of their critics has only fueled charges of error. While I do believe their writings can be interpreted in an orthodox manner, would it not be better for them to make their writings more precise and less liable to be interpreted as error? I know the confessional paradigm is different from the biblist paradigm, but surely time and effort can be made to attempt to understand the critique? It is this failure of understanding and failure to interact that does not help the EFS proponents' case, and because of that, I feel that I cannot continue being on their side.

But if for these infractions I am distancing myself from the official EFS position, what has transpired on the other side is nothing less than reprehensible. Charges of heresy, of embracing subordinationism, are not to be thrown lightly, but they have been, for charging people with denying Nicea is equivalent to charging them of heresy! Mark Jones especially has been outrageous with his skewed idea of "will" tending towards functional modalism. The blatant insistence on reading EFS according to confessionalist lenses instead of regarding the authorial intent of the EFS proponents (here and here) is scandalous from those who insist and teach that we ought to interpret the text of Scripture always in context. I guess for Scripture, we must take into account genre and immediate context, but we can discount those entirely when reading EFS proponents? Where is the consistency? Where is the charitable reading of one's opponents? Or is "charitable reading" to be extended only to "super saints" like Cornelius Van Til, and not to the biblicists? After all, if confessionalists can go after Ware and Grudem for their revision of the Trinity, why aren't they using the same tone in going after Van Til's view of God as being one person? Hypocrisy much?

So, until and unless either side deal with how they are going about this debate, I see no reason why I should tether myself to either side. Go duke it out all you want, and talk past each other all you wish, but I'm going to wash my hands off the whole lot of you.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

How we should read the writings of EFS proponents

Bruce Ware has posted an open letter to Liam Goligher, Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, a letter which I find underwhelming. They have in turn responded, while the guys at Secundum Scripturas, Matt Emerson and Luke Stamps, have responded with some I think valid concerns.

There is a lot that can be said, but instead I would like to focus on this post by Goligher. Goligher thinks that Grudem is promoting blasphemy in the quote he lifted from his Systematic Theology. But is Goligher's interpretation and accusation true?

First, we must establish that Grudem and many EFS proponents are biblicists. And yes, biblicism is wrong. I myself am a confessionalist after all. But biblicism is not heresy. Therefore, while I can criticize a person for being a biblicist, I (and others) also must realize that the way they do theology is different from the way I do theology.

This difference in method also has implications for how we read and interpret theology. It functions in a certain sense as an interpretive grid through which we perceive and reflect upon issues. This interpretive grid binds us towards the usage of certain words and certain phrases in a certain way. It pushes us towards seeing certain questions which others may not see, to express what we perceive in Scripture in ways others may find strange. In other words, it is a PARADIGM in the fullest sense of the term.

A paradigm is a meta-pattern of thought. As Thomas S. Kuhn has explicited it in the history of science, those who are part of the previous paradigm are by and large totally unable to adapt to the new paradigm when it comes. The progress of science comes through "revolutions," whereby the new younger scientists replace the older ones who are stuck with the previous paradigm. The reason why they remain stuck is not because they are stupid or because they are in any way mentally deficient, but rather because the paradigm has in a sense become them. Without a fundamental shift in outlook, it is impossible for one to change from one paradigm to the other, and thus Kuhn in his later life uses the word "incommensurable" in an attempt to starkly contrast one paradigm from the other.

The reason for this excursus into one major theory in the history and philosophy of science, besides the fact that I hold to it in some form, is that the nature of "paradigms" show us very clearly what the problem is. Goligher, Trueman and other critics are wedded to the paradigm of classical theism. Ware, Grudem and other EFS proponents are wedded to the biblicist paradigm. They may make use of the same words, but communication seems to amount to near zero, because both sides refuse to realize the difference in paradigms between them. The critics interpret anything coming from EFS proponents according to the classical theist paradigm, and see heresy. The EFS proponents interpret anything coming from their critics according to the biblicist paradigm, and think they are making a mountain out of a molehill. Because both sides refuse to acknowledge that, both sides refuse to attempt to understand what the other side is saying according to the authorial intent, the paradigm the author is utilizing.

This brings me to the reason why I chose Goligher's post, because he chooses a text that has less problematic features, as opposed to some writings by Bruce Ware. Goligher's outrage shows just how badly he has misread Grudem, and I can say this even without knowing the context of the quote.

Before I go into interpreting Grudem, some may wonder why I can in a sense put myself above the fray. The reason why I can equally critique both sides on this is because I have been in the biblicist side before. I understand to some extent how they think, or at least I think I do. Because I have been in two sides when it comes to method, I see how the difference in method is not merely a matter of who is smarter, or even who is more biblical. NO, the Bible does not directly abjudicate on which method is better. Confessionalism is better not because the Bible directly states it, but because Confessionalism better connects all fields of theology and knowledge and church heritage into a more coherent whole.

Without further to do, let us finally look at the quote from Grudem cited by Goligher:

The husband's role is parallel to God the Father and the wife's role is parallel to that of God the Son. ... And, although it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, the gift of children within marriage, coming from both the father and the mother, and subject to the authority of both father and mother is analogous to the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son in the Trinity. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 256-257; as cited by Liam Goligher)

If one were to read it with a biblicist framework, THEN translate it into a more confessional framework, this is what Grudem is actually saying:

Just as God the Father plays the role of the head in the economic Trinity, and as the Son submitted to the Father ad extra, so likewise husbands are to image the role of head in the family, emulating what God the Father has shown us through how He works. Wives are to image the submissive role of the Son to the Father. .... And though it is not mentioned in Scripture, the way the Spirit obeys and Father and the Son in the outworking of the divine plan seems to be the pattern for how children should obey their father and mother.

Now, I do not necessarily like how Grudem wants to bring the Spirit in through showing how children seem to image the Spirit's obedience, as it seems speculative, but neither should it be said that it is blasphemy, or that it creates a "mythological Godhead." After all, the Bible DOES link the submission of the Son to the Father in the economy of salvation to how wives should submit to their husbands. Will I advocate for saying the things Grudem says? NO. I am a confessionalist after all. But just because I think those words shouldn't be said in that way shouldn't mean that Grudem should be taken before the inquisition and tried for heresy. Are they blasphemous? You can say they could be, but according to authorial intent and paradigm, they are not. Infelicitous yes, heresy no.

I am not against criticism of any EFS proponent, but that has to be done on the problems they have, not the heresies their critics think exist. Denounce biblicism all you want, but do not ignore authorial intent and paradigm before rushing to judgment.

Friday, July 08, 2016

What is a "person"?

When you think about the word "person," what do you think it means? For us, it could refer to an individual human being whom we can see, touch, and converse. Legally, a "person" might be something that can be construed to act like one party, or it could mean someone who has "inalienable rights." So we can define a "person" as something akin to an individuated thing, something that is or is treated as a single entity.

When we deal with theological parlance, we need to extremely careful since the same word might have a different meaning from our current modern understanding. Furthermore, especially when dealing with the doctrine of God, we are dealing with the most sacred mystery and our language about God is indeed analogy. But in order for analogy to be a real analogy and not equivocity, there must be some correspondence between the word used and the actual reality. When we use the word "person" therefore as a depiction of the three in the Trinity, what are we saying? We cannot say each person is a separate single entity for example. But we also cannot say that the distinctions between the person of the Father and the person of the Son has absolutely zero correspondence to the distinction between me the author and you the reader.

So how we are to understand what a "person" means in theological parlance? We understand what a "person" means by looking at how the Father relates to the Son and to the Spirit, each of the persons to the other. So what do we see? We see the Son converse with the Father, the Son covenanting with the Father, and the Spirit working out the will of the Father and the Son. But they are all one God! So what in their actions in Scripture distinguishes them? They relate as one (the Father) to the other (the Son). In other words, they are different persons because they relate and communicate to each other differently. So how should we define "person" when we talk about the Godhead? From how Scripture portray the persons, we must say that a "person" should be defined as an individuation who relates and communicates with another.

If "an individuation of relations and communications" defines a "person" in the Godhead, then it stands to reason that each must have his own distinct will, for otherwise how can one communicate to the other? But since there is only one God and one essence, there is one will. Therefore, God has one will and three subsistent wills. And just as there is the Father, the Son and the Spirit, but one God, so there is the will of the Father, the will of the Son, the will of the Spirit, but one will.

This definition of "person" seems to me most productive, for it also works concerning the person of Christ. Since "person" is defined as an individuation of relation and communication, therefore Christ is one person, but with two wills. Christ is one person because the human will and the divine will are unified and do not contradict each other; they work in tandem. We cannot say that there is a mixed will, for a mixed will (mixture of human and divine willing) is neither human nor divine. But we can say the two wills are intertwined so tightly they function like one, and therefore Christ is one person.

It is in my opinion that the debate over the one will of God needs to deal with the issue of what a "person" is. Until those who focus on the one will of God can define a "person" in such a way that can satisfy the biblical data, I'm afraid what they are promoting sounds like modalism to me.

"Eternal functional submission"?

The problem with complex terms and phrases is that sometimes, oftentimes, people use the same words to mean entirely different things. And this gets worse when it comes to neologisms or even technical jargon that have different meanings in different fields, i.e. "analogy." Much misunderstanding could have been avoided if the parties involves would actually try to understand the other party and how he is using terms and what he means by these terms, instead of jumping to (false) conclusions about what his opponent actually holds to.

In the case of the phrase "eternal functional subordination" or "eternal functional submission," the phrase by itself seems to have a rather straightforward meaning. First, by "eternal" it refers to something that is true that extends from from eternity past to eternity future. Second, by "functional," it is understood that it pertains to doings, works and roles. Third, by "subordination" or "submission" it means one party being lower than the other party in some sense. Putting them together, it seems clear that the combined phrase must have a reference to works and roles, and thus the economic sphere, of the Triune God from eternity past to eternity future. By definition of the word "functional," any type of ontology must be ruled out. To claim an "eternal ontological functional submission" makes as much sense as a "round square" or "square circle," that is, an oxymoron, a logical contradiction.

Thus, it comes to me as an astonishment that many people evidently don't even think through the meaning of the words used to constitute the phrase. Others see the word "eternal" and immediately think of God's essential attribute of being eternal, as if that is the only way we are to understand the word "eternal." It does come as a shock how many take the phrase without thinking about its meaning, and then assign it a meaning based upon what they think the EFS/ ERAS proponents are teaching. One might as well call the position ABC or XYZ and the net effect would have been the same.

It is really sobering to see how people are so careless in discussing theology even among those who should know better. And here I am not talking about the critics only but everyone. The only reason the critics have material to criticize is because those who promote EFS/ ERAS have been sloppy with their language. Both sides by and large are filled with those who refuse to understand the other side and insist on using their terms to criticize the other side, whether intentionally or unintentionally is besides the point here. It may be that either side have people whose paradigm of thought is so rigid that they are unable to properly assess anything that falls outside their paradigm. Regardless, the result is the same: People from either side insisting on interpreting what the other side writes in line with their own paradigm of thought, and refusing authorial intent for all intents and purposes.

Since the words that constitute the phrase "eternal functional submission," and the way they are put together, sound perfectly orthodox, I see no reason why we should not interpret it according to its constituent parts and the relations between them. It should be also natural that the orthodox meaning is the default meaning whenever one sees the phrase being used, unless it can be proven that the writer is using it differently.

Eternal Functional Submission therefore speaks about the economic submission of the Son from eternity past to the Father. We in the Reformed tradition affirm it in the Pactum Salutis, and therefore, for all intents and purposes, EFS is Reformed.

The heart of the matter on the Trinitarian controversy

Darren Summer has written a blog article which does in some sense bring more clarity to the trinitarian issue. I think it is a good question to ask of ERAS/ EFS proponents, as it helps in clarification.

Just to be clear, Nicene orthodoxy teaches that there is absolutely ZERO subordination or submission in the immanent Trinity. To say that Jesus is lesser in "being" or status or anything compared to the Father is heresy. But just as clearly, there IS "a structure of authority and submission" in the economic Trinity, which I take as the correct interpretation of ERAS/ EFS, although I don't like to use those terms ("structure of authority and submission") as the focus in the economic Trinity should not be about authority and submission, but about condescension and obedience.

For clarity's sake, I hope Drs. Grudem, Ware and CBMW can answer this most basic question. Then we can know definitively whether they are in error, or whether their critics are being uncharitable and making false accusations, as they currently seem to be doing.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

A brief response concerning Mark Jones' piece on Bruce Ware's interview

Mark Jones has decided to respond to the recent Bruce Ware interview, through Carl Trueman's site on the Mortification of Spin, here. I don't know if that is a good sign, since Mark Jones has so far produced the worst argumentation among all the others so far. [On a side note, Jones' terrible argumentation has cast doubt in my mind on whether his prior crusade against Tullian Tchividjian (before he was disgraced) was because he was right, or because he misrepresented Tullian in that controversy too.]

But let us look at the substance of Jones' response. As we look at Jones' response, we ought to remember that charity means, when unclear, we should not presume the worst interpretation of what another is writing.

The first point to note, an important point I add, is that Jones claims up front that Ware's idea of EFS/ ERAS is ontological, in points 1 and 4. He then shows confusion over Ware's citation of Anatolios (in Jones' point 1) and greater confusion especially in his point 6. As Jones wrote,

I also do not quite follow what he means when he speaks of “functional and hypostatic.” He makes ontology more ultimate than hypostases. Suggesting the three persons are “eternal” but not “ontological” is quite a curious thing to do. One should never say that “hypostatic” is not an ontological category. Common and personal properties are ontological.

In response, first, it seems that one should accept Ware's claim here that he intends EFS/ ERAS to be understood in an economic sense. That might mean some revision or tightening up of language expressed prior to this interview, which Jones mentioned in his conclusion. But isn't it more natural to take what Ware is saying at face value and try to see where he is coming from first?

Jones' sixth point is an interesting example of how the critics of EFS seem to have got it all wrong, and thus I would like to explain where Jones shows confusion. If I understand Ware correctly, he is using the word "hypostasis" as equivalent to "person." And then when he is using personal categories, he has in mind the Trinity as God is working in His three persons. God in being (ad intra) does not work. God works externally (ad extra). Yes, I agree also that using the ad intra and ad extra categories would be (perhaps) so much more helpful, but we must try to interpret Ware according to what he says he believes, and I don't particularly think Ware is hard to understand.

We note that Jones states that "common and personal properties are ontological." That shows that Jones has missed the mark since he seems to be so fixated on ontology that it seems anytime he sees any language about "persons" and he thinks EFS proponents and Ware MUST be writing about ontology. I guess I can see why the critics have become so confused and think EFS is all about ontological subordination. But the whole point of bringing the language of "persons" is to discuss the works of the persons, since persons work but essences don't. Is that how classical theism expresses itself? Probably not, but the issue is not expression, which can be discussed but it is another issue altogether, but about content. If we take Ware as he is, using his own definitions, then it seems Jones' confusion is a thing entirely of his own doing.

This confusion extends through Jones' response. In Jones' second and fourth points concerning the modes of subsistence and ERAS, Jones has failed to understand Ware's point. If Ware is indeed speaking of ERAS as being economical, then what he says makes sense. The ontological mode of subsistence "work like hand and glove" with the economic ERAS. Now, I do not know how closely Ware thinks those two categories work together, and we probably can discuss that, but claiming some sort of link between the immanent and the economic Trinity should not be a controversial statement in se.

Before we move on, maybe this would be helpful for the critics. The language used by many EFS/ ERAS proponents seem to be personalist language that comes from everyday experience. We interact with persons, so "persons" are defined dynamically as individuals we relate to. Such is a natural way of thinking. After all, if we talk to the Father, we are talking to the Father, not to the Son and not to the Spirit. Of course, such is not how theological discourse about the doctrine of God has been conducted traditionally, and I think we can all acknowledge that. But must the two be mutually exclusive, as if any talk about "person" is merely scholastic and not be at the same time understandable in some sense to the normal person?

Back to Jones' article, Jones in his third point claims that Ware's third point leads to monothelitism. I must say I did not expect such a response. Discussion of libertarian versus compatibilist free will does not require one to parse out the dual nature of Christ's two wills. For the presence of apologetics, we treat the two wills of Christ as an unified bundle (one bundle of two wills). After all, the two wills of Christ do not contradict each other, so for most purposes not involving Christology, we can treat the two wills as one unified bundle of (the two) wills. As such, Jones' point falls short here as well.

Jones in his conclusion essentially found Ware "incoherent." I beg to differ. It seems to me that he as with many other critics continue to misrepresent their opponents. It doesn't have to be that way if only we start listening to the other and get to know their positions better. Thus it is my hope that more light can be shed on the issues and less heat.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Bruce Ware's recent post, and ERAS

Dr. Bruce Ware has rather recently came up with a guest post speaking to the issue of the Trinity, in light of the recent Trinitarian controversy. As I have mentioned many times, I do think Ware's and Grudem's critics are misrepresenting them, and this piece by Ware seems to validate my case. Of course, I could be wrong, but then, such has to be proven, and I don't see critics proving their case.

In this interview, we see Ware affirm the doctrine of the oneness of God's will in his answers to the first and second queries:

In this way, the personal works of the Father, Son, and Spirit may be distinctive but never divided; each may focus on particular aspects of the divine work yet only together accomplish the one, harmonious, unified work of God. Each work of the Trinitarian persons, then, is inseparable, while aspects of that one work are hypostatically distinguishable. Inseparable, but not indistinguishable—this accounts for the full biblical record of the works of God which are unified works done by the one God, yet always carried out in hypostatically distinguishable ways.

...

So, in this sense, each of the three persons possesses the identically same will, just as each of them possesses the identically same power, and knowledge, and holiness, and love, etc. Yet, while each possesses the same volitional capacity, each also is able to activate that volitional capacity in exercising the one will in distinct yet unified ways according to their distinct hypostatic identities and modes of subsistence.

Ware's third answer is a rejection of libertarian freedom with regards to the willingness of God the Son in the economy of salvation. In Ware's fourth answer, he claims that he (at least) now believes in the eternal generation of the Son.

In his fifth answer, Ware sends what seems to me a clear signal that he distinguishes between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity, and does not hold to ontological subordination at all but rather that the eternal relations of authority and submission (ERAS) happen only in the economic sense. He states:

In other words, authority and submission are functional and hypostatic, not essential (i.e., of the divine essence) or ontological categories, and hence they cannot rightly be invoked as a basis of declaring one’s ontology (nature) greater and the other’s lesser.

It is interesting that, in the comment section, the same kind of terrible argumentation is repeated ad nauseum. Ware, as it seems to be proven from this article, clearly claims that ERAS pertains only to the economic Trinity, but yet in the comment section, we have people continue to attack him of promoting ontological subordination. My question then is: Where's the proof that he did so? If Ware denies that, and explicitly states here that he only believes in ERAS in the economic sphere, shouldn't we accept his statement as true, unless one wants to call him a liar? Where's the proof that Ware is promoting ontological subordination? I don't see it!

Now I get it that Ware and Grudem are biblicists and are reframing certain theological categories. But that alone does not constitute heresy. Disliking how they theologize is insufficient for the type of accusations that have been hurled at them. If their critics want to be taken seriously by those of us who are "in the middle," so to speak, start actually representing them correctly. If you think Ware and Grudem actually affirm ontological subordination, please show us why that is the case and why Ware is lying in this interview. Until they do so, I would hope that they stop their baseless pontification and stop violating the ninth commandment.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

On the word "heresy"

As the current Trinitarian controversy continues, Liam Golligher has posted an article discussing the use of the word "heresy." This of course is interesting apart from the specific controversy we are discussing, and it is to this we want to look at now.

According to Golligher, the word "heresy" is a weighty term and to be used with caution. He however also tied the word with his doctrine of the church or ecclesiology, such that the word "heresy" is used for doctrines against the "heart" of the confession of faith of an ecclesiastical body. Furthermore, the word "heresy" does not declare someone an unbeliever or "immediately disqualify one from teaching," a rather strange thing to say if said error strikes at the "heart" of the creeds and confessions of faith of the church.

This tying of "heresy" to ecclesiology is rather common it seems, but is that proper? Of course it is ultimately the church that declares heresy, and that is not in dispute. But does the church declare an error a heresy, or does it declare an heresy an heresy? In other words, does the church make an error heresy, or merely declares that it was and is an heresy?

The opposite of "heresy" is "orthodoxy." A doctrine is true if the Scripture state it as being true. Scripture stands above the church, and thus whether a doctrine is true does not depend on what the church says. The Roman church at Trent for example anathemized the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but the veracity of the doctrine of justification by faith alone does not in any way depend on what Rome declares at Trent. Protestants especially, being heirs of the Reformation, must hold that orthodoxy is independent of the proclamation of any church body. Only Scripture, and the God of Scripture, determines what is truth and what is error, and thus orthodoxy is an objective fact independent of church deliberations, councils and judgments.

Similarly, if "orthodoxy" is objective and independent of the church, then "heresy" must be likewise objective and independent of the church. The church cannot create orthodoxy, so neither can it create heresy. Arianism, the teaching that Jesus is a lesser deity, is heresy before Nicea at 325AD. Arianism is not to be considered orthodox before Nicea, and heretical after Nicea, as if the church created a new criteria for truth and error by ecclesiastical fiat. We are not Romanists where the pope determine truth and error, but Reformed Protestants. The final authority for faith and life is Scripture, not the church; Sola Scriptura, not Sola Ecclesia.

If that is so, then Goligher's idea of "heresy" is troubling. According to Titus 3:9-10, from where we get the use of the word "heresy" in the KJV, the word "heresy" refers to a serious doctrinal error which leads to condemnation of the persons holding and teaching it. In other words, the word "heresy" has the connotation that a person willfully holding and teaching it is in dangers of the fires of hell. It is not, as Golligher puts it, merely striking "at the heart of the creeds and confessions of the church" but still might be done by a believer. Besides, if we actually believe that the creeds and confessions of the church are the summary of the Christian faith, what does it even mean to say that a person may strike at the heart of these creeds and confessions yet remain a believer? Can a believer attack the "heart" of the Christian faith and still be a believer? What does that even mean?

Golligher is right that the word "heresy" is not to be used lightly. Yet, if we look at what the word connotates, we should be wary of using it in places where what we just mean is "unbiblical." To charge someone of heresy is to charge the person as being an unbeliever, a wolf in sheep's clothing. That is why the rhetoric coming from Trueman et al is extremely intemperate, for in charging them of denying Nicea, they are essentially charging Ware and Grudem of being false teachers who are bringing their followers to hell. Goligher can think he is just saying that their teaching is not in line with the catholic Reformed faith, but he is actually saying more than that. And one does not really have the right to redefine the word "heresy," for we are not living in the land of Alice and Humpty Dumpty.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Abuse, Survivor blogs and Due process

In light of this post, I would like to make some brief comments on the really tricky issue of those who have been harmed by the practice of a twisted form of complementarianism, and the complaint of not being heard from Aimee Byrd, which I am sure is shared by quite a number of others especially some women.

That abuse goes on by ungodly men using or misusing complementarian teaching, either the correct or wrong version, is an altogether sad reality. The biggest and most recent episodes are those linked to C.J. Mahaney, of which I will not presume to say who is correct or who is wrong there. But I will suppose that there are actual cases of abuse, not only by generic men on women, but also husbands on wives. I will even grant that the men and husbands are promoters of complementarian teachings of some kind, so what are we to do about this?

First of all, that abusers might espouse complementarian teachings has nothing to do with the legitimacy of said teachings, unless one can prove said teaching actually teaches abuse. We don't throw out the truth that 1+1 = 2 just because Hitler believed in it. Neither do we reject biological sciences just because of Richard Dawkins! The actions of some do not necessarily show us what they teach are right, or wrong.

Secondly, it is illegitimate to blame complementarians and CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) for any and every abuse committed by anyone who claims to be a complementarian. It may be that the abuser distorts the actual teaching of those complementarians and especially those associated with CBMW. And CBMW does not have to apologize for every single instance of abuse, as if they are somehow responsible for those abuses even though they don't know the abusers. How would any woman feel if we were to blame her for every wrong that Hilary Clinton said and did, because Hilary is a woman, and she is a woman? Is that fair? Does every woman have to apologize for every wrong Hilary Clinton did because they are also women?

Thirdly, while I do sympathize with those who have been abused, the last thing abused people need is to go to "survivor blogs" and reinforce their anger and have their anger and sorrow be twisted into hatred and bitterness. "Survivor blogs" are one of the worst places to be for anyone. Yes, I do not deny the hurt and anger, and clearly they have legitimate grievances. But is the right thing to do - to nurture one's grievances into bitterness and a desire for revenge? What does Scripture teach on the topic? Abused people need healing, not revenge. The LORD Himself says that He is the one who will avenge, NOT you (Rom. 12:19). Ephesians 4:31 states, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice." You presumably are a Christian, so shouldn't you obey God's commands? And even Christians sin, what more possibly unbelievers present in the church?

Abused people need healing, and they should get this from their local church and from the means of grace therein. They will not get this healing online, and in fact they become thorns hurting everyone they interact with. They become twisted, seeing anyone who does not take their position on any issue as being "anti-women" and "abetting the abuser," all baseless and false accusations but their bitterness have blinded them to their own sin, which brings us to the next point.

When making charges, there is something in civil and criminal courts called due process. Anyone charged should be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Charges have to be filed, then the process of examining the evidences will begin, and finally a verdict will be given. The adage of "innocent until proven guilty" is so as to protect the accused from false accusations and the consequences of such accusations, for how does one know before examining the evidences whether the accused is actually guilty, or innocent? If one denies due process, how would you like it if I accuse you of any crime, for example murder, and you are to be treated as guilty until you prove your innocence? Do you think that is fair? But if you don't think that is fair, then shouldn't you extend it also to those whom you think are in the wrong?

Such is the main issue with Aimee Byrd's complaint. The people she charges with error are just that, charged. There has been no examination of the evidences in any proper meaningful way, especially with over-the-top rhetoric and much misrepresentation from the "classical theist" side. That she might THINK the case has been concluded does not make it so! So if the evidences have not been all examined, shouldn't we treat the accused as "innocent until proven guilty"? Why the rush to condemn entire swaths of conservative Calvinist theologians who are supposed to be our brothers in Christ? Or do you think your judgment is superior to that of the entire church and church courts?

Aimee complained about not being heard. Excuse me! Does anyone hear me? I am a man, and am a licentiate under the OPC, so what? Why should anyone think they are entitled to not only being heard, but also for everyone to operate at their speed in terms of examining the evidence and making a judgment? I'm sorry, but Aimee's complaint is entirely inappropriate, and it has nothing to do with her being a woman.

It is my wish that those who have been abused should seek healing in the community of believers in a true church. This is what they need, not more incitement to anger and revenge. Stop looking for people and people groups to blame, and know that whatever sins they might have committed, you too are sinful and require forgiveness just as much as them.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Christ the Center: Trinity, Processions and Missions

Over on the Reformed Forum, the most recent Christ the Center podcast focuses on the topic of the Trinity, which has gained much interest in light of the recent controversy, and it can be found here. Of course, having followed this controversy when it blew up and having much concern over all the fighting, which to me I find unnecessary and unhelpful, I listened intently to the podcast. I must say this podcast is excellent and expresses my views better than I could have phrased it myself. This one podcast in my opinion is better than all of Trueman's posts, Goligher's posts, Grudem's and Ware's posts, and Mark Jones' posts put together, and much more edifying.

One of my worries over some of the polemics from the "classical theist" side is that it seems to lean towards functional modalism. This piece especially was very worrying. As I have said in a previous piece, God's will is one yet it must subsists in the three distinct (not separate) personal wills. If we insist on just the one will, we end up almost as it were de-personalizing the persons and reduce them to mere things which are different yet we totally have no idea what the difference is. We end up moving towards modalism materially, even while being orthodox formally.

The guys at the Reformed Forum have really come up with the third way those of us who are biblical and confessional desire, and it is beautiful. God is three AND one. We should never reduce the reality of the three in service of the one, or the other way around. When Trinitarian theology is done right, we have both the three and the one without trying to emphasize one over the other, and I think the podcast have accomplished just that beautiful balance and the right position.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My thoughts on the recent Trinitarian controversy

Adam Parker has compiled a summary of some of the major posts on the recent Trinitarian controversy here. It seems to me that this is the first major controversy between major theologians that is being fought online, which I guess is something.

As I have established in the past few posts, I tend towards the position held by those who promote some form of ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son), even though I am a Reformed Confessionalist. That said, with regards to Ware and Grudem, I do not find some of what they say helpful on the topic. Grudem's hedging on the topic of eternal generation is a big issue in my opinion. As Grudem states,

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.) (Source)

Whether one wishes to affirm or reject eternal generation, exhibiting confusion over what the doctrine is teaching is not acceptable for a theologian who is trying to teach us concerning the doctrine of God. Eternal generation is the teaching that the person of the Son is begotten of the person of the Father from eternity, and this begetting implies likeness and royal anointing (Ps. 2). It speaks of God ad intra, not of the works of God.

In this light, the very notion of "hierarchy" when applied to the Godhead is likewise confusing at best. If by "hierarchy," we mean the submission of the Son, then we are speaking about God ad extra. Even then, the word "hierarchy" often has the connotation of some form of superior-inferior ranking, and surely this is not what complementarians want to convey, so why use such a term when we can use better terms like "submission" and "obedience"? Also, talk about God's "inner life" is infelicitous. If by that we refer to God in His works, the Persons interacting among each other before time began, that I think is orthodox, for it is in the divine counsel that the Covenant of Redemption was made. But the phrase "inner life" can, and this might be more natural, mean God's essence, and this is where we should not go, for there is no change or multiplicity in God's essence.

Thus, I do think one can legitimately raise some concerns over what some complementarians are teaching. Our doctrine of God is most sacred, and getting this right is very important. It is no point getting the doctrine of justification and all of salvation right if we end up worshiping the wrong God.

Now, if Reformed Confessionalists would just start pointing out those issues and seek clarification, I doubt we would have a big uproar as what we are having now. But it seems some people just love to come out with guns blazing. Both Liam Goligher and Carl Trueman in their initial attack posts have charged complementarians Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem with the heresy of subordinationism, of "reinventing God" and of sliding towards Arianism. All of these of course are serious charges. If true, Ware, Grudem and their group of complementarians are essentially heretics who should be placed under immediate church discipline. If false, Goligher and Trueman should repent immediately and publicly. With so much weight on those accusations, one should be ready to back them up and defend them vigorously, and to some extent the prosecuting side have been beating the drums, and posting articles attacking Ware et al on this issue.

There are two problems however with the prosecution. First, instead of going after the language of "hierarchy" and other infelicious things, they decided to go after the doctrine of the eternal submission of the Son, which implicates many people who may not be comfortable with some of the other things CBMW (Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) has been saying. Second, they are not doing a good job and misrepresent Ware and Grudem, which is quite a turn-off. Saying Ware and Grudem's position is subordinationism is different from saying it implies subordinationism. Latching onto the use of the word "subordination" is not helpful since the word itself can mean different things depending on the person who wrote it and the context. The prosecution prefers attacking where they think Ware's and Grudem's position are deficient, which would be fine IF Ware and Grudem have explicitly stated that as their position, but they have not. Again, it might be true that Ware's and Grudem's position would imply such and such an error, but that is not the same thing as saying that Ware and Grudem hold to said error.

All of these attacks have only served to alienate those of us who are striving to be biblical and confessional. Even though I might have been on their side if they have properly pointed out problems in Ware's and Grudem's doctrine of God, wild misrepresentation and broad generalizations have swung me to the other side, and I am sure I'm not the only one. Of what good does it do to misrepresent the other party and attack a doctrine that has nothing to do with subordinationism?

It is here that I am happy that Goligher has written an irenic letter to Ware and Grudem stating his points and a plea for Gospel unity. This is how the conversation should be moving, in a way that puts forward what is true and orthodox. All of Goligher's points here I have nothing to quibble about, and in fact by focusing on the pactum he has found what I think is the best place for convergence between the views.

It is my hope that subsequent exchanges be more along the lines of Goligher's letter. I think there is room for legitimate disagreements over whether we can call the role of the Son in the Pactum "Eternal Submission," but we need more light and less heat. Ultimately, all of us are trying to follow Scripture and to come to know God more in this life, so, unless there is clear heresy involved, let us dispense of the strong rhetoric and talk about our real differences as among brothers (and sisters) in Christ.

Is there any relation between the immanent and the economic Trinity?

The immanent Trinity speaks about God in se, God ad intra, God in His being and essence. The economic Trinity focuses on God in His works, God ad extra. The two do not describe two trinities, or two modes of the Trinity, but rather it is a distinction between God's being and God's works. It is foremost the persons of the Trinity who work, and thus, while God is described as working, it is right and proper to talk about the various works of the various persons of the Godhead.

In the immmanent Trinity, the Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten, and the Spirit proceeding. The three are co-equal in all things, without any hint of subordination. In the economic Trinity, the Father is first, the Son submits to the Father, and the Spirit to both the Father and the Son, being sent by both of them. There is an order of submission in the economic Trinity which is absent in the immanent Trinity, but does that imply there is no order whatsoever in the immanent Trinity? What is the relation between the immanent and the economic Trinity?

The two of course speak about the one Triune God, and therefore to say that there is no relation whatsoever between the immanent and the economic Trinity seems to imply different "trinities." God is one, and therefore one cannot separate the immanent from the economic Trinity. At the same time, God in His works is not the same concept as God in His being. How then should we understand the relation between the two concepts (which describe a single reality)?

It is right and Reformed to use the archetypal and ectypal distinction here, and we will. God has archetypal knowledge, and He alone is incomprehensible (which is to say we cannot fully grasp His knowledge even in kind). We only have ectypal knowledge, which is true knowledge true of God and the world, suited for us yet differing from God's archetypal knowledge. The knowledge of God in His being in its fullness belong to God alone in His archetypal knowledge. What we know about God in His being mostly come from philosophizing on how to protect against wrong understandings of God. There is no explicit biblical assertions of the being of God, or even the distinction between being and persons. We are told snippets of facts about God, and through the process of philosophical and theological thought through the history of the church, we have come up with our current Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

The knowledge of God in His works however is much clearer, for that shows us how God interacts with us. And here we see there is a certain correlation here between God's being and archetypal knowledge, and God's works and ectypal knowledge. Ectypal knowledge is a reflection of archetypal knowledge, and thus we should see God's works as a reflection of God's being.

We see this reflection at work on a couple of issues. God in His being is a se; God in His works is sovereign and done by Himself alone. God in His being is timeless; God in His works is everlasting. God in His being is impassible; God in His work is constant and faithful in His emotions towards us. God in His being is holy; God in His work sanctifies, and destroys the profane. Whatever is true of God's being is reflected in God's works, not correlated or equated but reflected.

So likewise, in the work of the Pactum we see the eternal submission of the Son. What this is a reflection of is the order of relation in the Trinity. In the being of God, the Father is unbegotten, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. But here we must note that it is a reflection. The order of submission in God's work is a reflection of the order of relation in God's being, which implies that there is no submission in the order of relation. Eternal generation never implies subordination of any kind, and Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy hold that subordination in the being of God is heresy.

The relation here between the immanent and the economic Trinity is that the order of submission in the economic Trinity is a reflection of the order of relation in the immanent Trinity. I will go further: The terms themselves are explicit reflections of the mission of God. In other words, that we use the term "begotten" and "proceeding" instead of "X" and "Y" to describe the relations between the persons of the Godhead show us how closely the order of relation is to the order of submission. While Father, Son and Spirit are co-equal and none submit to the other, yet the order of relation comes out in the submission of the Son to the Father, and the Spirit to the Father and Son.

The Father is first in order, unbegotten, thus the Father sends. The Son is second in order, begotten, thus the Son is sent. THe Spirit is third in order, proceeding, thus the Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son. This is the relation between the immanent and the economic Trinity on the issue of His covenantal relationship between the persons, and stands fully in line with Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy as well as the Reformed Confessions.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Eternal economic obedience of the Son in the Pactum Salutis

In the Pactum Salutis, the Covenant of Redemption, the three co-equal persons of the Godhead make a covenant, in which God the Father functions as the Lord of the Covenant who will send God the Son to die for the sins of the elect, through the power and surety of God the Holy Spirit. This covenant is the doing of God, and thus as a work, it belongs to the sphere of the economic Trinity. As God's work, it speaks of the persons of the Godhead as not timeless but everlasting. God the Father actually engages with His co-equals God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in this covenant before the world began. Thus, from eternity God the Son, though co-equal with God, has covenanted Himself to take the role of the servant, a role He would exercise during the incarnation.

What is important to note here is that because of the Covenant of Redemption, God the Son from eternity has put Himself in a lower role, otherwise known as "to submit," relative to the Father, taking the role of the Servant of the Covenant. Though equal with God in essence, equal to God in worth, value and honor in every way, though equal to God in the making of the covenant, yet He submits to the Father in the terms of the covenant. Nowhere in the making of this covenant did God the Son become subordinate in status, being honor, glory, or anything else. Neither does the Son become inferior just because He is the Servant in the Covenant.

It is typical for us to think of submission in terms of superiority and inferiority, but this is not necessarily true. Believers are called to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21), but this does not in any way imply that one believer is superior or inferior to another. Submission can of course imply a subordination of status, but as we have seen in Ephesians 5:21, it does not have to. Everytime a husband asks his wife for counsel when he is unable to make a decision and decides to follow through her decision, he has in some sense submitted to his wife on that matter at that instance. Of course, that He is the head means that he ultimately stands behind her decision and consciously chooses to follow it, but this does not imply that on that matter he has not submitted to her counsel at that instant.

Thus, to say that God the Son submits to God the Father in no way necessarily implies superiority or inferiority on any one party. In the covenant of redemption, God the Son obeyed the Father, taking on the lower role of the Servant, in order to save the elect for the praise of God's glory.

There is therefore an eternal economic obedience of the Son, a submission from eternity by God the Son, in light of the pactum salutis. The persons of the Godhead are not interchangeable, and thus it is fitting that God the Son took on a submissive role in the economy of salvation. To deny otherwise is to attack the Covenant of Redemption, and thus undermine the biblical doctrine of our salvation.