Thursday, July 28, 2016

EFS, Nicea and Confessionalism

A rather common accusation against EFS (Eternal Functional Submission) is that it is against Nicea. To people like Goligher, anyone embracing any form of EFS by default departs from Nicene Orthodoxy. Strangely enough, the charge is also made that EFS is a novel doctrine. But if it is novel, then how can Nicea be against EFS since a novel doctrine would be.... novel?

Now, it is possible that EFS contradicts Nicea, but one has to prove that EFS explicitly denies something that Nicea holds to be true and necessary for orthodoxy. EFS deniers commonly do this by stating that EFS teaches some form of subordination of the persons of the Godhead in the immanent Trinity. That EFS proponents have never once stated their position in anything remotely resembling such terms doesn't faze them a bit. One gets the feeling EFS deniers think they understand what EFS teaches better than EFS proponents do.

Since EFS is never phrased in the heretical phrasing that EFS deniers would love it to be phrased, subordinationism is at best a logical inference from EFS, and not the teaching of EFS itself. So in the best case scenario for the EFS deniers, what they should at most assert is that EFS logically entails subordinationism. We of course know that is not where they are going. Rather, they are mirroring the New Calvinists they abhor and are busy circling the wagons and beating the drums, as if their position has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Having taken a third position on the topic, it is disheartening to see that, with the exception of a few, both sides aren't interested in actual interaction. The echo chamber in one side is just as big and full as the echo chamber in the other. Actually, since the so-called "confessionalists" are the ones working overtime in beating their drums, I guess their echo chamber is currently bigger than the New Calvinist one. Anyone want to dispute that please show me where you have ever interacted with the substance (not form or subsidiary points like historical citations) of what the other side, or what I, have written (and by "interact" I mean engage, not ignore and re-assert your points).

Regardless, I would like to put forward one main point here in this post: the "confessionalists" in this debate are not acting like Confessionalists but Fundamentalists! What is the difference, you might ask? Well, Confessionalism focuses on the historic creeds and Reformed confessions of the Church, and these confessions form the doctrinal constitution for the church. In my other blog which I have recently revived, I have been working my way in trying to put forward what makes a Reformed church Reformed. One of the more recent posts deal with how one should hold to the confessions, and I explicitly contrasted holding to confession-as-constitution with confession-as-doctrinal-summary. The two ways of holding to the confession dovetail nicely with the difference between Reformed Confessionalism and Fundamentalism in application on this particular issue, which I will explicate as follows.

The beauty of true Reformed Confessionalism is that it at once sets a standard while allowing liberty on the "gaps" in the Confession. An obvious example is that one can be either an infralapsarian or a supralapsarian while holding on to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The OPC (also the PCA) has ruled in its creation report that one can hold to the Framework Hypothesis, Analogical Days or the Day-Age theory despite the WCF stating that creation happens in 6 days, which means that they think that the interpretation of "6 days" is one such "gap" in the Confession where a few diverse views can be tolerated. Regardless of what one thinks about the toleration of different views of the creation days, what this tells us is that seeing the confession-as-constitution means that there is both a certain strictness and a certain laxity when it comes to doctrine. Whatever attacks the faith is proscribed, but whatever diverse views that may not attack the system of doctrine should be tolerated.

As opposed to this, holding to the confession-as-doctrinal-summary position means that every single thing in the confession must be strictly enforced according to the strictest possible reading and interpretation. Fundamentalists excel in making everything they care about of primary importance. And officially Reformed churches are not immune to the Fundamentalist zeitgeist; it is possible to hold to Reformed doctrine in a Fundamentalist way.

So let us apply the two paradigms to the issue of EFS. Is EFS a novel view? Yes, because it is neither taught nor opposed at Nicea, whatever Wayne Grudem might have thought. Is EFS a form of subordinationism? Since EFS has always claimed full equality of the persons of the Godhead in nature and honor, except roles, EFS is not subordinationism. But does EFS necessitate some form of subordinationism? That might be argued, but at best is it a logical implication, and the case is by no means strong.

If one holds to the confession-as-doctrinal-summary position, then the actions of Jones, Goligher et al is understandable, since EFS is asserted to be subordinationism, as Fundamentalism doesn't see a difference between logical implication and plain assertion. But if one holds to the confession-as-constitution position, then EFS would not be so proscribed. As we have said, at best EFS logically leads to subordinationism. So EFS itself is not proscribed by the creeds and confession of the Reformed church. In a Confessional church setting, EFS would currently occupy the grey area with other doctrines like infralapsarianism, framework hypothesis and other doctrines neither taught nor proscribed by creeds and confessions. In a confessional setting, the church might in the future pass a ruling that EFS is error, but until then it is not. But you may ask about its logical conclusion, what about that? Well, the argument that EFS necessitates subordinationism at best is not strong in any form it currently takes. Furthermore, if one thinks that possible logical implications must necessarily proscribe the doctrine, then I suggest we get rid of the framework hypothesis and attack it as heresy first, since I think that one possible implication of the framework hypothesis is heresy. But if the OPC and PCA thinks that the Framework hypothesis is a valid interpretation despite the possible logical implications of these theories, then the possible logical implications of EFS have no bearing at all on whether EFS itself should be tolerated in confessional churches.

EFS is not Nicene. But neither is it against Nicene. It is rather extra-Nicene, just like Christ as autotheos is extra-Nicene. A true confessionalist would tolerate EFS even in its Bruce Ware incarnation, unless and until the Reformed Church pass an authoritative ruling on the matter.

So will you choose to be a Fundamentalist or a Confessionalist on the topic of EFS? The choice is yours.


Bruce said...

Daniel, I have appreciated your thoughtful and gracious perspectives on this controversy. After the recent derogatory responses by the usual cast of characters to Denny Burk's recent post it was the last straw for me. Not that it would matter to them, but I dropped them as FB friends. I couldn't take the arrogance and ungracious attitudes any longer (not to speak of frequent inaccurate characterizations of the EFS view). I really hope some of the leading Reformed statesmen will speak into this. I heard that Ligon Duncan will be presenting something in the fall. Thanks again.

Daniel C said...

Hi Bruce,

I see and you're welcome. Yes, I hope saner Reformed statesmen would speak into this issue.