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.

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.

Tuesday, June 21, 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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Eternity, timelessness, never ending time and prayer

Is God timeless, or everlasting? Or, is God to be seen as someone who stands outside of time, or someone who interacts in time while not bound by its limitations?

Traditionally, God is seen as timeless, that is, God stands outside of time. In the sense that there cannot be any change in God, i.e. God is immutable, God in His essence must be timeless. But if we just say that God is timeless, and continue no further than that, such would pose the problem of how God can interact with people. Something that is outside of time, if it does not come into time, cannot interact with things in time. After all, interaction in time requires time to be shared between the subject and the object of an interaction, and a timeless being is unable to "share time."

It should come as no surprise when certain Baptist theologians in England in the 18th century decided to attempt consistency between their doctrine of God and their understanding of God's decrees. We call these theologians Hyper-Calvinists. Although it can be debated whether John Gill was a Hyper-Calvinist, what is common between any high Calvinist and the hyper-Calvinists of that era is their immenantization of God's decree. For since God is simple, God's will is one, and God is timeless, therefore God's decree must be ever present and ever true at all times. God decrees to justify the elect, therefore justification of the elect must be eternal as God's decree is eternal. One can call that kind of reasoning "Rationalism" if we so desire, but that tells us nothing about the path of reasoning the hyper-Calvinists take to reach the doctrine of eternal justification.

The decision to immenantize God's decree comes from viewing God as solely timeless, and then trying to resolve the tension between God's timelessness and God's decree which seems to be progressively executed, with the tension solved by denying the progressive execution of God's decree. Of course, one could say that their problem is trying to resolve a tension that should not be resolved, but my point in giving this example is to show that seeing God as merely timeless is not without its potential problems.

A greater problem for the issue of timelessness comes, ironically, in practice. Specifically, it concerns the doctrine of prayer. What exactly happens when we believers pray? If we say God hears our prayers and answers then, that implies that God interacts with us and works in time. But a timeless being cannot do that. A timeless being can institute "timed acts" to happen at best, so we can say that God through foreknowledge knows what and when I will pray and thus He instituted an act X to occur time Y after my prayer to give the illusion of an interaction. But this is not genuine personal interaction, but rather more akin to an automated scripted response, where a computer is told what to do and what responses to give when a certain command line or request is relayed to the system. Does the one true God who is portrayed in Scripture as being involved with His people and delighting in them sound like an automated response script to you? I hope not! But this is probably the best idea of God's "interactions" if God is indeed timeless in every respect.

If God in all three persons interact in time with us His creatures, then all three persons of the Trinity must interact in time, although they are certainly not bound to the limitations of time. It is only when we see God as interacting in time that the idea of prayer as being that of a creaturely petition to God in a genuine covenantal interaction makes any sense. But if God interacts in time, then we must say that God in His acts is not timeless. Rather, "eternity" in this case means "everlasting." God's works, which is to say God ad extra, is not timeless but rather everlasting.

Since God in His work is everlasting, that means that we can speak of "eternity past" and "eternity future." We can speak of the persons of the Trinity in a dynamic fashion, and thus the eternal Covenant of Redemption is constituted not in a timeless "now," but in the "eternal time" before time actually begun. While we must always maintain that God is outside of time in His essence, we must maintain that God in His works is situated in "eternal time," which is to say "time" as a series of progressions rather than created time t, the 4th dimension in space-time physics.

We must remember that the overwhelming imperative for this argument is to preserve the reality of prayer and real actual communion with God. These things are to be non-negotiable realities of the Christian faith, and any theology that cannot account for them is to be rejected immediately. If one were to preserve timelessness as being not only pertaining to God in His essence but to the persons of the Godhead, then the onus is on that party to tell us how prayer can be real if the persons of the Trinity are all timeless persons. In my opinion, it can never work, but I would certainly be interested in anyone who wants to attempt such a case!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The will of God and simplicity

In Christian orthodoxy, we believe that God is simple. To say that God is simple is to say that He is "without parts," not a composite being. Anything that is composite, being made up of parts, can be "dismantled" into parts. For example, a chair is not simple, for any part of the chair can be cut off to form 2 or more parts. A human being is not simple, since we can remove a hand and we have a person (without one hand) and a detached hand. Basically, almost anything that exists is composite, since it can be broken further. Even an atom can be broken up into electrons, protons and neutrons, and those can be broken up even further.

The point here when applied to God, other than to say that God is totally unlike the creation, is that God cannot be made deficient. One gets God, or one gets nothing. Also, since one cannot separate anything of God from God, God's being is His attribute, who is He is what He is described as in full. Or, to be more technical, God's essence is His attributes. Since God is indivisible, God's will is one. His will is His attributes is His being, and there is no plurality in His being.

Of course, God is triune, which means that in this one being there are three persons, all coequal and all fully God. It is a lofty truth which stretches our minds, and we can never fully comprehend this truth. But throughout the centuries, we have come up with theological concepts in order to safeguard our thinking about God from veering into heresy. God is both one and three, but obviously anything cannot be both one and three in the same way, so we come up with the language of essence and persons to safeguard the truth of the one and the three. We especially use the word "person" (προσωπον; personna) because there lies the closest analogue we can find in seeing how humans behave as persons. A person acts and interacts, and the different persons of the Trinity act and interact with the world and God's people just like how persons do. By definition, persons are individuals such that Person A is not Person B. If God the Father says to Jesus "This is my beloved Son," it is God the Father who is saying this, not God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. To say otherwise is to move towards Modalism, whereby the one God as the Father says "This is my beloved son" to himself as the Son, which is of course heretical.

If the persons of the Trinity are indeed persons, then they are persons. Persons in order to act and interact will, and then they act on that will to effect what they will should be done. In other words, a real person must have a real will of his own. To go back to that example, does God the Father will to say "This is my beloved son"? Yes, but does God the Son say that? No. God the Son did not say "This is my beloved Son," and therefore He did not will to say it, for if He willed to say it, He would have said it. Different persons necessitate distinct wills, for otherwise they are not real persons.

But one can object that my example comes from Jesus in His incarnation. Yes, so let's run with that. Are those who reject distinct wills of the person willing to therefore say, in line with their "exception" clause of the incarnation, that during the incarnation at least, Jesus actually have a distinct will from the Father? But oh, it is a human will. Yes, Jesus has both a human and a divine will, but that is besides the point. Whichever will is operative is the one acted on. When Jesus knew Nathanael even before He actually saw him (Jn. 1:48), that was the divine nature and divine will at work. When Jesus said, "I thirst," that was the human nature and will at work. So are we to suppose that Jesus' divine will would be wanting to say "This is my beloved son," (since there is one will) but the human will prohibited Jesus from saying the words? May it never be!

So yes, according to the doctrine of simplicity God has one will. Yet I hope it can be seen that, for the persons of the Trinity to be actual persons, each of them must have distinct wills. One will and three wills, and both are true? Yes, just as God is both three and one, His will is both three and one. God's will, as an attribute of God is identical to His being. But each persons must also have a distinct will in order to be persons. In explaining the Trinity, we say that God the Father is God, God the Son is God and God the Holy Spirit is God, but the Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we should say that the will of the Father is the will of God, the will of the Son is the will of God, and the will of the Holy Spirit is the will of God, yet the will of the Father is not the will of the Son is not the will of the Holy Spirit.

To be sure, these are not separate autonomous wills, but rather they cohere and work together, for God is one. So as all are the will of God, so whatever God wills, the persons also will. There is therefore an objective similarity between the wills of the persons, but a subjective distinction between them based upon who they are as persons.

It has been said that Western theology tends towards collapsing the three persons into the one essence, while Eastern (Orthodox) theology tends towards over-emphasizing the three distinct persons. It seems perhaps plausible that the current rejection of any form of eternal submission (NOT subordination) of the Son stems from the same Western inclination towards the one essence at the expense of the three persons.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The immanent and economic Trinity, and roles and relations

Over at the Ref21 blog, Alastair Roberts has posted an update of the current debate within evangelical complementarian circles concerning the Trinity. My position seems to land me closer to Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem, and against Liam Goligher and Carl Trueman. In fact, I wonder whether Goligher and Trueman actually accurately represented Ware's and Grudem's position, especially if they both deny what Goligher and Trueman are accusing them of.

It is to me extremely intemperate to use the word "subordination" when it comes to relations within the Trinity. To call Ware's and Grudem's position "Eternal Functional Subordination" seems to me to a misrepresentation of the issue. That said, I do not think the issues have been as clearly presented as it should have.

To begin, we need to understand the difference between the immanent and the economic Trinity. This is NOT speaking about two trinities, neither is it speaking about the Trinity undergoing changes between one mode and another. Rather, the immanent Trinity is the Trinity in His one essence, God ad intra, in Himself. The ecomonomic Trinity speaks about the one Triune God in His working, God ad extra. One is about being and the simplicity of essence, but in the other we are not speaking about being at all — not about what God is, but about what God does.

This distinction between the immanent and the economic Trinity is a distinction, NOT a separation. But this distinction must be at the forefront in this debate, because it seems to me that the critics of Ware and Grudem do not seem to make that distinction clearly. We must start with this distinction if we want any clarity from this debate.

As God in His being, God is simple, which is to say that He has "no parts." This means that God is not made up of different parts so that we can remove an attribute of God and He remains, perhaps deficient and perhaps "not" God, but still existing. No! The doctrine of simplicity, to put it simply, is that one gets God and eveything of who He is, or one gets nothing. It is, to use computing terms, a binary choice, 1 or 0. God has no parts so everything He is is taken as a whole package and cannot be removed.

The simplicity of God means that one cannot separate any aspect of God from another. But this does not imply that God's attributes cannot be distinguished, or that the various relations of the Trinity cannot be distinguished. Distinction is not separation!

Another thing that comes from the immanent Trinity is that the persons of the Trinity are equal in every respect. The Father is equal to the Son and is equal to the Spirit in all respects, in the very essence of God. To use the language of Westminster Shorter Catechism Answer 6, the three persons of the Trinity are "equal in power and glory." There is no subordination among the persons of the Trinity, and thus Subordinationism, the teaching that the Son and Spirit are inferior to the Father, is rightly regarded as heresy.

So there is one nature, one essence, of the Triune God. Does that mean that there is one will, or three wills? It seems that it is both, in different senses. There is the one will of God. Yet the one will of God is differentiated into three wills of the three persons, which are to be sure unified. But one cannot say that the Father's will is the Son's will, but one can say that the Father's will and the Son's will and the Spirit's will is the one will of God. If that sounds confusing, that is because this is the Trinity we are talking about, where God the Father is not God the Son and is not God the Holy Spirit, but the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is one God. So likewise when we talk about the will of God and the wills of the persons.

The reason we get into the issue of wills is because it figures very closely in this debate. If God is both one and three, and His will both one and three, then we can speak and distinguish between the will of the Father and the will of the Son and the will of the Spirit, all while believing that there is one will of God. One does not have to flatten the will of the Father into the will of the Son or vice versa in order to insist on the one will of God! And because there is one will of God, it is impossible for the the Son to contradict the Father, but that is not the same as saying that the will of the Son is the will of the Father in every respect. Being different persons, there is a subjective component in them that distinguishes the wills without separating them!

So far, we are still in the Immanant Trinity, God as He is in His being. But now we move on to the economic Trinity, which is God at work, God ad extra. God in Himself is necessarily timeless, for He is immutable and cannot change. God ad extra however is God at work, and God's work changes. So we see that there was a time when God the Son was not incarnate, and there is the time when God the Son is incarnate, and now there is the time when God the Son is incarnated and exalted. God in His work does "change," not in His being but in His working, "energies" not "essence."

One aspect of such working is God in His covenants. And here we come to the Covenant of Redemption, the pre-temporal covenant in eternity past that God the Father made with God the Son through God the Holy Spirit. It is a covenant made in eternity past, and is worked out in time and its effect goes to eternity future. For all extent and purposes, it is eternal. It is also a free act of God, because it is not necessary for God to make this covenant, but He did it anyway. In this Covenant of Redemption, or pactum salutis, God the Father covenanted with God the Son through God the Holy Spirit AS EQUALS to accomplish the salvation of God's elect. But also in this covenant, God the Son, being coequal with God the Father, submits Himself to the Father in order to come down to die for the sins of many. Equal yet submissive, for the two are not necessarily contradictory. This submission of course is most clearly expressed in the Incarnation as marveled in Philippians 2:6-11, but it is reductionistic not to see this submission as already present in the Son agreeing to take on the role of the Servant in this covenant.

In the immanent Trinity, the persons of the Trinity are coequal. Yet the relations between them have a certain ordering or taxis (ταξις). The Father is unbegotten, the Son begotten, and the Spirit proceeding. The relations do NOT indicate any superiority or inferiority between the persons of the Triune God. In the economic Trinity, the persons of the Trinity are also coequal, for there is no superiority or inferiority even as they enter into the pactum salutis. Yet here in this covenant, the Son took on the role of the servant, thus reflecting the order He took as the begotten Son. NOTE here, I said that the role of the servant reflected the relation of Him as begotten, not that the relation of Him as begotten is an inferior role of the servant.

If all these are true, and I don't see why they should not be true, then it follows that we must speak both of the equality of the persons, and also the inequality of the roles of the persons. The Servant of the Covenant is submitted to the Lord of the Covenant. Christ is of course both Lord and Servant of the Covenant of Grace, but exclusively the servant in the Covenant of Redemption. It is in this sense that we must speak of an eternal submission of the Son (again NOT subordination), not in the immanent Trinity but the economic Trinity; not concerning essence but works; not concerning status but service.

Therefore, it seems to me that Ware and Grudem seem to be more in the right than Goligher and Trueman. I do not say this lightly of course. It does strike me as odd how Goligher and Trueman do not seem to represent the position they are critiquing correctly. Perhaps there are some complementarians who do veer into outright Subordinationism, but if Ware and Grudem both deny that what Goligher and Trueman are critiquing are a correct representation of their own positions, perhaps it is time for Goligher and Trueman to pause and judge whether they have been too hasty in their denunciations? Of course, perhaps Goligher and Trueman are right, but then they should show us why, and try to represent their opponents' position in a way that Ware and Grudem agree is a correct representation of their position.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

On the current buzz concerning Trinitarianism and Evangelical Complementarianism

Recently, there has been a buzz on the Internet over the issue of the Trinity as it regards Complementarianism and gender roles. This is interesting as, a few years back, about 4 years ago to be exact, I have responded to the "Evangelical Statement on the Trinity" and I guess it took 4 years for the issue to start a raging controversy.

After 4 years, I have of course had time to refine my position further but I still stand by my essential position on the topic as I have written 4 years ago.

Basically, my position is that there is a certain ordering within the persons of the Trinity in their relations with each other that does not however give rise to any superiority or inferiority in rank or hierarchy. The persons of the Trinity are coequal in honor and glory and one should not posit any form of disparity among them. Yet because of the ordering within the persons, there arise a functional submission of the Son to the Father (not subordination), and of the Spirit to the Son and the Father. The question is whether the submission is ontological, and it is not. The submission is the functional outworking of the difference in order in the ontological Trinity. Yet the submission, while functional, cannot be limited to the incarnation, for it is present also in the pactum salutis. In eternity, God the Son covenanted with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit to be the propitiation for the elect to save them from their sins. It is God the Son who "submitted" as the servant in this eternal covenant. As I have said, it is not as if we have three persons X1, X2, X3 who rolled the cosmic dice and whoever picked the side termed "Father" became the Father. No, God the Father is the Father by nature not by the roll of the cosmic dice. Ditto God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Thus, while I do agree that submission of the Son to the Father is of the economic Trinity, I do not agree that such a submission is merely temporal. The Covenant of Redemption is made in eternity past, and its effect extends to eternity future. Also, while disagreeing with, as it seems, some complementarians like Bruce Ware concerning reading roles into the ontological Trinity, one should not deny that there is a difference in relations among the persons of the Trinity. The Father is always unbegotten, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeded, and these three relations are immutable in the nature of the Triune God. The relations are not intercheangeable, and to read egalitarianism into the Godhead should be regarded as just as heretical as reading hierarchy into the ontological Trinity. If one wishes to condemn what one sees as a new strain of subordinationism, one should also condemn its opposite error in removing any real difference within the relations of the Godhead.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Christians and the Church: Extra ecclesiam nulla salus

[continued from here and here]

Application: How shall we think of church and those in non-Reformed churches

If, as we have said, a strong correlation between the visible and invisible church makes the best sense of the biblical data, then what does it inform us of the church? It means the Visible Church is very important. It is not a gathering of Christians to sing some songs, hear a motivational speech, and thus perform their "Sunday duty." It is not a place for one to exercise one's desire to serve, as if the church is a charity to help give you meaning and purpose in life through your service. No, the Visible Church is nothing more and nothing less than the Institution of God for His purpose and glory, as we see it. The Invisible church is the institution of God as God sees it. The difference between the invisible and the visible church is not qualitative, as in the non-denominational position that the invisible church pertains to salvation and the visible church is the gathering of those who are saved. Neither is it quantitative, as inclusivists would make it to be. Neither is it temporal, as the Federal Visionists would make it (the Visible as the present; invisible as eschatological). But it is "optical," as in they reflect the same reality from different points of view.

The divergence in viewpoints is what allows for the "exception," or the "extraordinary" cases whereby it is possible for true believers to not be in a Reformed church. Since the Reformed churches are made of sinful people, and true believers may have sin in their lives (including intellectual sins) that prevent them from joining a Reformed church, the Visible Church will not fully correlate with the Invisible Church. But since the two ought to correlate, this means it is a Christian imperative for anyone who calls himself Christian to join a Reformed church. To not do so is sin, whether by ignorance or by intention.

Church is important, and joining a biblical church is important, not for salvation, but because obedience to God is a necessary fruit of our salvation. The first application therefore is to ourselves, in that we ought to ensure we are members of a biblical Reformed church. Please note I did not say "activist," but "member." Unless you are called by God, no Christian should feel obligated to serve in the Church, as if the Church would die without your service! The whole purpose of Church is for Christ to feed his flock, not for them to serve Him!

The second application comes to how we ought to discern and treat those outside the Reformed churches, and this is where what I say would be regarded as uncharitable by many professing Christians, but the truth is the truth. If the strong correlation between the visible and the invisible church is correct, then the saying by Cyprian, as interpreted by the Reformed churches, stands true: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus — Outside the Church there is [ordinarily] no salvation. Nice to say perhaps by those who like to sound off the church fathers, but the implication is this: Ordinarily, those in non-Reformed churches should not be regarded as Christians. Let's repeat again for effect: Ordinarily, those in non-Reformed churches should not be regarded as Christians.

This does not mean that we should go around condemning any and every professing believer not in a Reformed church to hell. But this must be the starting baseline. Only from there then we can say that there appears to be many Christians who are not in a Reformed church, and thus we ought to invite them in. We ought to plant as many Reformed churches as possible, and strive to bring people in, converting unbelievers to be sure but also to "convert" evangelicals to join the Reformed church. Many evangelical churches do not exhibit the three marks of the church anyway (Sound preaching of the Word, right administration of the sacraments, proper exercise of church discipline), and they ought to either close down, or repent and become Reformed.

But in order to prevent misdirected zeal, let is be said that the Reformed tradition does not necessarily imply only strict Presbyterian and Reformed churches. The best of the Anglican tradition for example is that of an English Reformed church. There are churches more or less pure, and thus one shouldn't condemn another church merely for being less reformed. The issue is whether the church is Reformed, not how Reformed the church is. This requires wisdom to discern, but the most important thing here is to establish our principles. Does something make a professing Reformed church not Reformed? That depends, but certainly one should be able to say that any church that denies the Gospel is not Reformed, like all Federal Visionist churches.


Ecclesiology sounds abstract and thus appear very theoretical, yet it is actually immensely practical. We have looked at the biblical data and stated that only a strong correlation between the invisible and visible church meets all the biblical data. But if all that is true, then it has immense application for our view of church and church membership, and how we ought to discern other professing Christians. It should make us love the church more, for after all Christ loves the church, and treasure our membership in her. It should also make us desire for the growth of the Reformed church, and desire for all professing believers to believe in the Reformed doctrines and join Reformed churches

Christians and the Church: Res et signum

[continued from here]

The exact relationship between the Invisible Church and the Visible Church is not an easy one to answer. Before we look at a way to resolve this in a way that seems most biblical, let us look at how a few Christian traditions have answered this question.

Various responses in Christian traditions

We will start by looking at the non-Christian "Christian" traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. In Roman Catholicism, there is only the visible church instituted by Christ and found in unity with the pope, the bishop of Rome. While the invisible church is not denied, it is minimized. While Vatican II has coined the term "separate brethren" as a cosmetic veneer to woo evangelicals, the status of everyone not in communion with the Roman pontiff is clear, in that they are at best not in a church, and at worst not believers. Eastern Orthodoxy is similar to Roman Catholicism, except the locus of authority is not in one supreme pontiff, but in the plurality of bishops of the Eastern Patriarchy.

At the opposite extreme of the spectrum lies the non-denominational churches of every kind including the "non-denominational" denominations like Calvary Chapel, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), and many independent churches and house churches. These churches either deny that Christ has in any way instituted his church, or see the invisible church as bearing no relation whatsoever to the visible church. At best, the invisible church is just code for the way of faith and salvation. Believers all join the invisible church by faith. Then they have to join the visible church, in a separate act of faith. The visible church is a voluntary association of believers coming together to worship God, at least as traditionally understood. In the modern period, even the purpose of the church is disputed, thus we see the idea of "social justice emergent gatherings," "disciple-making churches," "evangelistic churches," "healing ministry churches" and all manner of niche ministry churches being formed. As an aside, all of these ideas of "doing church" will only arise, but not necessarily, in congregations that follow the model of denying Church as institution, or denying any necessary relation between the Invisible and the Visible church.

Generally speaking, the traditional Anglican and Methodist model of churches is based on the parish model of doing church. In this, there is the tendency towards the model of Rome and Constantinople. Yet, because the Gospel is primary (or at least used to be primary) in these two church bodies, there is no strict one-to-one correlation as in Rome and Constantinople. Methodism, as originally conceived as a renewal movement within the Church of England, diverts even further from the strong correlation model, although since John Wesley did not set out to start a separate church, I don't think there is any one THE "Methodist" model. I am sure there are Anglicans and Methodists who have put more thought into this issue, but the general thrust of these two church bodies is to put forward some form of correlation without officially having a definitive view on the subject.

Lastly, we move to the Baptists, and that is basically almost impossible, since no one speaks for the Baptists. Yes, some can point to certain baptist confessions of faith, like the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, but that is only one faction of Baptists. Baptists run the gamut from higher church types that are similar to Presbyterians, to non-denominational types indistinguishable from "Churches of Christ." At least one strain of more traditional Baptist thought is to focus on the local visible church as that instituted by Christ, but of course one wonders how it can be said that Christ instituted the local visible church if it owes its existence merely to the voluntary association of believers.

A way forward: Res et signum

The general Reformed view is that all believers join the invisible Church by faith, and that all Christians ought to be in the Visible Church. The Reformed do not really distinguished much between the local and universal church, because with its understanding of connectonalism, all Christians in local churches are members of the Church universal, which is expressed in a denomination through its presbyteries, synods and general assemblies. Of course every Reformed church member has to be a member in a particular church, but then every member in a particular church belongs to the church as denomination, the denomination's best expression of the universal church in this fallen world.

But this is not clear enough, for this simple model is unable to deal with Christians not in the denomination or in a church body in communion with her. What is an American Reformed Christian for example ought to think of believers that are not situated in NAPARC churches? If the denominations of the Reformed churches are to earthly expressions of the universal church, what about those professing Christians outside the association of Reformed churches?

One could resolve this problem by moving towards the evangelical model, and thus the denomination is no more seen as an expression of the universal church, but as one denomination among many. Or one can resolve this by moving towards Rome, and thus see one's denomination as being more of a remnant among apostate Christendom. But both seem to be trying to resolve a tension in a way that denies some biblical truths, either that Christians ought to be united in the former, or that salvation is by faith alone, not faith and church membership, in the latter. On the former, if the denomination is just one among many, why not then have all churches in one united denomination? But they refused because they deny doctrine X or that denominations are biblical, you might say. Well then, are they schismatic for rejecting Reformed unity? If so, will you shift your position to the latter position, or move further away to deny connectionalism?

There are here a few biblical truths that one must juggle as all being true:

  1. Salvation, and thus membership in the invisible church, is by faith alone
  2. Christ instituted His Church
  3. The Church is supposed to be connectional, therefore the denomination is supposed to be an expression of the universal church
  4. Christians in the Bible are always found in a biblical church

The only way that seemed to be able to hold all these truths together is to posit a strong correlation between the visible and invisible church, while making clear that the correlation is not a strict correlation. Thus, all Christians should join Reformed churches, but since salvation is by faith alone, it is always possible for a Christian to not be a member in a Reformed church.

A similar problem arises in the dispute over baptism: Does baptism save a person (baptismal regeneration) or does baptism have nothing whatsoever to do with a person's salvation. Using the traditional language of sign (signum) and thing signified (res significata), we recognize that baptism does signify salvation (c.f. 1 Peter 3:21) but it does not necessarily result in or comes with salvation. The sign (water) does not confer the thing signified (salvation), but the correlation is such that whoever partakes of the sign ordinarily should also partake of the thing signified, not necessarily, but ordinarily.

This strong correlation view as seen on the practice of baptism is of help to how we should view the relation between Christians and the Church. Ordinarily, true Christians should join a Reformed church. But not necessarily. And therefore we see that true Christians might be found in non-Reformed contexts, but they are not supposed to be there. But you may ask, if most Christians are to be found outside the Reformed church, can we actually say that "ordinarily" true Christians should join a Reformed church? First, whether something is ordinary or not does not depend on the numbers. Second, if there are no biblical Reformed churches in the vicinity, then what is "ordinary" cannot happen. Thirdly, can we be sure that many supposed Christians are in fact, truly Christians? I think it is certainly legitimate to cast doubt on the salvation status of those who sit in churches who preach heresy regularly (e.g. New Creation and Joseph Prince) and who find no problem at all in the teaching.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Christians and the Church: The Church as Local and Universal, Visible and Invisible

A Christian is one who puts his faith in Jesus Christ for salvation from his sins. Christians are part of the Church, which is the Bride of Christ. Christ purchased His Bride the Church and instituted it in history, from the proto-evangel (Gen. 3:15) to Christ's word to Peter (Mt. 16:18-19) and the explicit words of Ephesians 4:11 where Christ give gifts (offices) to His church, not give spiritual gifts to people who are the offices in the Church. The Church is thus both an institution, and an organism (note the mixed metaphor of Eph. 2:20-22).

As an institution, the Church exists regardless of the presence of believers, but as organism, the Church exists being made up of believers. The language of Scripture is "both/and," not "either/or." The main problem plaguing many a doctrine of the church is that we are being made to chose between the two, as if they are mutually exclusive. Those in the high-church traditions (e.g. Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism) tend towards seeing the Church as Institution, while the modern tendency even in some traditional high church circles (e.g. the focus on lay ministry in post Vatican II circles) is to see the Church as organism. Seeing it as both institution and organism helps us guard against radical egalitarianism and disrespect of the offices of the Church on the one hand, and a top-down hierarchicalism, spiritual apartheid and lay passivity on the other.

This view of the church goes contrary to the view of Evangelicalism, and the prevailing zeitgeist. The egalitarian impulse means that the Church as institution is being discarded and/or downplayed in recent times, and thus, while we ought to continue to teach on the Church as organism, we need a stronger emphasis on the Church as institution today.

It is when we embrace the Church as institutional that other questions come to the fore. Since Christ instituted His Church, that must mean that the Church Christ instituted must be in a sense "invisible," in the sense that Christ did not Himself institute any particular church (with the possible exception of the Church in 1st century Jerusalem). All local churches since then have been church plants, and thus derivative from the planting church. The early church thus came up with the simple notion of "apostolic succession," intially partly against the Gnostics but it has the benefit of showing in visible, concrete form the Church as instituted by Christ. Historically, this has proven untenable, although Rome continues to claim apostolic succession. After the East-West schism, and then the debacle of the Avignon papacy and the popes and counter-popes in the Medieval era, any claim of "apostolic succession" (even if we can prove that to be biblical) has no real basis in history. It is merely claimed thus by reason of papal fiat — the claims of his authority resting on "apostolic succession," and the claims of "apostolic succession" resting on papal authority. If that strikes you as arguing in a circle, it is because it is. Roman Catholicism has no real historical claim on "apostolic succession," and thus whatever one thinks of "apostolic succession," even if it is true Rome does not have it. On a historical basis, we cannot therefore say that we see any visible instituted body of Christ's churches today, for there is none today who fits that criteria.

Biblically, the instituted Church as being a visible body of all Christ's churches is not tenable. The Scripture everywhere proclaims the backdrop of the Covenant of Grace, and the Covenant of Redemption or the pactum salutis behind it. We do not and cannot see the covenant agreement between the Father and the Son praised in Psalms 110. The Covenant of Grace is invisible, election is invisible, and saving faith is invisible. What we do see are local churches that proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments to believers, and new believers joining these churches. Since it is the Word of God that brings about faith (Rom. 10:17), and thus the church is the creation of the Word (creatura verbi), thus the Church Christ instituted must be the invisible church that is manifested in the world in the visible churches, through the preaching of the Gospel. There is one (universal) church, the invisible church, that Christ has instituted.

All of these are the necessary backdrop to the next problem that has to be tacked: What is the nature of the relationship between the invisible church Christ has instituted, and the local, visible churches around the world? (Here we assume that we are speaking about Christian congregations that actually are Christian, since any church that is actually a true church has to be the creation of the Word.) Each local, visible church is a small manifestation of the invisible church that is true, but what is the manner of manifestation? Can we have a believer in the "invisible church" that is however not a member of the local, visible church, since the latter obviously need a conscious decision for a person to join as a member. Or should we say that all members of the local, visible church are members of the invisible church, at least until they apostatize (e.g. in Federal Vision, also Rome)?

[to be continued]