Saturday, July 30, 2016

Contra Don Codling: Refutation and Conclusion

Final refutation

After his attempts to refute cessationist arguments, Codling tried to put forward a positive case for the modern exercise of charismatic gifts. Here, we see how he fails to take into account the difference between the history of salvation (historia salutis) and the order of salvation (ordo salutis), thinking that Pentecost, while not repeated in full, should be a pattern to be repeated in some manner in the lives of believers (p. 106). Also, he operates from a view that the gifts are there and then presumed they should continue unless otherwise stated (p. 115). But how we should deal with the gifts is to inquire into why they were given in the first place. Their gift was an "exception," not the norm, which is why they are called extraordinary and miracles, instead of ordinary and providence!


Don Codling in his book has tried to prove that the revelatory gifts at least, with an eye to all of the gifts, are present today and can coexist with a high view of the sole authority of Scripture. It is my contention that he has failed. We note that he fails to take into account the church's catholic nature through time in his appeal to the edification of prophecy and thus he fails to show how continual prophecy does not undermine the sufficiency of Scripture. Codling also fails to note that a completed revelation is much more of a blessing than having the revelatory gifts, thus reversing the priority of blessing as if incomplete revelation is better than complete revelation. We further note that he fails to take properly into account the focal point of the revelation of Christ in Hebrews 1:1-2 which points to its definite, non-continuous nature, following which we looked at how non-canonical special revelation fits into the biblical paradigm. Lastly, we have seen how Codling confuses the work of the Spirit in preparing the final revelation with foundational work, noting that not everything has to be foundational work in order for it to be necessary for the final revelation.

We ought to go about the topic of spiritual gifts by looking at their purposes first. God is not a God who just does magic tricks to excite and inspire people, or for no reason at all, but He does anything and everything for a reason. Since these sign and revelatory gifts are extraordinary, it should hint to us that they are a dated occurrence. While God does work miracles, let us not be too enamored of the "supernatural" that we become dissatisfied with creation and providence, and look for God and His works in all the wrong places.

Contra Don Codling: Apostles and Redemptive History

Are revelatory gifts signs of the Apostles?

Codling continues with his third rebuttal, against the argument that revelatory gits are the signs of the apostles. I do not particularly find this cessationist argument persuasive, since it focuses the attention on the apostles instead of on the apostolic era, on men instead of God. Regardless, I find Codling's attempted rebuttal weak. First, Codling thinks that the cessationist view is that revelatory gifts were given through impartation from the apostles (p. 81). While that is true, that is only part of the argument, which states that the revelatory gifts were given through the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the apostles, not necessarily by the Apostles meting it out as if they decide who to give and who not to give the Holy Spirit. Second, Codling raised the example of Paul's reception of the Holy Spirit directly from God as a counter-example (p. 82). But this ignores the fact that Paul is called to be an apostle so obviously he received the gifts directly from God the Holy Spirit.

Besides this, Codling did score some hits against sloppy argumentation in his response to the use of Hebrews 2:1-4 (pp. 84-5) among others, but this cessationist argument is not a strong one anyway.

Finality of the revelation of Christ

The cessationist argument that is being responded here is that Scripture teaches the finality of special revelation, therefore there is to be no more special revelation today, and thus no more revelatory gifts. Codling attempts to refute this argument by looking at the texts that have been adduced to promote this position. First, he looks at Hebrews 1:1-2. In a startling piece of eisegesis Codling claims that Hebrews 1:1-2 just teach a division between the Old Covenant revelation and New Covenant revelation, and charge that the traditional way of interpretation of this text creates "a new dispensation with an apostolic and a post-apostolic dispensation in place of the new covenant period" (p. 87). But note what the texts actually is saying. Yes, it contrast the former times with the last days. But the former times consist of all the period before Christ, while the last days here has is focused on Christ. Is Christ a definitive revelation, or a continuous revelation? That is the issue which Codling does not address, the quality of that revelation not the seeming duration. It is the revelation of Christ that is definitive and therefore fixed, which militates against continual revelation today. Christ as the Incarnate Word has fully revealed Himself in the Inscripturated, Breathed-out Word, and thus Hebrews 1:1-2 teaches the finality of revelation because Christ's revelation is final in the canon.

Codling next deals with Galatians 1:6, which is a puzzle since it does not deal with cessationism at all. He next touches Revelations 22:18-19, but his argument here is a mess. The point of Revelations 22:18-19 is to prohibit adding to said revelation, so how does that reconcile with the assertion that "this does not preclude direct communication between God and his people" (p. 89)? If there is personal direct communication between God and man today, why should we not add that to the canon as an addition to the Scriptures? One could raise the issue of non-canonical special revelation during the apostolic era, but, since these are the revelation of the later days, their focus is on Christ and partake of the finality of canonical revelation, and thus have ceased according to Hebrews 1:1-2.

Excursus: Non-canonical special revelation

At this point, I would like to deal with the issue of non-canonical special revelation. We know that not all prophecies by New Testament prophets made it into the canon of Scripture, like the prophecies of Philip's four unmarried daughters (Acts 21:9). Codling utilizes these non-canonical prophecies to undermine the finality of revelation, for by decoupling revelation from canon, he can advocate for the continuous presence of the revelatory gifts.

How should we understand these special revelation? We are to understand them like scaffolding, with the canon being the structure. Both structure and scaffold are geared towards one purpose, the revelation of Christ in the later days as what Hebrews 1:1-2 states. But with the completion of the canon and the transition to the post-apostolic era, God's revelation is finalized and thus the scaffolding is dissolved. Was the scaffolding necessary during the inaugurating phase of the New Covenant? Yes, it was. But just as surely, these special revelation are tied to the structure and therefore they have served their purpose. To desire non-canonical special revelation is to ask for the scaffold, which is the same as asking for baby things. We have the final revelation, so why do we need the scaffold that helps to build it?

Revelatory gifts and redemptive history

The last argument that Codling will address is that the revelatory gifts are tied to the initiation of the kingdom of God, which is essentially Richard Gaffin's argument. While Codling has many parts in his argument, he has one main point that I would like to interact with.

Codling's main point is that not all the work of the church is foundational work (pp. 97-8). The problem with this is that it confuses the work of the Spirit in preparing the finality of revelation with the gifts being used explicitly for the foundation of the church. The Spirit gives gifts which manifest in various ways. Some may not be foundational in the strict sense, but they are all needed to create the environment and church life for the revelation of Christ to be written down. Codling is in error here because he takes a too narrow view of what the initiation of the kingdom actually means. Along these lines, Codling's assertions of restriction on the exercise of the gifts at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 14:26 (p. 99) fails because not all revelatory gifts are for the foundation of the revelation of Christ, but they are all required for the kingdom to be inaugurated.

[to be continued]

Friday, July 29, 2016

Contra Don Codling on spiritual gifts: Spiritual gifts and edification

On the topic of the spiritual gifts, I was informed that Don Codling has written the best book on the topic from a continuationist perspective. His book is entitled Sola Scriptura and the Revelatory Gifts: How should Christians Deal with Present Day Prophecy? (Rice, WA: Sentinel Press, 2005). The book is an apology for the continuationist position that present-day revelatory gifts are still present in the church today, and the author claims in the foreward that "no one has made any visible attempt" to respond to his argument (p. 11). I suspect part of the reason why that is the case is less about how sound his arguments are and more about how little known this booklet is and how little effort has been put into trying to refute it. Since he asserts the invincibility of his position, I would think he would certainly welcome anyone taking a shot at his arguments.

This book by Codling sets forward his position that special revelation is still present in the church today but it is non canonical. Codling does a decent job summarizing the current cessationist arguments (pp. 49-60), then the rest of his book he goes around trying to refute those cessationist arguments. The first rebuttal is to an argument that all special revelation is canonical, which is fine since we don't hold to that position. But we will look at the other arguments because that is where he stumbles.

Spiritual gits and edification

The second cessationist argument that Codling would like to address is "Scripture is sufficient for our needs," and he does this with the title "Grace beyond what is sufficient." Codling expresses his main objection to this argument as follows:

If the gifts are for edification ..., then the church which lacks them is impoverished by that lack. To deny this is to presuppose that the gifts have no value. Assertion of the sufficiency of Scripture does not demonstrate that the gifts have no value, because there was a sufficient Scripture in Paul's day, but the gifts abounded for edification. The point can be illustrated in terms of the sacraments. The church which has the Bible, studies it diligently and applies it, but does not celebrate the sacraments, is an impoverished church. Yet it has the sufficient Scriptures. The point is that while the Bible is sufficient, that church's application of the Bible is not sufficient. The sufficiency of the Bible does not deny the place of the sacraments, rather it established their place. Similarly, the sufficiency of the Bible does not deny a place to the revelatory gifts. (pp. 73-4)

What should we make of this argument? First of all, the analogy with the sacraments is invalid. The sacraments are not word-revelation, but word-act drama. Sacraments do reveal God and the Gospel, BUT only in conjunction with the Word. The sacraments do not work ex opere operato, as what Rome believes. Sacraments are divine sanctioned holy acts, not word-revelation, and thus the analogy does not work.

Secondly, there was NOT a sufficient Scripture in Paul's day. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is not speaking just about the Old Testament Scripture, as Codling thinks (p. 75), but rather everything that is Scripture (πασα γραφη). It is not a quantifiable term, but a qualifiable term, viz, everything that fits the genus "Scripture." At the coming of the New Covenant, the current Old Testament revelation is insufficient, thus the creating of a new covenant necessitates a new canon.

The main error of Codling here, which is a common one among charismatics, is that he assumes that no prophecy given today means that there are no prophecies for the edification of the church. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves what era we are living in, and we are living in the New Covenant era. Therefore, the treasures of the apostolic church are ours, for our edification. Therefore, is there any church that lacks the apostolic spiritual gifts for edification? NO, for we have the fruit of their prophecies — the Scriptures. We who are cessationist have the spiritual gift of prophecy, in the apostolic church, for our benefit. We have the spiritual gift of tongues, in the apostolic church, for our benefit, and so on. The church is one and apostolic, and we partake of the benefits of the apostolic church, which are the fruit of the revelatory and sign gifts in the covenant making period of the apostolic church.

Codling follows us with a charge that God withdrawing the gifts because Scripture is sufficient is an act of stinginess, but God is a God of over-abundant blessing (p. 76). That would be true if the sign and revelatory gifts are meant to edify us in the same way as it edifies the apostolic church, but they do not. These gifts edify us best by giving us the fruit of their workings — the Scriptures. So the counter question ought to be: Why should God give us baby gifts when He has already produced from these the complete and mature gift of the New Testament Scriptures for us?

[to be continued]

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.

Monday, July 25, 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.

Wednesday, July 20, 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)


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.

Saturday, July 16, 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.

Sunday, July 10, 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.

Saturday, July 09, 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.

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.

Monday, July 04, 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.