Monday, May 21, 2018

Resolving the Uncertainty at the Crossroads: The 2018 Southern Baptist Convention

During the past few months, it has become apparent that while Southern Baptists say we want biblical truth to drive our efforts, we are somewhat conflicted amongst ourselves as to how that looks. Southern Baptists have arrived at a crossroads, and the future for our common work as a Christian people is uncertain.

Some of us pine primarily for a revival in that aspect of our piety characterized by evangelism; others among us argue for a renewal in that aspect of our piety characterized by justice. These two tendencies coalesce for a third and ultimately decisive middle group in a desire for expressing well the Lord’s commands to engage in both gospel witness and gospel practice. (I personally believe our choices are, providentially, not as much in conflict as the political conversation suggests, but more anon.)

Nevertheless, as with civil voting patterns in the United States, the middle group may feel forced to choose between one way or the other, for we have created a unitary power structure that funnels authority through the office of a single leader. The wisdom, or lack thereof, of the American proclivity, through both its civil and religious political democracies, to grant overarching power to one officer demonstrates itself once again in a polarized people. As a result, we sense intense heat even as we hope to see great light moving into our annual gathering.

For several weeks now, I have been encouraged by a number of good people to declare my views publicly on critical matters facing Southern Baptists as we head to Dallas. Yet the Lord has not released me to address matters that reach their cruces in judgments regarding particular persons. Friends would have me address persons, but God has laid on me the necessity of addressing principles.

I have chosen, therefore, not to focus upon persons for the sake of principles, but upon principles for the sake of persons. Perhaps God will allow us to see that these principles can, true in themselves and truly utilized, help us discern and deliver God’s will regarding the persons around us. Today’s relevant theological principles themselves preeminently concern us as human persons.

There are two principles which currently require our attention, at least as far as I can see. The first principle concerns our divine authority; the second, our divine imagery. Perhaps both will garner our people’s hearty affirmation.

Our Divine Authority

Evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, know that God has chosen to reveal himself in his Word. But while we emphasized the Word of God as Scripture in the late twentieth century, we appear to have drifted from that concern in recent decades. At one time, the dependability and trustworthiness of the Bible compelled both our dialectics and our rhetoric. Alas, however, biblical inerrancy may have become less a principle and more a talisman.

Like passersby glibly burnishing the shiny toe of David Hume’s bronze statue on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, have we begun to treat Scripture’s dependability as something of an obligatory if largely meaningless charm? The language of inspiration and infallibility is no longer used as much in our speech, and sadly its deep meaning seems increasingly lost to our cognition. We say we believe in God’s Word, and most of us even refer to it in our sermons. But are we really allowing Scripture its proper formative role in our thought, speech, and practice?

Recognizing the importance of the doctrine that compelled and legitimized the Conservative Resurgence in the first place, Dr. Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary worked with me to craft a resolution for consideration by the Committee on Resolutions. Dr. Strachan, Associate Professor of Christian Theology and Director of the Center for Public Theology at our Southern Baptist seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, is a rising young theologian with an impressive record of addressing critical issues in speech and in text. It was a privilege to work with him for a second year in a row. (Last year, we worked together to affirm Penal Substitutionary Atonement.)

My personal hope in submitting our Resolution Affirming the Inerrancy of Holy Scripture is that by returning to our first principle regarding the authority of divine revelation, we might again know the leadership of the Lord in our common effort as a denomination. Psalm 111 reminds us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and "All who follow his instructions have good insight."

I believe we will see the way forward to real unity and proper action only through serious Bible study and passionate Bible proclamation. Without constant referral to the divine basis of our authority, we will perish. We absolutely must restate the importance of biblical inerrancy.

Our Divine Imagery

The second resolution summarizes a doctrine with profound implications for a multitude of practical issues. It undergirds today's most popular news headlines and dominates our social media discussions. What dogma lies at the center of our concerns with the problems of abortion, euthanasia, racism and ethnocentrism, sexual abuse, political demonization, and religious persecution?

The biblical doctrine of humanity orients the nexus of these critical ethical issues. The real sickness we have concerns a misunderstanding of who we are as human beings; our ethical crises are symptoms of a more fundamental problem. Humanity is under sustained demonic assault, and the social traumas originating from that warfare demand a faithful witness from God's people concerning God's highest-placed creature. The created dignity of human beings is a doctrine which Southern Baptists have long affirmed, but we have too often overlooked it during other discussions.

Recognizing the church's responsibility to address the anthropological deficiency of this day and age drove recent discussions between Dr. Keith S. Whitfield and me. Dr. Whitfield, who is Associate Professor of Theology, Dean of Graduate Studies, and Vice President for Academic Administration at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, has a gentle heart and a keen mind. I believe we would do well to wear his winsome words. Dr. Whitfield and I previously collaborated in a book on theological method, but we now try our hand at collaborating in a resolution on anthropology.

My personal hope in submitting our Resolution Reaffirming the Full Dignity of Every Human Being is that by reminding ourselves of God's creative and redemptive gifts of identity to humanity, we might help reverse the horrible denigrations of humanity occurring in so many areas of contemporary life. Especially vulnerable in our culture are those persons who lack sufficient political or economic power to require recognition of themselves as worthy of life and liberty. There are two major theological parts to our resolution:

First, as Christians, we believe it imperative to affirm the sacredness, the full dignity, and the worthiness of love which belong to every human creature as a special gift from the Creator. Our dignity as human beings derives not from other human beings. Too many human institutions arrogate to themselves an authority to pronounce decisions about things regarding which they were never given authority to define. Because our dignity as human beings derives from the Creator of all human life, every human life belongs to God alone. Human powers must submit to this universal anthropological truth or find themselves damned for their despicable actions at the final judgment.

Second, as Christians, we also recognize that being created in the divine image is not the end of the story. After we were created in the divine image, humanity abused his image through sin and suffered debilitating damage. To solve this problem is why the Perfect Image of God became a human being, and through the Spirit's gift of faith, the human being's image can be renewed unto conformity with Christ. Thus, we call people not only to respect the full dignity of all human persons, but also to have their own dignity renewed unto perfection by the perfect Word of God.

True humanity comes as a result of creation and of redemption. Both stages of the human condition must be reaffirmed by those who believe in the truth of God's Word as the basis for our teaching today. On the one hand, without recognition of humanity's universal created dignity, we face the specter of continually repeating the horrors of our world's past denigrations of precious children, women, and men. On the other hand, without recognition of humanity's universal need for a renewal of that dignity, we face the specter of God's righteous final judgment upon us for our sins. The biblical doctrine of the image of God puts evangelism and justice in correlation rather than in conflict.

In Conclusion

My purpose in submitting these two resolutions is to call us back to God's Word as the basis for our approach to reality and to call us to see every human person's proper place of dignity within this reality. May God use my brothers' excellent labors upon these resolutions for his glory.

(We trust the collegial wisdom of the Resolutions Committee to bring forward in the proper form the common messages the Lord would have Southern Baptists speak regarding the critical issues of our day. Thus we will not repeat our proposed resolutions verbatim online. Nor do we presume the committee will see exactly what we see in speaking about these great truths. So we pray.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Cross Is Everything!

The following was written in support of the great works being done by all at the convention, on the floor and on the platform. I am proud of our Resolutions Committee and of our messengers, real proud, and I stand fully behind the resolutions, including the upcoming Resolution on Alt-Right White Supremacy:

While I skipped the Southern Baptist Convention in order to polish an overdue essay responding to my recently deceased friend, the Reformed theologian John Webster, my heart has been unable to escape the profound events occurring in Phoenix, Arizona. So many of my living friends and colleagues in ministry are there, and I have watched them with love and concern, exchanging messages with good people who are under both public and personal pressure to do well. With the incredible responsibilities placed on their shoulders, I want them to know they are doing well in spite of the heartache and disappointment all around. The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are working together slowly but carefully toward the future that God has planned for them. And the men leading the way are in a pressure cooker, and it hurts.

I have one word of advice to the leaders of the SBC and to every convention messenger and every spectator. It is an idea that could be taken contritely as a mere mantra were it not central to everything occurring this year: The Cross is at the center of everything the SBC is doing. But we may be somewhat oblivious to it. Some have glibly dismissed the resolution on the atonement that Owen Strachan and I offered as so much window dressing, but that is utterly wrongheaded. The Cross of Jesus Christ is at the center of everything that the SBC is doing this year. The Cross makes sense of the other significant resolutions, such as the ones on the Alt-Right and on Planned Parenthood. The Cross makes sense of the mission board reports and of Steve Gaines’s proposed task force. The Cross is everything!

As Leon Morris and John Stott demonstrated years ago, the Cross of Jesus Christ provides the meaning of the biblical text. The Cross is both center and circumference; it is both pervasive and without parallel; it is both paradigmatic and problematic. Open any New Testament book and before long, the Cross will dominate the discussion. For Paul, a highly educated Biblicist with pristine religious credentials, the Cross which was earlier a scandal to him subsequently became so big that he could see nothing else. In Galatians 6:14f, he stated,
But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world. For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation (Christian Standard Bible).
Paul, the inspired apostle, finally learned not to boast about how faithful he was to God’s law, or how many converts he made, or how many disciples enrolled in his ministry program. Success for Paul was upended entirely, such that he could boast in nothing, nothing except for the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Boasting in anything else was at an end. He did not boast about how pristine his doctrine was, though it was now. He did not boast about how other ministers looked up to him, for many did not, but he no longer cared. He did not boast about what his political party was doing, or not doing.

Christ and the Cross of Christ were everything to Paul; the world carried no ultimate meaning for him anymore. The world itself—the world with all of its physicality and its spirituality, with all of its culture and its intelligence, with all of its blessings and failures—the world was nothing. It had been put upon the Cross and had died in his eyes. “The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.” When the Cross of Jesus Christ becomes the only filter by which you can think, speak, or act, everything else dies. And only in such a death lays the potential of life.

The Cross of Christ is utterly different from the priorities of this world. It is antithetical to our very way of thinking. The atonement resolution was necessary because without penal substitution, the other important doctrines that undergird our entire worldview collapse into chaos, as seen in the cultural crises enveloping the West today. Without penal substitution, our God becomes an unholy, sentimental, and unjust weakling while fallen men are deluded into conceiving their own righteousness. Without the Cross, there is no salvation for fallen men—there is no reason whatsoever to consider sin or its solution. Without the Cross, there will be no human flourishing and no evangelism. Without the Cross, there is no reason for the divinely created churches to meet, much less a humanly created denomination. Without the Cross, our social and political thoughts recede into mere vain and fleeting opinions.

But with the Cross of Jesus the Jew, the Alt-Right is seen for what it is—a worldly and deadly way of thinking. For the Alt-Right is concerned about preserving a dying culture, the culture of white supremacy, a culture that benefited many even as it denigrated others. The Alt-Right is the antithesis of the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Alt-Right says that one man’s culture is superior to another and the other must submit to me, but the Man on the Cross says that, though He is superior to everyone, He will submit to death for the other. The Cross is the antithesis of culture war. And we all know that cultures are at war with one another today—Islam versus the West, Sunni versus Shia, Secularist versus Religious, Liberal versus Conservative.

Cultures tell men and women that they must dominate the other in order to survive, but the Cross invites men and women to die with Christ and serve the other. Cultural preservation encourages people to bear the sword against the other, but the Cross encourages the sacrifice of oneself on behalf of the other. Planned Parenthood tells women they must kill the child in order to flourish, but the One on the Cross tells women they must embrace their own crosses in order for both them and their babies to flourish. Racists tell their races they must dominate the other races in order to flourish, but the One on the Cross empties the races of all their importance.

When Paul said circumcision means “nothing,” he was speaking about his precious culture, to which he previously gave so much of his life. He had fought for and killed for the preservation of Jewish culture, but then he found that his precious culture was nothing. “Circumcision,” the defining external mark of Jewish cultural identity, no longer mattered to Paul. His birth culture no longer mattered. But neither did his missionary culture. “Uncircumcision” no longer mattered to Paul either. He didn’t stop being a Jew in reaching the Gentiles, and neither did he become a zealot for Gentileness. His previously misguided zeal for culture was transformed, for he learned that cultures are ultimately “nothing.” If he were in Phoenix today, he would cry out, “White culture is nothing!” Then he would say, “Black culture is nothing!”

Well, if the cultures are nothing, then what is important? If all of our languages and customs and practices and arts and sciences are nothing, then what matters? For Paul, human cultures are no longer germane, for now there is a “new creation.” God was making something new and unitive out of the old and divisive. In Ephesians 2, he spoke of a new humanity made out of warring cultures, a humanity refashioned in Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Jewish messiah who died for both Jews and Gentiles; He is the God who died for all human beings. It is His Cross that we preach and follow.

As a pastor, I went home after the 1995 resolution that was spearheaded by the old ERLC leadership and defended it. As a professor and Bible teacher, I will go to my church and my seminary after the 2017 resolution that is advocated by the new ERLC leadership and defend it. In my old church, the first resolution was not appreciated by some; in my new church, this latest resolution may not be appreciated by some. (Anyone who doubts the problem of racism is in the SBC should read of my own experience here.)

Whatever the opposition, we as Christians must do what is right. Why? Because we must embrace the cross, including the suffering of shame for not speaking when we should have (as in 1845), or the suffering of broken relationships with those who refuse to repent (as we may now). Well, you get the idea, the Cross of suffering is not only our only way of salvation in the world to come, the Cross of suffering is the true Christian’s only way of life in the world today. Grow up and embrace the cross, Christian! Have that baby, my sister, even with the suffering a child may bring, though honestly children are really blessings! Reject your inbuilt racism, my brother, even if it means you have to walk back some of your words and your ways, and your politics.

I stand fully with my brothers and sisters at the 2017 Phoenix meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, and I urge them to embrace the Cross, and embrace all of these resolutions with all their heart. If we do that, then we may be ready to see a revival, a revival to which our President, the wonderful pastor and evangelist Dr. Steve Gaines, is calling us. We need a revival, a revival that compels prayer and evangelism. But here, too, we will not have a revival in witnessing and resultant baptisms until the Cross, the only way of salvation, means everything to us, everything. 

The Cross is absolutely necessary to our doctrine, to our ethics, and to our mission. The Cross must no longer merely be the center our message; the cross must also be the paradigm of our life. The world is nothing; the cultures are nothing; the politics are nothing; personal status is nothing; personal comfort is nothing; my life itself is nothing. These things are crucified to me. My brothers and sisters (adelphoi), look, look there at the Cross, for THE CROSS IS EVERYTHING!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Defendere Propitiationis

In the life of the church, it is often necessary for those who are called to be pastors and theologians to rise up in defense of a central truth of the Christian faith. This is one of those times. A quick review of recent Christian history may set the background for an action that Owen Strachan and I recently took together for the sake of defending the atonement.

A Recent History of Violence: The horrific decades of the early twentieth century with its two world wars resulted in millions of deaths among combatants and noncombatants alike. These were followed by several decades of constant fear that a scenario of mutually assured destruction might be played out in the Cold War between the East led by the Soviet Union and the West led by the United States, wiping out human civilization altogether. These historical factors played upon the Western psyche, among Europeans in particular, stoking great regret about the past and great concern for the future.

A Theological Shift: As a result, many Christians began to question the violence that so characterizes the human race. They displayed a proper revulsion against wanton violence done by humans against humans. After all, all human beings are made in the image of God and are, therefore, precious. However, the revulsion went so far that many began to see violence itself as ipso facto sin. A proper revulsion against flippant human violence now became an improper revulsion, for some Christian theologians revolted against the idea that God may bring about death through violence. European history was now shaping Christian theology, even in contradiction to the apparent advocacy of certain acts of violence in Scripture itself.

This improper revulsion against violence, which began in a proper revulsion against violence, has extended to the point that many are now calling into question the central act of God in the redemption of humanity, the cross of Jesus Christ. Some have even rejected the idea that the cross involves removing the wrath of God, which is summarized in the biblical word, "propitiation," and codified in the theological language of "penal substitution." For these theologians and preachers, the ideas of penal substitution and propitiation are themselves anathema. They cannot see how a God who is love could possibly place his Son on the cross in order to satisfy the wrath of the Father.

Defending the Atonement: Owen Strachan, a leading Southern Baptist systematic theologian affiliated with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, exercises a powerful voice for truth in the midst of today's culture. Recently, we discussed with a common friend the difficulty that orthodox Christians face in such an environment. A liberal Christian culture is crying out against wanton human violence (while largely and perversely ignoring the mass murder of the unborn), but it is also endangering the central act of Christian redemption and compromising the perfections of God. As a result of these and related challenges, we co-authored a resolution on the atonement and submitted it to the Resolutions Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Our hopes and prayers are that this demonstration of inter-seminary unity, which is also a demonstration of unity across Calvinist and Non-Calvinist lines, will prompt Southern Baptists to rally once again around the cross as the central doctrine of Christian redemption. We truly believe that a loving God has put his Son on the cross in order to satisfy his just demand for holiness. Without the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope for sinful humanity. This is why we believe it is time to defend the atonement (defendere propitiationis).

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Day-Higginbotham Lectures of 2017, Now Available Online

During the first few days of March, I was granted the privilege of delivering the prestigious Day-Higginbotham Lectures for 2017. Previous lecturers have included R. Albert Mohler and Abraham Friesen as well as the late Thomas C. Oden and the late John Webster, each of whom I have counted as honored teachers and friends. It was a surprise and a pleasure when Craig Blaising and Paige Patterson offered me not only a new role at Southwestern Seminary as Research Professor of Systematic Theology but also the delivery of these messages. Thanks are extended to Drs. Patterson and Blaising for the invitation and to Dr. Jeff Bingham, our fine new Dean of the School of Theology, for organizing the lectures.

The series title was "The Image of the Trinity: Biblical Soundings toward a Doctrine of Humanity." Distinct lectures over three one-hour periods were offered on "The Image of the Trinity," "The Analogy in Male and Female," "Human Life Under Heaven," and "Before God." The respective Latin terms chosen were Imago Trinitatis, Analogia, Sub Sole, and Coram Deo. One may notice that these lectures will form the basis for one of my next major theological monographs, on Trinitarian Anthropology. (The second major monograph will be a co-authored piece with David S. Dockery on Scripture and Special Revelation, of which more will be announced soon.)

It was truly a pleasant surprise to see how well the lectures were attended by faculty and students. Indeed, the subject matter of the lectures has generated numerous requests among the faculty for further collaboration across the theological disciplines, both within the classical disciplines in the School of Theology, but also with the Schools of Music and of Family and Church Ministries. I especially appreciate the interest of Drs. Aaron Son, David Toledo, Richard Ross, Waylan Owens, Madison Grace, Josh Williams, and Ryan Stokes in furthering this work with thoughtful exchanges and the promise of more!

The lectures may be accessed here in video format:


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Trinity and Authority (Part Five of Five)

A Way Forward?

Having surveyed the debate and noted the limitation of analogies between Trinity and anthropology, we now propose a way of approaching the eternal relations that may bring ERA theologians and their detractors closer together. This involves four proposals, two each for the two primary parties. Individual proposals may already be redundant to certain theologians on either side—if so, please accept these as fait accompli.

First Proposal

First, we ask the ERA complementarian theologians to grant other theologians freedom to describe the eternal distinctions of the divine persons in terms of "generation" (of the Son) and "procession" (of the Holy Spirit) rather than as relations of authority. Even if the biblical language of μονογενής (monogenes) indicates unique sonship rather than generation, the language of "Father" and "Son" must be granted as eternally true.

The revealed proper names for the divine persons indicate an eternal relation of shared nature, which real relation is denominated in the terminology of "generation." Among orthodox theologians, there is no materiality or composition intended thereby and the adjectival qualifier of "eternal" may be properly ascribed to the generative relation between the Father and his Son as distinct eternal persons.

Even if ERA theologians find the language of eternal generation extrabiblical (we disagree), this traditional terminology certainly encapsulates biblical conceptions regarding the Father’s sharing of the divine life with the Son. The use of "eternal generation" ought to be an issue of freedom between mutual proponents of ὁμοούσιος (homoousios). In his most recent comments to Reformation 21, a generous reading would suggest Grudem is already open to this first proposal.

Second Proposal

Second, we propose other complementarian theologians grant freedom to ERA theologians to prefer the language of "eternal functional subordination," "eternal relations of authority and submission," and "eternal submission of the Son." Those of us who are more classical in our language have legitimate questions regarding the implications of these newer terms. But, apart from direct contradictions of the unity of the three persons, we should believe the ERA theologians when they say they are not seeking to compromise the shared nature of the three.

For instance, let us hear them out regarding the structure of willing within the Trinity. But, if they as a group have not deemed it necessary to address that issue conclusively yet, we are compelled to wait patiently until they feel led by the Spirit to declare their view formally. Moreover, it just may be that the Spirit is leading the churches, through the ERA theologians, to recognize there is more theological development required beyond the ecumenical councils. This may especially be the case with regard to the "will," which has meanings developed not entirely from Scripture, which is a controverted term historically, and which is often used in contemporary conversations with widely varying meanings affected on all sides by anthropocentric individualism.

Third Proposal

Third, while we would counsel mutual allowance of preferred terms and patience regarding questions that go beyond current declarations, we also propose the ERA theologians consider a necessary connection of eternal relations of authority with the singular and undivided authority of the Godhead.

"Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One" (Deut 6:4): Scripture uses numerous terms and images, such as "rule," "king," "lord," and "throne" to indicate divine authority. The term, "Lord," for instance, carries significant Trinitarian weight in the Bible. The Shema placed both the common name of God and the covenantal name together in the Israelites' wholehearted confession of loyalty to him (Deut 6:4-5). The covenantal name of Yahweh was later correlated with Adonai, "Lord," among the Hebrews. "Lord" thence came into early Christian usage. The fundamental Christian confession is "Jesus is Lord" (Rom 10:9-10; 1 Cor 12:3). Paul specifically identified God the Father with the "Lord" Jesus Christ in a Shema-like statement (1 Cor 8:6). Paul also included the Holy Spirit in that divine Lordship (2 Cor 3:17). For Paul, there is only "one Lord," but if there is a particular placement of that authoritative term with one of the three persons, it resides foremost not with the Father but with the Son (Eph 4:5; 1 Cor 8:6).

When earlier theological exegetes such as John Calvin read these and like passages, they concluded the Son's eternal authority was equivalent to that of the Father. They were thus reluctant to countenance any eternal diminution of the Son's authority. For instance, when commenting upon 1 Corinthians 15:27-28, which says the Son will be "subjected" to the Father at the end, Calvin argued the Son's kingdom nevertheless has no end. He did not deny the Son's subjection to the Father, but located that subjection in Christ's "humanity" rather than in his "glorious deity." This partitive hermeneutic helps correlate 1 Corinthians 15:28 with other canonical passages such as Daniel 7:14, 27; Luke 1:33; Ephesians 1:22-23; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:18-20; and 2 Peter 1:11, which elevate and continue the Christ's complete authority into eternity.

Similarly, the creedal tradition supporting unified Lordship is substantive. It begins in the fourth-century Nicene Creed, which states of Christ that "his kingdom will have no end." Also important is the sixth-century Athanasian Creed, which locates divine authority in the divine nature, not once, but twice: "Likewise, omnipotent Father, omnipotent Son, omnipotent Holy Spirit—and nevertheless not three omnipotents, but one omnipotent." "Therefore Lord Father, Lord Son, Lord Holy Spirit—and nevertheless not three lords, but one Lord." More recently, article II of the Baptist Faith and Message declared that God the Father is "all powerful," the Son is "ever present Lord," and the Holy Spirit as "fully divine" also "empowers." But the Baptist confession located divine authority not compositely in the persons but indivisibly in the divine nature: Among the infinite "perfections" of the "one and only one living and true God" is that he is "Ruler of the universe."

A Possible Formula: If we were ERA theologians, we would suggest the language of eternal relations of authority explicitly follow linguistic rules previously detected in Trinitarian doctrines like eternal generation and divine glory. For instance, patristic orthodoxy used the terminology of eternal generation, not to suggest a diminution or composition in the divine nature the Father shares with the Son, but to emphasize complete participation. Through generation God the Father eternally shares his being entirely with the Son, without loss, division, or composition. The Father's begetting of the Son secures simultaneously the distinction between the persons and the unitary divine nature. The procession of the Holy Spirit is construed according to a similar if distinct set of rules governing procession.

Another instance may be detected in the Johannine doctrine of divine glory. Jesus begins his prayer to the Father in John 17 with two major ideas about the perfection of glory. First, the Father and the Son glorify one another (John 17:1). (And the Holy Spirit sovereignly glorifies the Son in John 16:14.) Second, the Father and the Son shared this glory "before the world was" (John 17:5). The divine attribute of glory is thus eternally one yet also dynamically moving between the persons. Perhaps, on the basis of a similar complexity in divine equality and differentiation, one could argue the eternal relations of authority originate with the Father and proceed toward the Son, in the dynamic of paternal headship and filial submission, but without ever diminishing the eternally perfect authority of the Son (and the Spirit).

In a few sentences immediately after Grudem's quotation from Malcolm's book, Malcolm stated, "the one who sits on the throne is the origin of all power; the Lamb is worthy to receive all power; and the seven spirits exercise all power" (God the Trinity, 218). The authority of God could similarly be seen as located in the headship of the Father, shared entirely and eternally with the Lamb, and sovereignly exercised by the Holy Spirit. The "eternal relations of authority and submission" exegetically detected by Bruce Ware could perhaps be correlated with the placement of divine authority in the singular throne shared between God and the Lamb (Rev 22:3b). Eternally, there is only one authority and it is located in the divine nature. The eschatological reorientation of authority and submission finds it fulfillment, not in a division of authority upon the singular divine throne, but in the divisible slavery of humanity (Rev 22:3b), whom the Son subjected through himself to the Father (1 Cor 15:28).

Fourth Proposal

Our fourth proposal is that other theologians retract any calls for the removal of the ERA theologians from their teaching offices. Yes, there are times when we must join the apostle Paul in ringing down anathemas upon those who proclaim a different gospel than that which the church received (Gal 1:8-9). Yes, there are times to stand for eternal truth in a shifty world, but this is not yet that time.

While we share Trueman and Goligher's questions about the implications of the eternal relations of authority approach to the Trinity, it is not clear the eternal gospel has been compromised. Theologians like Grudem and Ware have proclaimed the good news in their public ministries of teaching with long effort and much grace. Even if moments of ineloquence or indiscretion were discovered in their writings, though we know of none, who among us would dare claim absolute perfection in our own presentations of the holy dogmas of inerrant Scripture? Do we really believe these men have compromised the gospel of God and Christ? We think not.


Speaking of the gospel, that is how we would like to end this excursion from Trinitarian theology into theological anthropology. As Derek Rishmawy indicated early in this controversy, the debate itself could have positive benefits. One of the benefits is that it helps us arrive at theological accuracy. However, the major benefit of the controversy is not that it drives us back through considerations of historical theology into biblical theology, though these are necessary and good, but ultimately it drives us to consider the triune God in himself and in his activity toward his creation.

So, here is the main thing to see: The eternal Father sent his only begotten Son into this world in order to unite with our humanity. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification. The Father and the Son sent the eternally proceeding Holy Spirit into the world in order to convict us of sin and judgment and the righteousness available through faith in the Son. And through regeneration, the Spirit unites us with the Son of God, allowing us to approach the Father in the service of worship.

And that is what we, his redeemed slaves, will be doing for eternity: Worshiping the one enthroned Lord God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three persons yet one in essence, eternally sharing the divine perfections in the beautiful order of relations without division, without diminution, without composition.

Malcolm and Karen Yarnell
Fort Worth, Texas
June 2016