Another Thirteen Evangelical Theologians Who Affirm the Eternal Submission of the Son to the Father

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Don Johnson's picture

on this one, I agree with Grudem et al

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm a bit confused I guess. Isn't it is so that eternal submission and eternal generation are two different things and that the original controversy was over denying eternal generation?

As far as those two issues go, there would be four possible views:

1. Eternal generation and submission

2. Eternal generation but not eternal submission

3. No eternal generation but affirm eternal submission

4. Affirm neither

I would line up at #2 because of Philippians 2, though I can't say I see how it matters a whole lot whether submission is eternal or not. While I'd be the first to affirm that "ideas matter" and "theology matters" I would also be the last to suggest that every idea matters and all theology matters. There are implications of these positions, but the reasoning involved in drawing the implications can take many routes and land at the same place.

Eternal generation, on the other hand, has been central to sound Christology for a very long time.

Ed Vasicek's picture

I think MacArthur caused quite a stir in the IFCA about 25 years ago by suggesting that the roles played by the Father, Son, and Spirit were just for the plan of salvation (he challenged "eternal sonship").  MacArthur never denied the Trinity, nor the equality of the Persons, nor the deity and personhood of neither the Son nor the Spirit.  I remember at least one conference called to address it, as though it were a great heresy.  I personally thought such a reaction was ridiculous. 

If individuals acknowledge One God in Three Persons, all of Whom are of one substance, co-eternal and each Person with all the attributes of deity -- and does not confuse the Persons of the Godhead -- that is enough.

We can never know for certain the exact nature of the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity in the infinite past (actually, before time was created).  Although I agree with Grudem -- if his view is considered a working theory and not a fact -- I disagree in one point: an explanation of eternal generation is not unknown.

The Greek word "monogenes" was understood by its constituent parts, "mono" meaning "only" and "genes" meaning "begotten" or "generated."  Most -- and perhaps all the top -- Greek scholars now understand the term as referring to "unique."  In a sense, all the Greek scholars who embrace this translation (and those of us who agree with the scholars) are disagreeing with the original intent of the Nicene Creed when it comes to the generation of the Son.

The old paradigm, embraced commonly (Lenski in the 1930's still embraced it) is that the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity are:  The Son is eternally generated (begotten in a constant sense; He is always being begotten) of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds in a constant sense from either the Father (Eastern Orthodoxy) or the Father and Son (Roman Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism).  Generation and Procession describe how the Persons relate, and is stated in the Nicene Creed.  If Grudem means we cannot understand this, well, he is right.  But it was defined.  There are a number of things about the Trinity that we do not understand but merely define.

Critics of Grudem and those on his side can rightly claim that he (and others who agree with him, like me) do not embrace the Nicene Creed AS ORIGINALLY INTENDED BY THE CREED'S AUTHORS.  And, in this regard, the critics are right.  We have altered the understanding of what "only begotten" means.  Let us be honest. We have redefined the term "only begotten" in the Creed, and thus we have altered the creed, if not verbally then in its meaning. I am unaware as to any challenges to the idea of the "procession of the Spirit," but this relationship is likely to be re-examined in time, perhaps decades down the road.

Which brings us back to a choice --one that especially creed-oriented churches are tempted to deny. We have to choose: do we embrace the ancient creeds above our understanding of Scripture or revise them based on a honed understanding of God's Word?  The same issue arises when people embrace  the idea of "one baptism for the remission of sins."  That's why I personally prefer doctrinal statements to creeds, although I embrace accurate creeds. But if I have to dance around inaccuracies and ambiguities, I am not so interested in their use. That's why we should consider writing our own, like this ONE.

We are in the realm of speculation, much like when a 5 point Calvinist says, "Christ had the elect IN MIND when He was dying on the cross."  When we try to read God's mind -- or probe into areas the Bible does not address with speculation -- we are SPECULATING. We should at least be honest about it. Deuteronomy 29:29 discourages us from embracing speculation as truth.

"The Midrash Detective"

Greg Long's picture

Aaron, the link I posted at the end of the other thread I think helpfully defines the issues at hand.

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Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

AndyE's picture

First, I also appreciate Grudem’s article. The Biblical data he presents for eternal submission is compelling.  For further context, Andy Naselli has several articles on his blog related to this issue:

http://andynaselli.com/trinity-debate-ware-grudem-vs-mccall-yandell

http://andynaselli.com/trinity-husbands-wives

And on Phil Gons website:

http://philgons.com/2014/08/one-god-in-three-persons-unity-of-essence-di...

Second, regarding monogenes and the eternal generation of the Son, I tend to think of monogenes as more than just unique, or only.  To me, one of the most helpful verses in this regard is Heb 11:17, where Abraham is said to have offered up his monogenes son.  Isaac was not Abraham’s only son – there was also Ishmael.  Maybe you could say Isaac was unique in some way but really I think the more appropriate connotation is something like special or precious.  Genesis 22:2 helpfully explains, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.”  So, I see in this term monogenes an emphasis on a precious relationship. I don’t know if that puts me out of step with current Greek scholars or not. Consequently, though, I see in the idea of eternal generation, this idea of an eternal precious relationship.  It’s not that the Father gives the Son origin or divinity but that there is this relationship that eternally proceeds in some sense from the Father. I think that aligns me with at least the spirit of the Nicene Creed as originally conceived.

Third, I believe the eternal submission of the Son does impact our view of the distinct roles held by men and women in the home and in the church. Robert Letham, in his The Holy Trinity, devotes an entire appendix to refute the egalitarian views that Kevin Giles espouses in his The Trinity and Subordinationism.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Randy, "unique" is the short, one word translation of monogenes, but the idea of precious -- and the example of Isaac in Hebrews -- is how the term is generally understood.  Eternal generation, however, is something else.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Paul Henebury's picture

Well, I have no time to go into it here, but I for one do not agree with Grudem et al.  Many if not all of the texts he uses refer to the work of the triune God on behalf of the sinner, not to the eternal relationship of Father to Son.  Gerald Bray speaks for me when he says,

The key point is that [the Father and the Son relate in this way] voluntarily and not because there is some inner structure inside God that obliges the Son to defer to the Father as being inherently superior to himself. - God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology, 190

The function of the Son soteriologically, and even anthropologically cannot establish eternal functional subordination.  Neither do the terms "Father" and "Son" necessitate it, any more than "Holy Spirit" necessitates functional subordination. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

The Greek word "monogenes" was understood by its constituent parts, "mono" meaning "only" and "genes" meaning "begotten" or "generated."  Most -- and perhaps all the top -- Greek scholars now understand the term as referring to "unique."  In a sense, all the Greek scholars who embrace this translation (and those of us who agree with the scholars) are disagreeing with the original intent of the Nicene Creed when it comes to the generation of the Son.

For fun, I think I'll try my hand at translating the Nicene-Constantinople creed from Greek and seeing how it turns out. I'll post my pitiful results here whenever I finish it. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Here is an excerpt from a NT scholar's PhD dissertation on positions various patristic writers took on the relationship between the Father and the Son. These views are helpful to classify what we're talking about, because it's very easy for people to talk past one another on this issue:

  1. Eternal Functional Equality and Ontological Equality
  2. Incarnational Functional Subordination and Ontological Equality
  3. Eternal Functional Subordination and Ontological Equality.
  4. Economic Functional Subordination and Ontological Equality
  5. Eternal Functional Subordination and Ontological Subordination

I place my hat on #4, although I'm not quite sure what the difference is between #3 and #4. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Paul Henebury's picture

Tyler,

 

the difference between 3 and 4 is that the functional subordination relates to creation, not to every and all Divine activity.  That is, functional subordination is not necessary to the Trinity.  

Things can get difficult because of the doctrines of the Son's generation and the Spirit's procession, but those are ontological and not economic truths.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm translating Rev 3:8-12 in preparation for Sunday School this week. I find it interesting how the exalted Jesus refers to God:

Revelation 3:12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. 

A few things to observe:

  1. This is not the incarnate Jesus; it is the exalted Jesus
  2. The phrase "my God" is a genitive of relationship, and it seems to indicate some degree of economic (not ontological) subordination far beyond the temporary incarnation.

This isn't meant to be a "decisive" remark or even very definitive; I'm simply in the midst of translating it and found this point very interesting in light of this entire conversation. Thought I'd pass it along for comment. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

James K's picture

1 Cor 11:3 - God is the head of the exalted Christ.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I began translating the creed from the Greek this afternoon. I should have done this quite a long time ago. I now feel like I have a much better handle on what this creed is saying than I ever had before. I shall post the finished product when I finish it, probably within two weeks or so. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Here is my translation; you can read more and see the detailed work here. It's a work in progress, but aside from some tinkering, this is what I have:

“We believe in one God; Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of everything visible and invisible.

Also, we believe in one Lord; Jesus, Messiah, the unique Son of God, who was brought forth from the Father before all time began (that is, from the substance of the Father), light from light, genuine God from genuine God. He was brought forth, [but] not created; [the] same substance as the Father, by whom everything was made in the heavens and on the earth. He came down out of the heavens for the benefit of us men, even for our salvation, and was made flesh by [the] Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Indeed, He took on human form, was crucified for our sake during the time of Pontius Pilate, and was tortured. He was buried, yet rose the third day according to the Scriptures. He ascended into the heavens, is sitting down at the right hand of the Father, and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and [the] dead; whose kingdom shall never end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit; Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, is worshipped and glorified together with Father and Son, and who spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy, universal and apostolic congregation. We confess one immersion concerning forgiveness of sins. We are waiting for [the] resurrection of the dead and the coming eternal life. 

But, those who say, “there was a time when He did not exist,” and “He did not exist before He was brought forth,” or that “He was made out of nothing” or “out of another nature or substance;” those who claim, “the Son of God is alterable” or “changeable;” the universal and apostolic congregation curses them.”

Some things to point out:

  • It's obvious that the creed affirms that the Son was "brought forth from the Father before all time began." (Traditionally, this has been rendered, "begotten by the Father before all worlds"). This comports with statements in Scripture like, "And he is before all things, and by him all things consist," (Col 1:17). The preposition translated "before" is one which expresses time; that is, "Christ is prior to everything."
  • I don't have my library with me, so I can't check to see what Ware thinks of eternal generation. I know some of his Reformed critics claim he rejects eternal generation. I haven't confirmed this.  
  • Unless a core component of EFS is a denial of the eternal generation of the Son (and please let me know if this is indeed the case), I believe Goligher & Co. are way off-base by claiming that EFS is out of step with the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. Either that, or I am terribly confused about what EFS is. I see both sides upholding an economic and ontological trinity, and a distinction of roles with the Godhead. 
  • Perhaps we should take a page out of the creed's playbook, and draw a box around orthodoxy and clarify what is not acceptable, rather than exhaustively clarify and caveat everything in our own position. I really doubt Ware or Grudum, for example, believe God (in the full triune sense) had two wills prior to the incarnation. This is why I find Goligher's hysterics so ridiculous. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?