Defending the Faith
Off in a quiet, seldom traveled, corner of the internet a raging debate among reformed complementarian theologians goes on with gusto. I somehow stumbled into this corner and have been unwilling to leave, so fascinating is the discussion. I’ve blogged about this twice before but still find the debate instructive, albeit incredibly deep.
At issue is the question of whether the doctrine of “Eternal Generation” (EG), the definition of the Trinity that came out of the council of Nicea in 325 AD, is compatible with, threatened by or being refined by the proposed doctrine of “Eternal Relations of Authority and Subordination/Submission” (ERAS) between God the Father and Jesus. Here is a small sample from one paper on one side of the discussion:
“If authority and submission are the intrinsic outworking or expressions of the modes of subsistence, Ware is attributing to the divine persons an ad intra egress that would necessitate that the Father and the Son undergo movement from unbegotten and begotten to authoritative and submissive, respectively. If, however, authority and submission (ERAS) are subsistent relations in themselves, that which makes the Father the Father and the Son the Son as to their personal subsistence in the divine essence, then, again, Ware has attributed to EG the very thing EG precludes.
The waters become murkier….”
I stopped there because I didn’t want to include anything murkier than that abundantly clear paragraph. You can read the entire article here if such phrases “intrinsic position of hypostatic submission” (and there are many more) delight you. But if there is anything I’ve affirmed in following the debate it is that one principle rules in the hearts of both sides in this discussion, in me, and probably in you –
“One’s theology is to be defended, never examined. Counterarguments are either molded to fit the theory or ignored altogether.”
I shamelessly stole that phrase from evangelical theologian Peter Enns who made it as a critique, not an axiom. It is easy to see why that is true. If something that I’ve believed for decades, something that my pastors have always taught me, is being questioned it raises a troubling issue – “How in the world, with all the great minds, could the Church be wrong about this subject?”
The simple truth is that we’ve been wrong before. Take slavery. In 1688 a meeting of Quakers decided that slavery was not biblical. Almost 40 years later they officially declared it to be immoral. From our vantage point the immorality of slavery is, to most of us anyway, obvious. Why did they take so long to make it official? Well, actually, they moved at warp speed compared to other denominations. It wasn’t until 1995 that the final major denomination, the Southern Baptists, officially declared slavery, and racial discrimination to be unbiblical. (Note: I am not saying that my SBC friends were all racists until 1995, that was just the year that they made official a long-growing belief.)
So which side is wrong in the discussion of EG and ERAS? I don’t know. But neither do the participants in the discussion. May grace prevail in their continued efforts.